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Becoming a Specialized Freelancer


One of the most important goals of Freelance Parent is to encourage others who are seriously pursuing their own freelancing careers by shining a spotlight on what it’s really like to start from the ground up.  It’s a little unnerving to reveal certain things about ourselves and our company, but we agreed early on to try and be as transparent as possible.  For that reason, I’d like to invite you all to share the recent thought processes and awakenings that have taken place as we continue to learn about and define our business. 

Sure, It’s About the Money; Except When It’s Not

 As a freelancer, I’m always considering how to utilize my skills to make money.  Of course, I also want to enjoy what I’m doing.  If I didn’t care about that, well then, I could have a regular office/service/manufacturing job where I showed up for eight hours a day just to get a paycheck.  (Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these occupations.  They’re just not for me.) 

Are They Really Talking About Finding Your Niche Again?

My particular field, for those of you playing along at home, is freelance writing.  When you look at the big, wide world of writing, you discover that there are a ton of options for writers.  This is true for freelance designers, artists, consultants, etc., too.  On the other hand, we keep harping on how a freelancer needs to choose a niche.  It’s easy to get starry-eyed and say, “Ooh.  I’d love to write for a women’s magazine . . . and design a travel company’s brochure . . . and put together some SEO-enhanced articles about dogs . . . and do anything else I can get paid to do.”  Sometimes you really do just have to buckle down and make some choices. 

Tamara and I realized early on that we weren’t sure where we wanted to focus.  So, when we created our business plan and set some preliminary goals, we incorporated that uncertainty.  At the end of the three months, we would review the work we’d done so far and choose what was working the best for us.  That deadline has come and gone, and our results were not necessarily what we would have expected.   

What Do You Really Want to Do?

After spending a few months actually doing the work, we learned that what we thought we wanted to do wasn’t necessarily always what we really wanted to do.  How fortunate are we to have incorporated some flexibility into our plan?  It would have been a real bummer to have printed up 5,000 brochures extolling our ability to write financial reports only to discover a few months later that we detest writing financial reports. 

Once again, here comes another testimonial about why it’s good to have a business partner.  One of the coolest things that we discovered was that while Tamara and I have overlapping interests, we also have some that are pretty divergent.  For example, she really, really enjoys writing ad copy.  I, on the other hand, just don’t have the nerve for it.  I am extremely interested in writing about environmental issues, while Tamara is sort of lukewarm on the topic.  She likes blogging; I love blogging.  We both have tons of interest in cultural issues, and we are both fanatical about supporting nonprofit organizations. 

Putting It All Together

So, have we found our niche?  Maybe.  Offering our freelance services to nonprofits might just be the perfect way to concentrate our efforts.  It incorporates our previous interest in supporting small businesses, and both of us have significant experience and/or education in the field.  Tamara could be the resident ad writer, and I could certainly help organizations get a start in blogging.  Tamara would be a rock star at editing their marketing materials, while I have a great grant-writing track record.  There are a lot of possibilities that would allow us an interesting variety of projects while still having a well-defined specialization. 

I know I’ve asked this question before, but I’ll throw it back out there again:  Have you defined your niche yet?  If not, do you just prefer to be a Jack-of-all-trades, or are you still narrowing down the field?  If so, what did you choose, and what were your motivations for doing so?  We are insanely interested in this topic, and I know that many of our readers are, too, so feel free to share, chat, or lecture away!

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    On November 29th, 2007 at 9:07 pm, Christa said:

    When I first started, I specialized in public safety, so the vast majority of my business was writing articles for trade magazines. It was the only thing I had both experience and interest in; my “real” job had been tech support, and I really hated tech support!

    I’ve found, however, that having children necessitated a shift. I can’t afford childcare, so I can’t do 8-12 interviews and 2-3 articles per month. So I took jobs that let me work with little kids around: editing and PR. These allow me to work in short bursts rather than requiring hours to focus on something. Another bonus: the new work allows me the flexibility to write fiction.

    By the way, I got the new gigs via networking. I met the book editor through an online friend, and my PR client through a former editor at one of my trade magazines.

    So I guess you could say now I specialize in anything that lets me earn money and still spend time with my kids. %)

    On November 29th, 2007 at 9:21 pm, Lorna Doone Brewer said:

    You make a good point. Just because you find a niche, that doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind later!

    Thanks for stopping by; I’ll be checking out your blog!

    On November 30th, 2007 at 7:43 am, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    Great, great post. You sound like me and Harry. We work much the same way you and Tamara do, and we’ve both had moments where we realize we don’t want to be doing what we’re doing.

    Twice now, I’ve said to Harry, “I hate my job. I want to quit.” He pointed out that I can’t quit a business I own, and while that isn’t true, I stayed on.

    More than twice, we’ve done some internal shuffling to get our jobs closer to what we want them to be. What we want our jobs to be also evolves as the Internet changes - and us with it. We both hate sales copy. We both like articles. Harry likes blogging; I love blogging. Harry can’t stand schmoozing, negotiating, and drawing in clients; I looooove being the man. Harry doesn’t like to manage; someone once called me a thoroughbred of managers.

    I will warn people about partnerships, though. While they can be great, they can also be frustrating beyond belief. We also did a five part series on working with a business partner. It’s not as easy as it looks.

    As for finding my niche in writing? Blogging for now. And when the world changes, and I along with it… who knows?

    On November 30th, 2007 at 1:52 pm, Lorna Doone Brewer said:

    James - I also really enjoy blogging and am currently writing for six. (One is personal, one is not monetized, and I get paid to write on the other three.) I’d really like to expand that, but I have to watch for openings I’d really enjoy; and I’ve found the pay to be pretty low so far. I’m working on it, though!

    On November 30th, 2007 at 2:13 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    @ Lorna - you have me curious. Define “pretty low”.

    On November 30th, 2007 at 2:56 pm, Lorna Doone Brewer said:

    Well, the majority of the blogging jobs I’ve seen at this point seem to want to pay about $5 a post or even less.

    On November 30th, 2007 at 3:01 pm, James Chartrand - JCM Enterprises said:

    Yuck. That *is* low. Very yuck.

    On November 30th, 2007 at 5:56 pm, Allena said:

    BOO you guys I am horning in on your convo. First, I am happy to make between 10-25 for a blog post. I always always translate everything into my hourly wage, and that figure works out ok for me.

    Second, I had to comment a/ non profits becuase I have served many, and they all want…GRANT WRITERS! Just an fyi.

    On November 30th, 2007 at 6:59 pm, Tamara Berry said:

    I’m going to pipe in here, too. Like you, Allena, Lorna and I get incredibly frustrated when all non-profits want is grant writers (and ones they don’t want to pay to boot!). I wouldn’t close the door on them altogether, though. We’ve worked closely with several, doing writing and editing. I’m editing a book for one right now, and it’s probably the best project I have ever worked on.

    On November 30th, 2007 at 9:00 pm, Lorna Doone Brewer said:

    Allena - $10-25 is definitely more in line with what I think is appropriate, too, although more is better. ;-)

    As for the nonprofit thing, I’ll probably be writing a post next week that focuses on grant writing. The truth is that I origianlly started this post to talk about that subject, but I hijacked myself.

    In short, I am a good grant writer, but most of the people/organizations I come across either 1) have no idea what it takes to be eligible for a grant or 2) don’t expect to have to pay me to write it. Like I said, I’ll probably go into it in a little more depth next week.

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