How I Earn $60 an Hour as a Freelance Writer

By Megan Headley

Three letters leapt out at me when I read the job ad posted on the weekly newsletter of writing opportunities, and it was an acronym I hoped would mean little to other writers perusing the listings: BIM.

To me, BIM meant building information modeling, a new type of technology taking over the architecture industry. Several years earlier, I had studied the new technology closely to make sense of it and how it might someday change the landscape for my audience of construction subcontractors. The resulting article was in fact co-written with the magazine editor I assisted at that time. In the grand scheme of things, it was a small piece in a writing portfolio I was now looking to push in new directions.

After eight years of writing for a niche B2B publisher focused on subcontractors in manufacturing and construction, I had recently set out to pursue freelance writing fulltime. I was ready to learn new things and to expand my voice to cover fresh topics. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long as a freelancer to realize I didn’t know exactly how to make the leap from my niche construction knowledge to those broader topics I was hungry to tackle.

When I saw that ad, seeking a technical writer preferably with familiarity with BIM, I was still struggling to find my place as a freelancer. I was paying bills from jobs proofreading resumes and writing product descriptions about air-conditioning systems, among other one-off opportunities for which I was regularly scrambling. This was the first inkling I had that I could leverage my construction knowledge as the foundation of a fruitful career.

A Focus on Specifics

I was far from a BIM expert, but I was hoping that my basic understanding of the term might get me a foot in the door with this client. I crafted a brief cover letter to the hiring manager that emphasized and linked to the single article I had co-written three years earlier. I explained my expertise in writing for niche construction audiences and highlighted that my previous experience demanded expertise translating technical jargon into material that was easily accessible by entry-level professionals while also proving useful to company CEOs. I sent the cover letter out with my resume and crossed my fingers.

Barely a week had gone by before I received an email reply asking to schedule a time to talk via Skype. I hurriedly set up a Skype account under my professional email and nervously prepared for the discussion by studying up on BIM basics.

As it turns out, the basics were more than enough. The interview was with the owner of a boutique marketing firm who had landed a major international client. Her Japan-based client wanted help ghostwriting a blog that focused on how the company’s software offering stood poised to transform the architecture and construction industries. The woman with whom I spoke knew how to create a solid marketing plan, but was fuzzy on the details of how to use BIM tools to improve construction project scheduling and reduce contractor errors.

I tried to ignore the fact that I was fuzzy on some of those details as well, and focused on explaining my understanding of how this tool was being used in the construction industry.

We agreed on a trial blog, and I was thrilled to find out that the client wanted to provide me with a recorded interview from which I was to craft the blog. It seemed to good to be true that all of the information would be provided, and all I had to do was untangle the pieces of the story. Unweaving jargon to tell a story was one area where I knew I excelled.

As luck would have it, my client and her contact in Japan agreed with me that the case study I produced exceeded their expectations. At a rate of $60/hour, I agreed to serve as technical consultant for future blogs, white papers and the occasional article. The education I would gain in producing those pieces ultimately served as the stepping stone for a writing career focused on the architecture, engineering and construction industries—and beyond.

The Value of a Good Keyword

If I had ignored my initial instinct to doubt myself—to believe that my paltry knowledge of BIM wouldn’t warrant an interview—I’d have missed a major opportunity. Ultimately, I needed only a passing familiarity with BIM because I gained greater understanding of the software in listening to the source material I was provided. Most of these articles actually focused more broadly on challenges in the construction industry, and changing expectations from building owners and developers. The technical knowledge I needed, I gained largely on the job.

This experience also taught me to focus on specific keywords as I targeted future jobs. When I peruse ads seeking writers, I tend to ignore any ad that seeks someone with an eye for detail and a passion for writing. After all, isn’t that all of us? I focus instead on highly specific keywords that match a sample from my portfolio, no matter how briefly I covered that specific topic. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, these keywords have led me from writing about BIM to writing about BIM for hospital operations to writing about quality of care in hospitals, and a plethora of other trails in similar fashion.

It’s been four years since I responded to this wanted ad, and the company remains one of my favorite clients with which to work. The work is engaging, the pay has continued to rise, and I’ve learned more than I’d ever have imagined from listening in on these interviews with leading architectural firms from around the world. But more than that, this job helped me learn how to better market myself. The niche knowledge I’ve gained in 14 years of writing is incredibly valuable, and I have this work in my portfolio to remind me of just that fact.

Megan Headley is the owner of ClearStory Publications LLC, and a freelance writer based in Fredericksburg, Va. She has written about every aspect of the built environment for more than a decade. Megan can be reached via


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