Last year, I got out my crystal ball and created a freelance writing forecast that identified 12 hot writing niches for the past year. (You can check and see how I did.)
That post was one of the most useful posts of the year, judging from the traffic it got, so I’ve decided to do a new forecast for 2017.
But this time, rather than good-paying types of writing, I’m calling out the hot trends you should know about to earn well in the coming year.
How you take advantage of these trends and freelance writing forecast will depend on the kinds of writing you like to do and types of clients you serve. These are top-level trends that will affect all of us, whether you’re into blogging, magazine writing, or copywriting.
I’ve included action items that explain how to take advantage of each of these trends in the coming year.
The freelance writing forecast looks bright
The short version: I’ve never been more excited about the opportunities for freelance writers than I am right now.
Ready? Let’s look at the seven biggest trends coming down the pike:
1. Massive change
Whether you personally find Donald Trump terrifying or are excited to see him take office, one thing’s for sure — he has vowed to shake things up.
And I think it’s going to create writing opportunities that are, well, huge.
How will a new president impact the freelance writing forecast? It means every single business sector needs analysis, and they need it now. How will new policies affect their industry? Will these pronouncements really happen, or not? Businesses will be scrambling to reposition for success in the coming 4 years, along with progressive causes such as environmental preservation.
Once organizations figure out their angle, companies will need new RFPs and position papers, and nonprofits may plan different initiatives. The playbook is getting ripped up — and that means lots of fresh writing needs to happen.
Action items: Start building your rolodex of economic and business experts, particular for business or nonprofit sectors you specialize in, and you’ll be in the sweet spot when companies need help, or trade publications are desperate for stories. Read widely, so you know what’s already been said, and ask yourself what will happen next — then, pitch a story on it. If you write about or for government agencies, this could be an absolute bonanza.
Change is the essence of news — and there should be a gusher of it in 2017. Change = opportunity. Be ready to capitalize on it!
Not all of us are happy to see these changes come, but there’s no question that documenting and explaining the impact of those changes is going to be big business for writers.
2. The death of junk content
I’ve been wishing and hoping and predicting this one for years, and now it’s finally here. Google has killed the value of SEO-keyword-stuffed, low-value, 300-word content. The world of $5-$10 crappy blog post assignments is dying fast.
The final nail in this coffin? Automation has reached the point where short posts can be written by robot software, with an increasing degree of competence.
I get emails daily from writers asking me what to do next, now that junk content is dead. The answer is: Go after better gigs! My freelance writing forecast suggests that soon, more complex assignments will be all there is.
This trend is great news for talented writers, because the low end of the market is disappearing! All those $5 blog-post offers definitely had a negative effect on blogging rates overall. I believe we’ll have less work to do educating clients about professional rates in 2017.
Action items: Stop grubbing after low-paid blogging work. This is a fading ‘opportunity,’ anyway. Think of $100 as a floor for writing an under-1,000-word blog post — and get an ongoing retainer for a minimum of 60-90 days’ work. Think about how you can position yourself to get better-paid, better-quality gigs.
More and more businesses will stop wasting their marketing dollars on cheap, low-value content in 2017. Instead, they’ll focus more on riding the next trend in my lineup…
3. The rise of ‘Authority’ content marketing
Expect more businesses in 2017 to ‘get’ that the point of blogging is to build their authority, make them stand out from competitors, and deepen ties to customers. They need pro writers to create high-value, longform posts for that — hence the rise of $400 blog-post assignments.
In an effort to please Google — and due to the growing competitiveness of the blogging space — the pendulum has swung to extremely high-quality, longer blog posts of 1,500 words and up. I think it’ll be a long time before robots can write these — and that’s the big opportunity for freelance writers.
I am ecstatic to see blog posts finally get the credit they deserve for building businesses, and to see rates reflect the value of high-quality content to grow sales. This trend will only grow in 2017, as competition for top-notch blog ghostwriters intensifies.
Let’s face it — a 1,500-word blog post takes as much work as a 1,500-word article! These two forms of writing are increasingly converging. So don’t be shy about asking for a rate that truly compensates you for time spent creating authority posts.
Of course, the ultimate authority-building content is a book or e-book. And every company that hires a marketing consultant is being told their CEO needs a book. This is a vast authority-building opportunity for writers to snag projects at $20,000-$50,000 a pop. (Stay tuned in the coming weeks for news from me on an opportunity to learn and get into this mega-lucrative niche!)
Action items: See what you can do to get great longform samples to show clients. Write a long post on your own blog, if need be! Better than that is to guest post on high-visibility sites your prospective clients tend to read. If you’re interested in book ghostwriting, start cultivating clients you could upsell, or consider writing a book yourself, that you could use as a sample of your longform work.
Guest posting on top sites is going to be more important than ever in 2017, because of the next trend:
4. Inbound marketing
At this point, the great writing assignments find you. You don’t find them.
And how do they find you? Increasingly, through your online presence, especially, your presence on high-traffic websites.
Outbound marketing is great for building your business, initially. I’m certainly not here to discourage anyone from pitching a magazine or company they’d love to write for! Go for it.
But… if you play this right, the freelance writing forecast for the foreseeable future suggests that once you’ve got a portfolio and built your inbound marketing machine, the good leads should come to you, through your inbound tools.
I’m talking your writer website and LinkedIn profile, most importantly, though in some situations (especially for young writers targeting Millennial brands) it might be your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or another channel.
At this point, great companies and magazines with big, fat assignments don’t put out job ads. Instead, they’re trolling online, checking out writers’ portfolios and their online visibility. Then, they reach out to writers whose writing style and online track record are a fit for their project.
I’ve gotten all my gigs this way for years now, and hear from more and more writers who report the same.
Example: I was poached from my Entrepreneur blog to write for Forbes. I was hired by a mergers and acquisitions company off my Forbes blog for what’s been about $10,000 of business-plan and other marketing projects, to date. Alaska Airlines and Costco are just two of the major companies that hired me after seeing my LinkedIn profile.
Action items: Build up your online presence! Getting inbound leads is what makes being a freelancer truly the dream lifestyle. If you don’t have a writer website, now’s the time to get one (if you need help, got a couple recommendations on this page). Improve your LinkedIn profile, and make sure your tagline has keywords for helping you get found there.
While we’re talking online presence, there’s another big freelance writing forecast trend to get on top of:
5. Social media matters
I hear from a lot of older writers who loathe social media. Don’t wanna be on it. Don’t wanna learn about it. OK, then — write query letters to pitch magazines and enjoy.
But here’s the thing: A ton of the freelance writing opportunity these days is online. And the goal of much online content development is to get a lot of social sharing.
One of the big things prospects are increasingly looking at when they’re considering who to hire is how active the writer is in social media — and how effective in getting people sharing, chatting, and clicking on links.
I can tell you, my clients are often hoping I’ll share what I write for them with my own 15,000+ Twitter followers. That interest in your social-media skills and reach is only going to grow.
That means learning how social-media platforms work, and building a presence of your own on them.
Action items: Pick a social channel to be active (or more active) on, and get rolling. No, it’s not too late. Yes, you can learn this. Pick a few social-media blogs to follow, and find out how to make social media work for you. Don’t forget to have fun! Social media is a playful place.
6. Online magazines
More and more magazines are either developing exclusive content for their online readers, or stopping the presses and becoming online-only publications, as Rogers Media did with four of their publications in 2016.
Remember what I just said about social media? Well, when print mags move online, they care about traffic and social shares, just like blogs. The growth of digital magazines is another reason to build your online presence, so you’re well-positioned for the growing online-article opportunity.
As publishing (and ad revenue) move online, more article-writing opportunity is digital. Don’t miss out!
This coming year may well mark the tipping point where the cachet of a byline in a great online magazine equals that of appearing in a quality print mag. Did you know there are Digital Magazine Awards? Take a look at some of the fantastic, beautifully designed winning entries. Get over any lingering print snobbery you’ve got lurking around, and I think you’ll earn more.
At this point, I’ve earned far more money writing for digital editions than I ever did writing freelance articles for print. Great storytelling will live on, online. Expect online rates for fully reported stories to continue to rise.
Action items: Research online magazines, and opportunities for online-exclusive articles with print magazine sites — and pitch them! If you have a niche hobby, I can tell you there’s a booming business in online magazines about everything from karate to crochet. If you’ve been trying to crack a big-name print magazine, getting into their online stable can be a great way to connect with those editors.
The rise of digital has also meant an explosion in video selling, charticles, slideshows, infographics and other visuals. You may think that’s a problem for writers, but it’s not.
All of these formats still need a writer. There’s good money in video scripts and writing video sales letters, creating ‘show notes’ from podcasts, editing transcripts, and more. As we continue to move from broadcasting to narrowcasting, the number of possible clients is exploding.
Example: The best traffic I ever got in three years posting for Forbes came from slideshows. Since I was paid partly on traffic, these were a big factor in the nearly $2,000 a month I earned. Don’t turn up your nose at writing clever, longish photo-captions! It’s actually fun.
There’s real money in image-driven writing — and these projects can give a big-time boost to your online presence.
Action items: Get visual! Think about where you connect with these types of writing. Learn more about what companies want from a writer in these formats. Create some samples, find a pro bono client or two, and then go for it.
Rates will rise — there, I said it
My biggest prediction for the 2017 freelance writing forecast is simply this: The marketplace is getting more competitive. That means rates have got to go up, as companies try to attract top talent.
They’ve already gone up, as with the appearance of $400 blog-post assignments. We’ll see more gigs at higher rates in 2017.
The tables have turned from 2009, when there were many desperate writers, few full-time jobs in a down economy, and less online marketing. Now, companies are competing in a strong economy to get the best writers — the ones who can help them stand out in what is now a raging din of online marketing noise.
The best online writers are increasingly quite expensive — if you can even get them. I often ask around my network of business writers to refer clients who want to hire me…and often, all the other writers I ask are booked up, too.
The other factor driving rising rates: Writers have simply gotten smarter. My sense is there are fewer suckers willing to work for peanuts. Unemployment is low in the U.S. What’s left on the playing field are mostly serious pros who want real pay.
The authority trend is skyrocketing demand for great writing that gets engagement and drives sales. In 2017, even more clients will have to pay professional rates to get sophisticated, writers with a proven track record of driving online engagement.
Action items: There’s never been a better year to aim high. Whatever size client you’ve been pitching, add a zero to your revenue target and move up (i.e. target $10 million revenue prospects instead of $1 million, or $100 million instead of $10 million). Ask for a raise, or raise your rates for new clients. Make the case that what you do helps that business earn more, and is worth real money.
Position yourself to work with bigger companies and publications that can pay better. Raise your online visibility. Great prospects are going to be out there, looking to hire a great, savvy writer. Will it be you? Take a closer look at the freelance writing forecast and decide where to focus your efforts in 2017 to move up and earn more.