How One Freelancer Broke in and Earned Big Writing E-Learning Content

Carol Tice

E-learningMy freelance writing career didn’t begin with a bang. In fact, it didn’t take off until I stumbled into the uncharted territory of e-learning.

I honestly didn’t give much thought to writing course materials, because I thought online courses were always written by professors, subject matter experts, or a company’s staff.

I was wrong.

As the e-learning industry grows, corporations are seeking out talented writers with a knack for creativity to help them provide engaging, well-written, and easy-to-understand content.

Depending on the length of a course, the amount of research and writing time needed, and other factors such as client management, a writer can start charging anywhere from $1,200-$5,000 per project, for the writing portion alone.

After all, according to Global Industry Analysts, Inc., corporate training is a $200 billion business — and e-learning is a growing chunk of that. There is definitely money for writers to make in this industry.

For writers interested in diving headfirst into writing e-learning content, here’s how I started from scratch and broke into this niche:

1. Study learning management systems

I had no clue what a learning management system (LMS) was before researching my first company. However, with a quick Google search, I began locating free demos all over the Web, and paid attention to the features and the content writing style.

Once I began sending letters of introduction that included my familiarity with popular e-learning systems such as Articulate Storyline, it made my pitch more attractive.

2. Target the right companies

Although I primarily receive freelance work from my college alumni network, I find other e-learning opportunities through job boards.

I locate the type of companies looking for content developers, do quick research about the company, and pitch to them directly instead of enduring a formal online application process.

3. Write a teaching-centered pitch

I was an English instructor in previous years, but classroom experience is not what most e-learning companies care about.

These companies simply want to know if you can relate complicated or “boring” content to an 8th grader — and make it engaging. (An 8th-grade writing level is standard, by the way.)

4. Create an eye-catching, targeted demo

I’m from the greater Houston area, and here, it’s all about energy. Oil and gas is one of the most lucrative industries we’ve got.

So I created a demo slide in PowerPoint that was modeled after a typical slide in Articulate about chemical leak safety for pitching one local company in the sector. I got the job three days later, and was given the opportunity to develop a course similar to the demo!

5. Find the right person to pitch

I found a direct contact who was looking to hire writers by picking up the phone, calling the human resources department, and asking about the person in charge of content development. However, I know many people who detest talking on the phone.

If that’s you, when researching a company’s staff, look for a content specialist manager or a training department manager. Luckily, many of these people are on LinkedIn.

Although there’s no foolproof method for breaking into any industry, this approach gave me a solid start. In just a few short months, I’ve earned more than $12,000 writing e-learning courses for Fortune 500 companies in the oil and gas field.

Interested in writing for e-learning companies? Ask your questions in the comments.

Ashley Denefield is a Texas-based technical writer and instructional designer. Her freelance writing business specializes in the fusion of technical writing, instructional design, and tons of creativity.

59 Comments

  1. Yvette

    Hi Ashley,

    Your post about e-learning has really helped to create that “Ah ha” moment that every writer dreams of possessing!

    What type of experience and/or qualifications do you need to break into the virtual learning niche? Will companies ask for previous experience, education, certifications & training to help determine whether you will be a great fit for their company? Or will they base contracting decisions upon the quality and uniqueness of your pitch?

    I’ve taken many courses in dental hygiene, and was only a year away from completing my degree, when I decided not to finish. I’d like to pursue freelance opportunities in the e-course industry, but would hate to think my lacking “that piece of paper” would disqualify me from being able to “break into” this exciting new market.

    Yvette

  2. Yvette

    Hi Ashley,

    What’s the typical word count for basic e-learning courses for “little guys” with no previous experience such as those offering “coaching services” just starting out? Is it 10,000 words or is it way more?

    This relates to a prospect who wants me to use a litany of “free” services to create “templates” for her course.

    Thanks for the super awesome blog post! 🙂

    Yvette

    • Yvette

      Also, what would be a fair rate to charge for 6 modules?

  3. Jeneba Wint

    Ashley,

    Thank you for writing this post. Very insightful! I am also a tech writer in Houston and I am looking to become totally freelance next year. I am in the oil and gas industry and I am taking courses in ux design next year, so instructional design and training is right up my alley. Is it possible to speak with you offline in more detail and network on this topic. Thanks in advance!

  4. Bryan Collins

    Ashley,
    I enjoyed your post. I haven’t written many learning materials yet, but this is something I’d definitely consider now. Do you write any e-learning courses of your own or is it all for clients?

    Regards,

    Bryan

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