7 beginner-friendly tips to get you started.
I published my first article in late March 2020. Since then, I made a full-time income from Medium and writing for clients that found me via the platform.
I had no prior writing experience, and English is not my first language.
Yet, I won’t say anyone can succeed. Writing is like running. You get better with practice, and almost anyone can do it. But how many of the people who fancy running end up running a marathon?
99% who read this will never start or quit too early. But if you’re in for the long-term, the following strategies and tips will help you make a solid income.
1) Is starting on a platform still worth it?
It depends on your answers to the following questions.
- Do you have an existing +10K follower base on any social media platform?
- Are you good at SEO or plan to learn it?
- Do you know how to code or want to build your website on a CMS like WordPress, Ghost, or Wix?
- Can you spare $2,000 to hire help in case you fail with SEO or programming?
If you answer yes to all of these questions, write a blog. Read this excellent guide by Natt Eliason, and stop reading this article now.
In all other cases, start on Medium.
Publishing is frictionless. You tap into an existing audience. Through publications, comments, and curation, you receive feedback on your writing. Data on reading time will give you additional insights. Plus, you don’t have to spend time finding sponsorships or affiliates for your website. You get paid based on the user’s reading time on your articles.
Even if Medium didn’t pay me a single cent, I’d write on the platform. I get thoughtful comments and 10–15 e-mail subscribers a day. I see the platform as a tool for learning and growing my business.
What you can do:
Create an account and enroll in the Medium Partnerships Program.
2) How to find endless ideas
When I wrote my first three articles, I feared I’d run out of ideas. But with a system in place, this won’t happen.
The more you create, the more creative you become. Research shows the best ideas will arise once you flow into the writing process.
Once you get the ideas, you want to capture them. Most of my ideas come while I write an article, read a book, or talk to friends. How I capture the ideas evolved over the months from Trello, to Notion, to Milanote.
But in the end, it’s less about the tool and more about a system. A lack of structure is a threat to creativity.
Thanks to the process of capturing everything on the go, I never start with an empty page. I know I have more ideas than I will ever be able to cover.
What you can do:
Pick your favorite tool and start collecting ideas today. What are you curious about? Do you have life lessons worth sharing? Any insights based on your studies or your profession? Write your first 10 article ideas and add a line or two. From now on, capture any idea.
“The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust — and those elements are universally accessible.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert
3) The single metric you should measure
Unless you’ve written before, your first twenty articles will suck and not reach a broad audience. Don’t stress about it. Every good writer goes through self-doubt and the valley of despair.
The most important metric to measure is whether you created quality content. I found the Medium distribution guidelines very helpful for adding value to my writing.
Many first-time writers say they read and follow the guidelines when they don’t (me included).
How to spot it? They write journal-like entries instead of focusing on the reader. Burn the following advice from Medium’s editorial team into your mind:
“Does it add value for the reader? — Does it share new insights or perspectives? Offer an original take on a familiar issue? Does it stir emotions and/or thinking? Provide meaningful advice? Enrich a reader’s understanding of the topic? Does it feel like time well spent?”
Writing is different from journaling. Avoid using “I” too much. Posts are not about you but the reader. Always put the reader’s benefit first by putting yourself in their shoes. How can you derive actionable advice from your article? Where can you add more empathy for your reader?
Value creation is the single most important metric to focus on. Most successful writers I know went from a niche audience to a broader audience by focusing on the group of people they can truly help.
What you can do:
Study the distribution guidelines. Take notes. Read through the work of successful writers, such as Michael Thompson, Megan Holstein, and Niklas Göke.
4) Publish with big publications
Think about it this way: The official Headspace Youtube Channel with 425,000 subscribers would publish your article about meditating. You could reach almost half a million people without having to build this audience.
With Medium publications, you can do exactly that. Better Humans has almost 400,000 followers. If you publish an article with them, you can reach way more people than you would have ever reached by self-publishing.
Many writers feel demotivated by rejections and miss out on the power of publications.
You have to write quality content before big publications accept your work. Don’t feel angry if they don’t want you in the beginning. Your writing isn’t good enough yet.
I applied 9 times for Mind Cafe, 12 times to Better Humans, and 15 times to P.S.: I Love You before publishing with them. Some publications haven’t added me (yet). But I’ll try again and again.
What you can do:
Choose publications within your niche. Search for the top writers in your topic and look where the most successful articles were published.
Once you found your target publications read their submission guidelines and recent posts they published. Then, write quality content, and submit. Don’t feel discouraged by rejections. Be patient. Tapping into the existing audience is worth the wait.
5) Collect your reader’s emails
“You have to start collecting emails today,” Sinem Günel told me in one of our first coaching sessions.
I had just published my first article, and asking my 7 readers to sign up for a non-existing newsletter seemed hilarious.
But Sinem insisted: “Now is the right time to start one. If you’re trying to make money online, your email list is one of your biggest assets.”
A year and 1K+ subscribers later, I know she was right. Platforms change. Emails don’t. Your follower’s email address is their most permanent online identity.
What you can do:
Register on Convertkit, Mailchimp, Substack, or Mailerlite. I chose to go with Convertkit as it’s intuitive, free and helps me grow my audience. But again, the tool doesn’t matter that much. The important part is to get started.
Add a call to action at the bottom of each article. Until recently, my CTA was a fluffy “Do you want to connect? Sign-Up here”.
Don’t worry if you’re unsure about your newsletter’s content. I didn’t send a single email until six months in. But when I knew what I wanted to write about, I started with 400 subscribers.
6) Write headlines that make people click
Simple but sad: If your headline isn’t interesting, nobody will read your article. There’s so much great content that will never be read because the headline sucks. You can write the best blog post, but without a great headline, nobody will read it.
To succeed in online writing, you must learn to write great headlines. Writing headlines is unglamorous. That’s why many writers avoid practicing the craft.
But to make money with writing online, there’s no way around it. The best headlines make the reader curious, describe a transformation, offer a specific benefit, or a thought-provoking statement.
“I’ve written more than 15,000 headlines since I’ve started writing. Only one percent of them are really good. Those one percent of headlines I’ve written created 100 percent of my viral successes. Every single morning, I write down 10 ideas for headlines. […] I promise, if you don’t learn how to write good headlines, you’ll never have a career as a blogger. Never. So do it.”
What you can do:
Browse through your reading list and save the headlines that made you click. Write 10 headlines every morning before you start writing. Most writers never do it. By practicing, you gain a sustainable competitive advantage.
7) Use online tools to improve your writing
These tools won’t turn you into a professional writer; they will level up your writing process. These are the tools I use daily:
- Improve your headlines with co-schedule
- Format your headlines with Title Case Converter
- Look beyond Unsplash pictures with Pexels, StockSnap, Freepik, or Burst
- Run a health check with Grammarly or the Hemingway Editor
- Look for alternative words with Thesaurus
Are you ready to increase your income?
Making money from online creation is a long-term game. You won’t see the desired results in the beginning. But if you keep working, you might suddenly hit a glass ceiling.
Progress is slow but exponential. Whenever you think about quitting, keep in mind, you’re in for the long term. Writing in 2021 isn’t hard.
Making money through writing works by providing value at scale. Here’s what to remember:
- Enroll in the Medium partner program.
- Collect every idea with your favorite tool.
- Focus on creating value for the reader.
- Pitch and publish with the big publications.
- Start an email newsletter from day one.
- Write ten headlines every day.
- Use online tools to improve your texts.
Don’t waste time searching for a secret sauce. Use success stories as inspiration but don’t get lost in them. Creation is all that matters.
When looking at your metrics, don’t feel discouraged. Use data to analyze what works and do more of it. But apart from that, don’t agonize over low stats. Instead, spend all of your energy consistently creating user-centric content.
You’re not too late to the party. Today is the perfect time to start. Follow these steps and make a full-time living as an online writer.