I stumbled across André’s website after googling – ‘how to niche down as a freelance writer’. I was impressed by the amount of insights I was able to glean from reading his content. That’s why I reached out and asked him to take part in my interview series. I have certainly learned a lot from interacting with him and I hope you do too.
Tell me about yourself
I’m André, and I’ve been stringing words together into (semi)coherent sentences for a living for almost 6 years. This means freelance copywriting is the longest full-time job I’ve ever had… crazy.
Time flies when you’re having fun.
How did you get into freelance writing?
Probably not the recommended way.
I studied to be a lawyer and practiced for 9 years, but it wasn’t for me.
Eventually, I said screw this, I can’t take it anymore. So I quit my job and moved to London to ‘find myself’.
I put together a website, started emailing random businesses, and here I am 6 years later.
I had no plan. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to do. But London is a mean and expensive city, so I ended up spaffing most of my life savings on six months’ rent for a studio the size of a utility cupboard and had to look for a job to tide me over. And that’s when I stumbled on an ad for a job writing album reviews for a music blog.
It paid very poorly — around $20 per review before paypal fees if I remember correctly. But I loved the work. Which made me think, wouldn’t it be sweet if I could do this for a living?
So I put together a website, started emailing random businesses, and here I am 6 years later.
How long did it take to find your writing niche?
Not too long. Maybe around six months.
As a lawyer, I worked in the financial services industry. So at first I wanted to avoid the field at all costs.
I didn’t really try other niches. I’d just pitch for whatever grabbed my interest and take on anything and everything that was offered to me. If it paid me to write, I’d do it.
Then I signed up a client in the fintech space. I enjoyed writing for them. And I had the knowledge and experience from my old job. So I figured, instead of fighting it, why not embrace it?
I do have to say niching is something I feel very strongly about.
There are a lot of misconceptions around what it is and how it works. There seems to be this idea that it means backing yourself into a corner and doing one thing and one thing only for the rest of your career.
What you’re really doing when you’re niching is targeting your offer. You’re defining your audience and getting yourself known for doing something specific. Which makes it easier to stand out, be remembered, and also get referrals.
If you’ll allow me a shameless plug, I put down my thoughts on niching fairly comprehensively here.
Have you ever had a horrible client experience? How did you handle it?
I’ve had a few. It’s inevitable, and that’s OK.
I think the sooner you accept that you won’t — can’t — be right for everyone, the better it is. And, similarly, not every client is right for you. Over time, you get better at choosing the projects that are a good fit and saying no to those that aren’t.
But it’s a skill you have to work at.
What are your thoughts on content mills? Is it worth using them?
It’s a hard no from me.
Does that mean I’ve never tried them? Another no.
I was on a content mill and I wrote about my experiences here (second shameless plug).
There are three things that bother me about the mills.
Firstly, the barriers to entry are low. Anyone can join one and start pitching. That sounds like a good thing. But when there are hundreds of people with varying degrees of experience all vying for the same few jobs, it inevitably becomes a race to the bottom because you’re on the wrong side of the supply-demand equation. And competing on price is a losing battle. There will always be someone who can do it cheaper than you.
Secondly, you’re on borrowed real estate. The mill owns the client and sets the terms. And if they decide to shift the goalposts, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Lastly, the dynamic isn’t conducive to good work. The pay is low, the deadlines are tight, and the expectations are usually unreasonable. Most of the time that means it’s impossible to do the job properly, which isn’t good for you or the client. The only winner is the content mill.
When there are hundreds of people with varying degrees of experience all vying for the same few jobs, it inevitably becomes a race to the bottom because you’re on the wrong side of the supply-demand equation.
What common mistakes have you seen new freelancers make?
- Not differentiating themselves. You need to have something that sets you apart and makes you memorable, whether it’s specialising in a particular industry, specialising in a particular type of writing, your unique voice, your branding, or something else.
- Getting hung up on perfection. Nobody is a master at this right out of the gate. You learn and improve as you go. Perfectionism is the enemy of action.As my friend Sophie Cross would put it, you need to ‘start before you’re ready’ if you want to make progress.
Nobody is a master at this right out of the gate. You learn and improve as you go. Perfectionism is the enemy of action.
What is a typical day like for you?
I tend to start fairly late — usually around 11am or 12pm — because I’m useless in the mornings. I work until around 6pm and if I’m running a bit behind I’ll put in a few more hours after dinner. I find I think more clearly and can work for longer stretches in the evening or late at night.
One thing that’s made a huge difference is that I’ve started batching my meetings and having them all on the same day.
Having several meetings back to back is exhausting and means I won’t be able to fit any client work. The trade off is that I’m guaranteed 4 solid days a week with no interruptions.
How important is social media for your writing business?
The freelance community on Twitter is incredibly helpful and supportive. Being a freelancer can be lonely but I never feel that way because my online friends make me feel connected, especially the #ContentClubUK community (Third shameless plug, sorry. #ContentClubUK is a Twitter chat that’s on every Tuesday between 11:00am and 11:30am GMT. You can follow along using the #ContentClubUK hashtag).
We also refer work to each other, which just goes to show. Other freelancers aren’t your competition. They’re your colleagues, endless sources of inspiration, and they could also be where your next lead comes from.
I have more of a love-hate relationship with LinkedIn. In the sense that I can’t bloody stand it but I get a fair few leads from it.
Perhaps I should take it more seriously.
The freelance community on Twitter is incredibly helpful and supportive.
What advice will you give to a new freelance writer?
Just go for it. Head down and do the work.
I’ve already said this but it bears repeating. Nobody is a master at this on day 1. So while it’s important to stay humble, don’t let self-doubt hold you back. The more you work, the better you’ll get at it.
Andre can be found on Twitter at @Andre_Spiteri and on his website at www.maverickwords.com.