If you’re not specializing in a niche, you’re making your freelance life harder than it has to be.
Since some tweaks I made during website month, I’ve had a lot more cold contacts coming in (I was getting almost none before, so the four I’ve gotten in the last six weeks are groundbreaking). I had a conversation with one client today who needed some very specific blog posts written and was trying to choose between me and a few other writers. We discussed some of the topics he needed covered and as it turns out, I’d written on the subjects for a few other clients. I was able to send him examples that were very close to the work he wanted done…the final choice won’t be made until next week, but he let me know that I was the frontrunner because of my experience.
There’s no way I would have been able to send him those samples if I didn’t specialize in the kind of writing I do.
For freelancers, specializing in an industry or subject matter (or even client type or need) is the key to simpler marketing, higher rates, and client work that builds on itself. Formal education is a great foundation, but you have so many other options, especially considering the amount of information available online.
If you don’t know where to start though, it can be difficult to figure out exactly how to educate yourself on your topic of choice. That’s why I want to give you 10 ways (some of which you can start right after reading this blog post) that you can educate yourself on the subject area you chose to focus on for your freelance clients.
These are everywhere from your favorite blogs, to professional sites, even here on BlackFreelance. Sites like Udemy offer courses on everything from photography to programming and art, so there’s no reason you can’t familiarize yourself with your clients’ worlds, or even learn a new skill on your own. (Udemy hint…they have some very good sales, so if a course you’re interested in is too expensive, wait a bit and the price might drop drastically.)
Also, don’t forget the power of YouTube where you can access information on an endless variety of topics for free, and old players getting into the online education game like MIT with their free, OpenCourseWare platform. (You can find a list of even more schools at Coursera).
If you’ve spent any decent amount of time online, you’ve probably run across quite a few, very well-done blogs. While the concept of blogging might come off as lacking substance to many people, even the most “serious” industries are likely have professionals or informed individuals discussing topics that are important to your clients’ work. Keep an eye out for these, subscribe, and read regularly. (This is the stuff I like to use my education days for.)
Textbooks aren’t just for students. Though many are overpriced, you can learn a lot of basics, especially from books geared toward freshmen. I once picked up an intro to programming book (recommended by a friend) to help me understand a project back in my days of formal employment. It was something I’d never studied formally, but even just working through the first few chapters allowed me to have deeper conversations with more people.
Don’t let the subject matter intimidate you…every student starts somewhere and there’s an intro text to pretty much anything. (Hint: Keep an eye out for used editions to avoid artificially high textbook pricing).
These are especially helpful if you specialize in a technical or scientific field.
Whatever you do, chances are some professional organization keeps publishes a regular (and usually free) newsletter to keep members of their community connected.
Don’t just think professional organizations though — you can find newsletters that focus on everything from small business issues, to healthcare startup news, to investing, to regional events. Search your keywords and subscribe to anything that looks good.
If an organization doesn’t have a newsletter, they might have a print publication (journal or magazine) or even an electronic one. Take the Oil & Gas Journal for example (a specialization that frequently needs informed writers and webdesigners, along with other types of freelancers). You have the option to subscribe to print or digital editions that connect you not only to information but also expose you to companies that are active and growing in the industry (a.k.a. viable leads).
Ok…so this is one of my personal favorites.
Every Friday, I carve out time to sit and listen to podcasts across my industry. The portability of podcast-based (or any audio) education is what makes it so great…you can listen on your commute while exercising, or anytime you need a break from doing the freelance work you do.
The world of podcasting is expanding quickly, so check for new ones in your specialization every now and again to keep up with the newest ideas in your freelance world.
Since we’re on the topic of mobile education, one of my favorite resources for learning about more traditional topics is audio courses. They come in DVD, CD, and audio or video download versions and cover everything from history, to math and science to photography fundamentals.
My favorite site is The Great Courses (especially when they’re having big sales…around 70% off) and lately, they’ve been expanding into less traditional areas like cooking and brain fitness (subjects in high demand for writing and blogging). They have all the same portability benefits of podcasts, but are better for more foundational understanding of topics.
The world’s in love with alternative education, but for some situations formal degrees and certificates are your best bet.
They carry a lot of weight when it comes to demonstrating to clients that you understand your field, and if you’re in the progress of working on a degree, don’t be shy about using that fact to tie into laying the foundation of a freelance career.
One of the easiest ways to launch a specialization as a freelancer is to have applicable work experience. Depending on the kind of freelancing you want to do in the long term, it might be worth investing a few years in a more traditional work environment to build up your resume and learn the culture and opportunities in your industry.
P.S. If you have any courses, podcasts or newsletters you’ve found useful, leave them in the comments to lend a hand to other freelancers.