Did you know that 41% of the American workforce freelanced in 2020 — an increase of 13% since 2013?
You might have seen a statistic like that before — typically referenced in articles promoting freelancing and working in the gig economy. And it’s true that millions of people are freelancing across the world.
What articles referencing those statistics don’t necessarily say, though, is how the growing percentage of freelancers means more competition and undercutting when it comes to working in the gig economy.
While it’s great to think your writing horizons are expanding because of the capabilities technology has given us, what’s not so great is figuring out how to make a name for yourself when everyone and their dog is trying to do the exact same.
How do you stand out in the gig economy as a writer when there’s more and more competition every day?
It starts by finding the right niche. A very deep niche.
As a gig writer, it’s easy to feel like narrowing your focus too much will lessen your options when it comes to finding jobs. After all, there are countless writing jobs to be had. Won’t “niching down” nix those broader opportunities?
But that’s a good thing because those broad “writing” jobs also come with heaps of competition, meaning you’re likely to never be seen anyways. Choosing a niche, however, means automatically eliminating tons of that competition and giving you an easier chance to shine.
Look at it this way:
If you’re a writer, you’re going up against millions of other writers in the world for any given job. On the other hand, if you’re a “pharmaceutical writer who specializes in product reviews,” for example, you’ll be narrowing your competition down to a select few who hold that same title. And while that might mean there are fewer jobs available to you, the ones that are will typically be:
- Higher paying because the client or company is looking for a specialist, not a generalist
- Easier to complete because when you specialize in a specific area, you’ll already be familiar with the processes, lingo, and technical aspects, rather than having to perform in-depth research for every new job
- Less saturated with other applications and proposals
So, how do you choose a niche?
First, decide who you write for.
Do you write for tech websites, travel magazines, or fashion brands, for example?
If so, that’s a great start, but you’re not finished there. You don’t just want to be a “tech writer,” “travel writer,” or “fashion writer.” That’s not specific enough.
Keep narrowing down by figuring out what you write.
Do you write tech articles related to artificial intelligence? Or maybe travel-related articles advertising luxury trips, like safaris and cruises? What about product reviews for companies selling wedding dresses?
Using those examples, your niche could be:
- A tech writer for sites or publications about artificial intelligence
- A travel review writer for outfits offering luxury tours, like safaris and cruises
- A fashion product-review writer for wedding dress companies
While there might be fewer overall jobs related to such specific skill sets, when you find employers looking for them, you become the “no-brainer” choice for the job.
Of course, once you’ve honed in on your niche, you still need to know there’s a demand for the specialty.
Ask yourself the following:
- When you do a Google search, do you find people asking questions related to your niche on sites like Quora or Reddit, or in Facebook groups?
- Are there other successful writers marketing within the same niche?
- Do you see job boards listing related opportunities?
If there’s no chatter about “children’s writers who teach advanced knitting techniques” (weird example, I know, but it makes a point), you’ve probably gone too narrow. If, on the other hand, there is online talk about “female writers who teach advanced knitting techniques,” well, now you’re onto something.
Find a healthy balance between choosing a specific niche, while making sure there’s still demand for it.
Find Your Target Market
Once you’ve chosen a niche, it’s time to seek out your target market — the people ready and willing to pay for your skills.
There are 3 main areas to look for clients or companies with a need for your writing skills:
- Job boards
- Online groups
Finding gigs through referrals is the easiest first step you can take because whoever you end up pitching to will already have a connection to you in some way, whether it’s through friends, family, colleagues, or past clients.
Reach out to your network for connections — there’s no better way to easily land a gig.
Job boards are the next step in the process because they’re already targeted directly at you (assuming you’re using a writing-specific job board like the one here on Freelance Writing Gigs).
When you access a job board, you’ll be instantly connected to people looking for writers. The trick is to move through the job listings and find ones your niche-specific skills cater to. (Writing a great pitch comes next, which we’ll get to.)
An often overlooked outlet for finding your target market is in online groups — think Facebook Groups or niche-specific forums, for example.
The mistake a lot of writers make is just joining writing groups. The key is to join groups related to your niche. So, if you write tech guides for websites, you might join tech groups (get as specific as you can with these).
How does that give you an “in” when it comes to getting gigs?
Well, you start by helping — as much as you can. When someone asks a question, you answer it. If anyone needs advice, you give it. After a thriving conversation is started, you contribute.
Eventually, you’ll become an expert on your topic, and I can guarantee people within your group will be running websites, publications, or businesses related to your niche. As you connect with them, you’ll be able to offer your writing services, and if you’ve already helped them in some way within the group, whatever job they need done is an easy win.
This method, of course, means playing the “long-game.” If you’re in this for the long-haul, though, you need a long-game.
Writing a great pitch is the most important piece of the puzzle because in the gig economy, you’ll be writing your fair share of them.
A great job pitch can be broken down into 5 main parts:
Every pitch should start with a good intro, which should include both a personal touch, along with a great hook. An easy way to add a personal touch is to address whoever you’re writing to by name. A hook might be a quick sentence about past, similar jobs you’ve successfully completed.
Your hook can lead into the proof — where you provide testimonials or hard numbers related to past work. Did you write an article that got 1,000 social shares? Did the product description you wrote for that one magazine lead to a 10% increase in product purchases? Did the blog post you wrote earlier this year end up on the first page of Google?
All those instances are great examples of proof because they don’t just tell prospective clients you’ve completed jobs; it shows them you’ve gotten results, and that’s what people are after.
3. Plan of action
Clients and employers don’t post jobs simply to get work done. They post them because they have an end goal in mind. If they’re looking for a product review writer, for example, they likely want more sales. If they need a blog writer, maybe they want more website traffic. Whatever it is, you can guarantee there’s an end goal in mind.
The most important thing you can do in a job pitch is address that end goal, and then describe how you’ll help meet it. That means you can’t simply tell a prospect how great of a writer you are and call it a day. You need to show them you understand their goals and are confident in helping achieve them.
Break down your plan of action into succinct bullet points. If you’re applying to become a copywriter for an insurance website (where their end goal is likely to sell more insurance plans), for example, your action list might look something like this:
- Interview key people within the insurance company to learn about the brand, goals, and starting point
- Run in-depth market research (including specific methods)
- Write 2 copies of the insurance plan sales page to run split tests
Your plan of action should be as specific as possible, and it should always be goal-oriented; target the end result your prospective client is after.
In traditional employment, the defining moment in any interview is when an employer asks if you have any questions.
In the gig economy, it’s no different. Only now, you don’t have to be put on the spot. Instead, you can come up with perfect questions, without any pressure.
The key, yet again, is to make sure your questions are goal-oriented. If the client’s looking for a blog writer to help bring more traffic to their website, for example, you might ask how much traffic they’re currently getting, and what percentage increase would feel like a “win” for them.
The questions don’t have to be mind-blowing or earth-shattering; they just need to show the client you have their end goals in mind.
In the gig economy, there’s no room for things like, “I’ll look forward to hearing back” at the end of a proposal because that leaves your pitch open-ended. Instead, give the prospective client direction. Tell them what to do next, and be specific.
End your pitch by offering several times to get on a call to discuss the project. Don’t forget to remind the client that if those times don’t work, you can be flexible.
Better yet, set up an account on an app like Calendly, where you can send the client a link to schedule a call directly within your calendar — no back and forth required.
If you end your pitch without strong direction (or a call to action), your potential client might just put your pitch on the backburner while they look through others. If, however, you give them specific steps to take, they’ll be more likely to follow through on those steps.
Working in the gig economy means taking multiple jobs at a time, working for various clients, and needing a constant influx of both new and existing work offers. That means, as soon as you become complacent with seeking out new job opportunities, you’re at risk of losing your income.
The trap too many gig workers fall into is that of the “yo-yo” workflow.
It looks like this:
- There’s a lack of work, so the freelancer puts a big effort into finding new work.
- The freelancer gets busy with their influx of work, so they stop looking for more work.
- The existing jobs come to an end, and the freelancer is again left with no work.
- Rinse and repeat.
The flaw in this “yo-yo” pattern of freelance work is, each time existing jobs come to an end, the freelancer’s paycheck disappears, which brings on a mad rush to replace it. The whole process is a recipe for stress. It’s also very reactive, meaning the only time a freelancer looks for new work is when the existing work goes away.
Instead, you need to be proactive.
There are a few main ways to stay proactive when it comes to finding, having, and keeping gigs:
1. Stacking your jobs
Send more pitches than you need, and schedule the work throughout the following few months. Or, in other words, accept jobs to do now, and once the current month is filled up, tell clients you’ll be able to start their work the next month, and the next.
A lot of freelancers are afraid to do this out of fear the client will just move onto the next candidate. If you’ve gone through all the above steps in this article, though, and clients see you as the best fit, they’ll wait.
2. Schedule “pitch time” each week
Even if you currently have enough work, still make a point to schedule an hour each week to send pitches. When accepted, you can “stack” those jobs to be done after your existing ones.
3. Keep networking
You can never have too big of a network, and the more people you connect with, the more referrals you’ll get. Make sure friends, family, and colleagues are constantly aware you’re still in the writing business. Stay active on the Facebook groups or forums you’ve joined, and consider writing guest posts on relevant websites in your niche to get your name in front of new audiences (if you’ve mastered your freelance gig pitch, sending guest post pitches will be a breeze).
Working in the gig economy can be stressful. Becoming successful in the gig economy can be downright overwhelming. Fortunately, you don’t have to go up against low-cost freelancers looking to undercut the market, and you certainly don’t have to face feast or famine by yo-yoing through gigs.
Instead, follow these specific steps to build a profitable and stable gig-based career:
- Choose a specialized niche within the broad job title of “writer.”
- Find your target market and connect with them.
- Perfect your pitches and keep them results-oriented.
- Stay proactive with your income rather than reactive.
By keeping those gig-economy staples in mind, you’ll be able to progress your career with direction and intention (aka a lot less stress, and a lot more success).
This post was written by Kristen Youngs. She co-operates two online businesses while traveling the world full-time. Her website, One Bag Nomad, teaches other people how to travel long term while working remotely. You can also find her on Pinterest.
First published in 2018; updated January 2022