It really is possible to make a good living as a freelancer, if you approach it as a business and get strategic.
Megan Williams is one of our Certified Content Marketers and a savvy freelancer. She’s applied lessons learned from her corporate career to create smart processes and a healthy, sustainable freelance business.
In this 20-minute episode, Sonia talks with Megan about:
- How to prepare for a smart leap from employee to freelancer
- Why Megan thinks every freelancer would benefit from specialization — even if you don’t currently have topic-specific expertise
- Megan’s weekly marketing processes for finding new clients
- How Megan uses LinkedIn to attract new business
- The ways Megan has shaped her content strategy for her particular niche
- Our Certified Content Marketer program — whether you’re looking for a writer or think you want to join that group
The Show Notes
- Learn more about our Certified Content Marketer program (re-opening soon)
- Megan’s freelance site, Locutus Healthcare
- Lots more smart strategies for LinkedIn on our podcast The Missing Link
- My article on the 7 Things Writers Need to Make a Living
- Ask me a question or follow me on Twitter @soniasimone!
How to Make a (Really Good) Living as a Freelance Writer
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Sonia Simone: Hey there. I am so glad to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant.
My name is Sonia Simone. I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I like to hang out with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger blog. For this show and all of the shows, if you go to Copyblogger.FM, you will get all of the show notes for this. I usually try and throw in some cool free stuff, some additional resources, and you can get the complete archive of the show as well.
Today, I am here with Megan Williams. Megan, how are you today?
Megan Williams: I’m doing great. How you doing?
Sonia Simone: I am so good. I asked Megan to join us today. She owns a business called Locutus Health. She is one of our Certified Content Marketers. She is a freelance writer but also a freelance content strategist in the B2B healthcare space. Fair assessment? Anything else you want to add about what you do and who you do it for?
Megan Williams: No, that was actually pretty much it. I do both of them depending on the client. Yeah, that’s it.
Sonia Simone: Awesome stuff. I want to get two things done today. One, I want to just let people know that, that Certified Marketing Content program is going to be opening up to some new writers. I know that we have a lot of writers who were wondering how they could get involved.
I also want to help people who were thinking about freelancing, but scared to get started with it or overwhelmed, help give them some encouragement and maybe some advice. I guess starting out, you started out in a more traditional corporate job. Is that right?
How to Prepare for a Smart Leap from Employee to Freelancer
Megan Williams: I did. I worked your regular nine to five for probably a good 10 to 15 years. Very regular job. The thing is, on the side, I wasn’t very happy in my job. It was causing problems with my health. I was stressed out, wasn’t really learning the way I wanted to anymore, so I had already started keeping a couple of blogs.
I was already keeping up with what Copyblogger was doing. I was already writing online. I was comfortable with online writing while I still had a full-time job. Even though I was not technically freelancing most of that time, I was getting comfortable with online writing.
Sonia Simone: Do you think that that’s one of the things that helped you? I was in a position, I was in a corporate job. It was not serving me well, and it was not secure. I was always looking down the barrel of a layoff, but I was scared to make the leap. Do you think that kind of preparation is part of what helped you find that courage or see that this is something you could do?
Megan Williams: It did, and it’s funny that you mention layoffs because that’s exactly why I had to start. I survived two layoffs, but the third one, I did not survive. By that point, like you said, I knew this was not working out.
After I was laid off, I took a little bit of time just to think about what I wanted to do, but at the same time, I really took a good look at my niche, which, like you said, was B2B healthcare, to see if they really had a need for online content, if there was a real place for content strategy–and there was.
Just being able to see that and say, “Hey, maybe there’s some opportunity here,” is what helped me overcome my fear of just committing to that as a career.
Sonia Simone: I’m curious, because you do specialize–we should talk about that a little bit–in writing for the healthcare industry. Are you a doctor? Are you a nurse? Do you have medical training? Is that why you chose that specialty?
Why Megan Thinks Every Freelancer Would Benefit from Specialization–Even If You Don’t Currently Have Topic-Specific Expertise
Megan Williams: I don’t have any clinical training, but the years that I was in a corporate job was all in hospital revenue cycle consulting, which is one of those jobs nobody knows exists. But it does mean that I’m a healthcare insider, especially on the B2B side–which means my job was basically working with hospitals and helping them be more efficient with their money.
I was used to talking technology and healthcare. I was used to talking about federal regulations. Most importantly, I was just an insider. I understood the culture of healthcare and how things worked.
Sonia Simone: I think a lot of people probably look at you and say, “Well, I don’t have a medical-related degree, so I can’t do that.” Sometimes the path is not as simple as we think it is.
Megan Williams: No. I really think most companies, especially since online content is just growing for people, they’re just looking for people they can talk to. If you understand their industry, they’re going to be more than happy to work with you.
Sonia Simone: Most of our content marketers don’t define themselves as specialists, but you do.
Megan Williams: Yes.
Sonia Simone: I have always thought specialization was very smart. Do you want to talk about how you think that plays out in your business? A lot of people would think, “Well, you’re cutting yourself off from work.” You’re not able to take a job writing copy for a restaurant.
Megan Williams: Honestly, it does, of course, cut back on what I can do, but at the same time, it opens up so many more opportunities for me.
It also helped me to push my earnings faster because I can immediately charge a lot more than most freelancers and most content strategists do because I’m talking to companies and saying, “Hey, I understand what you’re doing. I understand what you need, and all my clients are working in the same areas that you are. They’re all going to the same conferences.” Even though if they’re not competitors, we’re all doing the same things at the same time.
It also helps with marketing just because I’m always hearing what companies are doing what, and I’m always on competitor websites and seeing what’s going on. I would recommend to anyone to specialize. It makes your work a lot easier, and you can make more.
Sonia Simone: It’s really largely a question, at this copywriter level, of doing homework. You don’t have to go to med school.
Megan Williams: No, right. That’s completely it. I was in hospital revenue cycle consulting, but the strange thing is, is I have a very hard time getting revenue cycle consulting clients. It’s just because they’re not into online content yet.
I work for medical supply companies, and they’re just happy to have someone. That’s not an industry I knew. But I read up on it, and I learned it–or niche, rather. It’s not that you need a deep degree in anything. It’s more just a familiarity and a willingness to learn.
Sonia Simone: Yep, I agree. What was the hardest part for you of making that transition from a corporate ‘safe’–although layoffs, not safe–but somebody else figuring out your day for you to freelancing and calling your own shots?
What Megan Misses Most from Her Corporate Job
Megan Williams: Honestly, the only thing I miss from corporate is getting that steady paycheck. That is the only thing. I do think that my situation was a little bit unique because I had a lot of freedom in my corporate job. I had the kind of environment where I was already working remotely.
None of my clients were anywhere near where I was. I was already working from home occasionally. I was working with teams on the other side of the planet. That was easy for me. That’s a transition that a lot of people might have to make that I didn’t have to make. But the hardest thing was definitely just getting used to the unsteady paycheck and adjusting my life.
Once you’ve been living a certain way for 10, 15 years, that’s the life you know, financially. I’ve been able to adjust, and it works out fine. Eventually you figure it out and change your life a little bit, but it’s great.
Sonia Simone: I first really started focusing on what you were doing on Twitter. You would talk about your marketing processes. After I left corporate, I was freelance, and that was the hardest part for me, finding new clients. I think that’s true for a lot of people.
You have such a well-defined process, and it just seems so logical. I would love it if you’d hit the highlights on that because I think a lot of freelancers, not just writers, of course, but graphic designers, honestly almost anybody who’s running their own service business, would really benefit from thinking about this kind of approach.
Megan’s Weekly Marketing Processes for Finding New Clients
Megan Williams: I honestly have to thank my corporate experience for this because I got into a habit breaking things down by days, clients, contact, that kind of thing when I was working there. Basically, I have one day, which has actually become a half a day, dedicated to the heavier marketing tasks–cold contacting, really doing research, reading longer articles, that kind of thing.
I used to do a full day, but now that other things are working for me a little bit more, I don’t have to do that quite as much. Other than that, I take the rest of the days of the week, and I push aside anywhere from 15 minutes to sometimes an hour. It’s usually on the shorter side. And I have other small marketing tasks that I want to get done.
For instance, I believe it’s every Tuesday, I take some time, and I talk to my Twitter followers. I’ll contact a company that I know that I might be interested in working with that happened to follow me and just say, “Hey, that was a great white paper,” and building that kind of relationship.
The next day, I might write a quick blog for revenue cycle clients. The next day, I might take time to repost something that I wrote on LinkedIn as a LinkedIn post. The great thing about it is, like you said, marketing can drive you crazy. It really can.
Because I have that on my task list every day, I never worry that, “Oh my gosh! I’m not doing enough marketing.” It’s simple enough, and it’s short enough so that, even when I have a heavier client load and more work to do, I can knock out 15 minutes in the morning on Twitter or on LinkedIn and just say, “Hey, I’m doing something to get my name out there.”
Sonia Simone: Right. You make really good use of LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn is a great tool, but a lot of people don’t use it very well. You’re really effective at how you use it. Do you want to talk about the role LinkedIn plays when you’re finding new clients?
How Megan Uses LinkedIn to Attract New Business
Megan Williams: LinkedIn gets a bad rap, and I completely understand why. It’s because, when you have an employee job, it’s really not that useful. I never found it that useful when I was employed, but when I started freelancing, it was around the time that LinkedIn really started focusing more on content.
They opened up the platform to everyone for specifically posts. I don’t mean updates. I mean LinkedIn posts. It’s basically their blogging platform. They let you keep a blog on LinkedIn. If you use the proper tags, they pull those for LinkedIn Pulse, which is where the articles pop up.
If you’re in a very specific niche, say retail or customer service–for me, healthcare–and it’s something they decide is noteworthy, you end up on the front page of Pulse in your niche. That’s where people read what you do.
That became a place not only for me to get clients, but also to demonstrate to clients what I could do because tons of people in my industry, they’re starting to think about thought leadership. That’s one of the best places for them to build it. They see that I’m writing there, and their thoughts are, “Hey, how do I do that, too?”
Sonia Simone: You’re a strong writer. You’re a strong content strategist. It sounds like published content on LinkedIn is very useful for you. Does content help you get clients? Are you getting clients from your blog or from white papers? How does that play a role in your marketing process?
The Ways Megan Has Shaped Her Content Strategy for Her Particular Niche
Megan Williams: Right now, the only type of content I really do is blogging, and it will just be very simple posts. When I first started, I thought I needed longer posts. But my industry’s pretty immature when it comes to online content, so they’re not answering any big questions. They just don’t know how to pick a client for a case study.
I answer very simple questions on my blog, and then I repost them on LinkedIn. I might share them via newsletter or something like that. That’s pretty much it. I don’t do white papers or anything like that, but that’s particular to my industry.
Sonia Simone: I think sometimes that gets lost, because on Copyblogger, we have a million different kinds of people who read the blog, so we give general advice. You always have to tailor that advice to your particular clients. You meet your clients where they are. If your clients are on LinkedIn, then LinkedIn is a really good tool. I like having more specific conversations like this because we can talk about individual techniques as opposed to just general recommendations.
Megan Williams: Right.
Sonia Simone: What would you say is the best thing and maybe the hardest thing, or the worst thing, about being a freelancer?
Megan’s Favorite (and Least Favorite) Thing about Freelancing
Megan Williams: The best thing is knowing that my career options are open. Freelancing, just the nature of having to get out there and get online and talk to people. I’m kind of a natural entrepreneur. I’m not a hardcore entrepreneur, but I always have online projects. I’ve always had that, so it’s really helped me connect on that level.
Knowing that it’s opened up career options for me I would honestly say is the biggest thing for me. The toughest thing, again, it’s like what I hit on before, making that adjustment from a regular income to a variable income.
Sonia Simone: It changes the rhythms of how you live, really, and it does take some getting used to.
Megan Williams: I had a job where it’s the steady paychecks and then bonuses, that kind of thing. I don’t get those anymore. I get big projects, but it’s just very different. But at the same time, I found that having to think differently about my income has really made me focus on what matters more, focus on what really makes me happy. It’s been good.
Sonia Simone: I’m super happy with it right until the time I have to refinance my mortgage. Oh, there are so many questions.
Megan Williams: “What do I do?”
Sonia Simone: It works, but it’s a lot more questions than they asked when I was employed.
Megan Williams: Exactly.
Sonia Simone: I’m thinking about somebody listening to this conversation. Maybe they’re not a big fan of their job. Maybe they love their job, but they just want to build a little more of a safety net. I really recommend that. Even if your day job is the most wonderful, fulfilling thing in the world, it’s nice to have some options. It’s nice to build yourself some options, side hustle, that kind of thing.
What kind of advice would you give somebody who’s been thinking about it? They have a skill. It could be writing, but it could be some other skill. They could be a WordPress developer or a graphic designer, something like that. What advice would you give somebody who’s thinking about taking that leap, and they want to know what they can do to prepare for a successful leap?
Megan’s Advice for Those Thinking about Taking the Leap into Freelancing
Megan Williams: I would say, as early as you can, start researching the kind of specialization you might want to do. Specifically because of what you mentioned earlier. That will determine the kind of work you will do as a freelancer. I would have never thought that I would need to learn how to do case studies or a specific type of blogging if I hadn’t been paying attention to healthcare.
When I talk to, say, freelance writers in other industries, they’re doing very similar work, but it’s still different. You need to know what kind of opportunity and how to prepare yourself before you make any choices to jump.
Sonia Simone: It’s one of the reasons I always tell writers, any kind of writer or creative professional at all, have a website. Just have a website. Even if you love your job, have a website. Write about your professional viewpoint. Get your SEO going a little bit, your authority going. It’s a good asset to have in your court there.
Our Certified Content Marketer Program–Whether You’re Looking for a Writer or Think You Want to Join That Group
Sonia Simone: Megan is, as I mentioned at the top of the show, one of our Certified Content Marketers. If you are a business and you are looking for somebody like Megan, you’re looking for a writer who’s very strategic–not just somebody who was an English major and loves the language, although that’s part of it–somebody who can really think about content strategy, who writes very well, and who just conducts themselves professionally, that is a list of folks that we have certified.
The way it works is our editorial team looks closely at every single application on that list. Every person on that list has submitted their work to us, and we check the quality of their writing. We also check the soundness of their strategy. Do they understand writing for persuasion? Do they understand the structure of good email marketing? That kind of thing.
We are going to be opening that program up because, interestingly, recently, we’ve had an increasing number of people contacting us and saying, “I have more clients than I can handle right now. Can you take my name off the list?” They’re not taking clients right now, but it means we do have some room in the program.
If you are a writer and you think that you have the right stuff to join the program, it’s a four-week online strategy course. You take that at your own pace. It’s taught by me and by Brian Clark. It’s really about the strategy of content because I find that that’s where the talented writers tend to need a little bit of help.
Then, once you’ve completed that course, it is self-paced, you can submit your work. The editorial team takes a look and says, “Yeah, we vouch for this person,” or, “No, we don’t.” Now, it’s not pay to win.
Not everybody who applies gets certification, but obviously, for a writer like Megan and for the people who are on the list, that’s a really good thing because you’re actually in the company of professional writers and not just people who paid money for a badge. That’s helpful.
If you are looking for a writer or you want to take the course and you want to apply for certification, you go to the same place. You go to Copyblogger.com. You look at the Products tab, and there’s a Certified Writers section there. You get our complete list of folks who are certified today, but you can also sign up to find out when we open the program.
Where to Learn More about Megan, Her Business, and Her Marketing
Sonia Simone: Taking it back to Megan, where can people learn more about you, your business, and all your genius marketing ideas they can all steal?
Megan Williams: I am actually it. I hope more people do get into healthcare because they have not figured out content marketing yet, and we need people. You can catch me at Locutus Health, which is LocutusHealth.com.
Sonia Simone: Really, really awesome. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Megan Williams: Thank you.
Sonia Simone: I just like talking to you. I love talking to writers who are very skilled but also take that extra step and make themselves business people. That’s really the key to not just doing what you love, but getting a nice living. That’s a good thing. Awesome. Take care, everybody. Thank you, and we’ll see you next week.