Guess what Janet did when she saw an opportunity to write for Forbes, one of the publications she was reading regularly?
Yup, she went for it.
After she got her foot in through this opportunity, Janet became a regular contributor. And this happened only two months after she took Gina’s course, 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success.
Amazing, right?! Here’s how Janet did it.
I’m a Certified Public Accountant by trade (and four arduous exams), but after I had my son the long hours required in public accounting left me questioning my career choice.
Although I love working with my clients and helping them navigate the complicated tax code, I’m no longer willing to give up a quarter of every year of my son’s life to work 60+ hours a week. In short, I needed a change but didn’t know what to do about it.
While browsing around on Pinterest one night last October, I stumbled across Gina’s course, 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success. (Gina: Gotta love Pinterest, right?)
Could I Make a Living Writing?
I’d always loved writing, but I thought the only way to make a living at it was to write novels or work for a newspaper. I felt like I’d been struck by lightning. I signed up for the course and got to work. (Gina: Janet and I have A LOT in common!)
I was fortunate that I’d been contributing to my employer’s tax blog for over two years, so I had a portfolio from day one. I started searching job boards and looking at the submission guidelines for some of my favorite sites. I got a few paid gigs right away, but I certainly wasn’t close to being in a position to quit my day job.
How I Started Writing for Forbes
In November, I saw that my favorite tax blogger, Kelly Phillips Erb, who writes the Taxgirl blog for Forbes, contributed a post for a series called The Last 10 Things I Bought. Samantha Sharf, a Forbes staff writer, asked readers to provide a peek into their checkbooks and a little insight into how they make decisions about where they spend money.
At the end of Kelly’s post was a call for more entries, so I crafted a pitch to Samantha that mentioned my unique angle: balancing a full-time career, part-time freelancing business and family. I also included a couple links to relevant pieces I’d written for my employer and a local mom’s blog. Sam said they’d love to have me contribute.
Normally, I don’t advocate for writing for free, but I enjoyed writing this piece. Worst case scenario, my writing was on Forbes, and it’ll be a great addition to my portfolio.
I crafted, rewrote, and edited that post as if my life depended on it, then sent it to Sam a few days ahead of the deadline.
On the day my post ran, I received an email from Sam letting me know her editor loved my post and wanted to talk to me about becoming a regular contributor.
I did a short phone interview and became a Forbes contributor in December, less than two months after taking Gina’s course and with only a couple other paid clients under my belt.
“If I had to pick one lesson from the course that helped me the most, it would be choosing a niche.”
In the beginning, I thought I could write about anything I enjoy, from parenting to cooking to restaurant and book reviews. Narrowing my focus to personal finance and accounting/income tax capitalized on my professional experience and helped me start earning significant income quickly.
Contributing to Forbes doesn’t provide enough income to quit my day job, but it has opened many doors. When I pitch another personal finance writing gig, I have instant credibility because of that Forbes byline.
What Can Other Writers Learn from My Experience?
The particular set of circumstances that led me to become a Forbes contributor are not easily replicated, but there are three things I did that anyone can do.
1. Write What You Know
A good writer can research and write an article on any topic from alpacas to zombies, but when you use your experience to write, your knowledge and passion are palpable.
I am fortunate that my career in public accounting provides an in-depth knowledge of income taxes and personal finance that I use in my writing career.
So think about what you do, what you know and what makes you a voice of authority.”
There’s nothing wrong with stretching yourself, but the best opportunities may come from the unique knowledge and experience you already possess.
2. Follow the People Doing What You Want to Do
Before I started freelance writing, the three websites I read daily were Forbes, The Atlantic and Slate.
Reading my favorite column on Forbes gave me the opportunity to contribute to a column, which led to a regular gig. I’ve also come across opportunities to contribute to The Atlantic and Slate in the last few months just by reading these two publications regularly.
I would NEVER have had the nerve to pitch Forbes so early in my writing career, but because I was a regular reader, I saw an opportunity to get my foot in the door.
There are so many great websites and so much content that it’s impossible to read everything on every site you are interested in writing for, but pick a few of your favorites and follow them religiously. You never know when an opportunity will present itself.
3. Just Go for It
When the Forbes opportunity came up, I didn’t hesitate and wonder whether I was qualified or good enough. I took the leap.
If you have the chance to do something big, go for it. Say yes and hit the mute button on the voice in your head that says you can’t do it.
I haven’t yet quit my day job to freelance full-time, but I was able to pay off some debts, amp up our family’s savings and reduce the number of hours I work in public accounting so I can spend more time at home.
I owe that to Gina’s course that taught me how to build my own business and gave me the nerve to make the leap.
Have you seized an opportunity from an unlikely place? I’d love to hear your story!
Janet Berry-Johnson is a CPA and a freelance writer with a background in accounting and insurance. Her writing has appeared at Forbes, Parachute by Mapquest, Capitalist Review, Guyvorce, BonBon Break, and Kard Talk. Janet lives in Arizona with her husband and son and their rescue dog, Dexter. Outside of work and family time, she enjoys cooking, reading historical fiction, and binge-watching Real Housewives.