Digital Nomad Jobs

Digital Nomad Jobs: Content Creator — How to make a living as a writer

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For the first 4 years of my travels, I made nearly all of my income as a content creator. Here’s how I built that career.

Content Creator Banner
This was my banner for years as a content creator

Freelance Writer vs. Content Creator

If you have the marketing chops, storytelling skills, and drive to build a traditional freelance career (or if you consider your writing to be an art form rather than a commodity), you should probably pursue that path instead of the one I’m going to lay out for you. The freelance writer path is ultimately better paying and offers more freedom and self-direction than the path I’m going to lay out for you below.

There are hundreds of books, websites, and magazines that will teach you how to become a freelance writer, so I won’t try to cover that here, but essentially it involves generating ideas for articles or stories, marketing them to publishers or publications, and hopefully selling some of them.

I chose the role of a content creator to fund my nomadic life instead. In this role, you write content on assignment for websites, marketing materials, and blogs. This career suited me because I was more interested in having a small, steady income than in expressing myself artistically. I can spell out for you exactly how to start making money as a content creator immediately.

Pros and Cons of Being a Content Creator

The upsides: I enjoyed sitting down at my desk with six assignments laid out for me and no marketing to do. Researching a variety of topics was fun for me. I could work when and where I wanted and earn income from anywhere in the world. My earnings averaged $30+ an hour (although for every hour I worked, I needed an hour of downtime to recharge!). It’s easy to start working as a content creator as a side hustle while you are still working full-time and costs nothing to begin.

The downsides: The topics weren’t always interesting (I wrote about air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration a LOT). I went through periods where I wrote 6 blog posts a day, and others where I had a whole week off. Payments are sometimes slow, and you might need 6 months to a year to build a steady income. Also, you can’t really produce content eight hours a day — you need downtime scattered through the day.

How to Get Started as a Content Creator

1) Sign up with Copypress

Copypress is one of the best places to learn the ropes of content creation. There are three reasons I say that.

  1. Copypress won’t ask to see published clips. They don’t care if you’ve been published before. They just ask you to be competent, have decent grammar/spelling skills, and be able to follow directions.
  2. It’s a good training ground for a new content creator. Writing for the web has its own criteria for word counts, paragraph length, link-creation, and SEO considerations. After a few months with Copypress, you will be very comfortable in this medium.
  3. There is plenty of work, and the pay is better than content mills.

A ‘content mill’ is like a sweatshop for writers, and some of them pay just $5 per post.

Copypress was paying me 6¢ a word when I last wrote for them so a 600-word blog post paid $36. Experienced writers expect $100 or more for a 600 word blog post, but this is very different work. Copypress gave me a topic, headline, some direction, and the resources I needed to research, so I could write a 600 word blog post in 45 minutes. Plus, I didn’t need to market the work. That’s a lot faster than traditional writing.

The Copypress Process

Getting started with Copypress is easy, if you have good grammar you can compose coherent paragraphs, and you follow directions well. Read their study materials, pass a simple quiz, and then prove yourself by writing a sample assignment. That’s it — and if you don’t pass the first time, you can try again.

Once you’ve passed the test, you may have the option to become “certified” in specific content categories (I was certified in copywriting and travel writing, for instance). Definitely do that!

Soon you’ll be offered assignments. Each assignment has a due date, a pay rate, a description, and the option to accept or decline. In my earliest days with Copypress, I was offered assignments that paid only 3-4¢ per word. I declined those and accepted only the ones for 6¢ a word.

When you get those first assignments, you’ll be overwhelmed by the guidelines. There’s a lot to learn, and your first several assignments will take a long time to write. Once you figure it out, though, things will speed up dramatically. And if you prove that you can follow directions and deliver usable content on deadline, you’ll be offered plenty of work.

Some Downsides

People who are further along in their careers will say that Copypress doesn’t pay well. Based on my experience with them I disagree. Once you fully grasp the style guides for different types of clients, this work goes FAST. Earning $36 for a post that takes 45 minutes to create is a decent hourly wage for a beginner, even as an independent contractor. However, there are other downsides.

Most of the work you’ll do for Copypress is ghostwriting — your byline goes to someone else when the work is published. I saw my work all over the internet under other people’s names, but that’s the nature of this work. A few clients were willing to offer a byline, and I gave preference to those in order to build my body of work online.

The other downside is that it takes forever to get paid — four months was not uncommon when I was there. Your work goes through a process of review by both Copypress and the client before the client is even billed, and you’re not paid until Copypress is paid. I always got paid, eventually, and it was always safe to assume that I’d still need money in four months, so I tried not to let that bother me. It’s best if Copypress isn’t your sole source of revenue (I earned about $600-800 a month there) so the cash flow situation doesn’t kill you.

Alternative: If Copypress isn’t for you, you can learn how to write great content on your own. You need to learn some writing rules that are unique to the internet (short paragraphs, frequent headings, how to ethically source illustrations) and some basics about SEO (keywords, anchor text, how many links to include in one piece). You can find all that information online for free if you’re willing to search, read, and practice on your own. You won’t get paid while you’re doing it, but it’ll be worthwhile in the end.

2. Join Constant Content

The Constant Content site is a marketplace that lets bloggers, website owners, and newsletter producers buy content from writers. Once you learn the basics of writing good copy for the web and basic SEO principles (either through Copypress or independent study), this is a good place to take your ideas.

Like Copypress, CC doesn’t care about your history or track record; all that matters is your ability to create good content. The signup process involves passing a quiz and writing up a brief sample. CC doesn’t offer the kind of on-the-job training that Copypress offers, and it doesn’t provide you with readymade story ideas. The training wheels are off. You’ll need to know what kind of copy is marketable, and how to pitch it.

The site does have standards, though. Every article is reviewed by an editor before it’s included in the catalogue. If an article is rejected, you can rework it and resubmit it; you’ll probably learn a lot in the process.

The site has a system where buyers can make requests and writers can submit work they’ve already written or create a proposal. I find that process stressful and unproductive; for me, CC works better as a place to drop general interest pieces.

What kind of content sells? Anything that you might see in an employee newsletter or on a commercial website. General-interest topics like health, wellness, travel, financial management, and entrepreneurship do well for me. You can view the ‘recently sold’ articles on the site to get inspiration and ideas.

I use this site mostly to recycle the research I’ve done for clients. I fully rewrite each piece with a different slant so I’m not plagiarizing myself, and offer the results on CC. If you just keep stockpiling good content, you will begin to see sales eventually. I have pieces of content on that site that are still selling years after they were written. I price a typical 600-word blog post in the $50-85 range and longer pieces (over 1000 words) around $150. CC keeps a 35% cut. Ouch, but I really hate marketing my own work, so it’s well worth it to me.

They claim that something like 80% of all articles accepted on the site eventually sell, and I believe it. I’ve only had two articles that didn’t sell over the years, and I knew those were long shots when I placed them. If you write about popular topics (personal finance, small business, health and beauty do well for me) and follow their pricing guidelines, you’ll do well.

You’ll also get a cute widget like this to add to your website!

Sign up with Constant Content at this link (this is my affiliate link, and proceeds help support this site).

3. Branch Out as a Professional

When you’ve grasped the basics of content creation, you can combine that knowledge with your other expertise and start marketing yourself to blogs in your content area. For instance, I have a background in yoga, fitness, entrepreneurship, travel, and writing about the St. Louis scene, and I’ve found work in all those areas as a content creator.

Rather than marketing individual pieces of work like freelance writers do, content creators typically contract for regular content with one or more outlets. So I might create a weekly 600-word post for one website, and twice-monthly 1000 word posts for another. Unlike Copypress, you will probably have to generate your own content ideas, which may need to go through an approval process, so remember to build that time into your rate.

Rates for ongoing blogging vary wildly, but beginners should expect to receive a minimum of $50 for a short (under 600 word) post and $100 for a standard 600-800 word piece. An in-depth 1,000 word piece will require a great deal of research or expertise and should be priced at no less than $250, in my opinion.

Experienced writers and those with specialized expertise can command much higher prices, of course.

Where to look for work

There are a lot of so-called “opportunities” out there that aren’t worth your time — fiverr, upwork, and most content mills are paying slave wages to writers. Remember, as a self-employed person, you are already paying your own taxes, insurance, etc. Set your hour rates at 3X what you’d expect as an hourly or salaried worker.

Watch out for any opportunities that feel like they’re selling to you rather than asking you to jump through hiring hoops. Lots of people dream of becoming writers, and there are predatory folks out there who will take advantage of you.

But there is also plenty of demand, and lots of real opportunities. This is a vetted list of sites that post legitimate gigs for content creators.

One last tip: Get the Grammarly plug-in for your browser so your work always looks professional. One of my editors at Copypress suggested it to me, and it’s been making me look good to my clients and editors ever since. In fact, Grammarly caught over a dozen minor errors on this post before I published it.

Lauren Haas is a nomadic freelance writer. She has been traveling the world, living out of a backpack, since May of 2013. She loves to travel on a budget, learning about different cultures and cuisines.

3 Comments

  1. Kristine

    April 13, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    This is fabulously helpful for giving me a direction (finally, after a year of floundering around) and cuts right to the nuts and bolts of it. Thank you!

    • Lauren Haas

      April 13, 2019 at 3:51 pm

      You are welcome! This plan pretty much worked for me, I hope it works for you as well.

  2. Juana

    April 14, 2019 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Lauren. These tips are so helpful.

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