There are so many types of writing gigs out there, it can be confusing for new writers. Which are the best opportunities to pursue? This is one of the questions asked me recently by budding freelance writer Barry Weymouth. He wrote:
I am currently about to finally get my degree in business finance, but I was a journalism major when I first started college years and years ago. I have been in real estate and financial services for years now, but really looking for a new lease on life and never let go of the writing bug. I do have a financial blog that a started [up] again just this week and now I want to take it to another level.
There seems to be so many opportunities out there, but how do you land them? Which ones are the best to go after and what are the ones to stay away from?
Is it best to work for one entry-level type job at a company (kind of captive to them I would say), or is it best to stay freelance? It all seems a bit confusing and I just want to focus on the things that will be fruitful and not so much on anything out there that will be a waste of my time.
There are so many opportunities out there, Barry! It’s not your imagination. And as the economy recovers, there will be even more.
How do you land them? First, you find them — by networking, trolling online job boards, cold-calling, knocking on doors. Once you’ve found opportunities, you land them by auditioning for them.
How can you audition for gigs? Many ways. Send writing samples. Send copywriting samples. Send your resume. Send a link to your blog. Pitch story ideas on the phone. Or build your blog audience, find advertisers for your blog and earn that way.
Which are the best kind of writing gigs to go after? The kind that are really well-suited to your writing experience, life experience, and interests. When I work with my mentees, this is basically what we focus on: What have you written before? Where have you worked? What types of writing do you like best? What industries did you find fascinating? What hobbies do you love?
Once you’ve answered those questions, you can seek out publications or companies that are a fit for you. Notice I said “seek out.” Yes, that’s right. You are the driver of your writing-career success. You will need to aggressively market your writing services to make a living.
You can avoid being overwhelmed by all the possibilities by focusing on writing opportunities that make sense for who you are. Don’t randomly apply to every writing gig you see. Pick a couple-three niche areas and focus on them.
If you don’t get results in a few months, try a few other niches that also relate to your experience and interests. But trust me, if you have a real-estate and business-finance background, you’re far more likely to find writing opportunities that have something to do with those fields than you are to find lucrative writing jobs about healthcare or horse grooming. If you love white papers, don’t apply to blog.
Why? Because when you do what you enjoy, you tend to do better. And better clips mean better future gigs.
Which are the types of gigs to stay away from? Writing assignments that pay slave wages — $10 a blog…you know the type. Avoid, avoid, avoid. Writing assignments you’re not interested in and eager to write. Also avoid.
I wish I could give you a magical answer to how to break into writing without wasting your time, Barry. But here’s how you’re going to find out what types of writing you like, can get gigs in, and pay well enough to be worth your while: Trial and error. Sometimes, you’ll try to go in a writing direction — for me last year, that was trying to crack the business-plan writing market — and it just won’t pan out. So you’ll try something else. Lather, rinse, repeat.
You can create a shortcut by focusing on what you’re best qualified and suited for, but you’re still going to have to experiment to find where you fit.
As far as full-time versus freelance…right now I’d say that full-time writing jobs are in very short supply. The woods seem to be full of laid-off journalists. But by all means, if you need the security of a steady paycheck, look for a full-time gig — or maybe a job within your fields of experience that involves some writing, and could serve as a bridge into writing as a career.
Personally, I had my highest-earning year ever in 2009, including the 12 years I was a staff writer for two different publications, so I may be biased toward freelancing! But as a brand-new writer, freelancing may also be a better way to go because there’s less deadline pressure and you can learn at your own pace.
Are you ready to come up with three or four great story ideas, report the stories and file them, each and every week? Or crank out polished white papers in short order? That’s the typical workload of a staff writer. When I started, it took me about six weeks to write one feature story! I would have washed out as a staffer.
To sum up: Look in the mirror. Who are you as a writer? What do you need financially? Answer those questions, and there’s your answer for how to become a freelance writer.
Got any time-saving writing-job-hunt tips for Barry? Leave a comment below and tell us about it.
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Photo via Flickr user karendalziel