Freelancing By Susan Finch 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!