While many FWJ readers may write primarily for print, I know that many others (like me) have businesses built primarily on writing for online markets. This post targets those of us who make a living online, so to speak.
The Big Question
Why do people pay you to write?
Is it because…
- You’re so damn talented?
- They can’t do it themselves?
- You can make the content creation process more efficient?
- Clients love your website and/or pitches?
- You have a special skill or area of expertise?
Those may be reasons why clients choose you over other writers, but people come to the marketplace in the first place for another reason. They think they can use what you produce to turn a profit. They want to make money.
Sometimes I wonder if too many online writers spend way too much effort thinking about how to get work now and how to compete for gigs while spending far too little effort thinking about that bigger, core question. I wonder if many web-based freelancers may be setting themselves up for future struggles because of it, too.
A Change is Gonna Come
That’s not because I foresee a sudden drop in the demand for online content. On the contrary, I think that a variety of new and even lucrative opportunities is on the horizon. However, I do question the longer-term viability of many markets upon which writers are building businesses. I wonder how many writers will survive and/or react as the Internet and the way we use it changes.
In order to protect yourself and your business, it’s important to delve into the reason why demand for writing exists–the profit potential of the output. That means having both a solid understanding of the strategies clients are employing in pursuit of revenue and the greater trends that will undoubtedly force changes to those strategies and to the marketplace as a whole.
For instance, any writer who isn’t thinking about inevitable changes in the nature of search engines is making a mistake. The search engines don’t stand still. Google and its smaller competitors are constantly refining their approaches and there are a number of reasons to believe that they’ll be forced to make some major adjustments in the relatively near future.
Those changes could have a major impact on what are “bread and butter” for many writers. Traditional article marketing and the mass production “content mill” approach will have a difficult time thriving in an improved search environment.
Last week I posted an interview with SEO Kieran Flanagan here at FWJ. He made a point of discussing both the changing face of link acquisition for SEO and the growing role of social media in his business. The days of using 500-word articles at a pre-ordained keyword density level and fueling them with a series of easy-to-acquire, low-grade links is on its way out. At the very least, the writing is on the wall.
At my blog, I recently posted about the less-than-rosy long-term future of low-quality content mill work due to market forces within the search sector and the increasingly untenable hypocrisy of Google in terms of how they’ve “banned” paid links yet are allowing other intentional methods of subverting their search algorithm to have an impact on SERPs.
You don’t need to agree with my perspective to recognize that there’s a lot boiling under the surface in the way people find and use information online. No matter how you think it all might unfold, you can be certain that, in the words of Sam Cooke, “a change is gonna come.”
Preparing for Change
We often talk about the need to spread risk when developing an overall approach to building a freelance writing business. That need is usually expressed in terms of “not putting all of your eggs in one basket.” That’s rock-solid advice–in the short run. In the longer run, it’s just as important to have a sense of what future eggs may look like and if there may be new ways to store them. Hell, the eggs we gather today may be poisonous before too long and we might all be laughing at the antiquated notion of using baskets.
People pay writers because they want to make money. Writers who aren’t sufficiently prepared to transition their talents and to apply them to new contexts aren’t going to be in the best position to help clients make money. Writers who have over-invested in strategies that seem to have a limited lifespan could be setting themselves up for a more difficult future.
That doesn’t mean anyone should abandon any part of his or her business that’s currently producing a nice stream of revenue. Make hay while the sun is shining. However, one should probably do that with an awareness of the need to move on to new markets and new approaches once the limitations of those activities start to become increasingly visible. Otherwise, you might find yourself well behind the curve while other writers profit from being ahead of it.
The Moral to the Story
Continue to focus on being a badass writer who offers the world’s greatest customer service. Continue to work on distinguishing yourself in the marketplace and do everything you can to become the best choice among those who are looking for a writer.
At the same time, look ahead. Make a point of learning more about why potential clients are looking for a writer in the first place and study the hell out of the marketplace and the kind of changes in advertising, search, social media, and all of the other things that are going to force changes in the way people conduct business and information acquisition on the ‘Net.
If you’re going to focus on online markets, be smart, nimble, well-informed and an expert in larger trends.