A six-figure freelancer talks about why thinking like creative entrepreneurs can help writers build the passive income they desire.
A few questions before we begin:
- Do you have a WordPress blog?
- If yes, are you using a free theme and do you know who designed that theme?
- If not and you’re using a paid theme, how much did it cost? How much were you willing to pay? Did you look at WordPress themes that were priced at $100 or more and think, “That’s much too expensive for me right now?”
Someone spent weeks creatively designing a theme, then coding it. That required technical know-how, creativity, even graphics that those of us who use free themes don’t pay for.
You’re a writer who has specialized creative skills, and you believe you deserve to be paid $100 an hour or more for those skills.
But do you believe the designers of the WordPress themes you’re using deserve $100 an hour, too?
Why The Freelancing Model No Longer Works And What You Can Do About It
Don’t feel too guilty about using cheap WordPress themes. This is the reality of the marketplace today. It’s the same for writers, for photographers, for painters, for designers, for any other creative professionals. The supply exceeds the demand and therefore, your wares aren’t as valuable anymore.
But there’s another reason you shouldn’t feel guilty. And that’s because those WordPress theme designers? They’re probably making thousands of dollars a month anyway, regardless of the fact that you pay $35 for their work?
They practice the principle of scalability.
In his book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert T. Kiyosaki writes that the only way for service businesses (professionals like doctors, lawyers, freelance writers, etc.) is to either increase hours of business or increase rates.
Both are fixed commodities, however. There are only so many hours you can work in a day and there’s a limit to how high you can raise your rates before you price yourself out of the market. “Too many people… are limited as to how many people or organizations they can serve,” he writes. “Hence their income is limited.”
The only way to increase your income substantially, then, is to reach more people. The difference, put simply, is between writing an article and writing a book. If you write an article and sell it to the New York Times for $1 a word, you’ll never see more money from that piece again. On the other hand, if you were to create a collection of articles and sell it in a book, you may (depending on various factors, which we’ll get to) see money from this book over and over again until you keep it in circulation.
The first is active income and there’s a limit on how much you’re going to make through that. The second is passive income. Work once, earn for years to come.
The difference between active and passive income, then, is simple: Scalability.
That WordPress designers make money, thousands of dollars a month because even though you only paid $35, a hundred other people did, too. And the designers keep on creating more themes, which means more income. But if a designer got sick and couldn’t work one day, they’d still make money from the work they did previously.
Photographers and artists sell prints to their work.
And writers? What can we sell? How can writers generate passive income?
Let’s talk about some ways.
Passive Income Streams For Writers
We’ll discuss each of these income streams in detail in future posts, but here’s an overview.
Traditionally published books
I no longer count traditional publishing as passive income because after you’ve spent half a dozen years pitching agents, negotiating with publishers, and having your heart broken repeatedly only to make about a dollar per book, it’s not really passive income. More like overdue income. The responsibility that traditionally published authors shoulder is much too high and the cut far too little to make this even a profitable, let alone passive, income option for most writers.
However, if you have a pre-existing platform (perhaps a website that gets half a million page views a month, say, or a large social media following), you’ll easily land yourself a six-figure deal and your agent and publisher will shoulder a ton of the responsibility that they wouldn’t for newer authors, not to mention you’ll actually have an advertising and marketing budget.
If you’re at this level, traditional publishing can be a fantastic way of leveraging your platform and securing passive income.
If not, read on.
Indie published books
Indie publishing works for both print books and ebooks, and audio books are doing exceptionally as well. I recommend you explore all those options because the investment now to have a book available in print or audio format is pretty low.
There are two basic ways to self-publish your books and ebooks—through Amazon and other retailers or directly through your own website. I advise doing both.
Niche and authority websites
You can build websites around topics that interest you and earn revenue through advertising and product sales. My own niche websites (I have two) bring in regular passive income on a monthly basis. In fact, this website, the one you’re reading now? It brought in $35,000 in its first year of operation and is now a successful business.
Blogging for pay
If you’re blogging for a publication that pays you per post, it’s a good way to make some immediate cash, but it’s not passive income.
However, there are now publications such as PsychologyToday.com and Forbes.com that will give their writers the pay per click option, which, while not a very popular model amongst writers, can prove to be more profitable.
Think of it this way: You could get paid $100 for a blog post today that takes you about an hour to write. That’s $100 an hour, and it’s hardly a bad wage.
Now take that same blog post and put it on a very popular website like PsychologyToday.com or Forbes.com that’ll pay you, say, $5 per 1,000 clicks. Let’s assume you get 2,000 clicks a month. How much money have you made in a year? In two years? In five years?
Other income streams
The passive income opportunities for writers today are practically endless. Apps. Information products. Courses for online universities. Kindle singles. Kickstarter campaigns.
Or come up with your own creative ways to package work you’ve already done or will do in the future.
The Five-Step Process To Passive Income For Writers
1. Start building your audience today
In order to take full advantage of all the opportunities that will come your way now and in the future, you need to have readers.
You need to build an audience and you need to build that audience first, before you can have any successful passive income streams. You need to bring readers to your website, your email list, and your blog, NOT a publication’s website, email list or blog.
When you begin a new Kickstarter campaign, you need to be able to email your readers and say, “Hey, is this something you’re interested in?” If you don’t have that list of people who care about what you do, your Kickstarter campaign is dead before it even starts.
I know of what I speak. My personal list was only 2,500 strong when I launched my second course. I made $10,000 in four days.
The same holds true for books, seminars, websites, and pretty much anything else.
2. Call it marketing, not freelancing
If you’re interested in passive income, you’ll have to begin thinking like a businessperson, starting now.
You definitely want to keep writing for publications, not only because it’s fun but also because when you remove the dependency on them for your daily bread, it’ll help you build influence and market your personal brand.
The questions will change, though. Instead of asking how much they pay, you now need to start asking whether they’ll link to your website in the bio, how many readers they have, and how quickly they’ll publish.
3. Change your mindset
This is the most important part, because without this, nothing else will work. Unfortunately, mindset is the one thing that most writers will struggle with because we identify as writers. We want to write, plain and simple, and not be fussed with the rest.
That’s fine. But if you’re thinking like a writer, you know what you’re not thinking like? You’re not thinking like a businessperson.
And you need to be a businessperson if you want to make passive income (or any kind of good income from your work, really).
The good news is there’s no reason you can’t be both. I like to think that when I’m writing, I’m an artist, pure and simple. But once I’ve finished writing, I put my business hat on and go out and kick ass. I negotiate like the best of them, I expect the best rates for my work, and I don’t sell myself short.
Think of yourself as a business with assets and liabilities, expense reports, and clients, not as a writer who earns a paycheck.
4. Learn to figure out what people want to read
This isn’t fun perhaps, but it’s important because if you don’t know what people want to read, you can’t write it for them.
Let’s say you’re interested in writing about the challenges of writers who also happen to be parents. Your experience counts, of course, but it’s also important to talk to some writing parents and see what kind of information they’re looking for, what style speaks to them the most, and what problems they’d like to see solved.
Market research is important, especially when it comes to information products, because your audience needs to be able to find you. And how are they going to find you if you haven’t created a path for them to do so?
5. Create products that meet a need
It could be a nonfiction book that solves the problems of writing parents or it could be a novel that inspires and entertains. The great thing about taking control of your writing and your work is that there are no failures. If something doesn’t sell, you can figure out why and go back and fix it.
When I teach creative entrepreneurship, I cover what I call the three pillars of business:
- Creating things
- Selling things, and
- Getting more customers.
I’ll show you how to use all three to keep your business growing continually.
Listen, there is no deadline for success.
You figure out what your audience wants to read, you figure out what you want to write, and you match the two.
It’s a simple formula for making passive income with your writing. It’s what I’ve been doing in the last few years and it’s what I’d like to help you achieve as well.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Publisher, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more. She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators. Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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