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Freelance Writers: How to Develop a Profitable Writing Niche with No Experience

Previously Titled: How to Develop a Niche with NO Experience & Make it Profitable for Years to Come

One of the things I stated in the article, 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from 19+ Years as a Freelancer & Recruiter in the Editorial Industry, is that freelancers should develop a niche (see lesson #7 in this article).

“BUT,” you may wonder, “how do you develop a niche with no experience?” It’s actually relatively easy and can be done in three easy steps.

1. Make a list of your experiences, likes, hobbies, etc. Why? Because the first step in developing a niche is to go with your strengths. Even if you have no professional experience in an area, if you like it, chances are you will work to become proficient in it.

For example, in my professional life, I’ve been a real estate agent, a loan officer, a credit counselor, a recruiter and a legal copy editor (among a few other things — but we’ll just stop here). Remember, this is just professionally.

My hobbies are running, real estate investing, reading historical romances, sewing, interior decorating and designing ethnic pottery, among a barrage of other things (I have a very active mind and a hint of ADD!).

Now that you have this list, what do you do with it?

2. Target lucrative markets: Not every interest you have will make a viable niche market. This may be because they are not willing to pay for your services, don’t need your services and/or there aren’t enough of their type to market to.

With your list in hand, choose markets where: a) your services are needed on a continual basis; b) your asking price can be met with relative ease; and c) there are sufficient numbers to market to.

Also, you might want to consider competition; as in, how much/little do you have? While there is always room for one more company to offer a product/service, my thought process is why fish in a crowded pond.

Go after a market that not many others are targeting. Sometimes this market will reveal itself in your list of professional experiences and/or hobbies. Other times, you may have to work harder to find it. Just make sure that however you choose your market, you keep in mind the points mentioned above.

Now that you know who you want to market to, how do you get those all important first few jobs which lead to samples, references, etc.? Simple.

3. Do low-cost/no-cost work: Always try to get paid for any work you do. You can target local charities; do work for friends with businesses; contact start-up companies, etc. Your mission starting out is to get those first 4 or 5 jobs under your belt.

If you’re not having any luck landing paid work, try this. Target a company and do the work without asking them (eg, rewrite their badly worded brochure you received in the mail; rework their ineffective web copy; design their logo; etc.). Then, contact them with their original and your NEW, improved version. Not many businesses will turn down improved work they don’t have to pay for. Just like that, a legitimate credit!

Even if a company refuses, you can still use it in your portfolio. Just change the name of the company to something that obviously reflects that it’s a fictitious company with the caveat that the name has been changed, but the revisions made were to original copy.

Now, you’re on your way!

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How to Get a Job in a Slow Economy

As a former recruiter and small business owner, I am often approached for interview tips. This is a broad topic, so I’ll address what stands out to me as an employer.

I won’t address the obvious of being on time, dressing appropriately, smelling appropriately, and bringing along a clean copy of your resume and references on nice, matching paper. I will address the “human” aspect of interviewing.

Before you pick up the phone, turn on your computer, or slide your resume into a fax machine, prepare mentally for your job search. How you feel begets what you think which governs how you act. A karmic string links all of our thoughts and actions. If they are not properly aligned, our message will not be carried through as fully, forthrightly and forcefully as it could be.

Career Advice: 6 Job Hunting Tips

Keeping this in mind, here are six things you can do to increase your chances of finding a job.

1. Decide with your whole heart that you want the job BEFORE you apply.

This is akin to putting a smile on your face before you answer the phone. Although the person on the other end can’t see the smile, they can tell that it’s there.

What I’ve noticed, especially in this economy, is that applicants apply for jobs half-heartedly because they need to pay the rent, but in other circumstances would have no interest in the position. Then, when they are called for an interview, their heart is not in it, and this shows. How?

The answers to questions are too general, the body language is “slumpy”, the ‘what can you do for me’ instead of ‘what I can do for your company’ attitude is very much on display. It’s an immediate turn-off. Many times after I interview an applicant, I feel that they feel they’re doing ME a favor.

Remember, no one owes you a job. A job is simply a service that someone is fortunate enough to be able to buy — someone worked hard enough and sacrificed long enough to build an enterprise. Because they’ve been successful, they are able to hire others to do what they no longer want, need, or have the time/desire to do.

To paraphrase JFK, “ask not what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company.” This attitude will shine through in an interview.

2. During the interview, smile and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Don’t ask about health benefits, days off, etc. (these are questions for later interviews). But, do ask about office environment — do you all work in teams, are there special projects that I can volunteer for after I’ve proven myself, is there chance for advancement, was the company focus always this, etc. In other words, make the interview easy for the person who is interviewing you.

Believe it or not, interviewers are just as nervous as you are sometimes and need your help to ease the tension. Have you ever been privy to a bad interview? One where the interviewee gives one word answers, not expanding on obvious, open-ended questions. Don’t do this. On the other hand, there’s nothing worse than a person who drones on and on. Make sure that you’re addressing pertinent points in your narrative, not simply talking to be talking.

3. As the interview is coming to a close, question the interviewer.

Is there anything else that you’d like to ask me or that you feel I didn’t fully address? If not now, feel free to contact me with any questions/concerns. I want to do everything I can to make it easy for you to make a decision.”

This demonstrates that you realize there may be points overlooked, not explained fully, et cetera that the interviewer may be hesitant to readdress. By being open, you make it easy for them to ask you, therefore providing you the opportunity to re-emphasize important points.

4. Don’t appear desperate.

Remember this commercial slogan—”Never let’em see you sweat!” Human instinct is to withdraw from a person who seems desperate, because you feel responsible for them. Hiring managers want to hire the best person for the job, not the most desperate.

I’ve literally had people cry in my office, on the phone, and write letters explaining why they must have a job – now! It doesn’t have to be this obvious, but trust me, desperation kills the natural mood of an interview. Just as we are drawn to, and like to be around, those who display a sense of confidence, we are turned off by those who lack confidence and appear desperate.

5. Remember, hiring managers want you to be the best fit for the job.

If you’ve gotten as far as an interview, we want you to be THE one because it means less work for us. So, go in knowing that we’re on the same side.

Pretend that the interview is just to tie up loose ends. For example, instead of prefacing a phrase with, “If I get the job, my duties would be . . .” A better phrase would be, “As [substitute job title], my duties would be…” It’s subliminal, but it works.

6. Follow up with a thank you note.

I advise both email and handwritten. Email for immediacy; handwritten for a touch of class. Note: Unless you are specifically advised NOT to e-mail. I’ve never heard of anyone asking you not to send a handwritten thank you note.

Without addressing all the obvious do’s and don’ts, these are the areas more applicants should pay attention to.

Good luck!

Yuwanda

coverP.S.: Want to ditch the 9 to 5 and start a successful freelance writing career? You can!

Get the ebook that pushed my freelance writing career to the next levelallowing me to travel and live abroad, get out of debt and really “live the freelance life.” One freelancer wrote:

Hey Yuwanda,

I hope all is well! I just wanted to let you know that this month marked the first month that my writing income surpassed that of my day job. Thanks to your help and inspiration, I have more work than I know what to do with and have successfully landed a number of clients that give me recurring work. Thanks again for your advice!

Editor Note: This freelancer sent this email in on March 1, 2013. He purchased Inkwell Editorial’s SEO writing ebook in April 2012. And not even a year later, he made this kind of progress.

P.P.S.: You can now order any of our products (like the SEO copywriting course) and take up to 6 months to pay.

 

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FAQs: Starting A Freelance Editorial/Creative Business

Question: I am starting my own Proofreading and Copyediting Company… I’ve designed a biz card, a flyer, a post card, a brochure, a 2-pg. info sheet, my stationery and envelope. I will get a website once I get a few clients.

I have set up a biz banking account, an email address and a PayPal account. I am ready to start seeking clients! Only problem is I’m not sure where to start first. Here are my questions:

MY ANSWERS

1.   First of all, who did your website?  I love it!  Do you think I need to get my website immediately?

Laura, I did my website using FrontPage (this was Inkwell Editorial’s old html site) – a simple software to use and it allows me control, ie, I don’t have to pay someone to update it, as I update it on a daily basis.

As for getting a website right away, as you’re a proofreader/copy editor, I would say no, it’s not absolutely necessary. BUT, as competition is so fierce, it reflects negatively on you as a business person — and you may lose clients.

I always tell freelancers/small business owners to ask themselves this question, “Would you go into business without a telephone?” I think websites have progressed to this point. I rarely, if ever, do business with companies that don’t have websites. Why? My thinking is, how seriously can you take your business if you don’t have a basic website.

Having a website can also be a timesaver because you can put basic info like your rates, hours of operations, services you provide, etc. up. This answers up front a lot of initial questions prospective clients might have.

NOTE: A website doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. A two or three page site will work just fine – as long as it is professional and informative. DON’T let not having a website stop you from getting started. Just get one as soon as you can – and put the URL on EVERY piece of marketing material you have – ALWAYS.

2.  Is there an inexpensive way to get lists of schools/collegesAnd who would I contact at the schools (besides the newsletter editor) once I got the list? 

I do a lot of research on the Internet – that’s how I reach out to most of my clients. You might want to Google a certain area for “colleges and universities.” You can purchase lists from a mailing list company.

http://infousa.com/ and http://mip.usadata.com/ are two that I’ve used in the past. Again, read up on mailing list companies and what to expect when you use them before purchasing. There are a lot of scammers out there in this field.

NOTE: The best type of mailing list is the one you build yourself. This is more time-consuming by far, but well worth it in the long run. Using a mailing list company though is good to get you started.

3.  Is there an inexpensive way to get lists of businesses in my area? Joining the Chamber of Commerce is $200!  That’s steep and I’m not sure how beneficial that would be? Your thoughts?  I’m going to check with the library.

See answer above. FYI, you’re likely going to spend more than $200 to purchase names for a mailing list company – and then you have to pay for putting your mailing together (even if it’s just copies at Kinkos) and the postage to mail it.

That’s why I like email marketing. It can be more effective than direct mail and is cheaper by far. Sign up with ConstantContact.com to send professional email campaigns. You can sign up for as little as $15/month. As of this writing, it’s free for 60 days or until you get 100 subscribers, whichever comes first.

Be careful not to spam people and put your name/contact info in the email. That way, prospects know that you’re contacting them with a legitimate business proposal, not some spammer sending out a mass email campaign.

4.  I plan to start advertising in ezines that cater to writers. Is there an inexpensive way to get a list of newsletters that cater to writers?

I don’t know of a compiled list of this type of newsletter/ezine. Google terms like “writing ezines”, “writing newsletters”, “writing groups”, etc. and start contacting prospects that look promising to see if they accept advertising.

5.  Would it be lucrative to contact publishing companies, or do they generally have in-house staff?

Many companies use the services of outside contractors; it’s hard to get a foot in the door because they have freelancers that they’ve been working with for years. However, it’s worth it over the long haul – even if it takes you a year (yes, I said year) to get your first assignment.

Usually, once you get your foot in the door, more assignments will come your way from the same company because one editor tells someone in another department and then they call. Once established, a relationship usually lasts for years.

FYI, I typed “Publisher” and “copyediting test” into Google and several companies popped up who offer copyediting tests to independent contractors to become part of their pool.

6. In addition, I would also like to target websites…I see so many typos on all types of websites.  Any suggestions on how I would approach them?

Yeah, the web is ripe with grammatical/spelling errors. It’s become the norm, I’m afraid (even InkwellEditorial.com is guilty of it!).

As for approaching site owners, I’d suggest proofreading/copyediting a page and sending the corrected version to the site owner with a note – something to the effect of:

I know that as an entrepreneur, you’re extremely busy and don’t have time to focus on the minutiae of grammar/editing, etc. Attached is the XX page on your site, which I edited for you. I provide copyediting and proofreading services to small business owners like you who have a multitude of tasks to perform day in and day out! This is my job, like XX is yours. Please contact me blah, blah, blah …

This way, you don’t offend them by just pointing out that their site has grammatical errors and you can fix it for them.  

7.  I’ve also thought about visiting coffee houses and other places that have poetry readings and other writer related events. And I’ve put my flyer up on a Whole Foods bulletin board. I’d like to find more of these…any idea how I can do that (besides the small listings in my phone book)?

Any community outlet that allows the posting of flyers is fair game. Simply talk to people – everyone, everywhere you go. Contact your local theatre group and find out where the “artsy” types hang out and ask if they have an activities list/calendar of events so that you can see upcoming poetry readings, book signings, etc. NEVER leave home without a card. As a matter of fact, make it your business to hand out X number every time you leave your house.

8.  Eventually, I would like most of my business to come from the internet and I’m a bit overwhelmed by all of my competitions great websites out there…and not sure where to begin due to the enormous size of the net! 

Don’t get bogged down or overwhelmed by what everybody else is doing. I’m guilty of this too – it’s hard not to be sometimes. But, YOU have something to offer also. Focus on your dream and take it a step at a time.

One thing I heard Michelle Kwan, the ice skater say, comes to me. She was asked in an interview if she was worried about the other girls in the competition who had perfected some triple jump or other and whether or not her program would be effective enough.

She responded that she never enters a competition thinking about the other competitors. She said her competition was always with herself and that she just focused on doing her program to the best of her ability.

I thought this a marvelous response and a metaphor for life. Why? Because there will always be someone who is more talented, prettier, skinnier, richer, etc. However, the gifts YOU possess are just as important. So, forget what everyone else is doing and do what you can every day, to the best of your ability, with honesty and integrity.

If you do that, you will always be pleased with yourself and you know what – so will most people you encounter. And, when you “fail” (because you will sometimes), at least you can look yourself in the face, knowing that you did the best you could. And, that can NEVER be considered “failure,” just a learning opportunity.

9.  Have I asked enough questions for now?  🙂   Any suggestions on where and how I should start? 

Yes, turn on your computer and put together a list of 100 prospects you want to contact. Get your initial sales letter, brochure, postcard, etc., ready to go.

One final word: Marketing has to become a habit. The easiest way to do this is to make it a habit to contact at least X number of prospects a week (you decide how many works for you).

Some days you may contact none. Other days you may contact a 100. But, whatever your number is, don’t let the week end without contacting them. This way, you will always have some irons in the fire – and before you know it, you will be busier than a fire ant at a Sunday afternoon picnic!

Get the Special Deal Offered with this Ebook.

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P.S.: See Inkwell Editorial’s marketing manual, The Small Biz Owner’s Complete Marketing Kit!, for 8 sure-fire low- and no-cost marketing methods that will jumpstart your business — guaranteed! It’s the only marketing advice book you will need to get started marketing the right way — right away.

Good luck!

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Freelance Writing Job Hunting Advice: What NOT to Do When Submitting a Cover Letter for a Job/Gig

When I was recruiting, I always advised applicants to submit cover letters only on request, specifically in instances of switching from one field to another (therefore the need to explain what skills you think are transferable) and/or to explain gaps in time….

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Freelance Writer Job Hunting Mistakes to Avoid: Are You Doing Any of These? You Could be Losing Gigs

Many freelancers/job seekers fail to follow specific instructions. Although this may seem minor, it is the difference between getting your credentials reviewed, or not. And much like a headline that doesn’t get clicked on, no matter how great you/your credentials are, if they’re not seen, it means squat. …

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Do You Make More Money as an Freelance Writer When You Specialize?

Most editorial freelancers can do a myriad of jobs — and do them quite well, I might add. However, it’s hard to convince employers of that, so I always advise freelancers to specialize to increase income. Following is some insight into why….

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How to Really Make a Living as an Editorial Freelancer

The following is an excerpt of this ebook, along with a complete Table of Contents.

In 2001, I started to receive a flood of inquiries about editorial freelancing. Accustomed to the occasional inquiry, the pace picked up and has yet to slow down as of this writing. What started the whole thing? The dot-com implosion, which began in 2000, put the media and publishing industries in trouble well before 9/11. …

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Advice from Successful Freelancers: How They Built Their Careers & How You Can Too!

Publisher Note: Almost all of the freelancers who were initially interviewed for this ebook were still in business when I checked up on them 7 years later. So, they must be doing something right, no?…

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Editorial Freelancing: 5 Easy Steps to Getting Your Foot in the Door

My mother was fond of saying, “If you want to know something, go directly to the source.” Taking this advice to heart, I interviewed professionals in the industry for the e-book, How to Really Make a Living as an Editorial Freelancer. …

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How to Build a Successful Freelance Career (Part 2)

Part 1 of this article discussed the experience you need to successfully build a freelance career. Here, I will outline other necessities. …

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How to Build a Successful Freelance Career (Part 1)

In the current job market, many creative and editorial professionals have turned to freelancing as a matter of survival. I receive many queries from applicants regarding how to go about freelancing….

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