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Freelance Marketing – Market Research and Planning

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on October 11, 2011 in Marketing
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This week we're running a five-post series for writers looking to leave content mills like Demand Media Studios behind them. Yesterday we took a look at three types of freelance writing jobs you can pursue, starting today. If you're considering a change to grow your business, you should start there and narrow down your specialty area.

Once you have a freelance writing specialty in mind,  it's time to move on to the next steps -- market research and creating your marketing plan.

Market Research for Freelance Writers

Freelancers are notorious for jumping into work without realizing that freelancing is really running a business. Many freelancers fail because they don't have a realistic plan in place or because they don't understand the competition (like assuming extremely low rate writers are your competition when they have nothing to do with markets you should be targeting). But you can't come up with that plan if you don't conduct basic market research first.

What is Market Research?

As a writer you're likely intimately familiar with research in general. Market research is much like researching a story. You're digging for background information to help you determine the most important things to consider (in planning a business in this case rather than what to cover in an article).

Market research involves figuring out who your target market includes. Hint: it's not everybody. It's not everybody hiring writers. It's not even everybody within a vague group (like newspapers).

Example: You want to be a professional blogger.


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Bad target market: People who own blogs. Even "businesses that own blogs" is a bad target market.

Better target market: Owners of blogs covering a specific niche or reaching a specific audience, with a particular audience size, in a particular region of the world, with an adequate budget to cover a professional blogger's rates for at least X posts per month

Market research goes beyond identifying your target market. It also helps you research your competition and set appropriate freelance writing rates. We've talked about setting your rates extensively here before, so rather than repeat myself I'm going to link you to an article that will walk you through the process.

How to Set Your Freelance Writing Rates the Right Way

Below you'll also find a link to our free online freelance writing rate calculator. It features a basic mode and advanced mode to give you some flexibility in how you can use it. These two resources will help you set realistic target rates. Don't be surprised when considering all important factors leads to higher target rates than you might have expected. This is exactly why undercharging is such a problem for so many freelance writers.

Freelance Hourly Rate Calculator

You can find other free tools and calculators by exploring our additional exclusive free stuff for writers.

How to Conduct Market Research

How can you actually conduct this kind of research, learning more about opportunities available in different markets and how your competition behaves in each? This can vary greatly depending on your specialty area. For example, you would learn a lot about magazine markets and what they're looking for by reading the magazines themselves.

With business writing, you would research things a bit differently. For example, if you wanted to write white papers for small B2B software companies you could search online to create a master list of those companies and then sort them by which ones already use white papers and which don't. Each group has different opportunities where a white paper writer might come in handy.

Competition can be easier to research, especially if you already have a strong network. You already know your colleagues. If you know writers who share your specialty, review their websites. What specific services do they offer? What do they charge? What kinds of clients are represented in their portfolios? Do they work with small businesses or larger corporate clients for example? How much experience do they have compared to yours?

Even if you don't have a large writer network yet, you can find other specialists with a simple online search. Get a better feel for other options your prospects have. If you don't know what competition exists, you can't come up with a value proposition that convinces clients to choose you over them.

Here is another article from our archives that gives further information on conducting market research:

4 Tips for Better Understanding Your Target Market

When you find information about the competition, it's a good idea to complete a SWOT analysis to look at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in the current market. Here is a free downloadable template you can use to do that:


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Free SWOT Analysis Worksheet for Freelance Writers

After you've conducted some basic market research, it's time to put together a freelance marketing plan.

Freelance Writing Marketing Plans

Your marketing plan will serve as a road map for growing your freelance writing business. This is another step many freelancers skip. If you feel like you're wandering around aimlessly trying to figure out what's next, you need to step back and come up with a plan.

While you would ideally create a comprehensive business and marketing plan, I know many freelancers won't. With that in mind, I created some simplified planning templates to help you out. Below is a link to my one page marketing plan template.

One Page Marketing Plan Template

You can also find a one page business plan template on our Freebies page if you'd like one.

As you can see, this abbreviated marketing plan serves as a snapshot. You'll list some of your biggest competitors, industry trends that will affect your business, your goals and strategies for achieving them, and larger marketing tactics you'll use throughout the year.

If you want a guide to help you fill out that marketing plan template, you can find one at my small business blog.

If you prefer to use a traditional long-form marketing plan to figure out your strategies and next steps in growing your freelance writing business, I suggest reviewing the marketing plan outlines and marketing plan templates available at Mplans.com.

Hopefully these resources will point you in the right direction as you begin to research newer (and better) freelance writing markets and develop your plan to grow and thrive as a freelance writer.

As always, you're invited to share your thoughts, questions, or other recommended resources in the comments below.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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6 Comments

  1. Christine Lebednik October 12, 2011 Reply

    Hi, Jenn:

    I appreciate what you are doing.

    But I have to tell you that while yesterday’s article had great value, the “buzz words” in this one probably went right over the heads of many of the Demand Media writers you are targeting.

    I would suggest to you that terms like “white papers” and “B2B” are completely unknown in and of themselves to those in Demand Media who have relied solely on content mills such as Demand.

    I think the contributors there who would even understand those terms already have a leg up on the “straight out of college” or “still in college” or “this is all I’ve ever done in writing” crowd.

    I would guess that any of those who understand those terms either recognize that they’ve been lazy with Demand or already have other clients/marketing efforts underway.

    Perhaps you can re-think your audience for the remaining articles?

    • Jennifer Mattern October 12, 2011 Reply

      Thanks for your thoughts Christine.

      I agree completely that this advice will be over some folks’ heads. But you might be surprised at how many over-qualified people write for Demand. I coached a Demand writer a while back and documented progress here, and she came with a pretty solid business background. One of the writers here used to work for mill-style sites before moving on, and she has an advanced degree. One of the writers I’m featuring here next week has some impressive business credentials that made it all the more shocking she ever wrote for Demand in the first place.

      There is a good segment in the Demand writer crowd who have the skills to rapidly advance their careers. Some have degrees. Some do not. Some are even fresh out of school (I began while still in college and I’ve known a few incredibly business savvy teens in this industry).

      Our policy here is that we do not hand-hold and we do not coddle. The advice given next week will not be of the warm and fuzzy variety. It’s about professional self respect and being willing to work your ass off if you want to play in higher tier markets. I try not to underestimate our readers. The terms you mentioned aren’t buzzwords so much as standard terms any business writer should know. That’s why I mentioned it was an example specific to business writers (and gave another example just prior to it, mentioning magazine writers). So I’m not too worried about specialized examples going over someone’s head. Between the two, hopefully most readers understood the basic point that market research methods will vary depending on the type of work they want to do.

      This is also why we’re running a separate series next week, looking at five writers’ situations. We have a group with diverse goals and backgrounds. My hope is that readers still struggling with the basics will find something there they can identify with on a more personal level. In the meantime, I plan to focus on those readers who are already in a position to move upward and onward — ones who might just need a kick to get them started and those looking to move past issues of confidence or misunderstandings about freelance markets.

      Those without even basic business skills are a bit out of my scope here. Do you think it would be beneficial to those less experienced writers if I also published a list of resources, free online courses, and such to teach them business basics that can be essential to successful freelancing? If so, I’m happy to do that. :)

  2. Christine Lebednik October 13, 2011 Reply

    Hi, Jenn:

    I do indeed think that it would be beneficial to the less experienced writers at Demand for you to publish a list of resources such as free online courses.

    In your previous article, you mentioned specialization. Because of that, even experienced writers may not know all the terms in a different market segment. For instance, I have Tech Writing experience but it is in the area of Policies and Procedures and of Software Manuals.

    I didn’t myself realize I had actually written a couple of “white papers” until I found the term defined in a book by a well-known business writer a couple of months ago. I’d done them, but it was early in my career and the companies [small companies] didn’t call them that.

    It’s just that sort of learning curve a lot of these people need, so I’m sure they will appreciate any resources you can suggest to them. I know many of the DMS writers [and probably editors, also] are following your series.

    Christine Lebednik

    • Jennifer Mattern October 13, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Christine. I’ll two more of the series posts up today, and another tomorrow. Due to other commitments, I may or may not be able to put up a resource list over the weekend. I’ll do my best to get that up. If not then, I’ll put it up at the start of next week when we kick off the next portion of this post series (those focused on individual writers).

  3. Christine Lebednik October 13, 2011 Reply

    Great, Jennifer.

    Thank you so much.

    I can tell you that many of these writers are very grateful for any steerage they can get.

    Anything you can suggest to them is very worthwhile.

    Christine Lebednik

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