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Freelance writer advice you shouldn’t listen to

Every newbie freelance writer always seem to be getting the same advice, regardless of what they’re trying to achieve with their newfound careers. Most of the time, it will go along the lines of “beginnings are the hardest” and “write as much as you can”.

After a decade and a half of being a freelance writer, here’s what I have to say about this piece of advice:

  1. Beginning isn’t any harder than the rest of your career
  2. Writing as much as you can is not doing you any favors

If anything, beginnings are easy. You’ll accept almost any gig, you’d be happy just to get paid, regardless of how much money you’re earning, and as long as the gigs keep coming in, you’ll keep chugging out words. Business is good and all is right with the world, right?

But unless you want to get stuck in the same place for all eternity, you’ll be looking to improve and ultimately make a name for yourself as a freelance writer. You’ll want to get clients that will help you build credibility in a certain niche, you’ll want to become an expert in a field. In the long run, that will help you get clients that will pay you more, and those won’t come any easier (or harder) the longer you spend as a freelance writer. You need to be working towards that goal.

And ‘write as much as you can’ is an insidious one – you’ll think that you’re actually achieving something and moving forward. But that’s probably not the case. Most likely, you’re spending a healthy portion of your time writing things that won’t make you an expert in any field, won’t help you make a name for yourself in any industry and won’t help you reach higher-paying clients.

In other words, you’re wasting your time.

What you need to do instead is:

  • Learn how to pick a niche
  • Learn how to identify and say no to a time-wasting job
  • Learn how to learn

How to pick a niche

Here you’ll have to put your detective gloves on and do some number crunching. LinkedIn has a “jobs” subsection, where you can browse worldwide jobs. Start your search here. For starters, use general keywords like “freelance writer”, “content writer”, “writer” or “blogger”. See what comes up. It won’t be long before more specific job offers start popping up.

Here are a few results from my search, just to give you a general direction:

Freelance writer advice

So one is for the NYC market, the other is for beauty packaging and the third one is for travelling and culture. Start writing down which industries have the most opportunities. Maybe you’d enjoy writing about travelling most (duh), but it could also happen that out of 100 job openings, there’s just one about travel. You don’t want to compete there. Crunch some numbers and see where writers are most in-demand. Pick one that you’d be most comfortable with (or least uncomfortable with, I guess). That’s your new niche.

Now you need to do two things:

  1. Read up as much as you can about the niche – get very, very, very *very* familiar with the industry. Don’t worry if it takes some time – you’re investing in your future and it will definitely be worth it. Take your time. You can start by reading this.
  2. Offer a few free articles to reputable publications to get some backing for your claims as a niche writer. Don’t worry, this won’t be too hard. Most editors won’t turn down free content just because you don’t have a solid background in the industry. They’ll give it a read and (if you did your homework properly) publish it anyway. Just make sure your name is signed at the bottom of the piece.

Learn how to identify and say no to a time-wasting job

Now comes the hard part. I know, right!?

Now you need to do some necessary triage and get rid of time-sucking gigs that take up most of your time. Yes, this does mean less income in the short-term, but once you elbow your way into a niche, you’ll make up for it (and then some), in no time.

You need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this job ask you to write 20+ articles a week?
  • Is the earning potential in the quantity, rather than quality of work (individual articles are paid pennies)?
  • Are these articles tackling all kinds of different industries, from entertainment, to consumer products, to politics, to anything and everything in between?

If you’ve answered these questions with a straight-up ‘Yes’ than congratulations, you’ve just identified a time-wasting misery gig that’s just going to keep you in place, struggling with deadlines, while also struggling to make ends meet.

Here are a few new year’s resolutions for you:

  • In 2019, demand rates worth your time. If someone asks you to write five articles a day and offers peanuts in return, turn them down. Better use that time to read up on your newfound niche. $500 down the line is better than $25 now.
  • Quality costs. Speed costs. Quality + speed cost double. If the client isn’t interested in quality work, then that’s no place to build a career. You’re not losing much, trust me. 
  • If this is the only way for you to earn a living, use your spare time to tackle a new industry. Or split your work in half (if the client asks for five articles a day, say you can write two, three max. You’ll still keep some earnings while freeing time to learn).
  • Kick yourself out of your comfort zone. Struggling to find enough work in your niche? Look for something else.
  • Read as much as you write. Writing ‘as much as possible’ leaves very little time for improvement, and improvement is the only way to, well, improve. So read, read, read.

Closing comments

Don’t fall for the ‘write as much as you can’ meme. It’s not doing you any favors. You need to read, at least as much as you write, in order to be able to improve. And don’t think success will come on its own. You need to work towards a goal, and if you’re a freelance writer looking to succeed, that goal needs to be an in-demand niche.

So free up some time, start researching niches and then educate yourself. Before you know it, you’ll start meeting clients that respect your knowledge and your authority. You’ll start meeting clients that are willing to pay a premium for your work. You’ll spend less time recovering from burn-outs for the same, if not more – earnings. In 2019, find a new niche and go with it. If I could do it, so can you. 

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