Starting out as a freelance blogger can be rough. You have no money, no support from anyone, no portfolio highlighting your experience, and you’re stuck at whatever computer you happen to be working from.
I understand your pain — I was in the exact same scenario when I first started blogging. When I managed to find my first few jobs, they were cheap gigs that paid peanuts. It felt like it was impossible to get anywhere in my blogging career until one day, when I was feeling down and frustrated…
I was sitting on the couch watching TV after a long day of writing 1,000 word articles for 10 bucks apiece. A spy drama called Burn Notice came on the screen and I realized something: starting out as a freelance blogger is exactly like being a burned spy!
After reading that last sentence you probably think I’m insane. And you’re probably right. However, let me explain.
Burn Notice starts off with main character Michael Westen, a CIA operative (a spy) on a mission in Nigeria. He’s working undercover when he finds out he’s been burned — fired and blacklisted by the CIA.
Westen’s cover is blown. He barely manages to escape from Nigeria, but he makes it to an airport where he boards a plane, then passes out from exhaustion. When he wakes up, he’s in Miami with no money, no official job history and nowhere to go.
What he does have is a set of skills he acquired through his years in the CIA. Instead of moping, Michael decides to use his skills to work as a freelancer.
When I started out as a freelance writer, I was in a similar situation — minus the CIA background. I had no money, no job history and I was stuck at my computer. Watching Burn Notice, I learned the 7 things spies do that also work well for freelance bloggers.
Lesson 1: Find work the right way
When starting out as a freelancer, it’s excruciatingly difficult to find work.
You spend hours on freelancing websites applying for jobs, only to lose them to a lower bidder.
You try answering job ads on Craigslist but this leads to no results, and you learn that most of these ads are scams.
“WHERE ARE THE WEBSITES THAT HAVE THE GOOD-PAYING JOBS?” you yell in frustration.
Relax! Websites that pay bloggers well do exist — they may include some of the blogs you read every day. To write for them, simply shoot them an email.
Michael Westen’s jobs include tracking down missing people, helping people escape from criminal cartels, driving gangs out of neighborhoods, surveillance, and stealing weapons. He doesn’t get those gigs on Craigslist or oDesk! He seeks out them out on his own.
Don’t waste your time waiting for a good job to appear. Instead, take charge and pitch your favorite blogs an article idea.
I landed my first gig with Rod Authority by emailing them directly and telling them I had a cool article about moonshine runners to write for them. At the time I had no idea what pitching was! I did what Westen did: took charge and found work for myself, and it paid off.
Lesson 2: Know your market
Having knowledge of your market or your niche is vital for a freelancer. As a spy, Michael knows how the underworlds of cities operate. After spending some time in a city, he’ll know who are the top players in town. He learned how to analyse markets during his years as a CIA operative.
Luckily for you as a blogger, you can gain your knowledge much quicker. You need to know what the top blogs in your niche are, who the top writers are, what types of articles your audience likes and what online communities your audience belongs to. If you know these things you will find people to network with, which will lead you to jobs and a strong reputation within your niche.
Lesson 3: Work your network
As a freelancer, networking is one of the most vital things you can do. Knowing how to network will determine if you eat or go hungry. Spies use networks to gather information, follow targets, supply weapons and find safe places to lie low. It’s not the size of the network that matters but how strong the network is. Westen’s network isn’t large, but it does provide him with steady work.
Apply this same philosophy of networking to blogging. Let friends and family know you are a freelance writer, stay in touch with former clients, guest blog on your favorite blogs, and interact with your readership. You never know, one of your readers might be a fellow blogger who offers paid guest posts.
This can be a slow process. Be patient. You may tell your friends today you are freelance blogger and a year later they may bring you a $1-per-word client!
Lesson 4: Stay cool and confident
Even in dire situations, Westen keeps his cool. It’s because of his confidence that he is able to land work and finish a job. Because he is confident, both clients and marks are willing to put their trust in him.
As a blogger self-confidence can go a long way. If you’re confident you will land more clients, even if you’ve only done a few small jobs or written for your own blog. Confident people look like they know what they are doing — this leads to more people trusting them.
The best way to show your confidence is by sending out pitches to the blogs you want to write for.
Lesson 5: Negotiate like a pro
Knowing how to negotiate is what separates good spies from bad spies and rich bloggers from broke bloggers. Through years of experience Michael has become a master negotiator. His skills as a negotiator largely stem from his self-confidence. He knows he has the skills necessary to complete a job and he isn’t afraid to walk away from a bad deal.
You can use this same approach as a blogger, to weed out lowball jobs. If someone offers you $20 per article and you’re worth $100, walk away. If someone wants to offer you $40 for 500 words, don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth.
Lesson 6: Get the job done right
No matter how hard or tiring a gig may seem, always complete it and deliver your highest quality work.
Westen has had a few jobs that turned out to be tougher then he originally thought, but he always delivered what he’d agreed. Completing every job has made him a household name throughout the underworld in which he operates.
If you don’t complete a job you’ve promised to do, it may damage your reputation. Submitting quality work is a must no matter if the job pays $20 or $100, as it will build your reputation as an expert writer.
Lesson 7: Think outside the box
As a secret operative, Westen has to think outside the box to complete his missions.
In the blogging world, thinking outside the box can be an effective way to grow an audience. The best blog posts are the ones that dare to be different. Don’t be afraid to write about things no one else is writing about, ask the questions no one else is asking, compare apples and oranges, and be stranger than fiction!
By the 3rd Season of Burn Notice, Michael’s reputation as a freelancer has grown so tremendously that he rarely has to look for work. It comes to him! After building up a strong reputation through guest blogging and writing kick-ass posts, you’ll eventually become known throughout the blogging world.
A word of warning: this reputation comes with a price. In Michael’s case he has new enemies after him, but in your case your inbox will be flooded with job offers and people begging you for guest posts! 🙂