Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Peyton! My full name is Arlie Peyton, but I go by the last name. I am the creator of a freelance writing program that teaches intermediate-level writers how to command $1,000 - $3,000 per article. I just have a coaching program so far, but I’m working on an online course as we speak. I love what I do because I get to teach and talk about business all the time.
With my system, I’ve been able to generate $10K a month. As you can see, that’s only a few articles a month. I run two other businesses so I keep busy, but if I only had writing clients I’d make a lot more for sure. I’m grateful for what I have because every freelance writer knows that there are some places where you can get a 1,000-word article for $10! That’s not a good article and it’s probably scraped stuff from the internet that will never rank in Google.
The key service I provide my clients is simple. I write custom long-form articles that get premium results. For doing this, I get to charge a lot. What I do is like making a bespoke suit or dress for someone. It fits like a glove and performs like a dream. In a word, I send my clients massive traffic.
I write in the eCommerce and SaaS industries, so those are my ideal clients. However, I also write for personal brands and ghostwrite for c-suite executives. I’ve been able to get them into all the major business publications.
I realize that many writers make well over six figures a year. However, what might be interesting is that I wrote for two years to practice my craft and made nothing. It’s not because it wasn’t good, it’s just that I never charged anyone. The first time I did charge a client, I invoiced them for $1,000 and I’ve never looked back.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I came up with my idea after failing at a digital marketing course I bought for $1,000. When I was finished, I tried to apply what I learned but I forgot most of it. In a way, I thought the course was too good to be true. However, since I spent a lot on the course I decided to retake it and master the business model. I ended up getting my first client two weeks later and making good money. To this day, I still own a boutique marketing agency that provides a steady income for minimal work.
I thought the course was genius so I wrote the owner. I offered to do a free write-up on the course and what others have achieved. The owner was delighted with the idea and I got it published on Medium.com.
A few weeks later, that article went viral. Also, it got ranked on page #1 of Google for several key terms in the social media marketing agency (SMMA) industry. The owner was surprised and hired me to write other articles for him. This time I charged him!
Now, I did know quite a lot about SEO before writing commercially. I had studied it for six years, ranking various affiliate sites of mine. However, I didn’t quite know how to make a real business out of it. I figured out how to combine SEO, brand journalism, sales funnels, and storytelling to make a highly lucrative writing agency.
In time, I managed to rank for dozens of desirable keywords on page #1 of Google. These words had an SEO keyword difficulty score that ranged from “possible” to “very hard”. This completely validated what I was doing. I regularly beat out billion-dollar brands and well-know websites. For example, last year I ranked for the difficult keyword “swing trading”.
It’s better to find out what you’re good at and see if there is a market for that. Don’t try everything just because there’s money in it.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
What helped throughout this process was creating a Trello board of my system, and continually modifying it. Today, I got it down to hard science. Every time I get a client I just create a card for them and run them through the process that operates like a Gantt chart. This way, I can have multiple clients at the same time and at different phases. Since I color-code specific things, I always know what to do next to every client.
My MVP was ranking my first articles on Google and tracking the links. In a month or two I managed to send 1,000’s of people to a specific client landing page. The audience was highly-targeted since I chose niche publications. So with the results I got, I could go to most prospects and tell them that I could do the same for them. It didn’t matter if I charged $1,000 or $5,000 per article. I could prove they would make that back within the first week. From there, it was pure profit for them. One client estimates the article I wrote for him brought in over $60,000 in sales.
That same client offered me an affiliate commission for each sale I brought in. Because I wanted to be transparent with the audience and declare it as a sponsored post, I declined the highly lucrative offer. I always scoffed at articles endorsing an item because they’re affiliated. It’s not authentic. (By the way, I would have netted $15,000 the first month!). However, that’s brand journalism. Any promotion or branding has to be subtle and honest.
In the beginning, I wasn’t worried about making money because I was just figuring things out. I had to build a solid track record too. And since there were zero start-up fees, I was profitable from day one.
My biggest lesson in this phase was to stay humble and build an incredible portfolio. Get clients results with your SEO superpower and you can literally name your price. Most freelance writers think all they have to do is write a great article. That’s only half the job. There is a lot of effort put into testing it out on the right audiences, checking all the SEO boxes, and strategically promoting the article. When I launch an article it’s very much like a product launch. At the end of the day, clients pay for results, and just creating an article isn’t the result: it’s getting thousands of clicks that turn into sales.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Here’s the funny thing about being a freelance writer dealing with high net-worth clients. When you do a good job, they always refer you to their friends. I got one client and that person introduced me to five other people. Four of those people became clients. And from those four, an entire client book was built. (The only reason why I didn’t get the fifth person as a client was that he passed away. I still wrote a pro bono article for him). I’ve been extremely lucky. I’ve never had to advertise my services!
To keep the referrals flowing, quarterly I’d check in with clients and let them know how much money I’ve made them with my articles. Everything is tracked on bit.ly, Google Analytics, and Facebook.
And once I started ranking my clients in Google, they’d ask me to do things I didn’t actually do like online reputation management, personal branding, and erasing negative reviews. Since I’m a quick study, I learned how to do all of that too, and charged a premium price for it!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, I have months where I bring in five figures from just doing a few hours of work each week. It costs me nothing to get clients, and I only spend about $200 a month on SEO services like Ahrefs and Pay-Per-Click ads to kickstart article traction. Once I get clients in, I try to do work with them every other month or quarterly. Since I write epic posts, it’s something they don’t need every week. With my writing coach work, I’m on track to make six figures this year.
Since I have a system down, I’m working on training other high-level or intermediate writers to do this for me. This is difficult because I don’t know how the retention will be after I teach them everything I know. Surely they’d make far more doing it on their own. However, the market for brand journalists with my skill set is not saturated, so maybe we can work together. At this point, I don’t care who knows what I know so long as they get something out of it. I come from an industry where people are vastly underpaid. Anything reasonable that I can do to help a fellow writer out is good in my book. I have an option to scale my business with more people or turn it into an education company. I'm shooting for the latter with my new course.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
It has not always been smooth sailing. I have had a couple of negative client experiences. My favorite client referred his best mate to me. That guy ended up being difficult to work with. He undervalued my work and refused to pay my performance bonus I achieved in record time. I was okay with that so as long as he never contacted me again. I learned later that I created an article for a $1,500 online course that wasn’t even half-way finished! None of this was disclosed on his sales page. To counter this, the client said that paid members would have access to his previous course that covered the same thing but was a bit dated. It was a sham.
The client wrote to me and said “anyone could rank for those keywords! I’m not paying.” Then, I sent him a sobering keyword difficulty score analysis from ahrefs and SEMrush to shut him down. It did. He paid for my bonus and then we parted ways. However, it was painful because my favorite client left with him: they were very close.
I was bummed because I get to choose the clients I work with. Most of them have an amazing story to tell and they’ve done remarkable things in the world. I’m always thinking about my clients and opportunities to bring them more revenue with my work. There have been a few times when I had an idea for my favorite client, but I had to stop myself because I wasn’t going to reach out to him.
In the end, I learned to still screen new prospects thoroughly even if they are coming from a trustworthy source.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My favorite tool right now is KW Finder by Mongools. Ahrefs is my go-to, all-purpose SEO tool. However, for finding rankable keywords I go with KW Finder. What you’ll see in the SEO world is that there are countless keyword scoring tools. They all have a different algorithm and privilege different things. Because of this, you’ll get different keyword difficulty scores for the same keyword. Often, they are off by a lot (like a score of 20 versus a score of 80). Ahrefs has a bad keyword scoring tool, but KW Finder is probably the most accurate. SEMrush has the best UI/UX out of them all, but I don’t use it much.
For email I use MailerLite. It’s just easy and I can appreciate a strong SaaS company from the Eastern Bloc. Billing goes through PayPal or Stripe, and digital contracts are done through SignRequest. I use Zoom for client meetings and Grammarly for editing. I’m so lucky that I’m in an industry where the cost to do business is insanely low.
Clickfunnels is a staple and I always recommend it to my clients. It always surprises me how giant corporations still haven’t mastered sales funnels. And Slack is the best way to keep in touch with clients on a project. I set up a private channel and tell them that if it’s not communicated on Slack, it never happened. That rule alone has helped me save time chasing messages and assets around.
Lately, I’ve been publishing articles on Medium because they have a domain authority of 95. That’s a huge unofficial ranking signal for Google. Anything you can do to get a leg up on your SEO game helps. However, Medium is also a big anti-spam site. They’ll flag you for anything that looks like shameless self-promotion, which is why brand journalism works out well. In that regard, my articles are often not explicitly about the client. Still, there are lots of guidelines I have to follow to stay in compliance with Medium.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
For website recommendations, I really do like Starter Story. I’m not trying to be a suck-up! Some of the advice on marketing is priceless. I told a publishing client about this site and he stayed up all night studying the Tucker Maxx story here. Sometimes I think it’s the best-kept secret for industry research and marketing hacks. Also, who doesn’t like a good founder story?
In terms of books, Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing made a profound mark on me. It’s pretty much how I look at business and marketing in general. It was written in 1999 and still outranks most contemporary books on the topic.
To name drop a few books I love that are uncommon I should mention Built For Growth by Arthur Rubenfeld and Nail It Then Scale It by Nathan Furr. The former is great for brick-and-mortar business expansion, and the latter is a good alternative to everyone’s favorite startup book Running Lean. Lastly, I was one of many editors for Sangeet Paul Choudary’s book Platform Scale: How An Emerging Business Model Helps Startups Build Large Empires With Minimum Investment.
I know that every writer is big on The Elements of Style. Honestly, I would never recommend that book. It’s the MVP of writing guides. For what I do, I need higher-level guidance. I’d recommend Style by Joseph M. Williams or anything by Jack Hart. Style is the most assigned writing textbook in college. With Hart, during his tenure at The Oregonian newspaper, several of his editors won or were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in journalism.
As far as podcasts go, I loved the Business War season on Nike and Adidas. Both these brands have been clients of mine and I live one city away from their North America headquarters in Oregon.
I don’t listen to a lot of business podcasts unless I’m doing research for a client project. I like philosophy and politics. I have a master’s degree in Critical Theory so I listen to things like Philosophize This!, Rebel Wisdom, and The Intellectual Dark Web. However, by being exposed to things outside of business, I get creative ideas about my projects.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Don’t chase two rabbits! I failed a few eCommerce businesses in the beginning because I tried a lot of things at once. I did it all with minimal effort because my time was spread thin. It’s better to find out what you’re good at and see if there is a market for that. Don’t try everything just because there’s money in it. An experiment in markets that can appreciate your skills until you can find a good customer base. Passion doesn’t always pay the bills, so find what’s in demand too. All entrepreneurship is an experiment.
I know everyone says mindset is where everything starts. However, it’s not where everything ends. After you get traction and start making money, a lot of sustained success is pure execution. Michael Jordan didn’t need much of a pep talk before every game. He quickly got into the right mindset, but then he just became a results-driven machine. A lot of that is done without thinking at all! So in the beginning, really focus on mindset. When you get good, focus on execution.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Writing Income Accelerator
- 6-Figure Freelance Writer course
- Personal Website
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help you get started.
Interested in starting your own business? Join Starter Story Premium to get the greatest companion to starting and growing your business:
- Connect + get advice from successful entrepreneurs
- Step by step guides on how to start and grow
- Exclusive and early access to the best case studies on the web
- And much more!
Are you ready to boost your revenue?
Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!
Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!