On Niche Writing

The available pool of freelance writers is growing every day as more men and women find themselves in need of non-traditional employment in a job-scarce market. As a freelancer, specializing can be one of the best decisions you make for yourself professionally, as it significantly reduces the competition you need to fight off to reach potential clients. As long as it’s an industry that needs marketing, you’ll always be able to find contacts to solicit – if it’s an “odd” niche, all the better!

I came into freelancing on the heels of an unusual job writing item copy for an adult product store. Naturally, I was a little embarrassed when I first started there, but a few items in I realized that even “marital aids” were products when all was said and done; the same formula applied to writing about unmentionables as it did to, say, a flower vase. What does it look like, what does it do, why does a customer need it – the holy trinity of product description questions helped guide me past my initial shock and I became very quickly comfortable with the subject matter. Hundreds of descriptions later it became time to find a new job, but I went out with an unusual skill set to my credit.

Now, I’ve written for distributors, manufacturers and even performers in the adult industry, all without batting an eye. I noticed that other writers in my position erred towards brash and filth. This was a perfectly legitimate approach in some cases, but used too broadly it ran the very concerning risk of alienating shy buyers. I crafted a classy and sensual approach to the descriptive words and turns of phrase I used, and it opened – and continues to open – many doors for me.

Naturally, I had to weigh my options about being “out” and admitting I wrote these sorts of things, which in turn put me at a risk for alienating potential clients and companies because of the sort of work I was attached to. After I considered the pros and cons, I decided to be somewhat discreet but still include the work in my public profile. I don’t use my byline in work I do for clients, so the risk is minimal to them while the chance to get my skills advertised to the public puts me in a good position to gain more niche clients.

My advice to new writers is to pick a niche or specialty that they already know a great deal about, or one that interests them. Certainly there are popular topics right now, such as selling gold for cash online, but choosing that means you’d be competing against all the other writers who have discovered the same trend. Model trains, breastfeeding, even cooking on a budget can all be areas of expertise if developed and marketed properly.

So – what’s your niche?

Writer Gear Review: Microsoft Speech Recognition

It should come as no surprise that I’m a fairly prolific writer, turning out thousands of words every day. It’s my job and I love it, but sometimes my wrists fail to share that same enthusiasm. I’ve tried ergonomic keyboards, cushioned mouse pads and taking frequent breaks, but it didn’t occur to me until recently that maybe the system of text entry was the real problem.

After being bombarded by ads for the Dragon NaturallySpeaking program, the part of my brain that had relegated Dragon to service in the court reporting and medical transcript sectors started pondering a little deeper. I can certainly talk a great deal (just ask my husband!) and I began to consider the usefulness it might hold for me. After all, I owned a set of headphones with a swing-down boom mic for my video gaming habit (even a writer needs to take a break!) and it certainly couldn’t be that hard to set up.

However, Dragon NaturallySpeaking costs money. When you freelance for a living, you learn to do without a lot of bells and whistles in the lean times, and a fancy program was not a strict necessity. I hit the trusted roads of Google to seek out a free alternative, and was delighted to discover my computer already held a speech-to-text gem of a program called Microsoft Speech Recognition. I booted it up, strapped on my headset and waded through an especially trying tutorial before I got to dip my toe in the futuristic waters of talking directly to my computer.

I didn’t imagine it would have more positive implications beyond staving off carpal tunnel, but boy was I wrong. Even with my 65+ WPM typing speed – a fairly impressive rate, in my opinion – I can’t keep pace with this wonderful program. It’s intriguing to watch the words simply pop into existence as they leave my lips, not form slowly letter-by-letter as they do in manual typing. I timed a few pieces and was surprised to find that I was finishing assignments faster by using Microsoft Speech Recognition. I could select, delete and even replace words with a simple spoken command, jump to the end of the document, and even spell out words that my muddled former-jersey accent couldn’t communicate properly.

The best part of the program is that it learns. While this does not bode well if Terminator ends up being prophetic rather than simply an entertaining movie franchise, in the short term it makes my life easier. Eventually “are roddick” became “erotic” consistently and I was making less and less corrections to the sometimes-hilarious and autocorrect-like renderings of the program.

There are times, such as this one, where I prefer the “old fashioned” way of typing, but for my work it’s become a 70-30 split between Microsoft Speech Recognition and manual typing. If you freelance, I highly recommend you try it out!

Working With Locally Owned Businesses

I wouldn’t be much of a marketing girl if I didn’t know how to promote and sell my own services. I have my snazzy business cards in my purse for all occasions, and even a few backups in my camera case for when I’m out adventuring. My friends and family all know what I do, and they aren’t shy about promoting me in my absence, or backing up a “pitch” to a business owner if I run across one in our mutual travels.

Ultimately, working with large, national businesses provides me with stability, but it sometimes lacks the personal touch and unique experience that drew me into freelancing to begin with. That’s why, living in a town full of farmers markets, festivals, and street fairs, I’ve taken a slightly more unusual tack with potential clients – beyond the usual brief pitch, I offer an unusual alternative that many other freelancers haven’t considered.

I feel passionately that it’s important to balance shopping at mega-marts with patronizing local businesses, both for financial and ethical reasons. That’s why I almost always offer a barter for my services, right out of the proverbial gate. The benefits are many – I get food, soap, services, car repair, even rent discounts for something I’m familiar with, the client is more likely to hire me if they can “buy” my writing services with stock on hand, and I typically get some word of mouth advertising in the deal as well. I’m supporting my local business, and it’s considerably easier to write about something I can physically eat, experience, or visit over something I have to examine through the internet.

The next time you’re looking for clients, take a few cards and be willing to give a nod to the very beginnings of commerce – item for item, skill for skill. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you end up with!

Copywriting vs Copyright

When I tell people I write for a living, there are often a few moments of confusion as they try to discern what exactly it is that I do. I used to refer to myself as a copywriter, but in spoken conversations (and even a few written ones) I found this often led to a mistaken conclusion that I rubber-stamped patent applications for a living. When I call myself a freelancer, I find that the average person attributes the term to a more artistic bent – graphic designers and the like. When I call myself a writer, people instantly summon up phrases like “great American novel” and “poetry anthology”.

While it is true that a writer, novelist, copywriter, copy righter, designer, and freelancer can all be facets of the same person, it’s considerably more likely that only one or maybe two apply when speaking about a single entity. I’ve decided to clarify a few terms in this post so those that may be confused as to the meanings can get an easily broken down guide.

Workers of any sort: as with any potentially business-related interaction, bear in mind that you are in a position to gently (and without condescension) educate, but should always refrain from taking offense over a simple misnomer. It’s a positive thing to be proud of your work, but a negative thing to let it go to your head!

The terms are below, for your reading pleasure. Anything in italics is courtesy of Dictionary.com .

Writer: A person who writes. Period. This can reference anything from limericks written for personal enjoyment only to giant ad campaigns for million dollar companies.

Freelancer: A writer, artist, or other skilled tradesperson who sells services to different employers without a long-term contract. A freelancer will often be doing several small jobs for different companies at the same time.

Copywriter: A person who writes copy, typically for the purposes of marketing and advertisement.

Copy: the text of a news story, advertisement, television commercial, etc., as distinguished from related visual material.

Copyright: the exclusive right  to make copies,  license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc.  A good way to distinguish this from a Copywriter – a writer of copy – is simply to break down the word. Someone who has a copyright has a right to make copies!

Hire a Freelancer

Those who need to hire a freelancer can be looking for a number of things –  a decent product description for a retail site, a ghost-writer for a blog to drive traffic, or a creator of informative articles that give substantive content to site visitors. There are many different sites out there that will allow someone with a job to find someone seeking to work, but the prospective employer should spend his or her money wisely and investigate the benefits of each.

What Is A Freelancer?

A freelancer is an individual who typically works on their own doing various skilled tasks for a variety of employers; writers, for the purpose of this article. Occasionally, these writers will be in a writing group, team, or collective that is linked professionally, but more often they work on their own. They take care of their own tax considerations, making them a great choice for employers who only need a few things done but don’t want the hassle of filing forms. If the cumulative payments to a single freelancer reach $600 in a given year, however, the employer should request the freelancer give them a W-9 form to keep on file beyond the $600 mark.

How Do I Work With A Freelancer?

Hiring a freelancer the correct way should take a fairly routine path from discovery to project completion.

1.) The employer posts a job on a freelance for hire website, clearly defining their project, goals, time line and expectations.

2.) The employer selects a freelancer either through direct choice or by picking a winner in the bidding process that most freelancer sites offer.

3.) The employer makes initial contact with the winner, confirming they intend to do the project, and reaffirming goals and time line. Contact information, such as office phone numbers and email addresses should be shared now, in order to keep in contact throughout the project. This is the stage in the process where payment method would also be confirmed; most freelance sites have a built-in payment system, which often takes a large fee from the freelancer in return, but offers intervention services for the employer if the project goes sour.  (If the freelancer is trustworthy and can provide a portfolio or references, they would generally always prefer to be paid directly through a payment site like paypal, rather than going through the freelance website.  This is a judgment call the employer can make, based on how they feel about the freelancer’s professionalism.)

4.) The project begins, and the freelancer should give periodic updates in accordance with the goals and time line mentioned in the original job posting.

5.) The project ends, and the freelancer submits the final project for confirmation and approval. After approval, which should be done as soon as possible by the employer, the employer is expected to pay in a timely fashion.

6.) If the employer withholds pay without a reason, or does not pay in a timely fashion, the freelancer may report the employer, or place them on an industry “blacklist” to warn other freelancers. Likewise, if the freelancer does not perform their duties, the employer may review or rate them poorly on the freelance site to warn other employers not to hire them. Generally, this does not happen in the age of email, as communication is quick and simple, and problems in the process are easily avoided through communication.

What Can I Expect To Pay For A Freelancer?

The subject of payment rates can vary wildly, depending on the freelancer. Most freelancers have a favorite task – some like descriptions, others are excellent at rewriting – and can sometimes offer a slightly lower rate on methods and subjects they are most comfortable with, for obvious reasons. In general, if you are paying less than .01 a word, expressed within the industry as 1/100, you risk getting sub-par work that may have errors in grammar, flow, and even spelling.  There are many foreign copy “pools” of workers that are no better than literary sweat shops, and while they can turn out a high volume of words, very cheaply, the end results will make your business look worse, not better.

As an aside, you should, whenever possible, hire a domestic (United States Based) freelancer for copy and writing work in English. While a foreign freelancer might have a good overall grasp of the language, even certain subtle differences in phrasing will instantly tip off your customers to the fact your writer isn’t American.  When you are hiring an American freelancer, you can be sure that you are getting solid and fluent English work, written in the voice of a native speaker.  Another important note is to look for individualized interest; if the same pat or unrelated text is pasted in every bid a freelancer makes on a website, it isn’t a stretch to assume their work may also be rather generic or cut-and-paste.  Select bids that make mention of your project directly, and hire freelancers that take the time to send a private message about the project to you.

Your Business, Your Voice

You’ve worked hard to get where you are – every decision, every expense, every risk is a weight that a business owner has chosen to shoulder. Whether you’ve been a business for days, months, or years, having one is a lot like having a child – it is a persistent presence in your life, and one that needs special care and attention to grow into your desired future. When you work on building your brand, you may focus on pictures, logos, colors….but have you considered your words carefully?

The best picture, even worked over by the most brilliant photo editor in the world, may actually have a negative effect on your business if it is coupled with a poorly written, inaccurate, or even misspelled description. I see it this way – If you spend an hour dressing up but forget to put deodorant on, which do you think your date will remember: how polished you looked, or how badly you smelled?

Words are an inextricable part of any object or service being sold; even among those who “don’t read”, these carefully crafted blurbs define your business image. Ignore them at your profit’s peril!