Podcast Episode 59: Make Your Hobbies Pay – How Freelance Writers Can Earn Cash with Topics They Love in Niches They Already Understand

Are you looking to boost your freelancing income? There might be some areas close to your heart that you haven’t considered tapping before… check out this week’s podcast to find out more and get some potentially lucrative ideas!

In my work I can be called upon to write on a wide variety of topics, but sometimes when I’m searching my brain for a suitable subject to write about I overlook some of the most obvious ideas: those things I love and am passionate about.

Most people have a number of hobbies and interests outside of writing, and our knowledge and expertise in these areas can be tapped to produce ideas to write about, and to inform our writing. So in this podcast episode, I talk about a number of ways to make money by writing about interests and hobbies, for different platforms and audiences.

Show Notes

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Hello, and welcome to Episode 59 of A Little Bird Told Me: the freelance writing podcast about the highs, the lows, and the no-nos of successful self-employment.

You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and from there you can find the links to subscribe to the podcast, which you really want to do because then you can make sure you’re the first to hear when we have a new episode out every week.  You might be an iTunes user or you might use RSS feeds to subscribe to your favourite podcasts or maybe you’re a Stitcher Smart Radio fan.  The links to all of those options are there at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.  You’ll also find a link to our Facebook page.  So come over, like the page and say hi, and also links to my own websites and social media feeds.

I am Philippa Willitts and I am doing a solo episode today.  Lorrie will be back with me next week if you’re missing her terribly but in the meantime have a listen to this and see what you think.

Also, if you’re listening to this and you’re already to embark on NaNoWriMo you don’t want to miss our episode last week.  So go to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, again, and go to Episode 58 where we provide tons of information and ideas for how to get through NaNoWriMo without tearing your hair out.

Today is Episode 59 and I’m going to talk about how freelance writers can earn money based on the hobbies and interests they’ve already got.

A lot of the work we do as freelance writers you have to do lots of research, you have to learn about the topic before you can write about it, you have to learn general topics as well as more specific areas within a niche.  You could spend as much time, if not more, researching as you do writing but what we often forget is that we have areas that we already know an awful lot about, things that we do regularly, things that we might read about for fun, things that we spend our time getting involved in.  It’s easy to forget that we can also apply those and use those as part of our freelance writing work to earn us some extra cash or even to focus our writing careers on.

The thing that got me thinking about this was when I was doing some work myself for a client and I was thinking about the different types of work commissions I receive and how much quicker it is for me to write on subjects that I’m already familiar with.  You know, because I do specialist writing on social media and SEO I know that if I get a commission to write 1000 words about a particular new Facebook change I don’t have to do all the background research about what current Facebook statistics are important, how many users there are currently, how many users there are in the UK, what kind of engagement rates, how the site works, how businesses can use it best because this is stuff I know because it’s stuff I enjoy reading about and it’s stuff I write about all the time.  So all I had to research for that particular article was this particular new change that I was being asked to write about.

If, on the other hand, I had been asked to write about a particular change in retail law, for instance, I would have had to do the same research about this recent change but I would have also had to get a real grounding in retail law itself.  I’d need at least, at the very least, a general overview of the most significant, most important aspects of retail law in whatever country I was writing about.  So that, although it could have been a very similar piece of work, would have taken me an awful lot more time to research and write than something in one of my specialist areas.

Takoyaki cooking
Takoyaki cooking (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now in my work I do a combination of that kind of specialist work and also more generalised work.  So I have a nice combination of the two but it really did get me thinking about how much quicker it is to write on those familiar subjects.  So I was thinking then about different hobbies and interests that people have, things like going to live music gigs or model making or maybe you’re interested in learning about science or you enjoy sport or reading sci-fi or cooking, gardening, photography, DIY, decorating.  Even things like parenting or surviving on a low budget may not be hobbies but they’re certainly subjects that many people are expert in.

So the first thing to do is have a think about that kind of thing.  What kind of things do your friends ask you for advice on, for instance?  If you find that you’re the person that your friends ring if they have a baking disaster they want to know how to fix, a curdled cake mix for instance, or if you’re the person they ring because a shop is refusing to refund their money for a damaged product and you perhaps, say, used to volunteer with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau so you know all about consumer rights, have a think about what people ask you about because that’s a good indication that it’s something that people respect your opinion on, something that people know that you really understand and that can be something to use to your advantage while freelancing.

Similarly with more hobby related things what, at the end of a working day, do you really look forward to doing?  Are you learning Spanish or do you love nothing more than going to the cinema to watch all the latest films?  There are things that we take for granted that actually when you think about it you know an awful lot about because you’re passionate about it.

The fact is that these are the things that you’re reading about or learning about or just know an awful lot about already.  So it makes sense to use that knowledge and information to make your life as a freelancer easier to spend more of your freelancing time doing things that you really have a passion for and also to give you a leg up in specialist areas.

So have a think and start writing down for things that fascinate you, the things that you love, the things that you really know a lot about and start developing some ideas of those kind of niches that you might want to start spending more of your writing time doing.  Once you’ve got those down there are so many ways to use that information and knowledge you’ve got and turn it into work, turn it into money.

You may decide that you don’t want to focus the majority of your freelance career on those areas.  You might think they are hobbies because, “I enjoy them.  I don’t want to start working on them and then finding that I lose interest.”  That’s fine.  This doesn’t have to be 100% of your freelance writing work.

However, maybe you want it to be 10% or maybe you just want the occasional relatively easy piece of work where you don’t have to research the background of everything because you can talk about it off the top of your head and talk about it well.  So we’re going to look at different ways you can use that knowledge and information.

English: Cinema 4 at HOYTS, Forest Hill Shoppi...
English: Cinema 4 at HOYTS, Forest Hill Shopping Centre, Forest Hill, Victoria, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the first idea is to approach businesses and websites in that niche to see if they need any writing.  So let’s look at the cinema, that was one of the ideas I mentioned earlier.  You might love going to the cinema to see the latest films.  Have a look at some film review websites and pitch a review for the most recent film you’ve seen.  Contact them, say a little bit about yourself, why you’re the perfect person to write this review, give them a brief outline of what you thought of the film and the kind of things you would write within the review and ask them if they’re interested.  It can be worth checking in that particular instance have they already reviewed that film but what’s great about this kind of approach is that especially pitching reviews you can end up getting lots of freebies.  If you prove yourself, you write a few reviews that demonstrate that you’re very good at writing about film then they might approach you, the site might approach you in the future and say, “We’ve got some free tickets for this film.  If we review it would you like the free ticket?”

The same could happen with reviewing restaurants or live music gigs or all sorts.  You can start off by reviewing things you’ve paid to see and end up getting freebies to go and see more of those things without having to pay and getting to write about it afterwards.  It’s a really good way of building up your name in the industry and making contact with people who are also passionate about the same subject.  So find some paying review sites if that’s your thing.

Alternatively, if you’re into pottery then you might want to approach some craft websites or some ceramics websites and suggest to them that you write a ‘how to’ article about how to make the perfect bowl.  That’s not a very creative pottery idea, I have to admit, but I haven’t done pottery since school and I don’t think we ever got beyond bowls.

If you recently got married and you love dressmaking and you made your own wedding dress contact some wedding websites, some dressmaking websites and offer a ‘how to’, a real step by step approach of how exactly you made your wedding dress.  If you thought ahead ideally you’d have taken photos at each stage in the production and that, if you explain that you have photos to back up what you’re talking about, ending, of course, with a photo of you looking stunning in the wedding dress, then they might offer you £100, £200 for that.

The next thing to do, and this is very similar actually, and that’s to pitch stories on your topic of choice to industry magazines.  So your pottery story or your wedding dress story you might approach some crafty DIY magazines and see whether they want to feature a step by step approach to achieving a particular crafty task, be it a bowl, a wedding dress or whatever you love doing.

Similarly, if you have an amazing recipe for beetroot cake that everybody who tastes it loves then contact some bakery or cookery magazines.

Music magazines are always popular.  You know lots of people love music but if you can find the right magazine for your particular favourite then you’re on to a winner.  One of the real benefits of this kind of approach to freelance writing is that if you love live folk music, for instance, you already know which magazines are the best for this kind of story because chances are you read it yourself or you visit their website regularly.

So in the same way as you might approach an industry website, a website in that niche, then look at industry magazines as well and it doesn’t all have to be about you.  It doesn’t have to be you reviewing a gig or you making a bowl in pottery.  You can still use the information you’ve got to write in these ways but in a more objective, abstract way.  So if you love model railways you might not want to write, ‘My Model Railway Collection’, they probably wouldn’t want to publish it anyway, but you might want to interview somebody.  I know nothing about model railways.  I’m struggling a bit here.  You might want to interview, say, a manufacturer of a popular product in that niche and, again, the background information you already have due to your passion for model railways will make this a far easier task than if, like me, you don’t know the first thing about them.  Use the information you have.  Use the knowledge you have to make your own life easier to save you all that background research time.

The next idea is one that not everybody is into, and that’s fine, but there is a freelance writing website called Constant Content.  Now the way Constant Content works generally is that you write articles on spec and then buyers can purchase what you’ve written.  That’s the very short version.  There are real benefits and drawbacks to Constant Content.

On the positive you write whatever you want to write and you set your own prices.  You’re not in that ridiculous territory of most freelance writing websites where you pick up jobs that people are advertising and you write 500 words for $4, none of that.  They even have a minimum price that they allow you to set and you can write about anything you like.

They generally edit very, very strictly.  Constant Content is not a place to submit half-heartedly.  They will reject a piece famously for one wrong comma many times.  They’re quite renowned for it really.  It certainly made me get a bit stricter with myself sometimes because life’s much easier if they accept it first time.  The other real problem with Constant Content is that you’re writing on spec.  So you might write and write and write and not make any sales.

Now in reality, especially if you do take into account the kind of thing that people are looking for, the kind of subjects that do sell, and providing you write well about it chances are your things will sell but it can take a while.

What I love about Constant Content is that you just periodically get an email out of nowhere saying, “Your article’s sold.  You’ve earned £100.”  That’s a great feeling because if you did the work a few months ago it kind of feels like free money because it’s a while since you did it, so it’s great for that.

However, if you don’t like writing on spec you might not want to go this route, and that’s completely fine.  I totally understand why some writers avoid Constant Content.  I don’t spend tons of time on there because I do obviously prioritise work that is being paid for now rather than work that may sell in the future.  What I find it really good for is if I’ve done a piece of work that I’ve done a lot of research for but the client just wants one blog post about it I’ll sometimes then write a completely different article on the same topic for Constant Content.  I feel like I’m making use of the research I’ve already done.  Don’t even think about copying the work you’ve already done but if, for instance, you’ve just written about five things that can trigger a migraine and in the course of your research you learnt a lot about migraines you might then want to write how to cure a migraine and what medicines work best for migraine for Constant Content.  You’ve done the research so you don’t need to do a whole lot more and it just gives you that bit of content that at some point someone might buy and make you happy.

Seedlings from various seeds.
Seedlings from various seeds. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now using Constant Content to write about your hobbies and interests works in the same way.  You already know what temperature you should fire your kiln at; you already know what kind of thread you should use to sew your wedding dress; or what the rules of Rugby League are; or which plants are best planted in early May because you live this and you love it and it’s what you enjoy and it’s what you know a lot about.  So use that.  Spend an hour writing something about it and submit it there.  It might just earn you a few quid in the coming weeks or months.

However, like I say, if you don’t like the writing on spec model that’s completely fine.  So feel free to do that or ignore it, depending on your own preferences.

Now those ideas so far about how to make your hobbies pay have all been fairly short, quick ways of creating content from your own knowledge and information.  There are other things you can do that are a much bigger task but that actually have the potential to net you quite a bit more money.  So, again, it’s something to think about, something to consider as part of your freelance writing portfolio really.  So brace yourselves, these are big tasks but could really be a great way to indulge in your favourite hobby and combine that with your writing career.

Two main ideas.  One is build your own website.  Build a whole website around your hobby.  Fill it with tons and tons and tons of information that demonstrates how much you know your topic, that provides great information that people want to know and over time you build up traffic, you build up fans and you create yourself a reputation as a real authority in your field.

Now the initial bulk work of building your own website will take lots of hours, a little bit of investment in terms of buying yourself a web address and some hosting and it will earn you no money whatsoever.  This is definitely a long-term plan.  The thing to do to make it earn you money eventually is first of all you have to prioritise filling it up with really great content or the rest of the plan will not work at all.

So once you have your website and it’s full of everything you want it to be full of there are different ways into turning that into a way to earn you money.  The first most obvious one that most people think of for monetising a website is advertising.  You can either use pay per click advertising, so something like Google AdSense where they put up ads on your site that are relevant to what you’re talking about and then every time anybody clicks on one of those ads you earn money.  It’s usually not very much money.  It relies on you getting lots of visitors and lots of clicks for it to be a decent amount of money.

The other way of having advertising is rather than getting a deal where you earn every time somebody clicks is to deal with advertisers directly and charge them a set amount of money to advertise on your site.  That can be a more reliable way of getting some money in but it can be a bit trickier to negotiate but it’s an option.

However, what most bloggers will say, particularly those with this kind of authority website or niche website, you might hear it called those things, is that advertising doesn’t actually bring in a whole lot of money.  So another way of doing it is to sell what’s called affiliate products.  What this basically means is that if people click a link on your website to a product and then they buy that product you earn a percentage of what they spend.  Now this can vary from a couple of percent, say with the Amazon affiliate programme, right up to sometimes 75% of a product that’s hosted on a site like ClickBank, which is a platform for information products basically.  So you might write a whole detailed blog post about how you learnt a new type of cake decorating thanks to a new e-book that you bought.  You can write lots about how wonderful this e-book is and make sure that every time you link to it you use your own unique affiliate link and then any sales will be tracked and you will earn whatever the percentage is of the amount they spend.  Some people build websites entirely around Amazon affiliates, others entirely around specific affiliate products, whereas others, this may be more likely in this case, is if you spot a product that is really good quality that you feel happy recommending you might then check to see whether it has an affiliate programme and then recommend it.

People can earn an awful lot of money with affiliate marketing.  Not everybody.  There’re a lot of people who try it and fail but those who do succeed can do very well and often the rule really about how successful an affiliate website is will depend on how authentic the information is, how much trust the readers have in the author, the writer of the site.  If someone’s been following you for two years and they lap up everything you’ve got to say about basket weaving then when you recommend a basket weaving product they may well believe you and buy it.  If, on the other hand, you have a six page website that’s been hastily thrown together and two of those pages are dedicated to recommending an information product people won’t trust that and won’t buy through your links.

The next stage that a lot of people go to, especially after experimenting with affiliate marketing for a while, is creating your own product to sell.  This is usually an information product.  So it’s something that you can deliver entirely online, you don’t need to have boxes of stock in your kitchen ready to go to the Post Office when someone places an order.  Instead you might create, say, a video learning series for instance, or a training course so that you can teach others what you already know.  Like the website and like the other articles I’ve mentioned this will take some work but the benefit you’ve always got is that you have the basis of the information already in your brain.  Once you have your own product created you can sell that and you can even recruit other people to be affiliates for your product, which means that, sure, they’ll take some of the profits but they also act as marketers for your product.  They might create a whole website around selling your product and so, sure, you might lose some of the cash from the sale but what you’ve got is the potential for a lot more people to buy.

So if you do fancy building your own website but you do want to make it pay look at advertising, look at affiliate marketing and also often, once you have some experience with advertising and affiliate marketing, look into creating your own information product.  Is there a real gap in the market?  Do you find that people find your website because they’re looking for instructions or information about a particular thing?  Do some research.  Find out what’s already out there and see where there’s a gap and see whether you are the person to fill it and if so, do it with great quality work.  There’s no point building a whole site, setting everything up just to throw something together at the last minute to make a quick buck because that won’t keep the money flowing.  It’ll get you some initial sales, lots of refund requests and all your work will have been wasted.

Now the final way that you can make your hobby pay is another big project, bigger even than building your own website, and that is write a book about it.  You’re a freelance writer, you write for a living, you have this topic that you can talk about endlessly, that your friends get bored of you going on about, that you read everything there is to know about it, that you study all the latest information, you’re passionate about this.  If you can talk about it endlessly then you can write about it too.  Think big.  Can you get a book out of your knowledge and expertise?  If so, do you want to spend the time it takes to write it?  You can approach publishers or you can self-publish; self-publishing is so easy nowadays.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both traditional and self-publishing and this podcast episode isn’t the place for that discussion but briefly, if you get traditionally published that has something of a better reputation.  You get an amount of cash up front but it also takes a long time and you have less control over the final product.

If you self-publish you can make it happen more quickly.  You get more of the proportion of sales in the end but also if you’re going to do it well it’s going to cost you a bit because you’ll need a cover designer, you’ll need an editor, you’ll need a proofreader.

So certainly people are very passionate on both sides.  So think for yourself.  Would you rather traditionally publish or self-publish or, indeed, would you like to attempt to traditionally publish and then if that doesn’t work out, if nobody bites, then self-publish?

Writing a book is the ultimate way of demonstrating your knowledge and your passion in a subject.  It’s not something to approach half-heartedly.  It’s a big, big, big deal.  However, if you do it it could be a really nice way to earn from the things you love.  Make your hobbies pay.  You probably spend out a considerable amount of money on them so even if you just recoup some of that money surely it’s a good thing.

So those are some ways where you can earn cash from the hobbies that you’re already interested in, that you already know about and that you love thinking, talking, reading and writing about.

Let me know what you think.  Come over to our Facebook page, which you can find from alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, tell us if you’ve tried these things, tell us if you have been motivated to give something a go, let us know what you think.

And so now it is time for the A Little Bird recommendation of the week and my recommendation is a little piece of software which I’ve installed on my computer and which is turning out to be very handy.  It’s called Clipboard Magic and it’s only available for Windows computers.

Now this is a great little piece of software for if you have to cut and paste or copy and paste text again and again and again.  If, for instance, you are submitting some information into several forms and for each form you need to copy the title, and then you need to copy the link, and then you need to copy something else, rather than for each form having to go back and forth to your original document to copy it and paste it, then the next bit of information, copy and paste it, what it does instead is every time you click Ctrl C or every time you right click and click copy or cut then it stores what you’ve copied to your clipboard into Clipboard Magic.  So rather than having to keep going back to the original document all the time what you have is this little window that you can move to the top of all your windows that stores everything you’ve copied and pasted.  From there all you need to do is just click or drag and drop each line from Clipboard Magic into each new document.  So the title will be on Clipboard Magic.  You just need to drag it into the title box on the next form you’re filling in, ditto the URL, ditto whatever else the information is.  You can even save all your clipboard lists to external files.  If you need that same information again and again over long periods of time you can save it and just reload it next time you load the software.  You can edit the clips within the software, you can sort them, back them up.  It works in all the latest Windows operating systems and it’s really handy.  I downloaded it for one particular task where I was having to paste information into repetitive forms but it’s actually handy for all sorts of things.  It’s a completely free piece of software.  It takes up very little space on your computer.  So that’s my tip for listeners this week.

And so that’s the end of Episode 59 of A Little Bird Told Me.  Come find us at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com.  Subscribe to the podcasts so you don’t miss an episode.  Come and say hello to myself and Lorrie and make sure you tune in next week.

Thank you for listening.