Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Common Freelance Writing Tips I’m Tired of Hearing

Common Freelance Writing Tips I’m Tired of Hearing

Sorry for coming off like a jerk in the headline.

But I’ve noticed two things:

  1. Freelance writing tips online are everywhere.
  2. Many of them give off a “YOU HAVE TO DO IT THIS WAY OR YOU’LL FAIL” vibe.

Learning new tips is great. There’s nothing wrong with sharing tips, either.

But even the greatest piece of advice from the best, most successful freelance writer out there can eventually lose its luster due to overuse.

Here are a few common freelance writing tips out there I’m tired of hearing (and what I wish I was told instead):

1. You *have* to pick a niche!

I’ll be honest, nearly every piece of advice that’s “niche” related is starting to get old, but this one is a real nails-on-a-chalkboard shudder.


Because the delivery of this message seems very one-size-fits-all to new freelance writers. You only have to do one thing (the same thing every successful writer has done) and you’ve found your niche. And the steps involved almost always includes looking at your job history, your education, and your passions.

For some, this approach helps. And that’s great!

But for many aspiring writers, this approach doesn’t work.

And if this magic one thing doesn’t work, aspiring writers struggle to see other areas they could tap into to help them narrow their niche:

  • Where you are in your freelance writing career (Because being a beginner is not a bad thing.) (Read that again.)
  • The type of writer you are today (if you don’t know this — find out asap!)
  • The type of writer you want to be five years from now
  • Why you hated your previous jobs (or, if you love your job so much, why are you pursuing a freelance career?)
  • Why your college major plays a role in your expertise (what did you study?)
  • Events in your life that have molded and shaped who you are today
  • These are more subtle, behind-the-scenes areas of your personality, your audience, and your career that play into what niche is best for you.

But nobody talks about these areas.

And as beginners struggle to find a niche, they often conclude:

“It’s taking forever to figure out my niche. Maybe I’m not going to succeed as a freelance writer.”

With this mentality, beginners often get stuck. Or they do pick one but second-guess their decision later on. It becomes an obsessive “I have to figure this out or I’ll fail” mentality, which is an unhealthy mentality to have, even if there are benefits to having a niche early on.

Jacob McMillen elaborates on this concept in Episode 7 of his audio series, “Write Bites.” He also presents helpful perspectives to consider when you’re first starting out.

Here’s what I wish I was told:
Picking a niche is a journey. While studying various industries to find your niche is certainly valuable, the person you should be studying is you.

Besides the list of previous things mentioned, think about these concepts.

Find out what you love to write about. Your interest in a topic or industry doesn’t necessarily mean you enjoy writing about it — I love health and wellness, but I don’t enjoy writing about it).

Find out what types of writing you enjoy creating. Do you like writing product descriptions? Emails? Video or podcast scripts? Blog posts?

Get comfortable writing. I love writing, but prior to pursuing copywriting, I had never written for the internet before, let alone written with the skillset of a copywriter. It was an adjustment and it took a lot of practice!

But most of all, cling tightly to why you decided to pursue freelance writing. It will help narrow down which niche suits you best.

Whether it’s because you love helping people, you love problem-solving, you enjoy helping business owners rise above their competition and accomplish their goals, your purpose(s) as a writer is far more important than the niche you pick.

2. You have to pick a *profitable* niche!

This piece of advice is starting to become less relevant as brand-new niches and sub-niches continue popping up, and as the number of new businesses keeps growing.

Here’s what I wish I was told:

Don’t let a niche’s popularity be the only factor when picking a niche.

Freelance medical copywriter Sarah Turner advises defining your niche by evaluating your interests and skills as a writer, rather than picking from a list an calling it a day.

There will always be industries more popular than others. If you’re passionate about an industry that happens to be popular, that’s not a bad thing. But relying solely on popularity to determine your niche will not sustain your writing business long-term.

Your purpose as a writer will.

3. Content mills such as Upwork are the plague.

Devil’s advocate: if this is true, why are there stories from freelance writers who have succeeded in using content mills to reach their goals?

I’m not saying Upwork horror stories are fake or don’t exist. Nor am I saying that freelance writers who had negative experiences with content mills did it wrong, or aren’t giving sound advice. Learning how to spot red flags and learn from others’ experiences are super valuable ways of deciding what works best for you.

But this piece of advice is often based on one freelance writer’s experience (out of millions). Just because a product or service didn’t work out for one person, doesn’t mean it won’t work out for anyone else ever.

What I wish I was told (similar to 3):

Upwork is as valuable a resource as you make it if you’re willing to put in the work and dedication.

In an interview hosted by freelance writer Lindy Alexander, award-winning writer Amy Suto shares her experience with Upwork and even offers some insider information on how to use the platform to your advantage.

She doesn’t hesitate to point out that it takes a lot of work to land success on Upwork. Putting yourself out there and dealing with rejection is the name of the game at Upwork, especially when you’re starting out as a new freelance writer.

But that’s true everywhere else (cold pitching, job boards, etc.). Why should content mills not be included as an option?

4. I made six figures in x weeks, months, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a massive accomplishment.

But seeing the success of others with no context behind how they got there creates unrealistic expectations for aspiring writers who want to get there someday. This declaration indicates that it’s easy.

It’s not.

According to this chart, the vast majority of freelance writers are making between $33,000 and $52,000 annually. As you look at $53,000 and beyond, the number of freelance writers drops significantly.

To quote Coach Dugan in A League of Their Own,

If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.

People like convenience. That’s not a bad thing. But the reality of starting out as a six-figure freelance writer is, getting there is not going to be a convenient process.

It’s going to take time, hard work, and plenty of moments sprinkled on top where you’re going to seriously question why you got started in the first place.

Here’s what I wish I was told (2 things):

  1. If you want six figures, go for it. You’re not crazy to want that for yourself and your career. You have what it takes to make that happen, but be specific and confident about why you want it.
  2. Freelance writing is a highly flexible career field (some make a few hundred dollars a month, others make millions). Because of this, the average income for freelance writers is pretty scattered. This means your income starting out (and later on) will not only fluctuate but also depend on multiple factors:
  • Location
  • Industry
  • How many hours you’re working (part-time or full-time)
  • Experience (your rate will be lower if you’re still gaining experience)
  • Keep these things in mind when working toward your desired income. Fluctuations will happen — that doesn’t mean you’re a bad business owner. It’s part of being a freelancer.

Final thoughts

By now, you probably noticed a common theme:

Success depends on you.

Advice from successful freelance writers is super valuable. But if their journey to success is different than yours, their advice will only help you get so far.

Take popular tips with a grain of salt by staying focused on what you want success to be.

Dig deep, start small, and be realistic as you work toward what you consider success

At the end of the day, as cliche as it sounds, it’s true: your freelance writing career is what you decide it will be.

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