How to Keep Your Head From Exploding With All The Freelance Writing Options

Carol Tice

Head exloding from too much informationThere’s a problem with freelance writing as a career. Luckily it’s a good problem — there’s just so much opportunity!

There are a lot of types of clients and ways to earn. And plenty of writers earn very well.

But there’s a dark side to that bounty, too. Especially for new writers, the marketplace can seem boggling and overwhelming.

Many writers have told me they are paralyzed into inaction. There are so many options, they don’t take any action.

It’s hard to know where to begin, and where it would be easiest to break in.

After all, in the world of good-paying nonfiction writing, there is a ton to choose from. You could write:

  • Articles for magazines, newspapers, trade or custom publications
  • Personal essays
  • Blog posts
  • Case studies
  • White papers
  • Annual reports
  • Textbook supplements
  • Video scripts
  • Speeches
  • Courseware
  • Direct-mail sales copy
  • Brochures
  • Informational web pages
  • Product descriptions

Just to name a few.

So how can you cut the market down to size and find a good entry point? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Start with what you know. If you have life or job experience in a topic, you can use that in your pitches to improve your odds of getting hired. Later, use those clips to move into other areas you might want to write on. My heart sinks when a writer tells me, “I spent 20 years in mortgage finance — but I don’t want to write about that.” That’s an attitude that will make it harder for you to get started and find better pay.
  • Choose a niche or two. New writers often tell me they want to be a generalist because they’re afraid they’ll miss out on gigs if they specialize. But focusing on a single topic or a couple of related ones — say, parenting and food — makes it easier for you to build up expertise and raise your rates. It also makes it more likely prospects who visit your writer website will identify you as the right writer for their assignment. Trust me, you’ll drive yourself less crazy and find more and better opportunities by choosing a couple of topics as your focus. It’s hard to get any traction on your freelance career when you’re writing a smattering of this and that.
  • Narrow by geography. If you can, focus your initial marketing on clients in one major city, or perhaps your state or country if population is small. Yes, it’s a global business and clients could be anywhere, but prospecting locally gives you a better shot at using your local advantage, taking a meeting and connecting with a client in person. It allows in-person networking to pay off for you, too. It’s often easier to find prospect lists by city — of the biggest publications, or fastest-growing companies, for instance. For even more simplicity, match your chosen niche to an industry that’s popular in your town and narrow your prospect pool further.
  • Pick a writing type. Usually, writers naturally gravitate to a particular type of writing — they love case studies or hate blogging. Listen to these instincts and follow them. You don’t have to do every type of nonfiction writing under the sun. Instead, feature two or three types of writing on your site and focus on improving your skills at them. That way, you’ll end up with better clips that bring you better clients and enjoy your writing more.
  • Get feedback. It’s really hard to pursue a freelance writing career in a vacuum. If you can find a writer community where you’ll be mentored and supported and can get your questions answered, you’ll find your way a lot faster.

Recognize that you only have so much time and can’t explore every aspect of freelance writing all at once. Don’t worry that you’re wasting time with the type of writing you’re trying, either, or the marketing you decide to do. Writing is never a waste of time — it’s always good practice for the next gig you’re going to do.

How do you keep your head from blowing off as a freelance writer? Leave a comment and tell us how you’re moving forward.




  1. Sofie

    As a beginner I’m a bit struggling with the geography tip.
    I’ve been blogging in English for over a year now and I want to keep working and writing in English, but I would also like to target the Flemish speaking part of Belgium, where I live.
    The thing is I don’t have any provable experience writing in Dutch yet, so I was thinking about translating the content that I do have already, but the idea alone…
    It’s not really a creative thing to do, is it:/

  2. Danyelle C. Overbo

    It’s like you read my (exploding) mind, Carol! I have been feeling very overwhelmed. There are so many things to take into consideration and I don’t even have any direct clients yet! I’ve been working on my website and launching a blog, but I keep getting sucked down the rabbit holes of information out there for every little thing. It can be exhausting. I think I’ll take a step back and try to whittle down to my location and a couple niches. Is there a simple step one for reaching out to these clients once you’ve picked a niche or two?

    Also, just wondered about the links that don’t work sometimes for previous posts you’ve put up. For example, the link to Textbook supplements in this post isn’t working for me. I get an Error 404. Just fyi. 🙂

    Thanks, Carol, great advice as always!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Danyelle — we did an update where we took the dates out of posts, but it’s causing some problems…if you open that and then suck out the date it should work. Also you can often Google the topic and Make a living Writing and find it that way.

      But thanks for alerting me — need to get on fixing these up — the problem is when they’re sent out via my Mailchimp, their feed/forwarder 404s and won’t kick over to the new link.

  3. Jessica, The Debt Princess

    “paralyzed with inaction” that’s so very true.

    I struggle with moving beyond my three small clients. I want to get a few more so I have a decent part-time business with this (I’m a part-time teacher as well) as well as changing the niche I’ve been working in towards what my actual degrees and expertise are in. I find that I get overwhelmed with directions/options which often paralyzes me.

    • Carol Tice

      You’re definitely not alone with that, Jessica. I often run into writers I’ve mentored a year earlier, or who are longtime Den members, who confess they floundered about for a year or more before focusing on a direction — and then seeing quick results.

      When writers ask me where to start, I say, “Somewhere.”

      Stop worrying about which is the best way, or the best market, and try something. See if it works. If it doesn’t, try the next thing. Entrepreneurs talk about startup iteration — quickly trying and changing and pivoting your business as you see how the marketplace responds. That’s what freelance writers need to do too!

    • Katherine Swarts

      Any suggestions on the specifics of gauging “working” or “not working”? There are plenty of people who discourage way too quickly after expecting too much too soon, and many others who wholeheartedly believe in a certain path and keep to it for months until it succeeds. Is there a recommended length of time to try something before giving it up on the grounds that it’s shown no obvious results and you’re less than sure of your commitment to it?

    • Carol Tice

      I usually think 3-6 months trying a marketing strategy before abandoning it. You need to put some time in. And then I try to do 6 month and 1 year analyses of how I got my clients — what marketing is paying off? Then I do more of that.

      I know I never would have found the great in-person networking opportunity I did if I’d given up in the first month or two. I had to try several different events before finding the one where my prospects hung out.

      Once I did a post about a marketing technique I did that had worked for me in social media. One commenter responded, “Oh, I tried that once.”

      “Oh,” I said. “I tried that until it paid off.”

      I think you need a certain not-give-up-itis to do this career. You need to be an unstoppable force and keep going despite rejection, not crumple at the first “no.”

      If you’re less than sure of your commitment to doing something, then it’s time to examine why that is before moving forward.

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