For my first 5 years as a nomad, I made nearly all of my income as a content creator. Here’s how I built that career.
Freelance Writer vs. Content Creator
Becoming a content creator is different from traditional freelance writing, though both are good digital nomad jobs. Content creators write SEO optimized blog posts for websites, primarily. The work is client-driven and usually involves a marketing slant.
As a content creator, many of your ideas will come from the client. You’ll often be handed a headline, a list of items to include, and some keywords to incorporate in your work. You’ll know upfront how much you’re going to be paid before you write the first word. I love the stability and simplicity of this work.
Freelance writing is very different. Freelance writers generate their own ideas, pitch them to editors, and hope to make a sale. Freelance writers do in-depth reporting, write personal essays, and work in both print and electronic media. Those who want to explore ideas, write essays, create fiction, and explore the art of writing might be happier in a freelance writing career.
In this article, I won’t cover freelance writing, but here are a few good resources for that career:
I chose the role of a content creator to fund my nomadic life. I was able to build a small, steady income in less than a year.
This career suited me because I was more interested in having a small, steady income than in expressing myself artistically. I wrote to live, I never lived to write. I hate pitching ideas to editors, and in general I think content creation is an easier career to break into than freelance writing— in fact, I can spell out for you exactly how to start making money as a content creator immediately.
Pros and Cons of Being a Content Creator
The upsides: I enjoy sitting down at my desk with assignments laid out for me instead of pitching editors and waiting for replies. Researching a variety of topics is fun for me. I can work when and where I want and earn income from anywhere in the world. My earnings averaged $30 an hour in the beginning and now I make 2-3 times that much (although for every hour I work, my brain needs almost an hour of downtime to recharge!). It’s easy to start as a side hustle while you are still working full-time, so people can create digital nomad jobs that will support their travels before they quit their day job.
The downsides: The topics aren’t always interesting (I wrote about air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration a LOT). I went through periods where I wrote 6 blog posts a day, and others where I had a whole week off. Payments are sometimes slow, and you might need 6 months to a year to build a steady income. Also, you can’t really produce content eight hours a day — you need downtime scattered through the day.
How to Get Started as a Content Creator
1) Learn the ropes
To be an effective content writer, you need to understand a few basics of SEO (search engine optimization) and a little bit about how to write for the short attention spans of internet readers. You also need an understanding of how brands use content to bring traffic and build relationships.
There are some very specific guidelines that writers are expected to understand when they’re creating content.
Udemy offers many courses in content creation, all reasonably priced. I suggest checking the current listing at this link for a 3-6 hour class that covers the basics without getting gimmicky, with at least 200 ratings and an average of 4 stars or better. “Content is King: Writing Killer Content for Web & Marketing” looks perfect to me, and it isn’t a big investment.
2) Sign up with Copypress
I think Copypress.com is one of the best places to start out as a content writer. There are three reasons I say that.
- Copypress won’t ask to see published clips. They don’t care if you’ve been published before. They just ask you to be competent, have decent grammar/spelling skills, and be able to follow directions.
- It’s a good training ground for a new content creator. Writing for the web has its own criteria for word counts, paragraph length, link-creation, and SEO considerations. After a few months with Copypress, you will be very comfortable in this medium.
- There is plenty of work, and the pay is better than content mills.
A ‘content mill’ is like a sweatshop for writers, and some of them pay just $5 per post.
Copypress was paying me 6¢ a word when I last wrote for them so a 600-word blog post earned me $36. Experienced writers can earn $100 or more for a 600-word blog post, but this is easy work. Copypress gave me a topic, headline, some direction, and the resources I needed to research, so I could write that 600-word blog post in 45 minutes.
The Copypress Process
Getting started with Copypress is easy, if you have good grammar, you can compose coherent paragraphs, and you follow directions well. Read their study materials, pass a simple quiz, and then prove yourself by writing a sample assignment. That’s it — and if you don’t pass the first time, you can try again.
Once you’ve passed the test, you may have the option to become “certified” in specific content categories (I was certified in copywriting and travel writing, for instance). Definitely do that! You can also test to become an editor if that’s your niche.
Soon you’ll be offered assignments. Each assignment has a due date, a pay rate, a description, and the option to accept or decline. In my earliest days with Copypress, I was offered assignments that paid only 3-4¢ per word. I declined those and accepted only the ones for 6¢ a word.
When you get those first assignments, you’ll be overwhelmed by the guidelines. There’s a lot to learn, and your first several assignments will take a long time to write. Once you figure it out, though, things will speed up dramatically. And if you prove that you can follow directions and deliver usable content on deadline, you’ll be offered plenty of work.
People who are further along in their careers will say that Copypress doesn’t pay well. Based on my experience with them I disagree. Once you fully grasp the style guides for different types of clients, this work goes FAST. Earning $36 for a post that takes 45 minutes to create is a decent hourly wage for a beginner, even as an independent contractor. However, there are other downsides.
Most of the work you’ll do for Copypress is ghostwriting — your byline goes to someone else when the work is published. I saw my work all over the internet under other people’s names, but that’s the nature of this work. A few clients were willing to offer a byline, and I gave preference to those in order to build my body of work online.
The other downside is that it takes forever to get paid — four months was not uncommon when I was there. Your work goes through a process of review by both Copypress and the client before the client is billed, and you’re not paid until Copypress is paid. I always got paid eventually, and it was always safe to assume that I’d still need money in four months, so I tried not to let that bother me. It’s best if Copypress isn’t your sole source of revenue (I earned about $600-800 a month there) so the cash flow situation doesn’t kill you.
Copypress will turn you into a copywriting machine, and then you can branch out with those skills to find a slew of great digital nomad jobs.
2. Build your Clip Collection
If Copypress isn’t hiring, you’ll have to build a collection of clips on your own. I strongly recommend taking one of the Udemy classes I referenced above so you’ll understand what clients are looking for before you product work.
Beginning writers often want to use their personal blogs as clips, but clients want to see client-driven work.
The best way to get published clips when you have experience is to create your own unpaid internship. In other words, offer your work for free. Ask friends and family who have a business website if you can write content for their blog. If you don’t know anyone, reach out through your social media, any online groups you’re in, or businesses where you’re a customer.
Tell them that you’ve trained yourself and you feel ready, but you need some clips with your byline on them to prove your ability, and that’s why you’re willing to write for free. Ask them about the keywords they want to rank for in search, and tell them how you can help.
If you aren’t sure how to sell people on the idea of having you write content for their blogs, then you’re probably not ready to do the work yet. It’s vital that you understand the purpose of blog posts, and how they can attract organic search traffic to a website. Go back to studying your class or reading on the web about SEO, blogging, and content marketing until you feel like you know how to give a client value.
Be sure to ask for honest feedback, and be willing to make a few revisions. Swallowing your pride is tough, but it’s the only way to learn your craft and make clients happy.
Once you have a little client work under your belt, you’re ready to take off the training wheels and start finding paying clients.
3. Join Constant Content
The Constant Content site is a marketplace that lets bloggers, website owners, and newsletter producers buy content from writers. Once you learn the basics of writing good copy for the web and basic SEO principles (either through Copypress or independent study), this is a good place to take your ideas.
Like Copypress, CC doesn’t care about your history or track record; all that matters is your ability to create good content. The signup process involves passing a quiz and writing up a brief sample. CC doesn’t offer the kind of on-the-job training that Copypress offers, and it doesn’t provide you with readymade story ideas. The training wheels are off. You’ll need to know what kind of copy is marketable, and how to pitch it.
The site does have standards, though. Every article is reviewed by an editor before it’s included in the catalog. If an article is rejected, you can rework it and resubmit it; you may learn a lot in the process, although the feedback can be very vague and it’s almost impossible to speak to a human editor.
The site has a system where buyers can make requests and writers can submit work they’ve already written or create a proposal. I find that process stressful and unproductive; for me, CC works better as a place to drop general interest pieces. That means you have to generate your own content ideas. If you’ve been working for Copypress for a while, you probably have a good idea of what clients want.
What kind of content sells? Anything that you might see in an employee newsletter or on a commercial website. General-interest topics like health, wellness, travel, financial management, and entrepreneurship do well for me. You can view the ‘recently sold’ articles on the site to get inspiration and ideas.
I use this site mostly to recycle the research I’ve done for clients. I fully rewrite each piece with a different slant so I’m not plagiarizing myself, and offer the results on CC. If you just keep stockpiling good content, you will begin to see sales eventually. I price a typical 600-word blog post in the $50-85 range and longer pieces (over 1000 words) around $150. CC keeps a 35% cut. It’s a lot, but I really hate marketing my own work, so it’s well worth it to me.
They claim that something like 80% of all articles accepted on the site eventually sells, and my experience bears that out. If you write about popular topics (personal finance, small business, health, and wellness do well for me) and follow their pricing guidelines, you’ll do well.
You’ll also get a cute widget like this to add to your website so you can sell your own content.
Sign up with Constant Content at this link (this is an affiliate link, any proceeds help support this site).
4. Branch Out as a Professional
When you’ve grasped the basics of content creation, you can combine that knowledge with your other expertise and start marketing yourself to blogs in your content area. For instance, I have a background in yoga, fitness, entrepreneurship, travel, and writing about the St. Louis scene, and I’ve found work in all those areas as a content creator.
Know your niche, and try to build a library of clips within the area where you want to write.
Content creators typically contract for regular content with one or more outlets in their niche. So I might create a weekly 600-word post for one website, and twice-monthly 1000 word posts for another. Unlike Copypress, you will probably have to generate your own content ideas, which may need to go through an approval process, so build that time into your rate. I’m a fast writer; it takes me 2-3 times as long to process ideas and get them approved as it does to write the piece. I need to earn a lot more when I’m expected to ideate as well as write.
Rates for ongoing blogging vary wildly, but beginners should expect to receive a minimum of $50 for a short (under 600 word) post and $100 for a standard 600-800 word piece. An in-depth 1,000-word piece will require a great deal of research or expertise and should be priced at no less than $250, in my opinion.
Experienced writers and those with specialized expertise can command much higher prices, of course. And the with a special area of expertise (like education, law, or technical skills), can earn a great deal more money and create solid digital nomad jobs in their niche very quickly.
Where to look for digital nomad jobs in content creation
There are a lot of so-called “opportunities” out there that aren’t worth your time — Fiverr, Upwork, and most content mills are paying slave wages to writers. Digital nomad jobs usually are entrepreneurial — as a self-employed person, you are paying your own taxes, insurance, etc. Set your hour rates at 3X what you’d expect as an hourly or salaried worker.
Watch out for any opportunities that feel like they’re selling to you rather than asking you to jump through hiring hoops. Lots of people dream of becoming writers, and there are predatory folks out there who will take advantage of you.
But there is also plenty of demand and lots of real opportunities for those seeking digital nomad jobs. This is a vetted list of sites that post legitimate gigs for content creators.
- FreelanceWriting.com’s Morning Coffee Newsletter: A daily dose of work delivered to your inbox.
- BeAFreelanceBlogger.com $50+ Jobs Board: The rules are simple: to get on this board, an ad has to offer freelance blogging work and pay at least $0.10 per word or $50 per post.
- Blogging Pro Job Board: Free to view, the folks posting the listings are paying.
- Freelance Writing Jobs: This board at freelancewritinggigs.com offers a variety of paid possibilities.
- ProBlogger jobs board: The site is for blog owners, but there are legit opportunities for content creators on this page.
- Scripted.com: If you’re accepted, you can pitch clients with blog post ideas. Clients may also send you invitations to projects. Pay is slightly above beginner range (6-10¢ per word)
- GrowthMachine: This site matches clients with professional, experienced writers in specific niches. Sign up and you’ll receive periodic e-mails when there’s an opportunity in your niche.
One last tip: Get the Grammarly plug-in for your browser so your work always looks professional. One of my editors at Copypress suggested it to me, and it’s been making me look good to my clients and editors ever since. In fact, Grammarly caught over a dozen minor errors on this post before I published it.