A friend and I were talking about how one should go about becoming an entrepreneur or freelancer. Every contemporary marketing book will tell you to focus on addressing your target audience’s pain points. The value you bring to them has to be unique and have a positive impact on their lives. The challenging part of this? It starts with building your audience, which doesn’t happen overnight.
Having blogged since 2002—no—having blogged officially since 2009, I never thought like a marketer. Using my blog to make a profit never crossed my mind because I was too busy doing self-therapy with that blog. In other words, it was an incomprehensive head trip to most people; therefore, I wasn’t offering value to anyone but myself.
Between 2007-2010, I was practically combatting depression. If you ever decide to read that blog from the beginning, you will see periods of downfall, clear thinking clouded by medication and anxiety. No one wants to read that. Most of my friends didn’t.
Showcasing my short fiction, novel extracts and work as a music journalist in that blog is the least I can offer to the public. When I was younger, I’d set my hopes too high as a writer. If the ladder you climb disappears in the clouds, make sure it goes beyond the clouds.
Write during COVID
When you’re a young and hopeful writer, you wouldn’t know how high people had set the bars these days. That’s if you haven’t done your research. Some of us weren’t prepared for the series of disillusionment. Rejection, competition and bias exist and have probably become bigger problems for writers than ever, especially for exophonic writers or ESL.
The writer’s struggle is real. Before the pandemic, I was too busy making a living by working jobs that depressed me, leaving hardly any room for me to focus on my writing. When you’re a Millennial, it’s not unusual to work dead-end jobs that you hate. The chances are that you get stressed and burnt-out. This is the inevitable course of disillusionment. To release the stress, you most likely join the gym to remain sane and fit. You get the odd Sunday off to write, but that’s nowhere near enough. I did that for ten years. (No wonder I advanced so slowly.) I probably learned more in the last year than I did in the previous six years.
Depending on where you are and whether your government is supporting you financially, you may be lucky to take some time off to re-evaluate your life, learn new skills that are relevant to the writer you want to become. If you merely say you want to write, you need to experiment with what type of writing is best suited for you.
Last summer, I took some time off to write a horror short story—testing the waters of horror writing. Then, I started writing my second novel, which, I find, is easier to write than my first one. I finally settled with writing about the things I know instead of research-heavy content. Overall, it felt like taking a holiday, revisiting my comfort zone—writing fiction and reading fiction.
- Identify the type of writer you are.
- Take time off to explore yourself if you need to.
- Remember to be realistic.
Business writing style
When I started my first corporate job within the tourism industry, I communicated with sales and coordination offices world-wide, mainly offices located in Asia. You would think that business communication skills were crucial, but nope. You had to write simple English to your sales team in Japan. Polite, short sentences were essential to keep the communication process simple. While doing so, I would frown at several typos from sales, addressing the nightshift staff as “Nightsh*t,” or addressing me as “Dear Paura.”
My English wasn’t advancing at all, and neither were my writing skills.
I gained business writing skills in my previous position as an administrative assistant in the seafood industry. I didn’t have a business writing degree, but I learned about technical writing essentials from all the research work. Unfortunately, technical writing is one of my least favourites. Yet, I assisted in grant writing, pitch decks, executive summaries, and writing web copy. Writing web copy that sells, converts or attracts BDCs was new to me at the time. However, my former boss was very particular with his needs and turned away many skilled business writers. I realized that I didn’t belong there.
- Writers don’t always land a writing position but be grateful if you get to write anything you consider a learning curve.
- If you feel a job is making you go backwards—run!
Intense blog writing became a priority, except that I wanted to start a professional blog. That idea ultimately led me to create a writer’s website. I’ve always pursued a freelance writer’s career, but the thought of becoming one was daunting. It took me a while to overcome that fear, and then I realized that I’ve been preparing myself for years. If I don’t place myself out there now, I won’t ever find out who needs my help. Who is my target audience? Where is my target audience?
What comes next will prove to be more challenging than merely building a writer’s website.
Content writing has become an area of expertise that I enjoy, even with my basic SEO knowledge. It involves regular blogging. (I admit that Content Inc by Joe Pulizzi inspired me to this.) The best blog platform for me is WordPress. Creating my own website and domain struck me as essential. (Wix also provides professional tools, including built-in SEO functionality. They’re pricier, though.)
However, it’s not merely creating a website but being able to promote yourself. For that, you should learn some SEO marketing and invest in a tool. If you opt for advertising, you will most likely get the short end of the stick with no effective ROI. I am referring to freelance writer beginners because you have to work hard to become Google’s friend. It’s like befriending the most popular girl or boy in high school. With Google’s ever-changing algorithm, it’s a daily hustle. But it has to be done if you want to build your audience. I’m still at the bottom of it all.
- Blog regularly and post daily content using an SEO tool that helps you find useful keywords that you can incorporate in your blog and other content.
Social media engagement
My relationship with social media took a toll not long ago. For the longest time, my head was stuck in the past, missing the benefits and intimacy of Myspace. I remember when social media platforms were solely an internal space for friends and families to connect. It’s also where I made new friends for life. I wasn’t too fond of Facebook when it became popular, and I didn’t take the switch easily.
From what I observed, the media began to build a foundation on Twitter. But Twitter was my least favourite social media platform of all. You would think it’s a writer’s paradise, but I felt spammed by people’s streams of consciousness, even though I followed people I liked. I didn’t tweet for many years. When I returned to Twitter, I saw that it wasn’t just stars and celebrities but politicians and every single news reporter that existed. Now think of how many other people are on social media that repeatedly add their two cents worth to whatever well-known people have to say.
Yes, it got too loud!
When I joined Instagram in 2013, I learned about the new hashtag generation and thought it might be fun until I realized that it was, in fact, a new ADD generation (me included). It’s getting worse now. For months, I was going through social media depression, which briefly demoralized my plans to work remotely as a freelance writer. I knew I still had to put myself out there.
Do writers need social media? Is social media for writers? The short answer is yes. (Again, answering for most freelance writer beginners.) If you seek to improve your networking skills and connect with like-minded people, you should follow social media trends and adapt to a norm that will drag you out of your comfort zone. I noticed that grabbing people’s attention got a lot harder than ten years ago. They would care less these days unless you deliver the ultimate value to their bare feet.
Even if social media specialists say that videos are the next big thing, it doesn’t mean you should follow Instagram and TikTok’s reel trends.
Moving towards “vlogging” was something I tried in 2010, and I wish I’d kept it going. YouTube is an excellent platform for social media videos, and I’m trying to incorporate a monthly video or podcast despite being an introverted writer.
- If you’re starting as a freelancer who has a website and wants to connect and network with people, social media is the route to take.
- You will need a strategic plan to fight through the crowd and all the noise, make yourself stand out.
Write, read, learn
Freelance writers aren’t entrepreneurs. As long as you aren’t investing your (or someone else’s) money into creating something bigger than yourself, you are just a freelance writer. And it’s a good thing—that’s all you want. The daily hustle is not a myth, though. To build an audience, you need good content ideas that bring value to the reader. Every day if you can.
If you’re stuck in a job that doesn’t make you happy and all you do is write at night, remember to appreciate your effort and discipline. Identify the progress in your efforts to make the big change happen. Think of a plan and incorporate a to-do list to your nightly writing chores, then dedicate a weekend to outlining the early stages of that plan. Honestly, there’s no rule to follow. Forget all the “how-to’s;” they’re only useful for tackling technical difficulties. Freelance writing is different for everyone; you have to test out what works for you and make sure it’s what you want.
It’s never too late to start a blog. For those who want to make money blogging, it’s essential to find your blog niche. I used my first one for journaling, but that’s not a niche market.
Social media should feel natural to writers. Sometimes it’s necessary to step out of your comfort zone and learn something new. Challenge yourself with a YouTube introduction video, share three fun facts about yourself on Instagram with a selfie. Exposing yourself is not self-centred. You want people to know about you.
Don’t be afraid to share who you are and what you bring to the people you’re trying to reach.
I look forward to your comments and questions 🙂