How One Weekend’s Work Led to Thousands of Dollars in Freelance Writing Gigs

How one weekend's work led to thousands of dollars in freelance writing gigs - Freelance Writing Pros

A while back, I chatted with a few colleagues about my first e-book. It sold reasonably well, or at least much better than I expected it to at the time. In direct sales, it brought in a little over $4000 in the year-and-a-half I kept it on the market. And that involved just simple blog and forum promotion. I did nothing particularly ambitious, no email marketing, no big campaigns. But in addition to those direct sales, it led to lucrative client relationships bringing in thousands of dollars in freelance writing gigs in its first year, and tens of thousands of dollars in the years after. It still occasionally brings in new clients. And that all came from a single weekend’s work.

Those colleagues I talked to encouraged me to share the story.  So I’d like to share some of the details so you can find similar success with your own nonfiction e-books serving as marketing and platform pieces to help you attract more freelance writing gigs.

What I Did

Here’s a quick rundown of my process at the time:

1. I outlined and drafted a short e-book of around 20 pages.

I created this as a traditional .pdf e-book, at a time when 20-50 pages was the norm. When you go for short e-books like this, it’s important that you make them highly specialized, and in this case actionable. These kinds of e-books can still sell well, especially if you already have an email list or a decent amount of traffic to your professional website.

2. That e-book targeted my ideal freelance clients.

At the time, most of my clients came to me for PR consulting and related PR writing (press releases, media kits, ghostwritten trade features, case studies, etc.). So that’s who I targeted with the e-book. I designed it to teach them how to do one of my own most popular services — writing and distributing their own press releases.

3. I converted the edited e-book into a downloadable .pdf and uploaded it to a distribution service.

Back then, I used ClickBank to distribute the e-book. Now I use E-junkie for this (and have for over a decade and highly recommend them).

4. The initial price was set to $17.

When you’re selling a highly-specific, actionable guide in an area of your expertise, you don’t charge based on length. You charge based on value. That’s why short e-books of this kind often sell for significantly more than more general mass-market books. But you must make sure you offer enough value to justify it — it has to make or save the buyer significantly more than they’re spending. In this sense, and for that time, $17 was a very low-priced introductory product. And later I lowered that price to $7 before I retired the product and released it as a freebie (which I still do).

5. I promoted the product, though not aggressively.

At the time, I worked mostly with solopreneurs and online business owners. I also served as a moderator for a major online business and webmaster forum where I had significant influence, attracting some of my most loyal clients, some of whom are still with me today. I primarily promoted the e-book there (nothing pushy — a post when I’d run a special, a post when it launched, linking in my forum signature, etc.). And I promoted it on my own business site, which wasn’t particularly high-traffic at the time. These days you could do similar with whatever social network you connect to prospects best on.

Why it Worked (and How You Can do it Too)

As you can see, the process didn’t involve anything complicated. And while I wouldn’t do things exactly the same way now, it worked out very well at the time. For example, today I’d cross-promote it on my own sites (as they largely target small business owners and creative solopreneurs as well), and I’d consider setting up an email list on my business site if I intend to sell multiple products (which I do intend to do starting in 2020).

If you can use one short nonfiction e-book to generate five figures of income in freelance writing gigs with a minimal time investment, imagine what you could do by publishing several.

If you’d like to try a similar approach, here’s what made my first e-book so profitable:

  • The e-book was short and easily-digestible.
  • Information was actionable
  • The content focused on my expertise where others couldn’t offer that same content (as the first specializing in that particular service for those particular types of business owners, I identified an unfulfilled need and stepped in to create my specialty there).
  • I made a point of being where my target clients were.
  • The content tightly aligned with a specific service I offered.
  • I priced it lower than the related services, as a sort of lead-in offer for those unsure if they were willing to pay for my services yet.
  • The e-book was set up to teach prospects how to do what I could do for them, at a lower price point than my services.
  • I designed the e-book to help clients better understand exactly what I did for them (they often tried themselves, realized why expertise mattered in that area, and then hired me for the next project).
  • The e-book ended with a call to action inviting readers to contact me for their next project.

Remember. This was my first e-book, created largely as a test and mostly as an authority piece. While its success made it a very profitable project, I’d consider it a moderate success at best. With a little more time to sink into a premium-value e-book or guide (and an ability to tie it to a larger revenue plan), you can earn even more than I did.

Here are some ways you might do that:

  • Sell a series of these e-books at increasing levels of difficulty or for different verticals or project types. The more specific, the better.
  • Sell the e-book, and then tie it into another paid product like a template collection or worksheets to help them try their hand at what you do.
  • Give the e-book away for free, but use it to build an email list for more directly pitching freelance writing gigs to your prospects.

We’ll talk more about how you can use teaching to land even more freelance writing gigs in a future post. But for now, consider whether adding an introductory product might be a good way for you to connect with more prospects on the fence.

This post was originally published on January 12, 2015 at All Freelance Writing. It has since been updated for Freelance Writing Pros readers.


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11 thoughts on “How One Weekend’s Work Led to Thousands of Dollars in Freelance Writing Gigs”

  1. Great advice!

    How much time did you spend in the forums? How did you balance your personal writing projects with client projects? Life? 🙂 I want 2015 to be one an Awesome year. However, I need to examine where I spend my time.

    • At that point I was a member of the main forum for maybe 8 months or so (at most), and I had joined the others from a few months before the launch to around the time of the launch. But most of my energy went into the first one. You can’t just jump in and expect make immediate sales. So it’s best to use your existing online presence whenever possible (for many writers that might be social networks rather than forums, but forums are still very popular — and less saturated — for this particular target group). And the best way to do it is to offer tips and answer questions — be generous in sharing what you know. People see that you know what you’re talking about, they like that you’re willing to take time to help them when you can, they grow to trust you, and that makes them much more likely to buy from you.

      Balance is always tough, but personally I thrive in a crazy environment with a lot going on. I would be bored to tears on a daily basis if I didn’t have a good mix. Here are a few tips:

      – Have a regular schedule. You don’t always have to stick to it perfectly, but if someone wants something and it’s outside of those normal business hours, it’s much easier to say “no.” It also helps set client expectations and helps you with scheduling other things.

      – Schedule time off just like you’d schedule work. My official work day ends at noon because I get up at an obscene hour. Best decision ever (other than taking all Fridays off). Sometimes I put in extra hours — if there’s nothing else going on, I’m otherwise bored, I’m really into a project and don’t want to stop, or it’s just friggin’ cold outside and I have no interest in going out (like now, where we’re pretty much covered in ice). That schedule means I can schedule in personal things each afternoon — gardening, errands, having family over to swim in the summer, or taking a three-day weekend away when I want to. Build the flexibility into your routine, and it’s much easier to protect all that “life” stuff. 🙂

      – Treat your own writing projects as you would treat client projects. And the reverse of that — treat clients’ projects as well as you’d treat your own (I have a post on that very topic scheduled for the 27th if you want to know more about it). If you treat your own projects like they’re less important, they’ll become less important. And that means they’re easier to neglect. Set income goals overall for your business. And then come up with a plan that combines client work and your own projects to reach that goal. When there’s a financial target attached, it’s easier to justify time on things that don’t pay you immediately. You can focus more on the fact that there’s often a bigger payout once you’ve invested a bit of time and effort. 🙂

  2. I want to get out a series of small, non-fiction ebooks this year. In this era of free reports/ebooks, whatever you want to call them, I’d be interested in your take on how successful that strategy would be. Using your points above (of course) ;-), particularly on highly-specific target & subject.

    • Giving them away for free from the start would certainly work. I went the premium route in the beginning because there were literally no other guides like that written about that exact topic, and directed at my target clients. Basically, people would ask me the same questions all the damn time when we were discussing potential projects, and I realized I’d make more by putting the information out there in e-book form. If you’re working in a more saturated niche or industry, free might be the best way to get attention. But I’d only do that with a clear revenue path in place.

      Series in general are always a good idea because you increase your opportunity for first contact when you can target different buyer problems. I have several series of short e-books coming out (three different sites, four different series). I’d originally planned longer e-books, which is why it was taking me so long to get through them all. So now I’m breaking them down into shorter (and cheaper) guides on individual topics.

  3. Hi Jenn, excellent piece. Good reminder for freelancers that while Kindle publishing is great, there are other options as well.

    Information sells, and who better to sell it than freelancers, as an added income stream?

    I’m a big fan of free reports, as well as of short ebooks you sell. They give you credibility, and you can use them as a writing sample. And of course, they bring in some cash.

  4. Hi Jenn I love this article. I have been getting alot of information together to write several ebooks, especially on how to do…I started out knowing nothing about the internet and have learned so much and want to share my knowledge the the short cuts learned along the way.

    Thanks so much!


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