For those who have wondered, this post will explain what I work on and how I function as a “million-dollar writer.” It is my hope this will stimulate you into taking the required steps to earn significantly more income than you do now. After I spell out how I manage to create a million dollars in revenue, I'll give you a simple 3-step roadmap to increase your own income.
(By the way, even though I am describing the life of a writer, virtually all of what I'm about to share will work for any freelancer or business owner.)
This subject seems slightly impolite to write about. Like many, I was taught from my earliest years that it is impolite to talk about politics, religion, or money. I routinely violate all three of these directives, however, so this is not new territory for me. Let’s begin…
I am not writing to boost my own ego. I am writing to answer a very frequently-asked question: “How does a writer make a million dollars?”
This is a great question, because the industry income average for freelance writers is just under $5,000 per year.
When someone asks me how, as a writer, I make a million dollars, they may not actually express it, but what they really want to know is: “How does a guy who writes ad copy, who has never published a book I've even heard of… how does that guy make a million dollars?”
And of course, ultimately, the real question burning in their heart is: “Could I do that? Or even half that?” That’s what people really want to know and that’s what I want to share with you.
Before I get to the tactical stuff like:
- How do you get paid?
- What are your rates?
- How do you get clients?
It’s imperative that I share 3 Prosperity Principles for Writers.
Prosperity Principle #1: You Must Discover Yourself
Many writers and other creatives have a not-so-secret fantasy. They labor intensely for years on a masterpiece, hoping that an influential publisher or literary agent will “discover” them, and they'll be catapulted to fame and fortune.
That's a nice fantasy, but with one problem: it doesn't happen that way. It never does, or at least almost never. Okay, rarely it happens. But you're more likely to be struck by lightning on the same day you win the Powerball, than you are to be “discovered” in this way.
You must discover yourself!
You must identify what makes you different, what “special sauce” you add to this common craft (writing) that makes you a distinctly differently voice on a common subject. In what way are you a player with a unique, unduplicable advantage? We spend 3 full days answering this question definitively in our Dreamstorm Workshops, using our Core Thesis Process; obviously, if you don't already know the answer to this question, you'll need to spend some time on it,
Prosperity Principle #2: You Must Promote Yourself
To succeed, dear Reader, you must realize you are not actually in the “writing business.” You are in the business of You, Incorporated.
It is your unique personality, and the fascinating persona you share with the world, that shapes how that world sees you. Done right, this can make you an irresistible character to whom people are attracted as their chosen and trusted authority. Done wrong, this can break the ties between you and your readers.
Specifically, instead of promoting and advertising your highly-developed craftsmanship as a writer, you must be in the business of promoting you. You cannot rely on word-of-mouth, or critical acclaim, or impersonal ad campaigns. You must conscientiously promote yourself, and intentionally craft the way customers perceive you.
If you have interest in knowing HOW it is I do all this, and want to see the detailed steps I take, let me know your interest in the comment section. Enough interest expressed will generate a new post on this “Implementation” phase. But for now, on to…
Prosperity Principle #3: You Must Get Over Yourself
You might be disappointed to learn that your dream of being a purely creative being whose hands are never “sullied” by crass commercialism or “manipulative” marketing are mere fantasy. This may be hard to swallow, but you need to get over yourself in this regard.
So, let me get the disappointing stuff out of the way right upfront:
- This approach may require a readjustment of what you think of as “craft.” The kind of writing I do is very specific: direct response copy. This is copy meant to result in a sale. It’s copy that moves the reader to buy. Personally, I find the craft of writing sales copy to be endlessly fascinating and fun. While you may not choose to write sales copy (arguably the most lucrative kind of writing available to the average writer), you may also have to spend a little less time writing poems about the secret lives of elves.
- My approach is not an “instant income” strategy. This whole system of “writing as a business” has taken me a few years to figure out and build up. I am able to pass on some hard-won lessons (like those in this post), which I believe may considerably shorten your learning curve. You can go faster than I did. But it’s still not instant. And I'm constantly learning new things. You and I are very much works in progress.
- There is more than one way to achieve a million-dollar income as a writer. For instance, there is a writer (whose name you would not recognize) who writes 3-4 books a year and gets paid $300,000 – $400,000 for each book. He's a ghostwriter. You’d be shocked to learn how many New York Times best-selling books with famous names on the covers were actually written by this one ghostwriter. Another writer I know raked in a million dollars last year writing content, white papers, and annual reports for big corporations. As I said, my way is not the only way. But it is worth noting that though the kinds of writing differ, the basic ideas I share here apply to every wealthy writer I know.
- In my experience, a million-dollar writing business means you're selling more than “just” writing. You will probably find it necessary to offer products and services that are not strictly writing (but which you would not be able to sell without your foundational work as a writer). It's the rare writer who can merely write and cash checks (our ghostwriter friend notwithstanding). I'll dive more deeply into this in the next section.
- This whole endeavor requires me to use a four-letter word that will shock and offend some people. But I feel the use of this word is required to communicate the force of my argument. The four-letter word is: w-o-r-k. Work! Ya gotta put in the effort!
This is a glimpse “behind the curtain,” and you may or may not like what you see. Then again you may find it encouraging to know there is a proven path to prosperity as a writer, and you don't need a fat contract from a big publisher to pull this off. You can simply decide, and then go do it.
“The miracle of the seed and the soil is not available by affirmation; it is only available by labor … the greatest form of maturity is at harvest time. That is when we must learn to reap without complaint if the amounts are small and to reap without apology if the amounts are big … you must either get good at sowing in the spring or begging in the fall. The soil says: don't bring me your need, bring me your seed.” — Jim Rohn
How I Get Paid
The first thing to know is I “fudged” a little on my income – it wasn’t really $1 million last year. The actual number is closer to $1.2 million.
The second thing to know is I didn’t get to keep most of it. Where did it go? A lot of places:
- The IRS and the State of Washington got their portions, of course.
- Then there are payroll taxes, Social Security, etc.
- Employee salaries.
- Affiliate commissions.
- Vendors and independent contractors.
- Other business expenses.
- There are the medical expenses related to my little neurological disorder.
- Plus we finished paying off all consumer debt, which at its height topped $400,000.(I’m actually embarrassed by this. I learned a lot through the mistakes which landed me in so much debt – perhaps I’ll share more about that journey in a future post.)
So, you can forget asking me for a loan. I didn’t sock a million into the bank. But I’m not complaining – the Edwards household did, and still does, quite well.
With all that out of the way… here’s where the money actually comes from. How I get paid.
Product sales are far-and-away our biggest source of revenue. These include high-ticket items ($1,000 and up) sold mostly via PLF-style launches, advertising, purchased solo email campaigns, and organic website traffic.
“Day with Ray” Consulting
This is where I meet with a single client (or their team). I require this meeting before Private Client Copy Engagement. The “Day With Ray” costs $15,000 if you come to me in Spokane, WA, or $20,000 plus private air charter if I come to you. What do we do in such a meeting? It depends on the client (everyone is different, so there is no template for this). I grill the client for the first hour or so, and generally this will lead to a discovery of the 1-3 most powerful “levers” we can pull in their business to increase revenue and profits, while providing the business owner with less stress and more peace of mind.
Private Client Copy Engagement
After a long period of protesting that I was no longer writing for clients, I am finally giving in to market demand. I am accepting a very few assignments wherein I personally run the copy project and write the copy. This is prohibitively expensive for the client, and if you have to ask, you can't afford it. Also, I require that all Private Clients pass a rigorous application process, and agree to my admittedly unreasonable demands (100% compliance with my advice, 100% commitment to running my copy as written, 100% commitment to testing and tracking, payment of a percentage of gross sales to be made quarterly, and acceptance of my total lack of availability for “chummy chats,” psychological counseling, and babysitting sessions). I charge a minimum of $150,000 payable up front. Maximum four clients per year, booked well in advance.
These are payments on gross sales of Private Client projects. They also include royalties on co-created projects and revenue share deals. This is becoming a more significant percentage of my company revenue. Please do not contact us looking for me to do your marketing for free and offering me a percentage. I only do these deals when I know the person well, know the company and market well, and when it is my idea.
Group coaching has been lacking in my portfolio of services until recently. Experiments thus far show it to be fun and profitable, as well as extraordinarily valuable to participants. These are online groups of up to 20 people at a time, who receive coaching and feedback from me once per week for a finite period (usually 6-12 weeks).
I host a few small group workshops that focus on a single theme or outcome each year. Participants pay a premium fee ($5,000 – $10,000) and must qualify through application. These consist typically of three intense and productive days that can significantly alter the course of the client's business and life for the better.
Small group Mastermind Alliances involve a strict application process, membership requirements, and required compliance to meeting attendance and participation.
We generate commissions through the recommendation of products and services we ourselves use. This accounts for about 7% of our company revenue each year, but nearly 18% of our annual profit. Why is it so profitable? All we do is promote the product. We don’t actually do any work, creation, or customer support.
This is our newest offering. Members receive a printed newsletter each month with my best (and freshest) thinking, a monthly video training, a live Q&A once per month, and more. We are launching this in September 2017.
Those methods fairly well sum up how I earn my income.
How I Get Clients
My marketing system is not immediately obvious to most. It is complex, carefully thought out, and rigorously tested. I am constantly experimenting. Every “thing” we do is designed to point to all the other “things” we do.
Client Attraction vs. Client Pursuit
Client attraction is foundational. Long ago I decided I did not wish to “chase” business, but prefer instead to let business chase me. So, I have carefully designed a ubiquitous system for attracting a steady flow of possible clients and customers from many different streams. This adds up to a large flow of potential business at various levels of engagement and investment, all swimming (upstream if necessary) to me. Some of the “pools” from which I attract business include:
- Podcasting. This is one of the most intimate mediums available. Podcast listeners have me literally “in their head” for an hour per week (or more, if they binge-listen… and many do just that from our library of nearly 300 episodes). This is a curiously powerful medium. Numerous customers have listened to 1-3 episodes and proceeded directly to a $5,000 – $10,000 purchase.
- YouTube channel. This is a new, experimental marketing tool for me. I have been enjoying playing around with the possibilities, and have now settled on a strategy going forward. Look for a slight shift in focus on my YouTube channel in the coming weeks. The goal, as with all third-party media, is to move people off third-party properties like YouTube (and Facebook, and Twitter, etc.) and onto my email list.
- Social media. While many claim direct money making power through social media, my approach is to use it to attract and build a bond and relationship with my tribe, and then move them from social media to the media I own, i.e., my email list.
- Printed newsletter. Already mentioned once, this is not only a product but also a marketing tool. Since the largest primary segment of my audience is made up of writers (meaning, presumably, they’re also readers), having a print newsletter is vitally important. Print media carries more impact than electronic media. This is not something I'm guessing at. According to this Millward Brown study, brain scans demonstrated the same message presented to the human subject printed on paper lights up more areas of the brain than the electronic equivalent. More areas of the brain lighting up equals more engagement.
- Speaking. This is a way that I accomplish a number of objectives: for instance, I like to travel. I want to travel to exotic places. So, I have a speaking engagement next month in Hong Kong, primarily because I've never been there. This will also afford me the opportunity, as do all speaking engagements, to establish personal contact with a new group of people, perhaps add them to my mailing list, and maybe generate a few clients along the way. Speaking automatically grants you a certain amount of gravitas and authority. As far as generating clients, this is an indirect benefit of speaking. I do not hock or pitch my services from the stage. I do, however, strategically communicate that I am available to be hired by the right people, and that I have products available for people who are not ready to hire me. Perhaps I'll write more about this at a later time.
- Books. Both physical and Kindle versions of my books are available. I currently have three books that are relevant to my business as a copywriter and marketer, and by the end of next year I plan to have no less than 10. The current books are How to Write Copy That Sells, Moneywords, and Just Get Started. These books generate a certain kind of prospect or client. They are engineered to do so, and also provide valuable content. And, as with speaking, having a book in hand conveys on the author a certain amount of authority and credibility which cannot be gained in any other way.
- Guest posts/appearances. From time to time I guest-post on the blogs of other people. I also appear on other people's podcasts as a guest interview. Once upon a time, I did this indiscriminately and would post or appear anywhere asked. The demands on my time have become so overwhelming I now have to choose more carefully. Each decision whether to appear on a podcast or write a guest post is a tactical decision designed to support my overall business strategy. For more on my thinking about this, see this book with my friend Tom Schwab, Podcast Guest Profits.
That, in a nutshell, is how I get new clients. I admit it is condensed and leaves out a lot of details. The subject deserves a book of its own. The above will get you started and will have to do until I write that book.
How I Run My Writing Business
This is not an exhaustive description of methodologies and practices for running a business, but a brief overview of some key principles that I believe help keep my business lean and growing.
Minimal staff. Once upon a time, I wanted no staff at all. This came after having been responsible for hundreds of people in my corporate position in radio broadcasting. But I finally realized I was limiting my growth by not hiring employees for my personal writing business. So now we have a few full-time employees and a number of independent contractors. We try to keep the staff as minimal as possible, but no smaller than needed. I have seen more than one friend destroy their own business by over-hiring. I'm determined not to make this mistake.
Remote workers. Rather than limit my pool of prospective employees to people who live in my hometown, we simply look for the best people for the job. This means we have hired staff from all over the place. In the US, we have workers on our team in Tennessee, Colorado, California, and elsewhere. For more on how to orchestrate a remote workforce (because there are some unique challenges), I highly recommend the book Remote: Office Not Required, by Jason Fried.
Employees vs. Contractors. I am not offering legal, accounting, or other professional advice. You should seek the services of a qualified professional to answer those questions. I can tell you that in my experience there is a difference between an employee and contractor in terms of mental attitude and dedication to the job. This is not to say that contractors don’t have a place. In my work as a freelance copywriter, I am, after all, an independent contractor. However, the person who is a full-time employee in your company can devote 100% of their working efforts to you. You must see that makes a difference. I'm not saying one is better than the other; I'm saying there's a place for both.
Client Selection. Anytime I'm going to be personally interacting with clients, such as on a copywriting or marketing project, I use a selection process. The prospective client will have to convince me that I want them as a client. This may sound arrogant, but it is not meant to be so. It actually serves all parties concerned. If I do not have good chemistry with the client, if our working styles do not match, or if we have mismatched expectations, that is a recipe for discord and upset. Contentious, negative, or sketchy people do not make the list. And if they do somehow sneak in, once we discover these fatal flaws, they are invited to go elsewhere. Immediately.
I place priority on stewarding my most valuable non-renewable resource – time – as if it is treasure. Because it is treasure. Thus productivity gets priority.
My Morning Success Ritual. This is vital to my most productive days. While I don't manage to get this all in every day, I'm getting better at it. My goal between is to achieve 95%+ compliance with this ritual every day. The days when I follow this MSR, starting the minute my feet hit the floor out of bed, are invariably my best days (most productive, most joyous, most satisfying). Probably because the most important things were done first – like prayer, reading, meditating, journaling, exercise, etc. And they are done when I'm still in the “NDZ”: No Distraction Zone (meaning no email, no voicemail, no phone calls, etc.)
Writing. The first thing I must do each day after my MSR is complete (and after I have showered, driven to the office, etc.) is WRITING. I am primarily a writer. You can always tell who the writers are – they’re the ones who are writing. This is my #1 Revenue Producing Activity (RPA). At this point my phone is off, I have still not checked email, not checked voicemail, etc. Still in the NDZ. I write for a large block of time at the beginning of the day — often 4 hours. NOTHING gets to interrupt the writing — including (especially) the clients for whom I may be writing.
Fortress of Solitude. This is the most important and perhaps the most controversial piece of advice I can give you. You must construct for yourself a “fortress of solitude”. While I do not pretend to be Superman, I do take inspiration from the Man of Steel's secret hideaway. The Fortress of Solitude is the place Superman goes to be in absolute solitude. A place of silent contemplation. This is the place he goes to think, to learn, to plan, to rejuvenate. Some of the ways in which I've done this are:
- I never answer incoming business calls. They’re always screened, dealt with, and if I really need to speak with the person a call is set for Call Day.
- I have only one day per month that I make phone appointments (Call Day). I make all phone appointments on that day. If that date cannot work for a person seeking a phone conversation with me, my assistant will schedule them for the next month. I schedule all my interviews on one day per month, grouped together so that I can take care of this task all in a single day.
- My daily schedule is relatively free from appointments. This creates large blocks of time for me to do what I do best, and what is most important for generating revenue in my business: writing, creating content, and recording (either audio or video). For more details on why I resort to these extreme measures, please see No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs, by Dan Kennedy.
- Rest. In order to deliver the very best work to my clients and partners, and to still leave room in my schedule for rejuvenation (sleep, family time, time with God, and time to just plain relax)… I have to guard my time vigorously. And I have to be on guard against what Dan Kennedy calls “Time Vampires”. They will suck the life out of you.
- I Don’t Check Email, and I Only Get One Email Each Day. My auto-check feature in Apple Mail is turned OFF. I only get email when I press the “Check Mail” button. I check it once per day, Monday thru Thursday. Usually around 4 pm Pacific. All my email is screened by my assistant, who compiles the relatively few messages I must read or respond to. She sends those to me in a single email at the end of each day. This is one of my policies that tends to be unpopular with those who are “urgency addicts”, and who want me to have a constant email discussion about all manner of things with them. I refuse to sacrifice my highest valued commodity (time) for the sake of what usually amounts to trivia. I suggest you adopt the same policy.
- I Avoid Meetings Like the Plague They Are. Any meeting that lasts longer than 15 minutes is probably too long. Not always, but most of the time. Any project that requires multiple meetings each week is probably in trouble. Long meetings = inefficiency at best, and postponement of the inevitable at worst. (As a sidebar: frequent short meetings are just a disguised way of having long meetings. HEAR ME: if you have “meeting-itis”, either you just want an excuse to talk about work instead of doing it, or something is wrong with the project … something another meeting won't solve).
- Phone Meetings / Conversations. Same as in person meetings, only worse. Conversations and phone meetings should be 15 minutes or less and have a predetermined purpose and ending time. These all take place on aforementioned Call Day.
- Instant Messenger. Any Flavor. (I’m looking at you, Slack). Just say no. The only time I use it is when I have SCHEDULED events on Skype or Zoom (usually interviews). I am NEVER “just available” to be interrupted. (If I was, that would mean that I was either doing something unimportant or that I was doing NOTHING. If I'm doing something unimportant… WHY? And if I'm doing NOTHING, it's a PLANNED nothing and it's important that this not be interrupted!).
- I HATE TEXT MESSAGES. The end.
- Office Hours. Yes, I have an office outside my home. I lease currently. I'm considering buying an office building. I keep regular business hours most of the time: Mon – Thurs, 8 am – 5 pm Pacific.
By the way, my office phone is answered by a LIVE HUMAN (not some stupid voicemail torture device) Monday – Saturday, 8 am – 6 pm Pacific time. Why do I have the phone covered even when I am out of the office? Because other members of my team keep different hours… and because emergencies DO happen, and I like to be available if a TRUE emergency arises. My phone team knows how to reach me in those cases.
Why The Emphasis On Not Being Interrupted?
Interruptions cost you dearly.
As a writer, I know that allowing myself to be interrupted by a client or vendor (“Hey Ray – got a minute to talk about the new logo?”) can seem harmless… but it isn't. That interruption costs me (a) the state of “flow” I was in while working, maybe impossible to recover, (b) the time of the interruption itself, and (c) the time it takes me to get back into the “zone” with what I was working on… minimum 20 minutes, maybe longer.
I can't afford to let that happen.
My clients and customers can't afford for me to let that happen.
I once had a client who loved to call me at 11 pm at night and talk for two hours. I tried to tell him I worked set hours and was available at those times, but he didn't seem to understand. When our first project was finished, I fired him. His dysfunction did not automatically become my problem. Be warned – people will WASTE your time if you let them. Will you let them? Be polite, be loving… but don't be a victim.
In the end, if you guard your time, you are being most respectful of other people. Think about it: if you allow yourself to be interrupted, or your time wasted when you should have been doing something else… who suffers? Your clients. Your customers. Your family (“Sorry honey, I have to stay late because I wasted 2 hours today listening to the web team make excuses…”).
You're not serving anyone by being a poor steward of your time.
What to Do Next
Here’s the 3-step plan I promised you to help increase your own income. It’s quite simple:
- Choose just one of the practices I listed above – the one that excites you the most.
- Put that practice to work in your own business, and use it until it begins to produce results.
- Now pick a new practice, add it to your daily/weekly/monthly routine, and repeat the process. (Don’t stop doing the new “thing” you started in Step 1. Keep doing all the activities, and as you add them one by one, you will likely see a corresponding surge in income. I am not promising you any income results, just sharing what has worked for me. Your mileage may vary.)
If this post has struck a chord with you, please let me know in the comments, and ask any specific questions you have. I’ll endeavor to answer as transparently as possible.
Finally, if you did find this post useful, I pray that you put it into action. So, here's my question for you: What ideas from this post will you implement and what results do you hope to see?