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Laura Belgray
Laura Belgray
Eric Michael Pearson

Even on Instagram, words matter.

Most of us don’t think about it, but those words you see on many social media posts — like inspirational quotes or sayings — didn’t just come out of nowhere. Someone had to write them. It might have been the actual person whose website or funny quote you’re looking at. Or, it might have been someone they paid to edit or write it for them.

Someone like me.

Through my copywriting business Talking Shrimp, I make my living writing words you never thought were someone's job: the names and intros for popular podcasts, website copy for a business selling chocolate angels, the tagline on a homepage for dishcloths that made you say, "Yes! I have to order these!"

Most of all, I love and specialize in writing short things. And of all the copywriting I do for my clients, my favorite (and probably most surprising) kind is working on Instagram quotes.

I never advertised this service, but a client whom I’d helped with the rebrand of her coaching website loved the original quotes on my Instagram feed and asked, “Could I buy time with you to write my own fun memes?”

She was happy to pay my rate of $950 an hour, which sometimes racks up to $6,000 per day. And I was happy to do it.

You've probably seen inspirational quotes repeated all over Instagram, but I believe in posting your own original quotes. You’ll never make your mark as a brand or thought leader by solely quoting Oprah or Rumi. And I find it deeply ironic that everyone posts the same Oscar Wilde saying: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

How I get paid to write short, quotable social media posts (and how you can, too)

First, the client, a psychologist and life coach, comes to me with a list of ideas she wants to post. “Here’s what I want to say,” she always comments, “but way smarter and punchier.”

It’s only fair to note that she’s plenty smart and punchy as a person. With her strong academic background, however, she often gets tripped up in formal jargon and complex ideas when it’s time to communicate for her business.

Next, I pop the list of ideas into a shared Google doc, so she can see me typing if we work together. (We usually do, because we have great creative chemistry. Since I know her voice, however, sometimes I’ll work on my own.)

I might ask her to elaborate on an idea for a clearer sense of what she wants to say. Then, I'll start brainstorming new lines right below the original one.

As soon as she says, “Ooh, I really love that line,” I’ll know we have something and move on to the next one.

Here are a few examples of our before-and-afters:

ORIGINAL: When you make your eating or exercise routine carry the burden of your self-esteem, it’s going to buckle.
NEW: If your self-worth is the number on the scale, it’s going to go up and down every day.

ORIGINAL: Any time your joy is dependent on someone else, you are going to be disappointed.
NEW: If you depend on someone else for your joy, depend on being disappointed.

ORIGINAL: Guess where you are NOT going to find your passion…endless introspection.
NEW: Trying to find your passion by thinking is like trying to bake cookies in your freezer.

ORIGINAL: This year, how many of your wishes did you turn into real goals?
NEW: Wishes are for birthday candles. Grownups set goals.

ORIGINAL: There is no upside to self-criticism.
NEW: There is no upside to beating up on yourself.

Finally, she takes the finished lines to her graphic designer. (This isn't required — I design my own quote cards, with little-to-no design skill.) Now, the client has a stash of quotes to drip out over the month.

You can do this type of writing, too. If you have a way with words, there’s no reason you can’t sell them.

More and more businesses and entrepreneurs are using Instagram and other social media to reinforce their brands. They need words — and not everyone is good with words. Most people need help, and many will pay for it.

Here are my best tips for getting started writing copy and content for other people and brands.

Don’t wait for permission

One of the great things about writing online is that if you can write, you can start doing so professionally — without permission, funding, a book deal, a green light from a studio, or working your way up a corporate ladder.

In the highly structured Mad Men world of advertising, it takes years of success to accumulate a portfolio of good TV or print ads, but as a freelance online writer you can create your own work at your own speed.

Showcase your talent

There are plenty of free, no-permission-required ways to show off your writing skills.

  • Write and publish stories and articles on Medium.
  • Build your own website, and fill it with smart, snappy words. (You can beef up your word skills with these free articles on copywriting.)
  • Post your own original, quotable sayings on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Even if that’s not the writing service you want to offer, your own quotes and tips are a great way to stand out to your target audience.

Create your own quote graphics

On text-friendly sites like Twitter or Facebook, all you have to do is type what you want to say. But on Instagram, you'll need to turn your words into an image. Here's how.

  • Use a graphic editing app like Canva, which offers a variety of Instagram quote templates.
  • Post the quote on Twitter, then take a screenshot and use that as your Instagram image. It won’t have a signature look, but this style of quote is easy to create and read.

Let people know you're available

If you want to be hired as a writer, make it clear that you are one and easy to book you.

  • On your website, have a “Hire Me” page that allows people to contact you for more information.
  • Offer your services (even if no one has ever paid you for them yet) on a freelancer site like Upwork. I’ve never used this, but it can be a smart way to get some paid clients under your belt.
  • If you want to write Instagram quotes, use your captions to let people know. For instance, when you post an original quote, the caption can include a sentence like, “Like this? I can help you write your own original quotes. DM me for details.”

Set a price

Now, I’m not suggesting you’ll earn $6,000 per day writing posts for Instagram (or anywhere else) at the very beginning. My eyebrow-raising rate is the fruit of two decades building demand as a writer. But as more people run their own businesses online, there will be more demand for people who can write words for those businesses — for a fee.

And the more demand you build for yourself, the more you can charge.