There’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
- Direct-mail sales copy
- 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.