Freelance writing is a tough business for anyone – no matter what language you speak or write in.
There’s good money to be made, but the high paying gigs tend to have very strict requirements and they demand a level of talent that most people don’t have.
That’s why I was so pleased to get a chance to interact with Jawad Khan. He’s a Pakistani freelance writer who not only is successful as an English writer, but writes for U.S. clients.
I don’t point this out because it’s impossible or strange – it’s not. However, language skill is probably the most significant hurdle for any writer, especially one who is writing in a language that isn’t his or her first language.
Not only does Jawad have good English skills, but he’s also a great writer in general. More importantly, he knows how to brand himself (and he’ll explain why this is so important).
Check out the interview, and let me know what you think.
Jawad, I love reading your content over at Writing My Destiny, as you always have a lot of great tips about blogging and freelance writing. Tell us a bit about your journey and how you left the corporate world to become a freelance writer. What led you to taking the plunge? What are you most focused on within your business today?
A bit about me and how I left the corporate world:
I’m an ordinary 27 year old guy from Pakistan. 2007 was the first time I heard about freelance writing, when I came across a university friend who was working for a few online clients.
But his rates were so low that I never considered it a serious profession.
I graduated with a Marketing degree in 2008 and started my job hunt right away. This is when I first came a across an online B2B trading portal called TradeKey, a company that was looking for online customer relationship managers for their Pakistan office.
What I saw at that company absolutely changed my perception about online businesses. I never thought a simple looking business on a website could employ over 200 people in a huge office building.
I worked there for 4 years and learned LOTS of things about internet businesses, web development & design, and of course, content marketing.
Having seen the company make literally millions of dollars every year, I thought that even if I could make 1% of that money on my own, I could live a completely independent life. After all, they did have the typical corporate culture (which I hated of course).
I started searching for online money making opportunities and started a few blogs with the intention of earning money from AdSense. That, unfortunately, didn’t work out.
But by the end of 2012, I was so fed up with my job and so pumped up for an online income that I resigned from my position of Project Manager and started testing my luck with all sorts of money making strategies.
I started a business process outsourcing website, a blog for AdSense income, a B2B trading website and a few other projects.
Unfortunately, none of them worked.
That’s unfortunate, but there is comfort in knowing that all successful people fail throughout their journey to success. Can you tell us a bit more about these failures? What did you learn from them?
I actually went through a number of failures before I found an unlikely savior in the form of freelance blogging. As I said earlier, I started a business process outsourcing company, an online trading portal and a few other blogs to earn AdSense revenue.
I wasted a lot of time with all these projects in the hope of getting some returns. But nothing materialized.
In fact, it was out of sheer desperation that I turned towards freelance blogging because I was quickly running out of money and had no regular source of income. So I had a lot at stake, both in terms of money and my reputation, especially after resigning from a steady job.
But, all this also taught me a great lesson. The only way you can succeed in anything is by giving it the respect it deserves. And by respect, I mean giving it the required time and effort.
When I look back at all those projects, I realize that I was just looking to make quick money with all of them. I did not have a solid plan. I had a vague idea about the business model, but I never wrote down anything. That never allowed me to focus on one project. My mind was always running between different projects without giving the necessary time and focus to any of them.
So for me, the biggest lesson was to to focus on what you’re doing. Don’t start 10 different projects without giving proper attention to any of them. Write them down, and go through them one by one.
Identify milestones for each of them and focus on them separately.
Otherwise you’ll end up with lots of projects that never materialized.
What has been your greatest success (or successes) so far?
Being able to make a full-time online income without a corporate job is something I’m really proud of (and thankful for as well).
It’s something very few people are successfully doing in my local circle because of the different problems we’re facing in our part of the world.
You can get a better idea about this in one of my earliest posts: The Reason I Believe You Can Start Your Writing Business Now!
But apart from that, I think two things really stand out for me:
Number one, the first time I was able to make $3,000 in a month purely with my freelance writing projects. That was a HUGE achievement for me. When I started out, even $500 seemed beyond me because of the kind of responses I got from clients. So that really was a milestone month for me that broke all the mental barriers and gave me the belief to seriously consider freelance writing as a profession.
I also consider it a major achievement because most of my clients are from USA, Europe and Australia, and almost all of them prefer working with native writers. So to be able to compete with the natives and command almost the same rates is definitely something I’m proud of.
I’m now working with a number of leading bloggers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs in different roles (blogging, ghostwriting, content consultancy).
The other major achievement, that gave me a glimpse of the business opportunities in this industry, was when I worked with a mobile application development company in the Middle East as an offshore freelance content marketing consultant.
They were developing a smartphone application Amaaken that would give buying recommendations to its users based on their preferences, budgets, social circles and locations. It was a HUGE project that was started as a joint venture with the Middle East telecom giants Etisalat.
It was a groundbreaking project for me as I was able to independently work with their team as the lead content designer. All our communication was done through Skype and e-mail.
I developed their corporate profiles, their sales and marketing content, and the content for their web and mobile applications. All of it is not online yet.
I’ve asked this question to other freelance writers I’ve interviewed, and I want to get your take on it: What intrigues me so much about freelance writing is that the business has SO many different segments. There are people who write “garbage” for $3 an article, and then there are others who are amazing writers and can command $200 or more for a blog post. The funny thing is, there is demand for each of these segments, so each has its place in this world.
Putting aside “natural writing ability,” what is it that you think make the $200+ per article writers so successful? What’s the #1 thing holding everyone else back?
Branding. Branding, Branding!
That’s the only thing that can get you high paying clients.
You need to be a smart marketer. Forget all the internet marketing tips and tricks for a moment. Look at your freelance writing career as a real world business.
I often share the example of a beef burger with my readers. My mother makes awesome beef burgers. Way better than Burger King, McDonald’s or any other burger I’ve eaten.
But just because it tastes better than the major burger brands, doesn’t mean it will sell for the same amount. In fact, nobody would buy her burgers for the same amount. Because she doesn’t have a brand. It’s simple homemade food.
The same goes for freelance writers or any other business. You need to treat yourself as a product and then brand yourself intelligently.
There are thousands of freelance writers on the internet and all of them claim to be good writers. And to make matters worse, they’re willing to work for $5 for a 1000 word post.
The only way you can convince a client to pay you $80, $120, $200 or $300+ for a blog post is by showing him your brand value. Your rates are directly proportional to the strength of your brand. And in my opinion, guest blogging is a great way to establish that brand image.
I recently wrote a post on this topic. I think your readers will find it useful.
For someone who is just starting out and wants to get into freelance writing, what advice would you offer? What do you wish someone told you about when you first started?
I think a lot of the new freelance writers and bloggers believe that freelancing is some kind of a party club where everyone’s having fun all the time without any fears or concerns.
Freelancing is hard work and there’s no easy money.
Things have changed dramatically over the last year. There’s much more demand for freelance writers and bloggers. But only those who intelligently brand themselves for the clients will be able to command higher rates. Others will keep working for pennies.
So my advice for anyone who wants to start freelance writing would be to focus on building their brand image and treat freelancing as a serious business.
Start a blog but don’t try to provide solutions for every niche. Pick your strongest niche and then stick to it. Be an expert in it and write content on your blog with your target customers in mind. You’re not blogging for traffic. Your blog posts are samples for clients.
Create great samples on your blog and then get your name on the top blogs of your niche by guest blogging.
Once you have the samples ready, reach out to your clients aggressively. And have the courage to refuse low paying clients. Don’t undervalue your services.
The clients need your content, and you’re not committing any crime by charging them high rates. They’ll make thousands of dollars using your content. Just be confident and trust your abilities. You’ll eventually come across the right clients.
Let’s take a step back and look more generally at blogging and running a business online. I know you have a lot of great advice to share, but If you had to take your best advice and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
If you don’t value your own talents, don’t expect your clients to value you either. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources?
There are a few blogs that have been instrumental in my growth as a blogger and freelancer. I believe every blogger should follow them.
1) Writersincharge.com – My friend Bamidele Onibalusi
2) LeavingWorkBehind.com – The ever inspiring Tom Ewer
3) QuickSprout.com – Neil “the amazing” Patel
4) Viperchill.com – Glenn Alsop
I follow a few other blogs as well, but I believe these four are enough to teach you everything about freelance blogging and internet marketing in general.
In web tools, Google Analytics and Webmaster are my best buddies.
I am also a regular Mouseflow user – it gives you the screen recordings of your visitors. It helped me make a lot of changes on my blog and they worked wonders.
Are there any other projects that you’re working apart from freelance blogging?
Yes I am. In fact, freelance blogging and writing projects have taken a bit of a back seat lately because of my consultancy commitments. I am working with a few web and mobile application development companies as a freelance marketing consultant as well.
I shared this with my blog readers a few months ago in this post: Here’s How Freelance Writers Can Become Marketing Consultants
I’m also planning to launch a design, development and content marketing agency in a few months (hopefully). My younger brother is a brilliant web designer, and I have a small team of developers (software/mobile) on standby. If all goes according to plan, you might hear about this new company pretty soon.
But freelance writing and blogging is my first love and it’s definitely at the top of my priority list.
Finally, where can people find you online?
I am very active on my blog www.writingmydestiny.com, so I can be reached from there. I would love your readers to subscribe to my mailing list of course. 🙂
I am also quite active on Twitter and you can follow me at http://www.twitter.com/WritingMDestiny
Look forward to hearing from you guys.
Thanks a lot Jawad! It’s really inspiring to learn more about your story of becoming a freelance writer (and everything else you’ve gotten involved with).
What sort of barriers have you overcome in your business? If you’re a freelance writer, how have you dealt with branding? Leave a comment below!
(If you enjoyed this interview, I’d greatly appreciate you sharing it using either the buttons below or to the left. Thanks! 🙂 )