The Freelance Writing Retirement Plan: Create an Asset

By Joe Pulizzi
Founder and Chief Content Officer for Junta42

The writing-services business is anything but easy. Whether you are freelance writing for a traditional publication or writing for a corporate magazine or website, the pay scale is usually the same: You get money for the time you spend. This works out to X dollars per word, per page, per story or per hour. The formula rarely changes.

Good freelancers can increase their pay scale by doing any of the following:
  • Spend more time getting jobs or work, and thus get more money.
  • Raise the profile of your work and talent and charge more on a per-word, per-page, per-story or per-hour basis. Most freelancers I know don’t charge enough (but don’t tell them that).
  • Get multiple stories in the same field, which combines research efforts and can limit the amount of time you spend on your stories (which comes out to more money per hours worked).
  • Do quality work faster and with less revision, thus making more money per hour.
  • Add consulting as an additional line of services in addition to your writing skills.

I’m sure there are a few more, but if you notice, each formula above is all about you, the freelancer, working more or less for more or less money. This type of formula sets all writers up for a glass ceiling, where ultimately it becomes extremely difficult to create a higher standard of living.

I’m sure you’ve heard the idea of making money while you sleep a thousand times. Well, if you aren’t trying to get there, you need to hear it a thousand more times. Look, you have clients and talent and work hard for your money … congratulations. What I would suggest is for you, the freelance writer, to start thinking about your retirement plan. How can you start to do things now that will enable you to work less and make more money for your talents in the future?

The Freelance Writing Retirement Plan is all about creating an asset — creating something that some person or business will see as valuable outside of just yourself and your reputation. Here are some ideas on how to get you there. (Note: The obvious is to create a writing business and start farming our writing work, and possibly hiring writers to work for you. This is the most natural extension of freelance writing. I don’t include this in the recommendations below because, almost exclusively, writers cannot separate themselves from the business. This means you could never leave the business because you have to always stay involved with clients or projects. The examples below, at some point, could survive without you in the business.)
  • Choose a niche topic and begin creating content. Ultimately, you could start by creating a blog. This will get you traffic and build your expertise in that industry (it will also get you additional writing work). The ultimate goal will be to morph your blog into a true media resource site. Once that happens, you’ll start to build an asset outside your own name. When choosing a topic, the more niche the better. Search engines like Google work best for niche blogs and media sites that focus on peculiar and odd keywords. Don’t worry about making money on the site until you build up enough traffic and readership to generate revenue. A couple of options would then be to sell advertising, sponsorship (the best) or products (see below). This should be started while you are working on your real job, which is freelance writing.
  • Create and distribute content products. Most freelancers have thought of this, but have failed to follow through. Using the same rationale as above (niche topic), begin to build your list of opt-in subscribers to your information. The best way to do this is to begin creating free white papers or eBooks that people have to subscribe to in order to receive. You exchange your white paper for their subscriber information. Once they subscribe, you can then email them a monthly or weekly eZine or eNewsletter. Starting to sell products before you have a list is a pretty tough way to go, so build the list first. Make sure that your giveaways are the absolute best they can be. In my experience, most free products are better than the paid products. If the free products are that good, people will end up paying for your other offerings.
  • Create a service that is unfulfilled in your niche topic/industry. Niche industries start out small and under served. As you begin to become an expert, you’ll begin to see opportunities to fill the gap. Consider developing an online service that links buyers and sellers, or offers a very unique service/product that people can’t get anywhere else. Once you’ve created the niche media presence, offering new services will seem more natural. Just think about how Google has launched services such as AdWords, Gmail, Calendar and others as part of its original search service.

There are probably many other directions you can go in, but hopefully this will get you thinking about what can be done. Working for the “man” is a needed service and craft, and if you love it, then do it forever. But most freelancers I talk to are usually searching for something else. That something else for you could be a true asset that can make you money while you sleep or that you can sell to another organization once you generate enough revenue. Now that’s what I call the Freelance Writing Retirement Plan. Good luck!

Joe Pulizzi is founder and chief content officer for Junta42, the leading media/bookmarking site for content marketing and custom publishing. Junta42 Match is the industry’s only buyer/seller marketplace for custom publishing solutions. Contact Joe at joe[at]

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