Written by Samantha Gemmell | Monday, 29 October 2018
When you finish a health degree, you might realise that a full-time clinic career isn’t for you. If you love to write, health writing might be a good alternative. But how do you become a health writer? Here are the first few steps to get you started.
A career in writing starts with writing! Even if you have a background in writing such as journalism, health writing is a language of its own. Content needs to be a conversation with the reader that empowers them to become happier and healthier.
Start small. Write about topics that interest you on your own blog. Find other wellness-related sites and contact them about submitting guest blogs. Get writing daily. After all, you can’t know if health writing is for you unless you try it!
‘Health writing’ is a big field, with many niches to choose from. You will need to figure out where you want to sit in the industry.
Love breaking research? Academic writing might suit you. Prefer a chatty style of writing? Blog or ebook writing might be a good choice.
You might also want to consider a modality-related niche. The bulk of my clients are looking for nutrition or naturopathy topics, although I do write for a few myotherapists and health businesses. If there are modalities that don’t interest you, you don’t have to accept work from them.
You might also want to consider who your ideal client is. My main client base is made up of health practitioners, small businesses and non-profits. If you prefer a smaller base of clients, you might look to options like supplement companies that need ongoing work.
Approaching clients for work might not succeed if you can’t show that you’re a health writer. Everyone wants proof that you can write before they hand over any money.
In a portfolio, you’ll ideally have samples from websites other than your own. When I was building my portfolio, I wrote a couple of articles for Wellspring!
Whenever you can, write about topics that fit in your niche area. Most of the articles I write under my own name are about health writing, but I still write nutrition articles occasionally. This is a kind of evolving portfolio, demonstrating topics I can write about for future writing clients.
If you have ghost-written an article on a site and you wish to share it on your portfolio, get the ok of that client first.
It's common for people in the healing industry to feel icky about marketing themselves. As a health writer, it's your job to be the marketer for others in the industry. So you need to be comfortable with marketing yourself.
Marketing doesn’t have to be pushy – in fact, it shouldn’t be. But you do need to be vocal to stand out from the crowds, and you need to be confident in what you're offering.
Think about where your ideal client is hanging out. Are they in Facebook groups, or are they scrolling through LinkedIn?
Wherever they are, go there, and share your knowledge. Offer tips, inspire them and educate them about what they want to know. Make yourself that person that everyone thinks of when they think of 'health writer'.
Most new writers struggle with what to charge. It's very easy to underprice yourself at first, and I was no exception to this.
The first few articles I wrote were only about $20AUD each for 1000 words. These articles did help build up my portfolio and build my confidence.
But then I did the math. It turned out that I’d earn more working an extra shift at Petbarn instead of writing a few articles! So I had to adjust my prices to make it viable to go full-time.
Try timing yourself when it comes to writing articles. Say it takes you 60 minutes to write 500 words. Figure out the minimum hourly wage you'd like to earn - for example, $40 per hour.
But you're also self-employed! So you need to pay super, tax and biz expenses as well as an owner’s wage. To cover those, I recommend doubling your hourly goal. So you’ll want to charge a minimum price of $80 per article.
If you're only charging $30 per article right now, don't panic. You can slowly up your price every 3-6 months. If you already have clients paying that price, offer a lower-cost package as a loyalty incentive.
When I first started writing, I had no idea about SEO, readability, marketing or why blogging was essential for a business!
But I kept educating myself. I read books, I read blogs and I followed some amazing biz mentors who use my preferred approach to marketing and sales. Now I can explain concepts like SEO and how to market a business by using written content.
Keep learning - it will only make you a better writer.
If you want to become a health writer, it can be damn hard work. Sometimes, you will want to give up. Other times, you might hit a brick wall and not know what to do.
Working with a more experienced health writer can make all the difference. Experienced writers have connections, and they have plenty of ideas that they've had but never followed. They’ll often have to turn away clients because they’re booked up or the job isn’t the right fit. And one of those connections or ideas might be a great fit for you!
Sam is a qualified Nutritionist (BHSc), health writer and mentor for prospective health writers. Her goal is to give practitioners a voice and presence in the online world, so they can make the world a healthier place. You can find her tips, tricks and thoughts over at www.samanthagemmell.com