How To Go Beyond Fast-Food Writing Work

Mindy Tyson McHorse here, joining you for another exciting week at The Writer’s Life.

I have one of my very favorite topics in mind for you: FOOD.

In my book, the topic of food is amazingly relevant to life as a freelance writer — especially right now, since most of us are either recovering from Thanksgiving feasts or looking ahead to holiday spreads.

I want to show you how your attitude toward food correlates with freelancing success.

But, don’t worry — this series has nothing to do with dieting or restraining! It’s also not about overwhelming yourself — bingeing, for example. I want to steer you away from that.

Though, to be honest, “project-bingeing” is something a lot of new freelancers get caught up in.

It happens when you land a client, and then another, and then another. Before you know it, you’re churning out projects left and right. You hardly have time to savor the experience of being a freelancer, or even get something out of it. You become a project machine.

You might feel a surge of satisfaction at first. After all, having a ton of clients means you’re doing well, right? But then gradually, you get overwhelmed. Your writing starts to suffer.

Freelancers who fall into this habit are a lot like the drive-up window at a fast-food restaurant. Their goal is to serve up a client order as fast as possible — and for a bottom-line price.

You can certainly build a career around that attitude … but you’ll never make a lot of money. You’ll also get worn out early on, which means you won’t enjoy all this lifestyle has to offer.

Here’s a better way: specialize to maximize.

Instead of the fast-food approach, you need a fine-dining-restaurant attitude. Let me give you an example.

Here in my town, there’s a relatively new restaurant that already has a reputation for awesomeness.

It was opened by a chef who made a name for herself by creating entrees out of organic, local foods. She built her reputation as a chef at other restaurants until she could open her own, the self-titled Jennifer James.

It’s not the fanciest place in town. The décor is modest and the location is unremarkable. It closes up for multiple-day vacations when the owner feels like it. When the restaurant is open, it doesn’t follow standard hours.

To be honest, it’s hard to even land a reservation, since hours and seating are limited.

But that doesn’t stop Chef James from charging $20 – $35 a plate. She even hosts tasting parties that start at $75 per person. Her restaurant has been written up as a favorite in national travel and leisure guides. It was even voted as a “Best of the City” finalist this past year.

Needless to say, the place has skyrocketed in popularity.

That’s exactly the kind of approach you need to take in your freelance writing business. One where you decide what you offer, not your clients. You decide when you work — and for how much. You let clients come to you. More than that, you make them scramble to get an “in” with you.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Okay, I get the concept, but how do I do that?”

Here’s how you elevate your writing approach from fast-food drive-up window status to fine, in-demand restaurant quality:

  1. Be specific about how you want to specialize and write it down. Either pick a subject-focused specialty (e.g., technology, alternative health, aviation, day trading, insurance, etc.) or a technique-focused specialty (e.g., writing autoresponders, e-newsletters, case studies, web content, or white papers).

    You can’t make forward progress if you don’t know where you’re going. Don’t take the easy way out by claiming to be indecisive.

    Choose a goal in a niche that makes you tremble with excitement. Copywriter Pam Foster did this when she switched to the pet niche — a subject she’s totally devoted to. Write your goal down, and review it every day. (By the way, if you’re having a hard time choosing a niche, take a look at Pam Foster’s program Niche Yourself and Thrive! She shows you how to attract your ideal clients faster by creating a focused copywriting business plan.)

  2. Make exceptions, but make them temporary. On occasion, you’ll want to take projects outside your preferred niche because they pay the bills or get you a viable sample. That’s fine — and it’s great professional practice. Just remind yourself that those jobs are temporary and that you’re headed toward something bigger.
  3. Tell trusted, close friends or family what you want to do. Also, tell them what you want to avoid as a freelance writer (working long hours for low pay). Ask them to check in with you every now and then. This will help you stay accountable to your commitments.
  4. Team up with others who want to launch long-term, profitable freelance writing businesses. Support from those on the inside, who relate to your goals, is priceless.
  5. Consistently immerse yourself in the topic you want to pursue. Even if you’re writing for other niches to pay the bills, make sure you stay up-to-date on trends and facts for your chosen industry.

Do what’s needed to set your writing apart and specialize. Once you do, you’ll be able to maximize your time, maximize your income, and maximize your satisfaction.

If you have any questions about this, or want to share a comment — I’m all ears.

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Published: November 28, 2011

14 Responses to “How To Go Beyond Fast-Food Writing Work”

  1. What is the best way to team up with others who want to launch long term freelance businesses?

    I've been interested in doing this for some time now--but am not sure how to do it.

    Please advise.


    Julie Herckenrath

  2. Mindy, Thanks for this great article - I've been trying to decide on a niche for some time and recently landed a B2B client. He's willing to "try me out" and as I researched what AWAI has in training for B2B markets it sounds interesting to me.

    There is a question in our near future, I like the direct format and no-nonsense approach of B2B copy including "no-hype" that seems to go with B2C copywriting.

    In your opinion, or someone elses, do you believe this is the case?

    Here's my question - is B2B a niche or do you sub-niche it into something narrower?


    Guest (Mike)

  3. Hi Mindy, I agree with you about being niche-specific and only doing projects outside your niche in exceptional circumstances. I find myself in that situation now. I am struggling to get my first client for my internet research business. I really believed I would be up-and-running at this stage. But never one to quit, I am approaching other AWAI members offering my research services in return for a nominal fee and an honest testimonial. Have I any takers?


  4. Hi Mindy ~

    Thanks for this. Considering niching myself to creatives (filmmakers, book authors, activists). Not sure what to call that (Petlovers is more specific.

    Actually, I want to work with people who "Do good." Social activism. Inspirational.

    Also, how do we explain the major change on our web homepage? Do we announce - OK, now I'm niching myself?

    I used to work in the film industry and I live in Los Angeles and I don't have alot of current writing work just for film. My portfolio is "many industries."

    I concur. Wears you out. The research alone over & over....

    Peace & profits, Tia D.

    Tia Dobi

  5. Hi Mindy:
    I agree with your idea of specializing and its benefits. But what if I aspire to become a specialized, focused, top quality B2B copywriter? Isn't that a very different kind of copywriting from what I'm learning in the Accerlerated Copywriting Program (which I've already begun)? Am I wasting my time in that program if I ultimately want to become a B2B specialist? Or should I plan to do B2B writing plus some other area like Health or Christian (other "natural" niches for me)?

    Steve T

  6. I believe, I believe. I would love to find a niche and write for it. I'm having such a hard time getting motivated to write about a Super Supplement for Men with an average age of 61.

    I'll continue to plod, plod through it.


  7. It seems to me that the common denominator to this way of doing business is that you have to have something worth lining up for. That means a successful track record and great testamonials. I think that also means some time failing faster and finding out what doesn't work. And what does.

    Right now I'm interested in B2B in the commercial coatings market. My brick and mortor business. Paint is a profitable business. I think there would be a demand for someone who can increase sales in a very competitive and technical market.


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