The Only Competition Freelance Writers Need to Worry About

Business CompetitionThere are a lot of freelance writers out there, hustling up gigs. Have you noticed?

Maybe that makes you feel it’s hopeless to put it out there yourself. It might seem like those established pros already have the market for writing all sewn up.

I had one budding freelance writer tell me:

“I know the healthcare industry from my job, but when I saw how many members the healthcare writers association had, I just gave up! It seems like it’s too competitive.”

Or if you’ve been around a while,ย  maybe you’re up nights worrying about all the hot young, social-media-savvy writers who’re coming to eat your lunch.

If you’re going to think this way — always worrying about how many other writers are trying to do the same thing you are — you’re not going to get very far.

To win the freelance writing game, you have to put your focus in a different place.

The most important thing for freelancers

See, worrying about the competition is a total waste of time.

Why? Because there’s nothing you can do about it.

Yes, other writers will be out there, putting up kick-ass writer websites and writing query letters and going to in-person networking events and sending InMail and answering online job ads, and all that. All the time.

If you spend all your time thinking about that, you are going to crawl into a hole, put a blanket over your head, and never come out.

So it’s key that you don’t go there.

Here’s the thing to think about instead: The size of the freelance writing market is huge. And there’s a lot of pent-up demand, from overwhelmed editors and business owners who don’t even have the time to think up an ad or ask their network if they know a writer.

There is room in the multi-billion dollar world of freelancing for one little old you to carve out a living. If you want it, and go after it. Trust me.

But to make it, you can’t waste time worrying about things that you can’t change. Stressing about what the other guy might be up to.

Instead, you need to spend your energy where it can do some good.

This is a proactive, positive step you can take that will make a real difference in your success. It’s a simple attention switch.

How I bucked the odds

When I started out as a freelance writer, I really knew nothing. Except how to write a song, which is what I’d been doing since I was 14.

Instead of worrying about my vast knowledge shortfall, I only worried about one thing — how to find ways to learn and get better.

I asked editors lots of questions.

I tried to make each article I wrote better than the one before.

I became a student of great story ideas and learned to come up with catchier ones.

With each new client, I tried to get better assignments and better pay.

As soon as I got the hang of one type of writing, I went out and looked for something harder. Instead of 3oo-word short pieces, I gradually moved to 3,000-word feature articles.

I never really thought about how many other writers might want to get the assignments I was going after.

Just that I had to improve.

The key to winning the game

Each year, I set a goal of having more and better assignments and doing better quality writing.

Even 20 years in, I’m still running this same race.

I’m in a war against my prime challenger: the writer I was last year.

What she did was OK…but I know I can do better. I’m hungry to show her up.

I want to beat her.

So each year, I learn more. Try harder. Pitch harder. Try to move the needle. Try to create work I can be proud of.

That’s my whole focus. I don’t care what other writers do. I just compete with myself.

Do that, and you will make things happen as a writer.

Anytime you want to know what you’re up against — who’s standing between you and the freelance writing career you want — just look in a mirror.

That’s the only competition you have to worry about. And you can win that race if you try.

What do you worry about as a writer? Leave a comment and talk about how you move forward.

Freelance Writers Den

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37 comments on “The Only Competition Freelance Writers Need to Worry About
  1. Jim says:

    Not too long ago I happened upon The Writer’s Manifesto, the premise of which is to simply write for the sheer pleasure of writing. Itโ€™s been said that if a person does what they are passionate about the money will follow, and I like to think, doing ones duty to society and the planet and being cared for. IMHO the pursuit of money, which is what you are really talking about, is now outdated thinking. Out with the old and in with the new; find and live your passion โ€“ whatever that may be. If you are not really passionate about this craft, please, find your calling and engage with it. Then, I believe, the worry will fall by the wayside and true living begin.
    Jim recently posted…AnniversaryMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I don’t know if I agree, Jim. Just today I’ve had a series of frantic emails from someone who wants me to tell him how he can earn big writing about how he’s discovered Christianity is a big fraud. That’s not a paying niche, for just one example. That’s something you write maybe in free op-eds to the newspaper, but not a living.

      Plenty of us have passions that are never going to become our living. I like to collect antique china piggybanks, for instance. Not going to pay the bills.

  2. Amel says:

    It is so true that there is an abundance of work out there. With nearly every company or publication I have worked with, I have been amazed by how much work needed to be done at just that one tiny business. And although I don’t recommend that anyone ever only work for one client, there have been times in the past when I did just that and had enough work to sustain me for months and years at a time. As for other writers, I have never felt that they are my competition. Instead, I either think to myself, “I can do that,” or, “I want to do that.” And then I go do it. Basically, I just try to learn from what others are doing, even if only by reading well-written articles and trying to analyze how the writers put together their ideas.
    Amel recently posted…50 Markets that Pay Freelance Writers More than 50 Cents per Word โ€“ Including 27 Markets that Pay up to $1 per Word and MoreMy Profile

  3. Shauna says:

    I agree that ourselves are the competition we need to be concerned with. My question is, how does a freelance writer who began in the 1980s and has re-emerged in this new age of technology go about getting profitable freelance jobs? Twenty year ago experience (with no copies of copy) puts me at the same starting line as newbies. How do I sell myself? I have tons of creative writing (and links to same) to share and show as samples, but nothing really viable for a client who needs a writer to help promote his business. As a writer and a consumer, I’m very capable. How do I convey that? Nothing I’ve applied for online has come through. Your advice will be greatly appreciated.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great question — I’d really like to turn this into a mailbag post and craft a full answer to it.

      But short answer…stop applying for jobs online. That is not going to pay anything.

      You have to have a writer website and proactively market your services find your own clients. To start on that first part, see my upcoming bootcamp:

      I’d contend that you are very much NOT at the same starting line as newbies. You’ve done it and have past clients and a track record of meeting deadlines. More in an upcoming post!

  4. June says:

    Thanks Carol for this inspirational article. It’s a great way to push me forward. To be honest I used to think that the market was saturated and I nearly gave up as well. But what’s the point of coming so far to chuck it in?

    Competing with yourself is a fantastic tip. That’s the best way to take your eyes of everyone else and fix it on improving yourself and being the best you can be, always! By doing that you won’t have time to worry about what other freelance writers are doing or not doing.

    I’ve been working on improving my LinkedIn profile. My daughter kept telling me to get off it and focus on my writing. But guess what? I was contacted by a client on LinkedIn. He told me that he liked my profile and he wants me to write for him. He’s talking about updating his Facebook page, doing some marketing, writing blog articles and a couple of books in the near future.

    So if I’d given up I would have lost out on some great gigs. ๐Ÿ™‚
    June recently posted…How to be Happily SingleMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great success story June!

      I keep telling people LinkedIn is the phone book for freelancers — it’s where companies look. You want to be on there.

      Talk to editors and marketing managers you’ll discover the market is NEVER saturated with really gifted, reliably, non-diva, non-flakey writers. Especially for complex topics. Always room for you to grab some business.

  5. Bill Walles says:

    Defining the impediments and the target is crucial to success. The writer needs improving skills and proper armor to move to the goal.

    Personalized armor protects against irritations, annoyances, and slips to maintain the writer’s strength from dripping away. Armor never protects the writer from every infliction. Armor, properly fitted, allows the writer to face the most important foes, the ones who stand between you and the goal.

    The best armor? A gifted mentor, who has traveled the same ground, who points out practices that haven’t worked and never will, and who won’t let resolve dissolve in fear and self-doubt.

    Happy Rosh Hashanah, Carol.

  6. Marcie says:

    Right now, my biggest challenge right now is determining my ideal client for writing projects. I have ideas, but now I need to narrow my options. As soon as that is confirmed, I will move full speed ahead.

    Thanks for this post. It was a great start to my day.
    Marcie recently posted…Buy “62 Blog Posts to Overcome Blogger’s Block”My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      If I can make a suggestion, instead of continuing to try to figure out your ideal client in a vacuum…move full speed ahead. Pick a few directions and try them.

      The only way to find out who your ideal client really is is to get some client experience! The marketplace will quickly tell you where you see a response and good pay, and then you can move more in that direction. Too many writers waste tons of time trying to ‘figure out’ what the one best direction is, all while sitting alone by themselves with no market feedback, and that doesn’t work.

  7. Linda H says:

    Thanks for sharing, Carol. You’ve nailed it for me in many ways, and now I see that my anxiety is nothing. As God in His Wisdom has peeled the layers of my onion back repeatedly, I’ve seen the issues I face daily and worked to strengthen the weaknesses, overcome the roadblocks, break through the barriers and find the path that works for me. I’m seeing how I fit into the weave of things and finding my niche. Just the other day I said to myself, “Well, you’re a professional freelance writer, congratulations, now get off your backside and get some work done.”

    I admit I’ve thought about the competition, but you were spot-on in how competing with yourself is the biggest and only challenge. And I do that well.

    I’m bookmarking this post for future reading when I start worrying about those demons. It’ll be like going back to that town square and peering into someone else’s sack to see that my life isn’t that bad, we call have our own demons and issues. And we’re each adequately equipped to carry our own and fight back with gusto.

    Great post, as always. Thanks for being a great mentor, guide and role model. You do make a huge difference. Make sure to put that one on your wall when everything else is pounding you.
    Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks โ€” Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      *Blush* thanks Linda!

      I always feel really honored when people tell me they print out and post my blog posts around their office for inspiration. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Thanks for this message,Carol — so perfect for this time of year. L’shana tova!
    Rebecca Klempner recently posted…New Jewish year, new books by Jewish authors!My Profile

  9. Dawn Witzke says:

    โ€œThe competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.โ€ ~ Henry Ford

  10. Traci says:

    I like what you said about making each assignment better than the last. I think sometimes writers slack on quality because they really aren’t satisfied what the amount of money they’re making. Any job a writer accepts should written to the best of his or her ability–it’s the only way to climb the ladder.
    Traci recently posted…Why BKโ€™s New French Fry Burger Reminds Me of Some WritersMy Profile

  11. Who has time to spend worrying? There are so many opportunities available. You need to spend your time sifting through the junk to find the gems.

    Good stuff in this post, for sure.
    Kathleen Krueger recently posted…What Books About Freelance Writing NOT to BuyMy Profile

  12. Sagar Rai says:

    Wonderful piece of information here. This is era of competitions and you need to be different from your competitors to win the race…

    I know the pain of online writers and their competitive experiences.
    Sagar Rai recently posted…How to Run Blog Contests: 5 Incredible TipsMy Profile

  13. Erica says:

    What do I worry about as a writer? Everything. Seriously. Throw a dart, you’ll hit something spot-on.

    On the bright side, the competition isn’t too high on the worry list. I’m too busy worrying about other stuff. Like how to find clients. And not embarrassing myself on a cold-call. And the all-encompassing Failure. (Yeah, I capitalized that one. On purpose.)
    Erica recently posted…Embracing imperfect writing conditionsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well there’s an idea for another post. What IS failure, anyway? I think if you’re writing, you’re succeeding.

      I meet so many would-be writers who can’t seem to get around to DOING it. If you are doing it, you are creating a legacy that lives on after you, and you are a success at least at some level. Even if no one ever sees what you wrote until after you die.

  14. I remember, Carol, when I used to look at the competition and see writers saying things such as ‘I have years of experience doing this’ or ‘I have extensive knowledge of that’.

    Then one day the penny finally drops โ€“ you realise that most of these people are just full of hot air and know sweet naff all.

    So if you continually work at improving your own writing, marketing and self-confidence, it’s not actually that long before you start to get ahead.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted…Two crafty conversion tricks copywriters can learn from eCommerceMy Profile

    • Amy says:

      I’m in year four and I embrace many of the things you’ve outlined here. Set tiny goals. My first epiphany was that I was NOT Joan Didion. Not being Joan Didion has been a great strategy for me. Being Amy has worked really well. I try to best the writer I was the year before, and set those small goals to use a cliche with “one step at a time.”

      Thanks for a positive, affirming article.

    • Carol Tice says:

      While some writers may be B.S.-ers, some writers really do have more experience than you. Some have less.

      Worrying about where you fit on the spectrum and whether there’s “too much competition” is just a waste of time.

      There’s always room for you, because there is only one you, and what you bring is unique. Work on honing what you can contribute, and you’ll go places. Period.

  15. It’s so true. Most of us know this at a gut level, but frenzied activity on Twitter and Google+ make it seem like we’re going to be run over by the competition.

    Thanks for the reminder. This week I plan to narrow my focus. The Writers Den and this blog are making a HUGE difference.

    Thank you!
    Rita Mailheau recently posted…The Winston Churchill Ultimate Guide to Copywriting โ€“ part twoMy Profile

    • Terr says:

      Good point Rita.

      I struggle with feeling like others, especially the social media savvy, somehow know more than I do. It’s like, they know the “secret password” or something. But as I’ve invested into my learning, I’m understanding that developing this type of career takes time and practice.

      I understand so much more now than I did last year. I expect that trend will continue, since knowledge and skill builds upon itself. And in general, I understand that there will always be someone who is more skilled, advanced, intelligent, taller, shorter, attractive, handsome, etc.

      So as mentioned, all that I or anyone else can do is be the best we can be, knowing that we all bring our own contributions to the table, so to speak.

      • Carol Tice says:

        I get a lot of writers who tell me they feel hopeless at social media and like they can never ‘catch up.’

        But there is no race! Learn about social media so it will help you market yourself and your work. Start now. It won’t be easier in a few years.

        There will always be people with bigger social media followings than you…and smaller. Remember, only like 8 percent of people are on Twitter yet. And just go for it!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Woo hoo! Glad to help.

  16. This reminds me of British writer Stuart Morgan’s quote, “Artists are not in competition with each other but with themselves and the past.”

    Thank you for an inspiring post today, I read your emails religiously yet never commented on your blog. Thank you for the constant encouragement to writers of all kinds.

  17. Great post. Thanks for the reminder that what really matters is what I can do, not what anyone else is doing.

  18. I handle it the same way you do! I compete against myself, but also against others. Instead of letting the worry for a large competition worry me or force me to stagnate, I use it to fuel myself.

    My biggest worry is that one day I’ll suddenly stop getting feedback or be told I’m good at what I do. I subconsciously seek out this validation and the idea that someday I won’t have anyone re-assuring me is scary.
    Vincent Nguyen recently posted…48 Variables That Make the Biggest Difference in Your LifeMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Make that day today, Vincent.

      Writers who are outward-reward focused — “I need people to give me strokes and validate that I’m a good writer” — have a lot more stress.

      Too many writers are emotionally derailed by that one rejection from that magazine you so wanted to get into. Don’t give anyone that power in your writing life. Just keep improving and keep going, and you will start to get the responses you want.

  19. Prudence says:

    This. Is. So. True.

    You’re not going to get every single gig you go after. And there will be people who are more experienced, more knowledgeable, or just a better fit for a LOT of gigs you go after – especially in the early stages of your career.

    It’s amazing what inward focus can do. Instead of warring about how many other writers are going after the same gigs as you, think about how many gigs you’re going to go after this week. Can you sent out 1 more LOI than you did last week? 2 more? 5 more?

    If you constantly challenge yourself to do better, you’ll just do better.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Perfectly said there, Prudence!

      I’ve been spending some time in Al-Anon lately to help me deal with some of the issues in my life, and that great organization really teaches you to turn your focus to the sphere you can control: You.

      Improve your character. Change your behavior. Work on eliminating your own bad habits. Challenge yourself to be a better person, and stop trying to control things and people that you can’t. Accept that they are the way they are and that you can do nothing to change them. Detach and let go of it. And you will be a happier and more successful person. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I find their outlook applies well to the world of freelance writing! When you’re obsessing about “the competition,” you’re just wasting energy you could be spending marketing or writing more to improve your craft.

  20. Pinar Tarhan says:

    I couldn’t agree more. A lot of people are too busy competing with others or being afraid of the competition that they forget they just need to be in competition with themselves. Whatever I do, I’ve always wanted to beat my own scores and meet my own goals. It’s the same with freelance writing. It’s a work in progress, but I’m proud of it.
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted…Dealing with Loss: Escapism, Therapy & Living Through WritingMy Profile

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  1. […] The Only Competition Freelance Writers Need to Worry About | Make A Living Writing. Professional freelance business writer and entrepreneur Carol Tice runs more than a blog – it’s a huge community of resources and experts ready to share what they know. ย This post, in particular, is a bracing wave of clear-minded advice about the most productive way to think about your competition in the writing world. And while Carol and her contributing bloggers pull no punches when giving writers a dose of reality, their pragmatism is tempered with their successful experiences in the publishing world. And they’re pretty confident that you, too, can be successful, which is refreshing. […]