Being a freelance writer or creative is a nonstop #hustle at even the best of times, but in the face of an uncertain new world brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, trying to carve out your niche and win assignments from nervous clients can feel nearly impossible. But before your jump ship and start looking for ways to get back into the 9-to-5 grind, know this: In the new normal, your skills as a content creator and storyteller are more important than ever.
Why? Because the economic fallout of the pandemic has proved (once again!) that content is king. Content consumption and screen time is up across the board as people stuck at home turn to both media outlets and brands for education and entertainment. In conjunction with that spike in traffic, paid media spending is down as brands take a shrewd look at their marketing budgets. That’s where content marketing comes in. As a writer, you are in a unique position to bridge the gap between revenue and relationship — connecting with customers and building audiences that may not be ready to buy right now, but that will come back when the water gets calmer.
Here, we break down exactly how you can capitalize on this unique opportunity. All you need is a bit of marketing magic.
Give Yourself An Audit
An audit is almost always where we start when a new client comes on board here at Hawke. So take a step back, and examine yourself as you would one of your clients to figure out what’s working to take your business to the next level, and where you could improve.
- What marketing tactics, if any, are you currently employing? What seems to be working?
- Do you have a portfolio website? Could it use an update or an upgrade? (Hint: YES!)
- Are you putting your SEO knowledge to use for yourself? What keywords could you target on your website to bring in new business?
- How are you leveraging social media? Are you positioning yourself as a thought leader on the right platforms or are you hoping another picture of your cat will reel in a new client?
Chances are you have room to improve in at least one of these areas. So if work is slow, take some time to focus on giving your personal brand an overhaul and kick your digital presence into high gear.
Be Prepared to Pivot
While you’re giving yourself an audit, it can also pay to spend some time to reassess your niche in light of current economic uncertainty. If the industry you typically cover has been hit hard by coronavirus — think hospitality or transportation — it may be time to examine how your skills and expertise in those sectors can apply to others. Perhaps you can pivot your skills marketing restaurants to help meal-delivery services, kits, and CSA boxes reach new audiences and grow their digital presence. Or, you could leverage your knowledge of the wellness space to help gyms and other non-essential brick-and-mortar health services like spas build gated content that will ensure current members stay engaged and attract new paying customers.
In addition to finding new avenues within your current area of expertise, remind yourself that when it boils down to it, content marketers are storytellers. And your ability to root out interesting stories and present valuable information in engaging ways can be applied to nearly any sector you set your sights on.
Create Content for Your Community
Whether you are looking to expand your niche, or are wanting to re-establish yourself as an expert creating content for yourself and others in your community can be a great way to keep yourself active and top-of-mind when paid work is slow. So if your portfolio has a neglected blog section, now is the time to show it some love. Think about your potential audience and build out a content plan that finds the right balance between providing valuable information in your chosen industrythat displays your knowledge of content marketing best practices to potential clients. Then, build yourself a content calendar and get writing.
In addition to writing for yourself, reach out to your peers and community. Is there an industry-focused publication that you have some ideas for? Pitch them! Does your local creative collective have a blog you can create a guest post for? Shoot them an email – no matter how cold the lead is. Think about all of the potential avenues clients might find you, and then get to work building your presence there.
Embrace the Hustle
It doesn’t matter if you’re new to freelancing (welcome!) or a seasoned writer wading through a slow month — getting (and keeping) new clients is a big part of the job. Are you doing everything you can to make sure you’re not leaving business on the table? Here are some tips that can serve as a north star for you when it comes to outreach and client relationship management:
- Personalize your outreach. Rather than firing off an email to the general “contact us” inbox, use tools like LinkedIn to make sure the right people see your note. Are you reaching out to the decision makers? The editorial team? In your email, be sure to describe your background, include a link to your portfolio, list out your areas of expertise, and briefly explain what draws you to the publication, agency or brand.
- Follow up — and follow up again. Many of your potential clients may only be a follow-up (or two) away. Keep a spreadsheet of the businesses you’ve reached out to, and if you haven’t heard back after two weeks, consider sending a friendly email showcasing a new certification you’ve earned or offering an update to your portfolio.
- Check in with past clients. Don’t rely on past clients or points of contact to reach out first. In fact, a quick check-in every quarter can put you on their radar and bring new work your way. Be sure to mention your bandwidth and any new content formats or topics you can confidently tackle.
- Get testimonials. Do you have testimonials on your professional website or LinkedIn profile buzzing about your great work? If not, you’re missing out on the chance to build credibility with prospective clients. Reach out to editors you’ve worked with and who like your work, and offer to write a brief recommendation for them if they return the favor.
- Network with other freelancers. It’s always a good idea to know other freelance writers — they can be your ally when you need pro-tips, advice and even mentorship. But staying in close touch with other types of freelancers — such as graphic designers, marketers and web developers — can lead to writing opportunities that may take you away from long-form editorial work but keep you busy with a turntable of new projects. Join Facebook groups for freelancers and browse LinkedIn and Twitter for opportunities.
Again, whether freelancing is your full-time way of making ends meet or a side hustle to get some extra cash, the real work starts before you even open Microsoft Word. Once you’ve gotten into a good flow, create outreach and follow-up templates that you can easily tailor.
Sharpen Your Skills
Sharpening your skills can help you develop a competitive edge in an ever-changing content landscape. Start by browsing job postings online for content writers in your field(s) of expertise and jotting down the bulleted points under “Job Requirements.” How many of these do you meet? Can you get better at the ones you already have a grasp or working knowledge of? Though you may not be applying for a full-time role, knowing what brands are looking for in successful candidates can help you stand out as a freelancer.
Make two lists: one of the skills you don’t currently have and another of the skills you have but want to polish. Then, do a quick Google search to find free courses or certifications for those skills. For instance, you may want to check out the following:
- HubSpot Academy Content Marketing Courses — a FREE set of courses designed to help you become digitally savvy and understand the role of content in a marketing ecosystem. Takes about six hours to complete and comes with a certification.
- SEMrush Academy Digital Marketing/SEO Courses — a FREE set of courses designed to help you understand SEO best practices and how to integrate them into your content writing. Takes about six hours to complete and comes with a certification.
- Content Marketing Institute — the online Bible of content marketing. Subscribe to receive newsletters with blog posts that help you understand key content trends, innovative formats, resources and more!
In today’s world, digital applications of content range far beyond the traditional blog. Understanding how to write compelling email newsletter copy, Facebook ad copy, Instagram captions and more can open you up to a wealth of opportunities.
It’s never been a better time to grow your freelance business and set yourself up for success. With the tips we’ve outlined here, you can become more agile and valuable to businesses with a variety of content needs. At Hawke, we’re always looking for writers and editors to add to our growing community of freelance talent. Apply to be a contributor here, and feel free to pass the link along to your network!