Last week, I wrote about the ways I make money as a niche freelancer.
Some of you found it intimidating, which I completely understand. You can’t just flip a switch—it took me years to develop various income streams that, combined, are enough for me to earn a living. I’d find it overwhelming myself to start over from scratch.
However, you don’t need years or even weeks to get started on just one income stream. In fact, you only need a couple of hours in one day. Here are some of the “first steps” I took toward creating my career. Even better, these are applicable for any niche you choose to pursue.
Make a minimum viable product
I bet you’ve got an idea for a book or some equally sized opus kicking around in your brain. Rather than watch another year go by as you fail to find the time to create, try thinking small. Starting from your original idea, what’s the smallest possible finished product you could create?
For years I’ve wanted to make a massive book for my readers full of all the scripts and tips and tricks I use to reach out to clients and sources and come up with article ideas. Still, I only had 15 worksheets in mind, so I put out the Niche Journalism Workbook instead. It’s smaller than my original idea, but also more digestible for readers. Plus, I’m sure readers would rather get their hands on this smaller product of mine than, you know, no product at all.
Narrow down your big idea into its most useful or entertaining part, and resolve to release that. Could your novel be a short story? Could you pitch your research project as a news article? Or maybe your advice book could become a digital workbook, like mine.
Pitch one article
Launching a freelance writing career, with multiple outlets for publication, takes a long time. Pitching just one article is a lot quicker, and can have the effect of cascading into more work.
Start with one idea. Maybe it’s based on a blog post you’ve written. Maybe it’s based on a question you’ve had. If you have it, it’s likely a lot of other people do, too. (See my post on why anime wall art comes on scrolls.) Send that idea to five different outlets. Do your very best to address your emails to a human name, not just a [email protected] or [email protected] email dumping ground.
Everyone is afraid of being rejected, which is why this short, simply, career-launching suggestion takes up lots of emotional space—but very little of your time. Remind yourself that a rejection for a story idea is not a rejection of you, and keep pitching new stuff.
Build a simple portfolio page
You need a website: you already know this. If you don’t have Web design experience, you know it’s going to cost you either money hiring a designer, time teaching yourself what to do, or both. Even if you do have experience, you might have trouble dedicating time to putting up a site.
Or so you thought. There are plenty of free, easy alternatives to launching a massive site. If you’re a reporter with existing bylines, you could use Pressfolios to show them off, no money or web skills required. Looking for something even simpler? You could use About.me for a standalone introduction page. My top recommendation is setting up a WordPress.com blog, which you can do in minutes and customize with thousands of free themes. Even if you’re too busy to blog, you can use WordPress as a static portfolio website with just a couple clicks. Whatever you do, include your email prominently on the page—just in case somebody wants to hire you based solely on what they see on your site.
You can set up a more informative site later, but the sooner you get up a temporary website, the more chances you have to introduce yourself digitally to any prospective editor or client who might be looking for a niche writer of exactly your type.
Launch a newsletter
Freelance careers are harder when you feel like you’re alone. But when you launch a newsletter and start growing an audience for it, you’ll always have an audience, no matter how small.
My newsletter is the first to hear about new blog posts I’ve written and more personal thoughts than I feel comfortable sharing on my blog. (After all, if they took the effort to join my newsletter, I tell myself, they care at least a little.) I also share new products on my newsletter first, and even though there are just a few hundred recipients, most of my sales come from there.
I write a newsletter (and subscribe to a lot of other people’s) for the sense of community that comes from it. It’s amazing how many friendships I’ve sparked from somebody replying to my newsletter, me replying to them, and it turning into a regular email correspondence. Start your own in a few minutes, for free, on MailChimp.
Incorporate affiliate links into your blog
This is probably the most controversial tip I’ve got for you today, since many people (friends of mine included) don’t believe affiliate links work. In my experience, they work great—so long as you are open and honest about using them and ensuring they’re relevant to your readers.
Ever since adding affiliate links to Gunpla 101, I’m able to write about one of my favorite topics, the 30-year-old Gundam anime franchise, and get paid for it—while keeping the entire site ad-free. I even just began earning enough to pay a contributor at a competitive rate. So for me, affiliate links are freedom, a way to write about whatever weird topic you want, provided that topic involves merchandise of some kind that your readers will want to buy. I think this would be a great income stream for a movie review site or a makeup tutorial site, for starters.
Sign up for free for Amazon Associates and take an hour to add relevant links to your existing blog (or come up with post ideas for a new one). Either way, don’t forget to include a note for your readers that you use them—it could be as simple as this one.
In conclusion, I want to pose a question to you, readers:
What’s stopping you from launching your niche writing career today?
Without knowing your specific problems, my tips are pretty general and might not work exactly for you. So let me know.