Yuwanda Black wrote an article many moons ago for CopyBlogger called Where Have All The Freelance Jobs Gone? Where indeed? I’ll tell you where. They’ve mutated.
Once upon a time, freelancers–especially writers–needed a set of skills directly related to putting words down to tell stories, report news, or sell products. They also had to sell themselves in cover letters, queries, and proposals.
Then came the web, SEO content, blogging, and an explosion in online copywriting. The notion that “everybody’s a writer” gave way to “everyone’s a blogger”. Some get paid, some do not, but the cliche is there for a reason.
Freelance work for writers seems to be subdividing into two basic categories, at least for now. I tend to think of it as skilled and unskilled labor. There’s a certain point in a successful writer’s career where a decision is made or a path is taken to an important collection of skill sets beyond the ability to write well. Those who don’t take the leap wind up stagnating. They don’t make it out of content land, instead remaining trapped like prehistoric dragonflies in amber.
What’s the secret to moving on to the next level, the place where you’re not only employable as a writer, but desirable? How do you attract the attention of big-money clients?
There’s no simple, one-sentence explanation, but a lot of it has to do with your ability to multi-task between good writing, finding more paying gigs, and the ability to market yourself as a solid, dependable commodity.
Some people try to do this and get very frustrated. They give up too soon. The secret to surviving the low-paying gigs, content mills and other freelance scut work is to market yourself well even when you think nobody’s paying any attention.
Catherine and I can’t tell you how many times a random Google search has uncovered one or both of our names, our work, or our products (yes, we both have “products” and merchandise–part of our diversified business strategy, more on that later.). That’s just one way people come across our work.
Being a relentless self-promoter means starting in the dark and hoping for the best. Over time you develop strategies through trial and error that spread the news about your work. One of my own personal strategies? I like to put my name on as many related projects in a specific subject matter area as possible.
One of my passions is music, and I’ve made sure my name is attached to as many music journalism projects, CD releases, and music related websites as I can manage. I write and release albums, review indie music, and sell records at Turntabling.net. I do remix projects, and write soundtrack music for trailers, videos and art projects. This is an area I’m very interested in, so I keep my name in the game. I even do voiceover work from time to time.
If you want to succeed in a specialty area as a freelancer, taking this type of approach is quite helpful. You have to make yourself discoverable in a variety of ways–not just through a readership or an existing network of editors.
In the same way freelancers must diversify their work to survive, it’s good to diversify the venues you can be discovered in. If you want to write about pets, you should get involved with your local pet community. Are you a nuclear scientist? You’ve already got plenty of professional associations and other groups that require your time–now you just have to market yourself IN THOSE GROUPS as a writer.
This game is all about finding ways to use your existing networks as well as discovering new ones. Diversify your involvement outside the writing space…you’ll soon find new opportunities you never dreamed of.