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2 things you DON’T have to know to be a freelance writer

If you are just getting into freelance writing—and even more so if you’ve been at it for awhile—you understand the value of a niche.

If you slant your practice towards a certain industry or other specialty and position yourself as the expert, you simplify your marketing. You know who to go after, where to find them and how to communicate with them.

And the narrower the niche, the higher the fees.

This is perfectly logical, but it’s tempting to place two demands on yourself that will stress you out until you conclude, as they say in Wayne’s World while bowing before Alice Cooper, I’m not worthy.

By the way, I’m talking from experience. Both of these demands have intimidated me from time to time till I reset my thinking as follows:

  1. You don’t have to be deeply knowledgeable about everything that is going on in your industry.

No matter how small your industry, there’s more going on out there than you can possibly keep track of.

My industry is financial, specifically, it’s insurance and asset management. Even insurance alone is pretty broad. There’s life insurance, health insurance, personal auto and homeowners and umbrella and bazillions of business property and casualty coverages. There’s new laws every day and new studies and almost every major social, political and economic trend impacts the industry.

For instance, one of the daily insurance updates I receive covered the following topics today:

  • Special Report: Top 10 Innovative P/C Insurance Products

  • GE Unlikely to Face Liability in Japanese Nuclear Crisis

  • New Jersey Dwarf Couple Sues Cable Channel for Defamation

And these are just a few among many!

OK, it’s easy to see how I can pass by the third one, but the top two are more typical and can leave me moaning that there’s so much to learn and so little time to learn it.

The solution? Don’t over study. And by over study, I include almost all study.

The field is too broad to keep up on most developments. Until I have a client working specifically in the area of nuclear liability, it’s enough for me to know that there is a nuclear crisis in Japan.

Studying everything before you have a paying client to apply this knowledge to is putting the horse before the cart.

My first task is to find clients who have specific content needs. Then after I have a working relationship with them, I collect enough information to fulfill the assignment.

If I have a more comprehensive commitment from them, then I ramp up my ongoing reading and research.

I may do some initial research to prepare a proposal, but most of my research is geared to sure-thing paying work.

Sometimes prospects will speak in acronyms in an initial phone conversation and I don’t know what they are talking about. If I’m missing a small point, I won’t confess ignorance. I’ll play along until I have enough clues to figure it out. On other occasions I have to ask what they are referring to.

Really not a problem as long as I don’t make it into a problem by apologizing. I’m not in their office and I can’t be expected to know the minutiae that are being discussed in their little circle.

  1. You don’t have to know how to best optimize clients’ copy for the search engines without asking them how they have decided to do it.

I used to believe that I could not offer myself as someone who writes optimized copy unless I knew exactly how they can accomplish this. I read a lot about optimization and saw conflicting advice so I wasn’t sure exactly how to do it.

I didn’t consider any of this advice definitive. And no wonder because Google does not disclose the finer points of its algorithms.

I don’t bill myself as an SEO expert; I am a writer who will optimize my writing to match how the client wants it done.

They specify keywords, any ratios or statistics on how frequently they want them used, article length, title length, keyword usage, Wordpress categories, etc.

I am familiar with SEO practices but I’m not the client’s SEO guru. Which is just as it should be.

I am worthy and so are you. Let’s not place unreasonable demands upon ourselves.


Originally posted 4-3-11

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