Forbes is one of the most popular online publications for aspiring freelance writers looking to grow their personal brand. But in recent years, the ways to become a contributor have changed.

When Forbes first introduced its contributing writer platform in 2010, it was an innovator in the digital news industry. Qualified (and sometimes not-so-qualified) thought leaders could write and publish articles on Forbes' site for their respective areas of expertise.

Key Takeaways

  • The contributor strategy allowed Forbes to farm story ideas and increase its digital footprint quickly.
  • The strategy paid off: by 2012, Forbes’ website traffic had doubled to 30 million visitors a month, powered by nearly a thousand post authors, according to Poynter, a global leader in journalism and fact-based reporting.
  • By 2019, 3,000 contributors were pumping out 8,000 posts a month.
  • Contributors were compensated, but multiple sources say this pay was a few hundred dollars a month at best.

However, the approach has also courted controversy, especially in recent years. The headline of a 2022 article by Joshua Benton for Nieman Lab says it all: “​​An incomplete history of Forbes.com as a platform for scams, grift, and bad journalism”. Yikes.

Contributors began accepting payment in exchange for covering brands, which is unethical and a huge no-no, and at one point it got so bad you had schemers selling Forbes placements on Fiverr. That’s how powerful the Forbes brand is.

You cannot accept payment to feature sources in media articles, whether they be contributed posts or freelance writing. It's a conflict of interest from a sourcing perspective.

The media juggernaut has worked hard to reign things in. And if you understand how to pitch, there are still opportunities to become a contributor. Here’s what to know about how to write for Forbes.

Take It From Me, A Senior Editor

If the first two sentences of your pitch don't check these 3 boxes, your email will be deleted, or — even worse — ignored.

You’re young, scrappy, and hungry, and you’re not throwing away your shot.

I’ve made a short video, a line-by-line breakdown of the exact 6-sentence pitch that landed me an article with Fast Company, and a skim-friendly PDF, if you’d like to see it.

Subscribe to my email newsletter below and I’ll send you free access to the video now.

The Types of Writers at Forbes

Forbes has a large team of editors and reporters, as well as contributors, who write guest posts. If you’re pitching the online publication, you’ll either be pitching a profile, a paid assignment, or a contributor column.

The profile

A profile is when a reporter interviews you and does a story on you. To be clear, you are *not* writing the finished article. But a feature can be a powerful credibility marker; if you have an amazing story that relates to money or entrepreneurship, professional journalists at Forbes might be interested in covering you for a story.

Profiles are valuable when you're trying to land certain notability markers online, such as a Wikipedia page, or a blue check on Instagram. Profiles project notoriety in ways that freelance writing cannot.

screenshot of articles on forbes.com

Previews of entrepreneur profiles in a Forbes columnist's column.

Some of you want a profile, not a column or guest post, for personal branding reasons. That is fine. Get clear on your goals.

The paid assignment

In contrast, a paid assignment is when journalists or freelance writers pitch an editor directly, and are paid by Forbes to do exclusive reporting.

In a paid assignment, you are not the main character in your story. Your subjects are. If you’re looking to make money writing for Forbes, paid assignments are the way to do it, but they may not be the best way to create or project thought leadership, since you articles won't be about you.

The contributor column

Finally, you have contributor columns. When you pitch to be a contributor, you are pitching a “column” or series in which you plan to write regularly about one specific industry or topic.

Your pitch should present the vision and purpose of your column, what topics you plan on covering, why the topic should be written about now, and a few story ideas. If you have past samples of writing, include links to those posts as well.

It's rare to land a column right out of the gate. The more common path is to pitch one-off articles, get good traction with an editor, and then pitch a recurring series.

Similar to other American business sites, such as Fast Company, Huffington Post, or Business Insider, your pitch itself needs to showcase writing potential. Your pitch can show off any or all of the following credibility markers:

  • Polished writing.
  • Story ideas that relate to career development, personal finance, or small business growth, with fun and memorable anecdotes and practical inspiration.
  • Coverage on other authority websites or media outlets.
  • A brief bio that includes your compelling personal story, established business success, or some other opportunity for personal connection.

Contributors at Forbes log into a content management system (CMS), much like other brands that have similar contributor programs, and can publish as little or as often as they like.

This is one reason why you see some contributors posting often, whereas others seemingly haven’t posted in months.

What Is a Forbes Council, and Is It the Same as Being a Forbes Contributor?

The Forbes Councils are a series of pay-to-play membership programs. More information about the Councils and the application are here. When you apply to a Forbes Council, you pay a substantial membership fee.

Forbes Council members are not contributors. And in fact, if you apply for and join a Forbes Council, you can never become a regular contributor, per their terms and conditions. Some aspiring entrepreneur-contributors had no idea this was the case, and say they would have pitched themselves as contributors instead had they known these terms and conditions.

The Forbes Coaches Council is a separate entity from Forbes, though both carry the Forbes brand name.

Keep your eyes peeled in coming months to see if brands like Huffington Post, Business Insider, Fast Company, or the South China Morning Post introduce a council-like program. If they do, read the fine print.

Whenever possible, we want to earn coverage through merit, rather than buy our way in.

Related: How to Become a Business Insider Contributor

What Forbes Contributors Cover

While Forbes has long been a prestige American business brand, the website’s contributor access has allowed it to scale and diversify into different topics. This brand is big, y’all. Generally, most columns and articles will relate in some way to business, money, leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, real estate, digital marketing, or travel. To a lesser extent, you might also see a blog post or completed on lifestyle, health, and culture.

If your article idea falls into one of those buckets — and your pitch is both fresh and compelling — writing for Forbes might be a perfect fit. Here’s a four-step strategy to keep in mind before taking your best shot.

Take It From Me, A Senior Editor

If the first two sentences of your pitch don't check these 3 boxes, your email will be deleted, or — even worse — ignored.

You’re young, scrappy, and hungry, and you’re not throwing away your shot.

I’ve made a short video, a line-by-line breakdown of the exact 6-sentence pitch that landed me an article with Fast Company, and a skim-friendly PDF, if you’d like to see it.

Subscribe to my email newsletter below and I’ll send you free access to the video now.

How to Write for Forbes in 4 Steps

Step 1: Read the outlet

Take it from me, an editor: it is immediately obvious in a pitch whether or not someone has actually read anything on the publication’s website before.

Reading an outlet will help you get a sense of the writing style the target publication is looking for, and will help inform your next blog post or story idea. Visit the Forbes website frequently, and follow the brand on social media. If it’s in your budget, consider subscribing to the outlet as well.

Step 2: Research the relevant editor

Forbes has a lot of bylines on its site, and while it may be helpful for contributors to know who you are for profile opportunities, your gatekeeper for freelance writing or contributor column aspirations will almost always be an editor. Look specifically for the editors, people who are employed full time by Forbes, before making your next move.

You can look at site bylines to see who on Forbes is an editor, but I find it helpful to also use social media. Normally, I recommend looking for an editor’s Twitter account first, but since Forbes has so many brands and so many contributors, identifying a gatekeeper can be tricky.

Look at all these industry-specific Twitter accounts! 🤯

screenshot of different forbes accounts on twitter

Forbes's brand offshoots and franchise partners also all carry the Forbes name, which can make targeting feel mucky at first.

Looking on LinkedIn produced much better results. A contributing editor is an ideal target, but you’d also do well to identify assistant editors, associate editors, editors, senior editors, deputy editors, or managing editors.

These positions vary depending on internal leadership structure, but they’ll all be responsible for sourcing ideas and publishing writers’ articles. Don’t pitch an editor-in-chief unless it’s a small brand; they’re usually too busy with other leadership or P&L responsibilities.

screenshot of linkedin showing forbes editors

Results when searching "Forbes editor" on LinkedIn.

Once you have relevant editor leads, do a search on Google or another search engine to see what you can find. In these examples, I identified that Emmy Lucas is in the communities and leadership vertical, whereas Shawn Carter is in the health vertical.

screenshot of a google search on an editor's name
screenshot of a google search on an editor's name

If the editor has articles published, you can look through them, but not all editors write articles.

Some editors double as writers for an outlet, whereas others don't. Still prioritize pitching an editor when you can.

How to find an editor’s email address

Pitching an editor via email is considered standard etiquette in online media. If you need to locate an editor’s email address, do a search on it first; some editors list their email address and other basic information publicly for transparency.

If you don’t find anything, consider using an email scraper. This is a software that can scrape data off a website, including email addresses associated with the domain name. I like using VoilaNorbert, which lets you do your first 50 searches for free. To use this tool effectively, you need an editor’s first and last name and the domain of the website they’re probably associated with.

screenshot of the home page of voila norbert

VoilaNorbert, one of several email scraper tools that can help with targeting.

I found Emmy’s email address using this tool. For Shawn, I didn’t find it at first, so I did a Google search, and found that he publicly lists his email address. It had a different domain. I retried VoilaNorbert with the updated domain, and it worked.

For most editors, our email addresses get leaked into various databases anyway, so it’s not a faux pas to pitch a cold email to an editor. People think that identifying the appropriate editor is the hardest part of pitching publications; it isn’t. The most important factor is that your pitch for your guest post is good!

Which brings us to:

Step 3: Write a clear, focused pitch

Time to take your swing! There is no perfect pitch formula, but the sooner you can get to your point and make your case, the better. Most successful pitches have at least one, if not all, of the following three components.

No. 1: Relevancy

Most pitches are stock pitches. PR agencies try to “spray and pray” many editors from many publications all at once with the same pitch. This usually doesn’t work; the quality of pitching has gone up in recent years, so your pitch needs to indicate relevance right from the start.

Communicate to the editor why this pitch is specifically for them and their particular publication. Cite recent articles from the outlet to signal that your pitch is custom to this editor.

No. 2: Story

Sell the idea to the Forbes editor first, and yourself second. Why does Forbes need to cover this topic? Why do they need to cover it in this way, or invite you into their blogging platform alongside other current contributors?

Make your pitch more about serving Forbes’ target audience than serving yourself or your own website and you’ll steer in the right direction.

No. 3: Urgency

Finally, communicate some details about what turnaround time would look like, and, if the article or column is timely, why it should be published now and not later. These details create a call to action, and they cut down on administrative back-and-forth.

Do not submit a completed article or final draft in your initial pitch. Unless the publication explicitly requests completed drafts in the first pitch, you want to get approval on your idea first before proceeding further.

Once you have a green light, you’re ready for step 4:

Step 4: Write a strong, tight article

Did your pitch get accepted? Well done! Now let’s ensure you back up what you pitched with a solid article draft.

Related: I have a writing course, Prolific Writer Playbook, if getting better at articles interests you.

Just because your pitch has been accepted doesn’t mean your article will sail through. You need to pass the test, showcase your writing skills, and deliver a quality article.

Keep these ideas in mind:

  • Sourcing. Use published research, industry statistics, or original interviews with sources to land your point. Some editors don’t want contributors to conduct interviews; they want an opinion piece that cites outside data.
  • Brevity. In the news business, we’re constantly striving to communicate the details in as few words as possible. This helps with comprehension, and it’s also more inclusive. Expect your article length to  land between 600 and 1,200 words.
  • Service. Your article can’t be a commercial, and overly sales-y articles are also looked down upon by big publications. Serve your readers by providing valuable information or insight that you, a subject matter expert, know well.

An editor wants to work with a writer who balances research with personal perspective and actionable information. What should new business owners or your target audience do after they read? Make the takeaways clear.

Take It From Me, A Senior Editor

If the first two sentences of your pitch don't check these 3 boxes, your email will be deleted, or — even worse — ignored.

You’re young, scrappy, and hungry, and you’re not throwing away your shot.

I’ve made a short video, a line-by-line breakdown of the exact 6-sentence pitch that landed me an article with Fast Company, and a skim-friendly PDF, if you’d like to see it.

Subscribe to my email newsletter below and I’ll send you free access to the video now.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it okay to use an email scraper to find an editor’s email address?

Yes. No matter how hard we try, the word gets out eventually that we are decision-makers for various media publications, and people track down our email addresses anyway. It’s okay to cold pitch an editor, but to make the effort worth your while, you need a great pitch.

How long should my pitch for Forbes be?

Shorter is always better, but be sure to give enough information to make a compelling argument. You are pitching to start a discussion, not necessarily to get a yes on the very first reply.

Most professional PR agencies send pitches that are two to five paragraphs in length. Always send your pitch on business days to reduce the risk of your pitch getting buried.

Who is the best editor to pitch at Forbes?

There isn’t a best editor. But some editors will be more relevant than others, because they all oversee certain industries and/or sections of the website. To get your writing published, research who accepts and edits articles in your particular field, and you’ll be well on your way.

Should I pitch an editor via social media?

You can try using social media to get an editor’s attention. My perspective is that adding value to an editor by sharing their work or leaving thoughtful comments can create name familiarity that might help you later when you pitch to their inbox. But it isn’t required, and at the end of the day, a strong pitch will be the decision maker.

Take a Step Toward Writing for Forbes Today

Pitching contributed articles is a unique beast, but when you hit the bullseye, you’ll have a powerful credibility marker that will last for the life of your career.

Be patient, focus on quality, and eventually your efforts will pay off. ◆

Take It From Me, A Senior Editor

If the first two sentences of your pitch don't check these 3 boxes, your email will be deleted, or — even worse — ignored.

You’re young, scrappy, and hungry, and you’re not throwing away your shot.

I’ve made a short video, a line-by-line breakdown of the exact 6-sentence pitch that landed me an article with Fast Company, and a skim-friendly PDF, if you’d like to see it.

Subscribe to my email newsletter below and I’ll send you free access to the video now.

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