How to Become a Forbes Writer
If you just want a quick link you can go to and apply to be a Forbes contributor, here you go. But I wouldn’t recommend that method. Read on to find out what I do recommend.
Between 2013-2016 I wrote 164 articles for Forbes, working as a Forbes contributor. [Note: Contributors at Forbes are unpaid writers with separate day jobs, as opposed to staff writers who are full time employees of Forbes. More on this model here, here, and here.] It has been rewarding for both myself and my business. It has led to other writing opportunities with publications like Mashable, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur, Venture Beat, Fortune, ClickZ, Search Engine Land, and the South China Morning Post, to name a few. I love doing it, and am grateful to have had the opportunity. In my case there was no purposeful intent. I never sat down and thought “I need to become a Forbes writer, now how do I make it happen?” It landed in my lap, somewhat by happenstance. I’ll briefly cover that, but then tell you how you can make it happen for yourself in a way that is more about intention and less about luck.
How my relationship with Forbes began
I started blogging around 2001. I have always loved writing. I write for myself, primarily, and to this day am always pleasantly surprised to discover that anyone else reads, let alone enjoys reading, what I’ve written. I do not consider myself as a true journalist, although I have referred to myself as one in order to get into events for free. I consider myself a rank amateur, someone who is virtually untrained. Yet I love to write, and will take any opportunity to do more of it. For over 10 years this blog was the only outlet I had for my writing, with a few minor exceptions.
That all changed in early 2013. I was in a meeting with my friend and fellow Forbes contributor Cheryl Conner and asked her “How did you start writing for Forbes?” I was merely curious. I thought it was pretty cool that she had that platform for getting her ideas out. Cheryl explained the contributor model to me, and told me that her editor, Tom Post (recently moved on from Forbes), would be in town soon and she would introduce me to him. I didn’t think too much of it, but figured it would be a good opportunity. Little did I know.
I met Tom at an event at Weber State University in Utah, where the topic was the future of digital journalism. Tom spoke, and afterward Cheryl introduce me to him. I was surprised when he said “I’ve read your blog and the article you published on Fast Company,” (Cheryl had recently helped me get that published there). Tom continued, “I wish that Fast Company article had been in Forbes. I’d like you to write for us and post the same type of content on Forbes that you post on your own blog.” I was surprised and flattered. I hadn’t expected Tom to know who I was at this point, let alone have read my work and be prepared to give me this opportunity. I told him I’d love to write for Forbes, and that was the beginning of it all.
164 articles later, I’m no longer publishing work on Forbes, at least not directly (I still occasionally pitch articles to other writers there on behalf of clients), and I work with writers and influencers who want to become Forbes contributors.
Knowing what I knew then (which may be similar to what you know now), and knowing what I know now (which is quite a bit more than I knew then), here are my tips on how to become a Forbes contributor.
- Love writing. If you see becoming a Forbes contributor as $$$ or fame rather than something that will fulfill your passion for writing, don’t bother. It will become a burden rather than a blessing. The majority of those who thrive as contributors genuinely like to write.
- Write a lot. Showing that you’ve written 3-4 blog posts isn’t enough. Showing that you’ve written 100 blog posts, and several pieces that have been published elsewhere, is much better. One of the things Forbes wants to know is whether you will produce a piece every week, on average. That’s 52 articles per year. It’s a lot of work. What evidence can you show to prove you’re up to the task?
- Read a lot of Forbes posts. Especially the popular ones. No one style is right, but you’ll get an idea of what works on Forbes and what doesn’t. Then try writing a few articles of the type you would post on Forbes, if given the opportunity.
- Collaborate and develop relationships with other Forbes contributors. Reach out to those who are already writing for Forbes and offer to help them with their writing. No, don’t offer to write an article for them, but you might be able to help them with research, interviews, and other building blocks of articles. This will give you more insight into how the process works, and you’ll then be able to pitch yourself as having assisted other Forbes writers in putting together pieces. There’s a good chance you’ll end up getting quoted in an article or two along the way.
- Know what to expect. Forbes wants one article per week. You don’t get paid. You need to know how to use WordPress. There is no pre-publishing editorial–you’re expected to write, edit, proofread, and publish all by yourself. Forbes will review your article after you post and sometimes makes minor adjustments, but in my experience this is rare. Forbes provides great group trainings, but don’t expect a lot of one on one attention. 99% of what Forbes gives you is a platform, it’s mostly up to you to figure out how to utilize it.
- Get an introduction. Don’t pitch an editor you’ve never met through LinkedIn or with a cold call or email. Get an introduction from another contributor. It may not work, but it will get your work reviewed by the right person. Note: I’ve pitched a few friends of mine to Forbes and other publications. These are people I think have great insights and would do a great job, and they were rejected. And some of them I pitched hard. To date, nobody I’ve pitched has made it through. And no, I don’t pitch on behalf of people I don’t know personally, sorry.
- Show your best work. Don’t merely send a link to your blog homepage as a pitch. Tell the editor “This is some of my writing that I think best represents what I can produce for Forbes,” and then link directly to 3-4 of your most compelling pieces. Bonus tip: Don’t just paste a URL, put the title of the article in your email and link the title. There’s nothing compelling about a link by itself, but one of your titles may catch the editor’s attention and make him click.
- Show your best, relevant work. Your best work may not be appropriate for Forbes. Don’t pitch that. You want the editor to read what you’ve sent and think “Wow, I wish this were on Forbes. This would be perfect!” That will only happen if your writing is something the editor could see copying and pasting onto Forbes.
There are 1,500 contributors at Forbes. That might sound like a lot, but for every person writing for Forbes, there are 50 who tried and failed. I’d like to say it was strangely easy for me to get on and perhaps I got lucky, but then again, I had been writing for 10 years before this happened. Don’t expect it to be easy, but if you prepare as I’ve outlined above, your pitch will be better than most.