Freelance Trendspotting Part Two

how to set freelance ratesby Joe Wallace

Yesterday I talked about watching freelance trends to get an advantage in the freelance job market. I caught a bit of criticism from a couple of fellow editor/writers for saying that a market correction was coming.

According to my friends, the market correction has already happened–the huge influx of new freelancers due to layoffs and cuts has taken freelancing into the mainstream and is no longer the exception to the ruleĀ  it once was.

Ahhh, yes, I tell my friends, but the market won’t stay this way forever. Once it starts moving into more profitable times a lot of freelancers are going to feel the competition getting even tougher than it already is. But by then it’s too late–you’re already hooked on your morning commute from the bedroom to the coffee pot to the computer, and you’ve grown accustomed to the unique bouquet of your own unwashed carcass at 2 in the afternoon.

So how do I personally watch freelance job trends to get a read on what’s hot and what’s not?

I do my own particular brand of freelance trend spotting by watching Craigslist and the major freelance job boards. But not in the way you’re thinking. I’ve long railed against Craigslist as an overcrowded timewaster (after being a longtime proponent of it for freelance job seekers). And I still think Craigslist is a vast waste of time for mid-career freelancers who want more from their careers than to write for sites that “don’t have a budget right now, but expect to as we grow.”

That said, Craigslist is an extremely valuable tool in spotting the next trends in freelance opportunities. A great example–the coming crash of content sites as a viable business model for freelance writers. Right now plenty of web pages like TheGreenNinja are big proponents of using HubPages, Squidoo and the like to make money online. And these sites aren’t dispensing advice that is bad or wrong–you CAN earn money doing what they do. But there’s a problem that’s not discussed on the pro-content sites.

This trend has become so all-encompassing that the market has reached the limit to what it can bear. Even the most clueless ten-thumbed keyboard cruncher will only click on so many “articles” that contain “advice” on the Confucius Says level. The sign that the end is near? When you get sites like advertising for content writers so pervasively that you can’t even use a formerly reliable online freelance job hunting tool any more because the top 200 results are all “ wants a writer in Galveston who can cover nose-picking topics! No experience necessary!”

This sort of market saturation happens in pop culture all the time. Britney Spears, the Jonas Brothers, American Idol, Cher, Oasis, Kanye West, Madonna…all prime examples of things mainstream audiences ate up for a few years and then dropped like a hot potato.

Folks, the money was easy and quick on these sites for a time, once you learned to set up your own personal system to get more page views and clicks. But this trend is about done…enjoy it while you can.

I watch the job spam on Craigslist and other sites to spot when these trends are rising and when they’ve started to go off like that stinky cheese you have in the fridge. You can cash in on the current rising trend of restaurants hiring freelancers to write their web content for the next year or so, and probably make more money than you will off that Squidoo lens. How did I figure out the restaurant trend?

That’s easy–I paid attention to the frequency those gigs are appearing on Craigslist and other job boards. It’s a new fad and has the potential to mutate into a web-preneur feature of successful food-based businesses. But for now, it’s just a fad–but one that pays if you get in early before the market gets saturated.

In Part Three of this overlong screed, I’ll give you the number one warning sign that your current web fad is about to start losing its earning potential and what you should do to cash in. It’s so obvious that you’ll hit yourself on the head for not thinking of it yourself. And then you should send me $20 for being so insightful and basically godlike as a freelance writing mentor and hero to the masses.

Or something like that.