So You Have An Audience, Let’s Turn It Into a Business
The ultimate guide to turning your online writing into a thriving writing business.
The ultimate guide to turning your online writing into a thriving writing business.
If you’re a creator, this is the best time to be alive.
In 2021, the total size of the creator economy is estimated to be a little over $100 billion dollars. This boom opens up amazing opportunities for writers to monetize their passion and live fulfilling lives by doing exactly what they love.
There are so many platforms willing to pay huge amounts for new content.
- Upwork’s industry research shows that 60% of freelancers who left a full-time job to become freelancers make more money than they did in their previous jobs.
- On Substack, the top 10 creators collectively bring in more than $7 million annually.
- Writers on the Medium Partner Program earned over $11 million in 2020.
- Vocal.Media, a platform dedicated to getting writers paid based on article views reported their 2021 Q2 revenue was just below $350,000.
- Even Quora, the largest writing platform on the internet with over 300 million active users recently launched Quora+, a platform to pay writers for their content.
If you’re a writer, this is an amazing time to be alive. Even without relying on platforms, there are so many ways to be a high-paid creator. One of the best and most reliable ways to do that is to do brand sponsorships on your email newsletter. Swapstack, the premium newsletter advertising marketplace connecting brands to newsletter audiences for sponsorships reported a Gross Merchandise Value of over $500,000 US in June 2021. This means more than $500,000 US was paid to writers by brands for successful collaborations on their marketplace.
If these numbers give you hope, welcome to the club!
However, simply writing online isn’t enough. You can earn much more and gain back control over your time when you convert your audience into a business. This post is an in-depth guide on the mindset shifts, tools, and techniques you need to convert your online writing into a thriving business.
Key Mindset Shifts Before You Start
Writing because it’s your passion and writing for a living are two different ball games. Before you set about turning your audience into a business, there are some mindset shifts that will help kickstart your journey.
Think of writing as a job, not a hobby
A hobby is something we do when we are bored or especially feeling in the mood for it. A job requires consistent, planned work. That’s how you need to treat writing if you want to convert it into a thriving business.
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike to start writing. Have a system in place that lets you write even when you have no idea where to start.
Personally, I maintain an idea journal where I write article titles and section headers every day. Every time I sit down to write, I flip through my idea journal and start writing whichever post calls out to me that day. This makes sure I keep exercising the idea muscle in my brain. It also doesn’t let me make the excuse that I don’t know what I’ll write about.
When you treat writing as a job, you’ll learn to be serious about sticking to deadlines and find innovative ways of tracking your progress. You’ll also learn to keep analyzing your stats so you can identify what strategies work and double down on them to maximize your reach and earnings.
People working a job get weekends off. Writers should be no different. Make sure you take time off from writing. You don’t want to exhaust yourself to the brink of burning out. Take breaks, go on vacations, plan your schedule, and have automation in place so you are free to take time off when you feel like it.
Don’t limit yourself to one platform
If you only stick to one platform, algorithm changes will hit you hard. All writing platforms go through cycles where new writers find it easier to build an audience, while old writers suddenly find their reach being limited.
Such changes are out of your hands, and if you let these affect you, you won’t be able to move on to higher-paying opportunities.
To make it big as a writer, always be willing to explore and test out new opportunities. So what if one platform shuts down or is no longer viable to your niche and style? You can always move to a different platform and attract higher-paying opportunities.
Embrace the abundance mindset
If you think another creator’s success would limit your reach, you’re probably stuck in the scarcity mindset. Often, growing up with limited opportunities makes us believe that the top only has room only for a few. If others have done it before you, there’s no scope left.
In truth, the possibilities are endless. You can attract whatever you wish as long as you’re willing to put in the work. Just because someone reached the top before you doesn’t mean you’ve lost. There’s enough room, and “the top” can accommodate one more person.
Don’t compete with other creators. Think of ways to include them in your work. Collaborations and cross-promotions will help everyone grow together and attract more collective wealth and happiness.
Step One: Venture Out of Your Comfort Zone
When you write on one platform or for one client for a long time, you get comfortable and it becomes hard to venture into something new. But platforms and algorithms change.
To survive in a constantly changing world of cut-throat competition, it’s important to keep exploring new avenues. The more you explore, the more you’ll know what opportunities pay well and make you feel the safest, and the more easily you can find your next stable gig.
Writing online to a paid newsletter
Writer Zat Rana wrote on Medium for three years, building a follower base of more than 100,000 people. But as the algorithm changed, he found that writers who wrote new posts every day performed better than the ones who published a few well-thought-out pieces a month. The new model was no longer sustainable. Zat wanted a way to align his financial incentives with his creative impulses and connect directly with his readers. That’s why he shifted to Substack and now writes primarily for his subscription-based newsletter Thinking Better, Together.
“Whenever you write on a platform owned by someone else, you do so knowing that you’re going to have to play by their rules. In the past, these rules worked in my favor. Recently, they haven’t….In order to best grow my work, as I serve the interests of my most passionate readers, I’ll be orienting my writing moving forward around a newsletter community where readers can have direct, intimate access to me.”
~ Zat Rana, Why I Am Leaving Medium: On taking the next step in the journey.
Writing for companies vs writing for yourself
There are multiple ways to make money as a writer. The most common would be doing content marketing or editing for companies and businesses. But these aren’t guaranteed jobs and you don’t have full control over the content you publish.
Writer Emily Atkin wrote for various platforms before settling down to write full-time for her newsletter. She was the climate staff writer at The New Republic, and the deputy climate editor at ThinkProgress. Now, her climate-focused Substack newsletter, Heated is her full-time job, bringing in six figures of revenue annually.
“My newsletter has honestly allowed me to achieve my dream. I make more money now than I had at any salaried journalism job.”
~ Emily Atkin, How Emily Atkin turned her climate change newsletter into a six-figure income.
Platforms fail. Your credibility doesn’t.
Food and drink writer Alicia Kennedy regularly freelanced for a magazine that suddenly cut its budget. This served as an inflection point in her career.
She wanted to switch from typical food and recipe fare to writing in-depth analyses about culture and food media. So she started a newsletter through Substack focusing on that niche. Today, her newsletter has more than 15,000 subscribers and is her “anchor” gig, earning her more than her freelance gigs ever did.
“We live in a world where we’ve lost the alt weekly and the small publication. The barriers to entry at the mainstream publications entry are high. The rates are terrible. It was necessary that something like paid newsletters happened.”
~ Alicia Kennedy, How Substack has spawned a new class of newsletter entrepreneurs.
Step Two: Capitalize on Your Audience
People talk about how much personal branding is important for writers, but here’s an unpopular opinion: most of the personal branding advice on the internet is useless and outdated.
Fancy websites, well-designed Instagram posts, or professional-looking business cards will only take you so far.
The real tool that can help you build an outstanding personal brand is how much value you provide and how you build lasting relationships with your audience.
Value addition builds trust, which in turn makes your relationship with your readers stronger. That way, even if the platform you currently create content on suddenly closes down or kicks you out, your audience will follow you wherever you choose to focus on next.
Take your most loyal readers off-platform
A powerful way of doing that is by starting your own newsletter. It is independent of platforms and algorithms and allows you complete freedom over the content you create and how you express yourself. In addition, here are some other reasons why every writer needs a newsletter:
- You can choose your niche and set your own publishing schedule.
- Since your posts reach straight into your readers’ inboxes, aka their digital homes, you get to build an intimate connection with your audience.
- The publishing schedule keeps you accountable and helps you reinforce your daily writing habit.
Monetizing your brand
Starting a newsletter might feel intimidating in the beginning, but with the right strategies, you can turn it into a dependable income stream.
When readers subscribe to your newsletter, they are essentially showing their trust in your brand. Here are some ways to capitalize on this trust while earning money through your newsletter:
- Collaborate with brands you resonate with to sell a small space (usually 100–200 words) on your newsletter. Hundreds of thousands of companies and publishers sponsor newsletters every week. By some estimates, more than 20% of the total income from publishers’ advertising in the United States comes from newsletters and email updates. A great place to find newsletter sponsors is Swapstack.
- Offer premium content at a subscription fee.
- Create a product or service and pre-sell it to your newsletter subscribers at a discount.
- Become an affiliate. With Swapstack’s newest venture Plug & Play, you now never have to send a newsletter without a sponsor.
- Use platforms like Patreon or Buy Me A Coffee to ask your readers to sponsor you from time to time.
Provide value and earn money
Swapstack, connects writers with hundreds of brands they can choose from. They can monetize their newsletters and nurture possibilities for potential long-term brand collaborations.
On Swapstack, writers are matched with brands that can help both parties grow and mutually benefit. If you promote a product you love and use yourself, chances are your audience will love it too. They’ll also love you for bringing it to their notice. The brand can meanwhile grow its customer base and you can earn a substantial income from the sponsorship.
If the first sponsorship is successful, you can negotiate with the brand for a long-term partnership, thus landing a lucrative source of income for you.
Step Three: Think Long-Term
For the first few years, working long hours, taking up multiple projects, and slogging round the clock might feel doable. The constant thrill of new projects and client satisfaction might even give you the biggest hit of adrenaline you’ve had in years.
But working from paycheck to paycheck is not sustainable. Warren Buffet is known to say, “If you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die.”
While it might not be technically possible for you to make money while you sleep, here are some strategies that can help you make your writing business sustainable in the long run.
Multiple income sources
YouTuber Helly started out making book review videos on her channel. She then diversified into other income streams like Instagram paid partnerships, online courses, affiliate marketing, brand sponsorships, and social media management.
The same is true for Junior Doctor and content creator Ali Abdaal who started with his YouTube channel, then diversified into affiliate marketing, brand sponsorships, and online courses.
Financial blogger Jeff Rose started with his blog where he wrote for free for 18 months. Now, he has seven income streams including paid surveys, investment, media deals, and online courses.
If you’re looking for a pattern here, it’s this: first, get insanely good at what you do. Then, make money in two broad ways:
- Teach people how to replicate your success through eBooks, online courses, consultations, etc.
- Collaborate with brands in your niche for paid sponsorships and media deals.
There are, of course, several other ways to build multiple income streams, but as a creator, these two provide the most value and can be quite well-paid.
Have some form of passive income
Passive income is money that flows in regular intervals without the need for putting in a considerable amount of effort to create it.
An interesting approach to ensuring passive income is by building a digital product like an online course or eBook. You have to spend effort only once while putting it together and spreading the word about it. After that, you can make money each time your digital product sells without being actively involved in the process.
Another way is to schedule brand sponsorships from Swapstack in advance so you know how much money to expect each month. You can create a calendar with the dates you’re sending out your newsletter. That way, brands can book slots that suit their needs, and you can make a decent income each time you send a newsletter out.
Don’t sell your time
When you sell your time and effort, you’ll have to keep working hard every day to make money. This isn’t a scalable model as you can’t keep increasing the number of hours you work with each new project or freelance client.
But if you’re a writer with a few years of experience and you’ve spent years building your brand, then you can find a way to sell your brand instead of your time. This way, you’ll reap the fruits of all the years you spent building your name without investing time and effort every day.
For example, if you have successfully sold 100,000 copies of your book, you can arrange a book publishing workshop. Several new authors would want to join just because of your credentials even if you charge a premium price.
Or if you’ve built a six-figure monthly income by freelancing for businesses, you can write a book about how to replicate this level of success. Many people would love to buy it, even if you price it relatively high.
Other ways to sell your name are doing consultation calls, carrying out brand collaborations, writing guest posts, among many others. Once you open your eyes, the possibilities are truly endless. All you have to do is start looking for them and believe that you’re capable of attracting wealth.
With the continuous growth and promising future of the creator economy, the best time to make a living as a writer is now. Several platforms are willing to pay huge sums of money to write exactly what you want. Even if you don’t want to rely on a single platform, you can take your audience off-platform by starting your own email newsletter.
An important mindset shift is to learn to think of writing as a job and not a hobby. You have to be platform-independent and learn to collaborate with other creators rather than resenting them for being more successful than you. Here are the steps to turn your audience into a business:
- Venture out of your comfort zone and start exploring websites and projects that pay well.
- Capitalize on your audience by taking them off-platform and monetizing your newsletter. You can do this in several ways, but working on meaningful and high-paying brand sponsorships can be highly sustainable.
- Establish multiple income streams and work on building some form of passive income so you can keep making money by writing without burning out. An upscalable model is one where you’re selling your brand value, not your time or effort.
Every writer can be an entrepreneur if they learn to think and act like one. What are some steps you’re taking to convert your writing into a business? Let me know in the comments.
If you enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it with your writer friends who might benefit from learning about these strategies.