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How Not to Fail Your First Few Months of Web Writing

Today, I’m welcoming freelance writer and blogger Bree Brouwer to Write Your Revolution.  Thanks for the great guest post, Bree!

When I started as a freelance writer, I decided I wanted to write not only for magazines, but for online markets. It was a logical decision; everything seems to be going digital, after all. Copyblogger insisted 2013 would be the year for online content writers, so I figured I better hop on that train ASAP.

Despite my enthusiasm and what I perceived to be foresight on my part, I made some very big mistakes early on in my freelance career and ended up struggling through the first three months with no progress or samples to show. No one should have to go through what I did, so I’m here to tell you exactly where and how I screwed up.

Don’t Do What I Did!

Don’t freak out about needing to pick specialization just yet.

The most daunting challenge new freelance writers face is the “where do I start?” hurdle. In fact, there are so many options, you’re pretty sure your brain might explode. How are you supposed to pick the specialization clients will know you for?

Despite all these options, my experience taught me it’s best to wait. I decided within the first two weeks of freelancing that I wanted to write blogs and webzine articles because I had previous experience in those areas. Copywriting, newsletters, and all that other business-y stuff seemed utterly dull to me, and I also figured there’s no way I could compete with freelancers already in those realms.

Guess what happened? Yep. I got no leads and earned nothing my first few months because I wasn’t willing to consider all the options and diversify.

Don’t be stupid like me. You may be interested in only writing for blogs or just pursuing case studies for clients, but your best plan of action is to simply look around, consider your options, and write whatever you can get in the first few months. See which ones you enjoy most and can support your lifestyle, and then start making yourself known as a writer specializing in those areas.

Don’t sabotage yourself by getting hung up on a niche, either.

This is another classic hang-up for many newbie freelancers. You get bombarded with this question: “What do you like writing about? Music?  Nature? The way lint compiles in your belly button?”

I struggled with this question for a few weeks before deciding that I would aim for writing for geek, entertainment, gaming, and culture industries, since that’s where my passion lies. Unfortunately, I quickly found out these paid little to nothing, yet I persisted, thinking that if I kept trying, I’d get some work. It took me three stubborn months to give up on that “niche.”

Instead of trying to find your niche, figure out where your interests and past knowledge lie in order to get a grasp of what you can offer clients. What happens with this approach is that you end up learning about your writing and researching skills, and then you can test those skills against niches you come across the first few months, gradually narrowing down which niches to pursue.

For example, if you worked in retail and marketing before, you can add those niches to your “can-do” list, and you can promote yourself as being knowledgeable of what customers look for in businesses. A word of caution here, though: if you know nothing about a highly technical niche, like SQL databases on computers, and know you’d never be able to translate your writing skills into it, avoid that niche. Your time is better spent elsewhere.

Don’t procrastinate contacting businesses and individuals.

You may have finally gotten past the specialization and niche hurdles and started marketing yourself as a freelance writer, but another roadblock can just as easily show up around any corner: fear. We wonder if we’re good enough, if anyone would actually hire us, and if we should just go back to a regular 9-5. And we stop dead in our tracks.

I know, because I did it. I was eager to start finding clients and made lists of people to contact, and then simply… didn’t. I worried they’d say no and that I’d fall into despair or something. So I procrastinated and procrastinated until I realized I wasn’t going to make money that way.

Fear of the unknown gets us all, no matter if we’re writers, lawyers, or garbage collectors. But we can’t let it get the best of us. If you don’t do what you need to by contacting potential clients, you won’t find success, 100% guaranteed. As a wise, green, pointy-eared alien on Star Wars once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

My first three months as a freelance web writer seemed like a failure because I was stressing about specialization, worrying about my niche, and procrastinating out of fear. But notice that I said they seemed like a failure; while I used to think I wasted all this time, I don’t think so anymore, and I don’t want you to, either. On the contrary, these difficult months actually taught me what to do right from every wrong decision I made!

So now that you know what I did wrong the first few months, you can avoid the same issues yourself. Get out there and make Yoda proud.

Bree Brouwer is a freelance writer, blogger, and copywriter who loves investigating culture, pursuing geek enlightenment, and shopping for deals like a true Dutchwoman. Her desire is to create, discuss, and promote content worth consuming; find her on Twitter at @BreeBrouwer and www.breebrouwer.com

5 Comments

  1. Great advice, Bree!

    I think there should be a little direction toward a niche or specialty, depending on your knowledge/experience, but I definitely agree you can’t just declare it in the first week and end the discussion!

    And thanks for the reminder.. I need to call some potential clients!
    –Craig

  2. This is a wonderful kick in the butt for those who are just starting and already giving up. Like they say it’s always hardest in the beginning. I’ve gone through a lot of the thinking here, and I still consider myself a beginner.

    Now I really need to pursue more clients!

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