In this blog, I shared a lot about what I do for a living: self-employed freelance writer. It’s been about a year, and I’m happy to say that it’s been a pretty good year. I work 100% online, and yes, it’s possible for other Malaysians to do the same.
It can be lucrative, too. In November 2016, I hit 5 digits for the first time.
In this blogpost, I’d like to share the exact steps I use in my journey. I started from zero knowledge and experience – in fact when I first started, I was still looking for local job opportunities (because that’s what I am used to). I hope you’ll find this sharing useful.
The Exact Steps I Use to Earn Online in Malaysia
The steps below are not linear. I did them in this order, but you don’t have to – tweak it to your unique situation. You might even skip a few steps, or add your own. It’s just to show how my journey looked like. Even if writing is not what you want to do, read on, because you get to read at least one perspective from someone who tried to navigate this world as a beginner.
If this is not what you’re looking for, there are many other ways to earn online in Malaysia. One of them is via the #YouCanDuit programme by MDEC – see success stories from this programme from this VulcanPost article. This Lifehacker article lists 200 ways to make money online!
Here are my steps:
Step 1: I identified a skill that I can sell.
Writing came naturally. For you, this might be: photography, graphic design, translation, coding, marketing or other skills.
No skills? I don’t think so. From experience, everyone has something to offer. The fact that you’re reading this in English means that you have an advantage. If you’re not sure, get a friend/family to tell you what you’re good at. Or see Step 2.
Step 2: I joined a few freelancing platforms.
I joined Upwork, Freelancer and a few other freelancing platforms. Also; Fiverr (Bantu.my is the Malaysian equivalent) and trade-specific job boards. If you’re still not sure what services exactly you can sell, go ahead and browse around in these platforms for ideas.
To use these platforms to earn money online, make sure you have your tools in order, especially to receive payment. Read my tools for Malaysian freelancers guide to get started.
Step 3: I applied for a lot of jobs.
I spent a few months:
- just polishing my profiles/resumes,
- tweaking my services,
- submitting articles to online media (to provide as samples to potential clients),
- applying to job offers (and getting no replies from the majority of them), and
- performing low-paying jobs.
If I could do it again, I’d skip the lower-paying jobs that were not worth my time. For example, reviewing 12-hour webinars for USD8 :/
Step 4: I decided on a niche.
After doing some low-paying jobs for a while, I decided it got too time-consuming. Plus, I wanted to earn more. If you want to make actual money online, too, take this advice: have a specialisation or a niche. There are A LOT of freelancers online. So you need something to set you apart from the rest.
I started to market myself as a personal finance writer. At this time I was into bitcoin and cryptocurrencies as well, and I was recruited by at least 2 editors because not many people can write about these topics.
Here’s a basic email template that I use to apply for jobs. They have significantly higher rate of being accepted than a general ‘I can do anything that pays’ applications.
Referring to the subjectline, I would like to offer my writing services to [Company name]. I have written extensively about bitcoin, personal finance and fintech. Please see some of my samples below:
- About Personal Finance: 5 New & Unusual Ways to Earn Extra Money
- About Fintech: FinTech: How Technology is Redefining the Financial Sector
- About Bitcoin and Islam – Is Bitcoin Halal? What Scholars Say And Where It Stands in Islamic Banking and Finance
- More about Bitcoin and Islam – Bitcoin and Islam: What do the experts say? – BitX
- About Bitcoin Scams – The Complete Guide to Bitcoin Scams
- About Lisk – 8 Things You Should Know About The Lisk Ecosystem and Currency
- About Dash – From Darkcoin to Dash – The Story of the First DAOMy rates are flexible and available upon your kind reply. More samples can be provided upon request. You can also check out testimonials of my previous work from my clients in this [link].Thank you and best regards,Suraya
Step 5: I invested for professionalism
Being professional is also appearing professional, especially online. Say you have two applicants for the same role.
Applicant A gave you a PM stating her/his interest in the work.
Applicant B gave you her/his name card (with business registration number), a professional website, samples of previous work, testimonials of previous clients, and a quotation for the work. Additionally, Applicant B is also a member in a related professional trade organisation.
Who would you pick, assuming their rates are similar?
Read my tools for Malaysian freelancers guide – it includes some tools that make you look more professional.
Step 6: I started networking and showing people what I do
It doesn’t have to be physical attendance – online presence works as well. Join groups related to your trade and subject of expertise. I have been recruited from Telegram, Whatsapp and Facebook simply by maintaining an active presence and showing people what I can do.
An important point here is ‘show, don’t tell’. A lot of people are used to ads and ads-language, so we automatically tune that out. So something like ‘Contact me for x work’-type ads don’t generally work.
Instead, share the work you’ve done with the group. Being a useful contributor can significantly increase your likability and job offers. Give information freely, help others, and celebrate other people’s successes.
Step 7: I created a website.
This is where Ringgit Oh Ringgit comes in 🙂 I like writing, and I offer writing services, so it really made sense to create a blog. It also allows me to explore other ways to earn money online.
Some ways I’ve tried, with varying degrees of success:
- Influencer marketing/Sponsored posts – Direct negotiation, Catjira, Blogr.my
- Affiliate marketing – Involve Asia, referral programmes from products I already use
- Blog advertisement – Direct negotiation
- Adsense and Infolinks
- More info about this in The Exact Steps I Use to Earn Money from Blogging
You don’t have to have a website, but the benefits are pretty good. Not only you get more income sources this way, you also get to attract potential clients and leverage on your readership. I provide samples of my writing here (as well as a dedicated ‘For Hire‘ page) and because I genuinely love writing about personal finance, it’s a hobby that pays itself off.
Additionally, I learned skills that I now can offer as part of my writing services (like SEO). Not good in writing? Do it anyway – no time like the present to start polishing your writing skills.
Step 8: I stopped using freelancing platforms completely
And started working directly with clients. This is great, because 1) generally speaking, direct clients pay more; and 2) freelancing platforms charge fees on your earnings, which eats into your income.
This is roughly 6 months in, if I remember correctly. If you’re good at what you do, you’ll also get word-of-mouth referrals, so work is constant (provided you keep up the quality).
From browsing online, a lot of other freelancers worldwide have this tactic, too. They’d use freelancing platforms to get started, then use the experience and contacts to work on their own.
Step 9: I became obsessed with optimisation, self-improvement and productivity
By this point, I have gotten myself a few regular and semi-regular clients. I mean, if you cast a big net early on (over 50 applications in a week), something’s bound to catch, right? Doing work consumes time (of course), and my focus is to add more high-paying clients to replace my lower-paying clients. This is one type of optimisation – more value in exchange for my time.
There are a lot of tips, tricks and hacks online about how to do things more effectively. My optimisation strategy is: what do I spend a lot of time on → how do I do that in less time? For example: blog marketing. I got myself an IFTTT account – it helps me to automate social media postings (thank you Bobby Ong for sharing this tip!). Another example: making images for my blog. I am not good in graphic design, and even my best efforts only result in ‘meh’. So I got help.
Seriously, this was my previous blog header. So ugly right.
So I guess it helps to have a constant desire to be better today than yesterday. This took me to where I am today, in a span of a year.
What’s next? Are there additional stages? Maybe, I’ve yet to reach that stage. At just one year in, I know I have so much more room to grow. Experienced freelancers reading this, what can you share from your own experience?
For new or aspiring freelancers, I hope you find the above steps helpful. I don’t want you to think earning online is easy – work is still work. But the good thing is that it should get easier as you go along. I shared this in my article about how it’s actually like to be self-employed.
Specific questions not answered here? Comment below. I’ll answer if I can. Know friends and families looking for ways to earn money online in Malaysia? Share this with them. All the best to you, and go earn that money 🙂