Jul 21, 2010

Work at Home as a Freelance Writer

from angelocesare on Flickr.comWhen I started this blog, I intended to write about a myriad of things that I thought would be interesting to Philippine moms: parenting tips, baby product reviews, etc.

Thing is, as far as the emails I've received show, my audience is interested only in two things: extra income and work-at-home opportunities.

So let's talk about extra-income and work-at-home opportunities. And let's start with the most accessible extra-income opportunity for Filipino moms: freelance writing.

How does one become a freelance writer? How can I earn money from it?


Short-Term Income: Writing Assigned Articles

I am presuming that you are looking for short-term income -- that is, you write an article, then somebody pays a fixed sum for it.

A lot of companies offer this kind of opportunity, but be careful! Many of them turn out to be scams and don't pay their writers. Before you write articles for any company, Google the company's name and the keyword scam. That should help you weed out some of the illegitimate opportunities.

To be safe, your best bet is to apply for a regular homebased writing job with a Philippine-based company that has a brick-and-mortar office.

A lot of these can be found at Bestjobs.ph. Simply click on Job Search, choose Nationwide for the location, and input Writer in the keyword -- and voila! A list of homebased writing jobs!

To land a job with these companies, you normally need to submit your resume and at least two sample articles.

Be warned, though, that companies like these often pay terrifically low rates -- as low as 30 pesos per 200-word article! (The same article published in a print magazine would usually earn at least 200 pesos, or 1 peso per word.)

But let me talk to you straight. Practically the only way you can be a contributor writer for those print magazines is by knowing somebody who can directly refer you to the editor, and you won't get referred unless you have already built up a reputation of being a good writer.

So my advice is this: practice writing with these companies that pay you peanuts to write about the strangest topics such as golf, poker, and Forex. It will build up your research and writing skills very quickly, I can promise you that.

Then while you're doing that, work on meeting friends in the publishing industry and marketing your writing skills on Facebook. Really, there are no shortcuts to getting such good things in life as a work-at-home writing job.

There is, of course, an alternative to getting 30 pesos per 200 words: you can look for online writing jobs at Elance.com or Odesk.com. There, you can get writing jobs for an average of $1 to $5 per 200 words.

But be warned: the freelance competition in these portals is fierce. However, the risk of getting scammed is smaller, though not nonexistent. For more details, you can check out this post I wrote some time ago on getting work at Elance.com.

There are other good-paying companies article-writing companies online, such as Associated Content, but unfortunately, these usually only pay per article if you are a citizen or a legal resident of the U.S.A. Otherwise, you will be relegated to pay per view as well.
 
By the way, if you're looking for a fulltime work-at-home job, another company you might try is Remote Staff, an Australian-owned company that hires not just writers but also other professionals who want to work at home on a full-time basis. If you have solid writing experience and a good portfolio to back it up, you can try applying to this company. It would be best to have or download Skype (it's free) and have a headset and mic on hand as you might be contacted for interview.

Long-Term Income: Writing for Royalties

There is another way to earn from homebased writing: pay per view. This kind of writing earns very slowly -- a safe expectation is 1 dollar for every 1000 views -- so don't expect to earn anything at all in your first six months to one year!

On the bright side, it involves very little research, you stick to what you know, and if you are able to accumulate a bank of at least 50 useful or interesting and well-written articles, you could stop writing and reap your reward for years to come. That's passive income right there!

For pay-per-view writing, you submit your articles to a content-sharing site. Here are some I would recommend:

  • Triond.com: I've been with this company since 2005, and they have always paid me on time. The support crew is very helpful as well.
  • Helium.com: I haven't had time to try them out, but the reviews say this is a very supportive community, especially for beginning writers. They also give suggestions on what topics are profitable to write about.
  • Suite101.com: Suite101 targets professional writers, so once you have a good portfolio, you can apply -- yes, apply, not just sign up -- for this company.  I haven't had time to try it out yet, but it's received good reviews as well.

Tip: For pay-per-view articles, if you must choose between useful and interesting, I'd say go for interesting. My biggest passive-income earner in Triond is this practically-useless-but-interesting article on McDonald's strange menu around the world.

Getting Paid

Before we get carried away, let's not forget the most important part of working from home. You need to have a way to get paid.

Make sure you have a savings account at one of the big banks. You will need this for direct deposits. You will also need this to be able to withdraw funds from your PayPal account.

What, you don't have a PayPal account? Well, go sign up for one! Many reputable companies pay via PayPal, and you will be seriously limiting your options if you do not have a PayPal account.

For more details, please view my earlier post on using PayPal in the Philippines.

But Wait! I Don't Know How to Write!

Now let's get something clear: everybody knows how to write. If you were able to pass high school, that must mean your essays were somewhat readable. And believe me, online articles do not demand great writing skills. That's what editors are for.

What online articles demand more are good research skills. Most pay-per-article writing assignments will give you the keywords or topics you need to write 200 to 1000 words about.

All you need to do is Google the topics, find three to five credible sources on the Internet, and put the information together in a conversational tone using the required keywords in the required number of times. Imagine that you're talking to your friend. That will help a lot.

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Finding Credible Online Sources for Your Articles

Now when I say "credible sources," I mean choose .org, .edu, or .net sites as much as possible. Any site whose articles are bylined and contain a link to the writer's profile -- About.com is a good example -- can be good, credible sources. Web sites of journals such as Discovery and National Geographic are also credible sites. News sites such as CNN, BBC, and Reuters are good source sites as well.

Wikipedia is a controversial topic as far as credibility goes. The argument is that anybody can post content on Wikipedia; therefore, it can't be credible.

But the fact is that anybody can post content on the Internet, period. You don't need to go to a wiki to do it. However, on Wikipedia, articles posted need to be referenced. In addition, they are open to expert critique. If a writer dares put wrong information in Wikipedia, it won't be long before the page gets flagged.

Compare that with many .com sites, where you can't even leave a comment, and you can understand why Wiki is in fact one of the better online information sources.

The Basics of Online Writing

There are a few things one must remember when writing online articles: Online readers have short attention spans, they are turned off by long paragraphs, and -- sorry to say -- their vocabulary is not very extensive.

So keep your words short and simple. Pretend that you are talking to somebody who is not a native English speaker.

Keep your paragraphs short and simple. If you have four sentences in one paragraph, it's probably already too long.

Use headings so that your readers will know what your article is about in two seconds, simply by scrolling through it. Only then will they decide if they want to keep reading.

And put the most important or most interesting information right at the first two paragraphs as much as possible. This will encourage your readers to keep reading.

The Biggest Sin of All: Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the biggest mortal sin in the publishing industry. It's followed by libel, but you see, it's so much easier to avoid libel: simply do not spread vicious untruths about anybody or anything, and you're home safe.

Plagiarism, on the other hand, is much trickier. And it would take a whole separate article to deal with it. So let's just talk about how to avoid it.

1. Always cite your sources. Let your publisher decide if he or she wants to omit them upon publication -- unless you are bylined, in which case, you might want to insist that your sources be included in the published article as well -- but from your end, keep your backside covered. Always cite your sources and, if they are URLs, include the date you accessed them.

2. Never use just one source. The more sources you have, giving you different angles and different facts, the less likely you will end up with something that looks plagiarized.

3. Reword and rephrase. Remember: facts are not, and can't be, copyrighted; expressions of facts can be and usually are.

A good rule of thumb is to make sure that no five consecutive words from any of your sources are found in exactly the same order in your article.

Of course, if you lift an article and change every fifth word into a synonym, it will pass this rule. However, if you are serious about building a writing career, I would suggest you don't stoop even half as low as that.

Again, write as if you were talking to your friend. It's the easiest way to do it.

So there you have it: how to get a work-at-home job as a freelance homebased writer.

If you have more questions on this topic, please don't hesitate to ask. Good luck on your job search!

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