I love writing. And I love writers. So, when I first crossed paths with Michael Brockbank — on Twitter , I believe — I knew I’d found a kindred spirit.
Michael’s no newbie. He started his freelance writing career on January 1st, 2012. Becoming an expert writing for content mills and eventually moving on to private clients, he’s completed more than 10,000 projects for thousands of clients spanning the globe.
He’d hit the ground running and was able to quit his job at the school district in 2013, and he’s been a writer ever since.
Today, Michael is the Content Marketing Team Lead of GreenGeeks Web Hosting supervising a team of writers, he manages five blogs, works on three YouTube channels, and maintains a Twitch gaming stream for various charities.
So, you could say he’s been busy.
Michael was kind enough to chat with me over email and offer amazing insight, career advice, and other golden nuggets for people who want to turn their passion for writing into a career.
Keep reading for all the details.
It’s one of the most common questions I get: “How can I make money writing?” A lot of writers know it’s possible, but they can’t even imagine the first step — understandably.
Megan Grant: What’s your #1 piece of advice for people looking to get paid to write?
Michael Brockbank: That’s a tough one, actually. There is so much rolled into writing. I would have to say, “Always keep in forward motion.”
When I started writing, there were days where I really didn’t have much to do. So, I spent that time learning all I could about AP Style writing, practicing on my blogs, and doing everything I could to hone my skills. Because the more I knew and could deliver, the more valuable I’d become.
What you write today will pale in comparison to what you’ll create six months from now.
At least once, we’ve all thought, “Man, if I could go back and do that again…” So, I asked Michael how he’d approach his career as a writer differently, if he got a do-over.
MG: If you could go back in time in your writing career and do one thing differently, would you? What would that be?
MB: Absolutely! Have more faith in myself as a creator.
For the longest time, I’ve had a severe issue with impostor syndrome, where I didn’t feel that I was ever truly good enough. Even after signing on with GreenGeeks, I still had that nagging feeling. My manager would constantly give me grief about my responses to positive reinforcement. For example, she’d say something like, “Good job.” And my response to her would be, “I try.”
Nowadays, I say, “Thank you” and move on.
Not having faith in yourself can ultimately hold you back and make anything in life far more difficult to achieve. It’s an issue that I see a lot from other writers, whether they’re running a blog or writing a book. Most authors I know deal with impostor syndrome regularly.
If I had more faith in what I was doing in the beginning, I’d be in a different place today.
“Just add a keyword and it’ll rank!” I wish SEO were that easy! Alas, a lot more goes into it than cramming your keyword in as many times as possible. Michael knows this better than anyone, because his content ranks.
MG: What’s the biggest misconception about getting traffic to a blog?
MB: I’ve had several clients who thought that just because they used the best keyword in their article that the blog post would appear on the first page of Google. In one instance, a client wrote one article on a new website and immediately tried to find it in search.
It doesn’t work that way.
Keyphrases and words are vital because people are still looking for specifics. But you have to do more than just add the keyword. It comes down to things like time, search intent, the niche of your website, topics you cover, the age of the website, how well you write, the way you market the blog, and a slew of other variables.
Just because you use the number one keyword for your article doesn’t mean you’ll see your post on the front page of Google.
Take my review of Buy Me a Coffee. After writing that piece, it took three months before it appeared on page one…and another two months before reaching the number one position.
Starting your own business is going to teach you a lot, but I was curious what the biggest learnings for Michael have been.
MG: What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned across your career?
MB: That I needed to be more of a self-starter. When writing from home or starting your own freelancing career, you really don’t have any accountability other than to yourself. If you struggle with self-motivation, it’ll be quite a difficult journey.
Plan out your finances. Things like taxes, insurance, retirement, and other expenses need to be covered. It requires quite a bit more responsibility to keep track of all these things. Especially if you’re looking forward to taking a vacation.
And, you need to learn the difference between criticism and pure trolling. One of my favorite sayings is, “You can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time.” There are going to be people out there who hate for the sake of hating. You can’t let those people bring you down. A real critic will give you an explanation behind why they don’t like something. A troll just wants to get a rise out of you.
Michael doesn’t just know writing. He also knows people. He has extensive experience working with clients, which has given him incredible insight.
MG: What can writers do to improve their relationships with their clients?
MB: Always keep with professional and respectful communication. Establish what is expected from both parties up front so that there is no confusion later on.
Another one of the major contributors to my success is how well I communicate. And even though a client may be temperamental, I keep my composure and diffuse the situation. It helps to be empathetic to a client’s point of view and what he or she needs.
And be open to suggestions. You never know what a client will share that will actually streamline your writing process down the road. In fact, a couple of clients have made a huge impact on how I conduct business for the better thanks to their suggestions.
Getting started as a freelance writer is often the hardest part, especially if you’re on a budget. But know that this doesn’t mean you’re not ready. Now is the time to start, regardless of what your bank account looks like.
MG: What are some effective ways that writers can educate themselves for cheap/free?
MB: When I started writing, I didn’t have the first clue as to what I was doing. I went to school in 2001 for graphic design and was a network technician for the school district. So, to expand my knowledge, I spent a great deal of time researching on Google.
Blogs, videos, forums…I read or watched them all. Then, I would practice everything I learned to get it ingrained into memory. Practicing on your own blog is greatly beneficial, and you can get started right now with the sheer number of free platforms available, such as WordPress.com or Blogger.
Plus, the Internet is full of affordable courses and classes that can take your career to the next level.
In building your career, it helps to know that there are people who’ve already been there. These are the people you can look up to. Even as a seasoned writer, Michael echoes sentiments we’ve all experienced — of imposter syndrome, having a hard time accepting compliments, and not knowing what the next steps are.
He’s also proof that if you work hard and work smart, you’ll get there no matter what. Whether you’re a total beginner or an experienced pro, all that matters is that you start.
Many thanks to Michael for taking the time to speak with me. If you want to grow as a writer, he’s a wonderful person to follow online.