Hey there! This post is part of a series of freelancing advice articles from various bloggers, coordinated by invoicing app Invoice2Go. If you’re looking for a simple way to invoice through a phone app, definitely check them out. And as for all the usual disclosures: I’m not getting a cut of any sort – I just dig this project of theirs as a way to support the freelance community. 🙂
I hate making mistakes.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a tendency to be way too hard on myself when I did something wrong – even if no one else noticed or cared.
In fact, that perfectionist tendency is what has often kept me from trying something new, or pushing myself too far. After all, if I don’t push myself too hard then I can’t fail, right?
On the surface that may be right, but I’ve also started to realize that the safe way is a boring way to go through life.
I’ve forced myself out of my comfort zone in a lot of scary ways, but by far the most life-changing was when I decided to stop playing it safe at a desk job and start make a career as a freelance writer. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way – but I’ve also avoided a lot of pitfalls by learning from freelancers who went before me.
In the spirit of paying it forward, here my biggest pieces of freelancing advice.
(Oh, and by the way? I spent the last week visiting my family back on the farm, where my 5-year-old niece sagely told me, “If we make mistakes, that means we’re learning.” Learn from the rugrat’s wisdom, everyone.)
1. Sow your (marketing) oats widely
Last week I was talking to a friend, a real estate agent who’s just getting started in the business. He mentioned to me that he’s been surprised lately when prospects he talked to months ago contact him out of the blue – he’d written them off, but they were just biding their time.
That sort of thing happens to me (and other freelancers I know) all the time. A few days before that conversation, I received two emails about prospective work: one from a client I’d written for two years previously, and one from a new prospect who’d been referred to me by a client I’d worked for nearly three years ago.
Part of marketing is about planting seeds, and understanding that those seeds will grow in ways you can’t anticipate. My current biggest client is the result of a friendship I struck up during a networking event. We were both unemployed and just enjoyed each other’s company – but when my new friend got a job at a creative agency several months later, I was the copywriter she knew to call.
2. You probably won’t make money on your passion topics
I see this question again and again in freelancing forums and comment sections:
“I’m passionate about writing about [antiques/spirituality/yoga/golfing/knitting]. How can I find people who will pay me to write about this?”
The hard reality is that you probably can’t. When I first started, I wanted to write about cycling, crafting, travel, and beer. They were things I was passionate about – but they’re also things that a lot of people are passionate about.
I’ve sold articles to travel websites and beer magazines – and I even sold an article on bicycle crafts to a fashionable bike style magazine. I wrote for the Brewers Association trade magazine. I wrote for cycling blogs. But trying to scrape together a career of $50 travel site articles and “free exposure” blog posts was frustrating. Paying markets for these topics were few and far between – and competition was fierce.
It took me ages to learn this, but in industries that people are passionate about, there’s a steady supply of writers who are willing to write about the topics for pennies – or for free.
I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t pursue writing about topics you’re passionate about – just understand that it’s going to be much harder to find well-paying gigs in a popular topic.
3. Think sideways to break into a new niche
Another question I see a lot is how do you get clips to break into X or Y niche. The trick is by making your clips work double duty.
Let me tell you what I mean.
The only clips I had when I started out were travel writing. For the reasons outlined above, I wanted to break into better-paying niches – so I pitched a travel article to a parenting magazine. Sweet! I now had a parenting* clip to add to my portfolio.
I’ve used the same trick to break into trade magazines, cycling magazines, corporate blogging, and eventually into my current primary work writing B2B content marketing pieces for software-as-a-service companies.
(If you want more specific examples, I wrote about this in more detail on Make A Living Writing a couple of years back.)
When you’re starting out, take the work you can get, but don’t be satisfied with it. With every piece you write, scheme how it can advance your portfolio and break you into the next niche. With some strategic thinking, you’ll make it to your dream niche.
(* I have no kids. Bonus advice #4 – don’t worry about only trying to write what you know. As I told one of my current clients when they asked if I knew anything about forklifts, “Nope, but I know a lot about research.”)
Was this helpful? I’d love to hear your own tips – or challenges! Leave ‘em in the comments.