Recently, I reached that sweet spot where my day job was interfering with my side hustle enough so that I could finally quit. I’d already reduced my hours to three days a week back in August. But, by January, the writing was on the wall. I needed to make a decision one way or the other. I opted to take a leap of faith.
On the Subject of Confidence
Life’s journey will lead you to the most amazing places but only if you don’t jump off the bus the minute you hit a pothole or encounter a route sans signposts. I’ve worked as a graphic designer, receptionist, and caterer. I’ve spent time on film sets, battled red tape in government, and even did a brief stint with a team-maker. I’ve blogged for five-star game lodges, and run a baking business.
Potholes have never concerned me. I enjoy trying new things, and learning on the fly. The one area area, however, where my confidence has always wavered (read: teetered precariously) is my writing chops. I can string a sentence together, sure, but I’m no Steven Pressfield or Stephen King. Surely I couldn’t expect to pay the bills with my craft? Well, it turns out I can.
So what changed? It’s embarrassingly simple, really. I began writing full-time. It turns out, to get better at something, you actually have to practice. Around 18 months ago, I landed a job providing link building for an integrated marketing company. I had never even heard the term before but my new boss was generous with her knowledge and I quickly learned the ropes enough to master the art of blogger outreach. Like most things, once broken down into a series of steps, it wasn’t nearly as overwhelming as it had initially seemed. In fact, it proved to be relatively simple and a huge amount of fun.
Step 1: Google Search Operators (or, How to Find Writing Gigs)
I learned to search for link building opportunities by using Moz’s Open Site Explorer to see what our competitors were up to, and then attempted to replicate their successes. But, while certainly viable —especially if you’re, say, a marketing agency looking to rank for specific keywords —by far the easiest way to find writing gigs is Google. Using a combination of Google search operators and the MozBar, a tool for helping determine the popularity of a particular site, I found I could quickly identify reputable blogs for which to write. The Google search operators help you more easily find blogs in your niche while the MozBar assists in separating the wheat from the chaff.
Step 2: Pitch Like a Pro
I may have been late to the link building party but pretty much everyone else out there knows that this is one tactic you need in your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) arsenal. In the beginning, it was easy but then the shady characters in black hats messed it up for everyone and Google moved its algorithm goalposts – like three fields over! Suddenly, ranking for a specific keyword went from being a cakewalk to a six-month hike. In other words, you actually had to make an effort to get that coveted link back to your site.
It takes work but it’s a simple enough process. All you really need to succeed is the desire to add value. Focus more on what you can give to the site from which you are seeking a link than what you can get from that site, and you’re all but guaranteed to hit a home run. The home run, in this case, meaning a followed link back to your blog.
Once you’ve identified a place to pitch, the next step is to draft a short, to-the-point email explaining who you are, why you’re getting in touch, and what your potential angle is.
Heads up. One surefire way to have your pitch land in the bin is to outright ask for a link back to your blog. Besides being downright grabby, it’s not at all in keeping with our aforementioned ‘add value’ ethos. Besides, if you’ve done your homework, then you’ll already know their stance on the subject anyway.
Step 3: Write (Also Like a Pro)
Essentially, link building boils down to a trade exchange. You write a really decent piece of content on a topic that would be of interest to their readers and, in return, the blogger offers you a followed link back to your website (usually in your bio). At first glance, it looks like a win/win, which is obviously great. The truth is, if you’ve written your best work, it’s actually a win/win/win. Why? They get good content for their readers, you get a link from a reputable site with a decent DA (Domain Authority), and you have fodder for your writing portfolio. Sweet.
Step 4: Rinse and Repeat (Sort Of)
While this approach is great for finding guest posts, and building a name for your blog, if you’re a freelance writer, you’re looking to get paid for your efforts as well. Backlinks may push you up the Google ranks, but they don’t pay the bills. Now, it’s a matter of using the same principles outlined above, adding ‘paid’ to your search criteria, and trying even harder. You write more. You write better. You write faster.
… And, you profit from it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Another take on this strategy can be found here. The article was written in 2006, so some of the resources mentioned no longer exist, but the concepts are still relevant today.
Angela Horn is a Cape Town-based freelance writer, minimalist lifestyle blogger, and back-slidden java junkie. She pens her missives on her blog: Mostly Mindful, and has been known to give the odd TEDx talk.