I don’t have the typical freelance writer background. As a child, even though it seemed evident that I had some small amount of skill in it, writing never appealed to me. Even now, I can honestly say that writing is not a true passion.
Instead, as a high school student, I began my career as a freelance writer mainly because I had more time than I knew what to do with, and wanted to put that time to profitable use. I got my start writing for content mills, eventually moving on to individual clients who still paid me less than ten dollars an article.
Today, a student at a university, I’ve been able to grow my part-time writing business to a point where I recently sold a single article for $600, and consistently earn three-figure sums per piece. In this article, I’ll share the two most important lessons I learned on my journey.
Lesson #1: Specialize, Specialize, Specialize
Easily the most important turning point in my freelance career that helped me to get to where I am today was my decision to specialize in specific industries. Back when I wrote for peanuts, I took whatever work was offered to me, no matter the industry. I’ve written for publications in the health, technical, viral, automotive, and other niches.
But, writing across this broad range of industries held my writing career back in two ways.
Firstly, although my initial “any-and-every-niche” approach allowed me to gain experience, it also meant that I had no mastery in any one specific field. Consequently, the quality of my articles suffered from my lack of expertise. Simply put, I couldn’t earn hundreds of dollars per article because my stories simply weren’t worth the money.
Second, my eclectic portfolio meant that, whenever I pitched articles to a magazine, I rarely had more than one or two clips (and low-quality ones at that) to present editors. As you can probably guess, the consequence was an abysmally low acceptance rate.
Since then, I’ve learned my lesson, and now specialize in two related industries that I’m actually familiar with: marketing strategy for Internet-based businesses, and website development. Narrowing my focus on these two niches allowed me to grow as an expert in the field, develop my portfolio, and get featured in top publications in my industry.
Lesson #2: Personal Branding is Essential to Success
Another key component of my success was a conscious effort to build a personal brand.
Due to the nature of the industries I specialize in, the majority of my work is published online. The principal advantage of the Internet, of course, is how interconnected everything is: with every article I write, I can link to my portfolio website and/or social media profiles in my bio. This makes it super simple for any editor or business owner who reads and appreciates my work to get in touch with me about writing for them.
Getting featured in top publications in my fields of expertise enables me to develop familiarity with common readers in those publications who may recognize me on one website after having read one of my articles on another. This kind of exposure marks me as an authority in my field, and develops my personal brand.
As a result, I get more, higher-quality clients through the articles I’ve already written for other publications than I do through job boards or cold pitches.
As a busy college student, I don’t have much time to devote to expanding my part-time freelance career.
Instead, I plan to maintain my current workload while continuing to replace lower-paying clients with higher-paying ones. Despite the time constraints, I’m happy to report that I am content with what I have achieved, and am excited for the future.
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Jonathan Rebby John is a freelance writer and a student mechanical engineer at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. An experienced content marketing strategist and WordPress maestro, his work has been published in many of the top blogs in those fields, including Problogger, Marketo, Torque, and WP Lift. Get in touch with him through his website, or connect on LinkedIn.