Many creatives dream about turning their passion into a business. A writer wants to quit their job and work on their stories full time. A musician says she’d love to get paid to create music. An artist dreams about working on their paintings all day and not just in the evenings or on weekends.
Creatives can turn their skills into a business by considering what their ideal audience wants and will pay for. These creative people will also need to learn the basics of marketing. That’s what Nigerian author Abidemi Sanusi did.
“I’d dreams of running my own business being a freelancer or being a consultant,” she says. “I realized also that I had a passion for digital things. I’m a bit of a nerd like that.”
Now living in the U.K., she’s a former human rights worker and the author of the novel Eyo. While working on her first published novel, Sanusi dreamed of writing and working for herself full time. Eyo was subsequently shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, although Sanusi dreamt of writing and working for herself full-time.
“I’ve always seen myself as a commercial author. And it’s only actually the last couple of years that people have actually told me, ‘Oh, you’re more of a literary writer,'” she says. “Neither one is better than the other.”
It’s difficult for most authors to earn a full-time living from a single novel. The total prize money for Commonwealth Writers’ Prize is £10,000 (approximately $12,479), a nice sum but not enough to live on. Meanwhile, a recent report inThe Irish Times revealed most new authors struggle to earn more than €500 (approximately $553) for their first book. And the Society of Authors claims the average annual income of British authors is just £12,500 (approximately $15,598).
Back then, Sanusi paid the bills by writing web copy for a charity website. She taught herself how to optimize this copy for searches and to increase traffic to the site.
“I’m a big fan of upskilling and basically learning new things. So when I decided I was going to be a consultant or a freelancer or contractor…I knew that I had to be better than anybody else that was out there. And I knew the way to do that was via SEO.”
Writing a novel and web copy fall under the category of writing, but they’re distinct disciplines. Sanusi taught herself how to transition from the former to the latter through practice and online courses.
“When you write fiction…it is different to writing web content,” she says. “You have different parts of your brain that are working. When I’m writing web content, I am so focused on the audience and…the channels that come through to the website.”
Before starting an SEO copywriting business, Sanusi, like many creatives, didn’t spend time on analytical work. Now she embraces this mindset because it’s critical for attracting the right type of website visitors. Her experiences setting up and running an SEO business also taught her valuable lessons about selling more books.
“The truth is, if you write books, you have to be analytical…because your book has to have a beginning and an end. And how are you going to market [the book]?” she asks. “It’s the same thing for the SEO copywriting.”
Sanusi evolved her experiences as an SEO copywriter into an online course that she sells to aspiring freelancers and consultants. She recommends creatives who want to turn their passions in a full-time business study the basics of marketing. They should also feel comfortable taking manageable risks.
“Focus on quick wins. Marketing is very, very important. And when things go wrong, don’t beat yourself up. Learn from it and move on very, very swiftly,” she says.
Sanusi’s new novel comes out in 2020.