Ask a Freelancer: Is the Grass Always Greener on the Other Side of the Church and State Wall?By Nicole Dieker July 20th, 2015
I’ve been doing well as a freelancer for consumer publications and have written for dozens of top websites, newspapers, and magazines. But I know that the publishing industry is changing and that B2B writing is where the “real” money is. Any advice on how to leverage my success in one field to switch to another?
—Show Me The Money
I am a freelance copywriter but I really, really, really want to transition into becoming a freelance journalist. I am a full-time copywriter earning around $36K/year but I know that I am capable of so much more. There are social issues that I’m passionate about and that I want to amplify with my own byline.
—Wanting a Bigger Scoop
I feel a bit like Ursula the Sea Witch right now, reading letters from two poor unfortunate souls. “This one wants to make more money, this one wants to change the world.” And do I help them? Yes, I do!
The thing about freelancing is that it doesn’t have to be either/or. You don’t have to sign your writing voice away to any one type of client or publication. You can take on a myriad of different clients, and build a career that includes copywriting, journalism, B2B projects, poetry, essays, product descriptions, video game dialogue, and so on. With freelancing, you really can do it all.
Sure, as your freelance career progresses you will probably find that most of your work falls into a few specific buckets or beats. But that does’t mean you can’t also take on a lucrative B2B opportunity or write an investigative piece about an issue close to your heart. You just need to pitch that piece or land that client, and you’ll have one more job to add to your portfolio.
At this point in my career, I write primarily for blogs. Some of these blogs, like Splitsider, require me to wear a journalist’s hat; others, like Unbounce, are about sharing actionable tips with web marketing professionals. When I write for SparkLife, I get to create quizzes about which Chris (Pratt, Hemsworth, Evans, or Pine) is your soulmate.
I’ve also written about social issues that are important to me, like the piece on GeekGirlCon that I wrote for Boing Boing. At the same time, I’ve written a lot of advertorial pieces for various blogs. Does the fact that I do advertorial or commercial writing diminish the pieces I write about social issues? Should I not be taken seriously because I also write listicles? I hope not.
Freelancing isn’t about money/love, commerce/journalism, church/state, either/or. Often, it’s about both.
On a recent episode of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend (which is one of my favorite podcasts), journalist and New York Magazine columnist Ann Friedman speaks to this particular aspect of a freelance career, saying that even she takes on additional writing assignments to make rent. “I guess there may be a handful of people for whom making it as a writer means you only write exactly the work that you’re most proud of and most fulfilled by and nothing else, but I have yet to personally know any of those writers,” she said.
So, Bigger Scoop, if you want to amplify social issues, start building up your portfolio and pitching the type of work you want to write. But don’t quit your copywriting day job. Don’t stop doing the thing that’s bringing in the money, at least not until you’re making an equivalent income as a journalist—and then be prepared to take on other types of writing to make rent.
But what about your question, Show Me The Money? Is the “real” money in writing copy, white papers, and case studies for the B2B market?
I’ve written copy (including B2B copy) and advertorial, and I’ve done journalism and blogging. When I transitioned out of copy and into blogging, I found myself earning more money—which, at that time, I attributed to having my own byline on the piece, and getting paid to write as Nicole Dieker instead of another anonymous copywriter. But after I got even further in my career, I started getting contacted by advertorial and corporate clients who were now offering much higher rates. The difference wasn’t in the type of writing I was doing—it was in my level of experience, both actual and perceived.
But if you think there is more money in B2B writing, start applying for B2B gigs, and, more importantly, reaching out to your network to help make contacts. I’ve written before on how to switch specialties mid-career, so use that as your starting point and expand your freelance portfolio one job at a time.
Don’t worry if the grass is greener in someone else’s lawn. Use your unique voice and skills to go after the jobs you want, and prepare for a freelance career that includes many different types of writing.
Nicole Dieker knows that half of you are humming “Poor Unfortunate Souls” right now. Get the tune out of your head by sending in your burning—or waterlogged—freelancing questions. Email Ask a Freelancer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image by Albund