Could You Earn More By Writing About What You Love?

Carol Tice

As a writer, do you feel like you’ve got to put your favorite writing projects aside to focus on earning a good living?

I met a couple recently at SOBCon who are living proof that it can work the opposite way — that you can use your passion projects to attract great clients. Here is their story:

Not long ago, A.J. and Melissa Leon were a fairly ordinary young couple. A.J. was earning good money in finance. Melissa worked with nonprofits.

But they hated their lives.

They wanted to travel and feel like they were making a difference in the world.

So A.J. quit his job, they sold their stuff, and they started a new company, Misfits, Inc., a “nomadic creative shop.” It has no office.

Its flagship activity — the thing A.J. and Melissa like to do most — is travel to Third World countries and help nonprofits improve people’s lives. They design impactful social-media campaigns, and use Webinar and cel-phone technology to connect people far away directly with donors in the U.S.

I got to hear about the work they did with Global Hope Network International helping villages in Kenya and Ethiopia improve their water supply, and it was freakin’ awesome. They created websites where the village can recruit honorary ‘villagers’ as their sponsors. When enough people commit to a small donation, their project funds and the village gets a well.

It’s far more impactful than writing a check. Organizations were ecstatic with the results.

And suddenly, A.J. and Melissa had some amazing projects in their portfolio.

Soon, the paying clients started knocking. They wanted to connect with their customers in social media in creative, impactful ways, too. Soon, A.J. and Melissa found themselves with top-drawer corporate clients, whose work helps pay for them to keep on the road, doing their nonprofit work. Since 2008, they’ve worked in 35 countries.

Concentrating on their social mission also led to many new revenue streams for them. Now, they have a $9-a-month membership community for people who want to get ideas from them and watch their training Webinars. They’re creating a series of “Misfit Guides” next. Melissa started an education and publishing company, OpenSourceCharity.

The contact page of their site says they’re not currently accepting any new clients. They’re fully booked.

The passion work led them to great-paying work.

All of which raises the question — are you living the life you were meant to live, as a writer? Are you doing projects that make you excited, and proud?

If not, maybe it’s time to take a risk. Shake things up. Figure out what you really want to write about — and then go out and find the opportunity to tell that story.

It’s scary. Yep. But it might lead you somewhere amazing.

How can you make your freebie work pay off?

Before you all rush off to volunteer at the bitty little charity you like in your town, let’s take a minute to think this through.

There’s freebie work, and then there’s pro bono work. What you want is the latter — high-profile, high-impact volunteer work that will give you a killer portfolio sample.

Listening to International Freelancers Day recently, I was struck by a set of tips from Tyler Tervooren of Advanced Riskology about how to use pro bono work to get great clients.

His rules (and some of mine):

  • Only do a gratis project for high-priority prospects, to show what you can do. (A.J. and Melissa obviously took a different tack here, but this is an interesting strategy too — volunteering to ‘try out’ for target clients.)
  • Only do pro bono work for clients you know will recommend you.
  • I’d extend that to — only do pro bono work on a project that you know will allow you do to your best work. Something that stretches you creatively. A type of writing you know could be of interest to lucrative clients and will give you a great portfolio piece.
  • I’d also add — if you have no clips and need some, find some pro bono projects to do to create a portfolio. That’s way better than working for peanuts for a mill because you think you can’t pitch real clients because you don’t have a portfolio.
  • Swear the pro bono client to secrecy. No one is ever going to know you didn’t get paid on this project. You will present it along with the rest of your portfolio as client work.
  • Say NO to the wrong clients. Draw some boundaries and be very picky about your volunteer projects.
  • Don’t ever do freebie ghosting work where the client wants to pretend they wrote it, and you can’t use it as a sample.

What sort of writing would you like to be doing right now? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

18 Comments

  1. Tony Scott

    “Don’t ever do freebie ghosting work where the client wants to pretend they wrote it, and you can’t use it as a sample.” I agree, unless the client is your own father! I’ve had experiences that come under this category and I could only tell about those instances but no one would believe. Can’t even show prospective employers anything. Ahh, lessons learned the hard way.

  2. Ben Locker

    Great tips about the types of pro bono work you should accept. I’ve often made the mistake of choosing pro bono jobs on the basis of liking the person, rather than the topic.

    These days I don’t touch work I’m not interested in, or a member of the team isn’t interested in. It’s too easy for it to fall flat – and that’s bad for your reputation.

  3. ashley

    I am just starting to do the same thing with another charity, this time in Romania and this time it will take up even more of my time, but I am focusing on how I can help them not how they can help me.

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