How Your Competition Can Help You Find New Work

    Whether you’re an aspiring or seasoned writer, you will struggle to find new clients at various points in your career.

    Writers face fierce competition as the market of freelance writers widens and publications fold.

    And in an economy struggling to recover, companies often cut their freelancers first and redistribute writing needs in-house. The need to diversify and find new clients is crucial if you want to stay a working writer.

    Most writers start looking for new clients in the same place — magazines and newspaper racks in the community. It’s also easy enough to do a few Google searches to find companies in your area who might need a copywriter. But then what? Where do you look next?

    When I moved back from New York City to my hometown in Atlanta, I didn’t know what the market was like, or where to start looking for new writing work. I still had some clients in New York, but I wanted to break into regional writing.

    I searched Google for “Atlanta magazines” and “Atlanta publications” and came up with a few ideas, but I wasn’t really satisfied.

    I knew there must be other resources out there. Frustrated by the lack of search results, I wondered who other Atlanta freelancer writers were writing for.

    That’s when it dawned on me. If I could see what my competition was up to, I could find outlets faster and easier than if I were to go it alone.


    The Benefits Of Studying Your Competition


    When you take a thorough look at what your competition is doing, you reap the benefits of their success and hard work. Instead of spending hours hunting down new markets and leads, you have a wealth of insight in a tidy portfolio.

    Studying your competition shows you:

    • Which clients are already open to freelance writers
    • Which markets (you might never have heard of them) are publishing
    • What ideas the publication wants
    • What fees clients potentially pay freelancers

    In essence, learning from your competition is like having your own writer’s guide, complete with client ideas, potential testimonials and rates.

    But it takes a little practice to study your competition and learn to apply it to your own work.


    How to Study Your Competition for Success


    1. Google the terms “freelance writer” or “copywriter” with whatever city or town you live in. For example, I started my search with “Atlanta freelance writer”. You can also perform searches like “music freelance writer” or “freelance real estate copywriter” to find writers specializing in your preferred niche.

    2. Read your competition’s bio. If this particular freelance writer has 30 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies, and you focus on micro-business content for consumer magazines, move on. You already know their client list isn’t going to suit your needs. You need to find someone who is in your niche, or in a niche you want to occupy.

    3. Check your competition’s portfolio and skim through their roster of clients. This is a great way not only to find new clients, but also to figure out how big your market is. You might want to write exclusively about tennis, but may realize that all your competition works for the same three publications. With so few markets to choose from, it’s time branch out into other sports or industries.

    4. Read through a few of your competitor’s clips to get an idea of what the client looks for. Many of the ideas I gleaned from my competition aren’t just about new publications, but also about new markets. I never thought about writing case studies until I found several writers specializing in this niche, and realized there was a paying market for it in my field.

    5. Search for testimonials to see exactly why a client loved your competitor’s work. Every writer wants to get inside an editor or client’s head to deliver the best work possible. Testimonials can shed light on everything: how the editor loved your competitor’s ultra fast-turn around, professionalism, ease to work with, wit or fresh ideas.

    6. Review your competition’s list of services. Writers often moonlight as editors, fact-checkers or marketing consultants. Look at what publications or materials your competition edits to get new client ideas. But this step also reveals new types of services that you could charge for, like social media consulting, for instance.


    Save Yourself Valuable Time


    Studying the competition saved me an enormous amount of time in hunting down new publications. Within a half hour, I had a list of dozens of markets I could tap into immediately.

    Based on my competition’s success, I already knew these clients hired freelance writers, the types of articles or material they needed, and why they liked my competition’s work. In some cases, my competition even listed their rates, giving me an idea of what these clients were willing to pay.

    One publication I found through a competitor’s portfolio gave me an assignment the same day I contacted them.

    Thanks to my competition, I knew this specific publication published service journalism pieces with a light and friendly tone. With this in mind, I crafted a query letter with a similar tone and outlined how I would approach an article on major healthcare providers in my city.

    This wasn’t the topic my competition had written about for the publication, but I still had enough information to figure out that they might be interested in it.


    Get a Leg-Up On Your Competition


    Studying your competition is a tool to inspire new ideas for the market you’re trying to enter. If you know your competition inside out, you can figure out how to do a better job than them.

    If you can see what your competition is writing about, you can analyze their work and find ways in which you would do it better.

    Let’s say your competition wrote an article for a pregnancy magazine about relocating during your second trimester. The article quoted doctors, but not women who went through the experience.

    You can come up with a like-minded article, such as changing jobs while pregnant, and pitch your idea, offering both expert and personal sources you’d like to quote.

    Now think of other ways to add to the article — maybe a sidebar, with steps on how to make the move easier.


    Respect Your Craft


    While studying your competition offers valuable insight into new markets, you should tread carefully.

    Learning from your competition should always be approached ethically. It won’t do you any favors to copy your competitor’s exact ideas and re-pitch to the same clients.

    Approaching the same clients with the same ideas but with a rate discount to undercut your competition only shows you’re unprofessional.

    Or, worse, it shows you’re a disingenuous writer with a poor work ethic.Your potential client might also assume you can’t be trusted with sensitive company information or sources.

    Look to your competition’s success as motivation to propel your career forward, but respect your competition, yourself and your craft by diligently developing your own ideas and voice.

    The road to writing success isn’t always a bumpy one; sometimes the path is well worn by your competitors paving the way for you.

    How have you benefited from your competition? Or has someone benefited from studying you? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments below!

    About the author

      Susan Finch

      Susan Finch is a freelance writer with an eclectic background across guidebooks, web copy, magazine articles, iPhone apps, and TV promos just to name a few. She helps writers build successful freelance careers at WordGlam.com.

    • Following on from Carol’s comment, I think you should get to know your competition personally.

      Here in Australia, I’m great friends with some of the top copywriters across the country. Rather than working against each other’ we’ve established a supportive referral network of like-minded writers. If I can’t help a client, I love being able to refer them onto another top copywriter (or five). It helps the client, it makes me look good and it works both ways!

      We call it co-operatition and it’s brilliant.

      • Susan says:

        Brilliant! I love that. What an innovative idea. That inspires me to look in that direction myself.

    • Freelancing provides independence and the ability to work from home. You won’t have to convince your employer it’s a good idea to let you telecommute.For better freelancing mouth to mouth publicity is the best mode.Really helpful and informative article for overcoming my wrong steps.

    • This was such an informative post! Thanks for this. Although I’m far from beginning my career in Freelancing, I still like to read about it in preparation for the day when I’m ready to embark on this journey.

      Reading posts like these really give me an idea of how to get started!

      • Susan says:

        Jocelyn – dive in!

        It’s always a little tricky getting started, not to mention feeling intimidated. At least that was my experience. Find a small, manageable goal and keep knocking tasks off your list. It’s really all about momentum building. Let me know if I can be of help! Good luck.

    • Susan says:

      Very true. I could use more work on building up my referral network. When I worked as a video editor on national campaigns, all of my freelance work was word-of-mouth. Thanks for the great idea!

    • Great post — I’m always telling writers to do that search and find the freelance writers who rank near the top of their city search. Those are the writers you want to get to know!

      They often know great places to network and would be great to have in your referral network.

    • Susan says:

      Thanks, Sara! Agree. It’s one thing to get a sense of what your competition and market is like, it’s another to just copy it. It’s a fine line, because it’s easy to envy writer’s ideas and writing style and start emulating it. Inspiration is a powerful tool, but it still needs to be harnessed as your own ideas and work.

      But this all points back to competition being a good thing. We can all learn so much from each other, it’s not just about racing to the top to get published.

    • Great advice – especially the point on ethics. Ripping off other writers’ clients or undercutting their rates tends to come back and bite you in the ass at some point 🙂

      Thanks for sharing this!

    • Susan says:

      Exactly. I think that’s why my career has been rather eclectic. I prefer specializing in an area like travel and lifestyle, but then working on a wide variety of other projects that interest me. If I hadn’t been open to work experiences, I would have given up on print – believing it was dead. Instead, that currently accounts for 70% of my work at the moment.

      Next year? Who knows!

    • Great advice. What I’ve been learning is that no matter how much you plan the areas you want to write in, it’s surprising what customers come out of the woodwork. Stay open to new experiences and sometimes let the people who are coming to you for work guide you. It’s opened a niche for me I had never thought of.

    • Great article. I’m about to start tackling the ardous task of finding clients. This is a new slant on how to go about finding clients which I’m sure many freelancers don’t think about.

      • Susan says:

        Glad the article was helpful! I use this tactic frequently whenever I’m interested in tackling a new medium, even TV promos. It can take some careful sleuthing to track down the information you want, but seeing what your competition is doing is by far the fastest for me!

    • Great advice! Thank you, Susan.

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