Updated: Feb 13
Good writing is a powerful business skill. Companies rely on writing every day to market their services, foster collaboration across their team, and make their products more user friendly.
As you might guess, businesses regularly hire writers to fill these needs and beyond. But is writing valuable enough to be the foundation for a business? Can you launch an entrepreneurial venture based purely on writing?
I launched my freelance copywriting and ghostwriting business over five years ago. It’s been the highest-compensated work of my life. Over the years, I’ve come to believe that writing businesses are some of the best one-person ventures you can start. After all, writing businesses tend to operate on high profit margins, provide you almost full control of your daily work schedule, allow you to work from anywhere, and require almost zero startup costs.
In this article, I’m going to show you the seven of the most lucrative (and realistic) business ideas for writers. Let’s dive in.
Do you have to be a good writer to launch a writing business?
Some bloggers and podcasters say you don’t have to be a good writer to be a successful copywriter or blogger. I get where they’re coming from, but the statement is a bit misleading.
Writing online has very little in common with writing college essays or contributing to literary magazines. If your definition for “good writing” means spinning complex prose, with long words and winding sentences, then sure, you don’t have to be a good writer to start a writing business.
But if your definition for good writing is that you can write clearly and simply, while holding a reader’s attention, then yes, you must be a good writer to be successful in this field. Does that clear things up?
I’ll put it this way: The most likely people to succeed in a writing business are those with an ear (and passion) for great writing. Along with that, a desire to learn and a knack for marketing go a long way as well. Writing businesses are about more than simply pouring words onto a page, after all. The better you are in all three of those areas, the more likely you are to succeed in a writing business.
Great writers earn high fees for their ability to motivate, entertain, persuade, and move people to take action. All of that starts with good writing.
(Also read: How to start a writing side hustle.)
Writing as a service
Perhaps the most common form of writing business is a category I’ll call writing as a service. More often, people just call it freelancing. The following examples are when you’re getting paid to write on behalf of other people and businesses.
Here are some of the most lucrative forms of freelance writing.
Copywriting changed my life. It fell into my lap seemingly by accident. My first copywriting projects were a result of my friends entering the workforce. As we all ventured into our first jobs, employers began asking if any of them could write — or if they knew anyone who could. I became the go-to writing recommendation for multiple friends.
I was writing copy before I even knew the term “copywriting.” Eventually I turned the whole writing thing into my full-time gig.
Now, I earn a good living as a freelance copywriter for SaaS companies. Copywriting is like working in sales. Except, instead of being a smooth talker, you must be a good writer, and leverage your writing skills to improve the bottom line for a business.
Copywriting is all around us. It’s on the billboards you see on the interstate, the Facebook ads you scroll past on social media, and the business websites you see all over the web. Someone had to write all those words. And that somebody is called a copywriter.
Copywriters can work in-house for an organization or work on a freelance basis. Freelance rates range anywhere from minimum wage to millions of dollars per year, depending on your skill, demand, and fees.
J.R. Moehringer, the ghostwriter behind Andre Aggasi’s book Open and Phil Knight’s Nike memoir, Shoe Dog, is said to have been paid $1M to ghostwrite a tell-all memoir for Prince Harry.
Before you start shopping for the luxury kitchen backsplash for your dream mansion, I should say that a million dollars per project is not the standard fee for most ghostwriters. (But a young ghost can dream, can’t he?) In fact, from what I’ve heard over the years, it seems that most established ghostwriters charge closer to $50,000 or $70,000 per book. This number climbs a lot higher (easily into the six figures per project) for in-demand ghostwriters working with celebrities.
So, how do you get a ghostwriting business off the ground?
Perhaps ironically, the most successful ghostwriters don’t seem to market their services. They’re simply great writers who publish content like books and articles under their own names. These ghostwriters attract clients by simply being read. So, sure, you can behave like me and create a landing page for your ghostwriting services. Or you can simply start writing as a journalist or author. Let clients find you by the serendipity of your great work.
3. UX writing (content design)
UX writing — also called content design — is an up-and-coming discipline that’s in hot demand. I’d know: my wife is a content designer. The single best investment we ever made in our joint writing business was putting Sarabeth through content design training. She immediately found great clients and has worked with multiple Fortune 500 companies and established tech companies since.
UX writing means writing for a product. When you open an app on your phone, as much as thirty percent of the screen contains text. Someone must write every word. And that person is called a UX writer. With the rise of software and apps, UX writers are in great (and growing) demand. As a full-time employee, you can expect the biggest companies in the world to pay close to six figures for new UX writers. Experienced folks can easily expect a six figure salary.
UX writers are also in demand as freelancers, especially among companies who’re developing their tools. Freelance UX writers can expect to earn six figures, if you can get in front of enough businesses.
4. Content writing
Content writers produce many types of marketing collateral for businesses. Under the category of “content,” a writer might produce blog posts, case studies, ebooks, white papers, social media posts, and a smattering of other items. Content writers are usually seen as marketing writers. The content they create is used to generate leads.
Content writers can specialize in unique services like SEO (search engine optimization). In that case, the writer is paid to help companies rank higher in Google for relevant search queries.
Then there are long-form writers, like me. I produce lead-generation guides like ebooks and white papers that are often given away for free on a website in exchange for the reader’s email address. These guides help the company source qualified leads for their sales teams.
There are a few primary ways to make a great living through content creation. You can be highly skilled, highly prolific, or some mixture of both. Highly skilled content creators usually offer more than just good writing. Their writing follows certain techniques or formulas that enable businesses to get more value out of everything they produce. In my case, this means understanding conversion optimization as I produce guides. For others, it means knowing SEO.
Prolific writers also must produce at a high quality. Throwing words on a page that no one is willing to read won’t help anyone. But if you can produce high-quality articles and long-form guides, there are businesses willing to pay thousands of dollars per deliverable.
And if you can produce multiple deliverables per week… Well, you do the math.
Build a publishing business
Building a one-person publishing business is an exciting way to leverage your writing skills. Instead of creating content on behalf of other businesses, you’re creating content for an audience.
Here are some of the most common ways to get a publishing business off the ground.
5. Start a blog
Launching a profitable blog in 2021 is not unrealistic. Blogging, in my opinion, is alive and well. People still make a great living writing on the web. Essentially, you need to know how to do two things really well: Attract traffic and monetize it.
The best traffic sources are undoubtedly search engines. If you find a solid niche and become the go-to search result for the top search queries, you can drive tens of thousands of people to your website every month.
There are several ways to monetize those site visitors. The lowest-paid (but easiest) form of monetization is hosting ads on your website. You’ll receive very little ROI, but it’s something.
The better options are to be an affiliate seller (meaning you receive a kickback when you refer a sale) or to sell your own products. For example, if you start a blog about dog training, you could have affiliate links to popular dog toys or dog health products. Or you can sell your own dog-oriented products through the website.
6. Launch a newsletter
Newsletters are all the rage these days. They’ve been around almost as long as the internet. But brands like Substack have sparked a new wave of people making a living from building an email audience.
Newsletter creators and bloggers overlap in almost every way. The most successful in both categories tend to be great writers who nerd out about very specific subjects. The big difference is where these businesses are read and monetized.
A blog is typically read and monetized on a website. A newsletter is typically read and monetized in an inbox. Often, newsletter writers will use blogs to attract subscribers to their newsletter.
The biggest advantage of newsletters over blogs is value per viewer. All else equal, you can usually earn a lot more money writing to a thousand newsletter subscribers than on a blog that’s read by one thousand people. The catch is that it’s easier to drive 1,000 people to a blog post than it is to get 1,000 people to subscribe to a newsletter.
7. Sell digital products
This is the category of writing business that most writers dream about starting. Digital products can mean anything from how-to guides posted on your blog or self-published fiction stories on Amazon. The point is, most people don’t have your writing skills. Or if they have writing skills, they lack the motivation to sit down and create content without external motivating factors.
That puts you at a unique advantage when it comes to building a digital-product related business.
Sure, some categories of digital products will be easier to sell than others. You’ll face more competition trying to publish fiction than, say, a guide for overcoming some boring and technical problem.
The important thing to remember is that it’s not enough to create the product. You’ll also need to learn some copywriting and marketing techniques to make sure customers find and buy your product.
The best part? You don’t have to choose
There are many great reasons to start a writing business.
For one thing, they have notoriously high profit margins. Think about it: when you’re in the business of selling words, your expenses include a computer, some inexpensive (or free) software, and maybe the costs of marketing. It’s not uncommon for writers to boast 80% or higher margins, meaning nearly all the money your business earns goes straight into your pocket.
But for me, the most exciting part of launching a writing business is that you don’t have to be picky about what you write. Sure, there are many benefits to specialization. But at the end of the day, most of the components we covered in this article can be achieved under the umbrella of a single writing business.
You can begin a blog today to start showcasing your writing. As people come to your website, you can put up an email capture form that allows interested readers to subscribe. As more people read your blog and newsletter, some will inevitably want to hire you for copywriting, ghostwriting, UX writing, and content marketing projects. You can even make these services official by offering them on your website.
As your website traffic grows, you can create digital products to sell your website visitors. Before you know it, you’ll look up and realize that you have a profitable writing business that grows every time you click publish.
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