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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.