For a freelance web writer, there are millions of projects available every year. There’s just one problem. They are generally about topics you have no interest in, no knowledge about, or very little desire to write about. It’s a pretty common problem, and unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do other than suck it up and write about less than glamorous topics, or eat a lot less and hope you get lucky. Eventually, you’ll grow beyond the necessity of doing “whatever comes your way”, but early on, few of us get that luxury.
So, what do you do when a fantastic job opportunity comes along in a niche you’ve never written about? How do you prep yourself to take on a topic with an authoritative voice when you’ve never written about it before?
First, Some Ethics
I should toss out a disclaimer here. If you really, honestly have no idea what you’re writing about and the project needs an expert in the field, don’t lie to get the work. It’s not only dishonest, it will rarely result in good feedback or more work. If a niche is new to you, tell the client up front. If they know that you’re starting from scratch, they can make the determination of whether they should look elsewhere. Of course, you’re permitted to speak highly of your research and learning capabilities, but never lie about knowledge you don’t have.
Learning the Niche
Okay, so you told the truth and the client is okay with it. They have seen your quality of writing, are impressed with your talents, and want you on the job anyways. What’s next? It’s time to start researching. Without research, you put yourself at risk in a number of ways. First, you will be tempted to cheat – either rewriting other content or making up bits and pieces. One is copyright infringement and the other is simply unprofessional.
So, you should spend some time getting familiar with your topic. Buy at least three or four top books in the niche and start reading. Additionally, read some related content online, to get an idea of the common phrasing used and watch videos to absorb audio/visual cues (it’s always easier to write about what you’ve actually seen). I also like to visit blogs and forums where industry insiders will chat about topics in the niche. Familiarize yourself with the wording and the way the content is structured. This will help you create a more detailed persona in which to write your articles.
Writing the Content
When it comes time to write your content, only start when you feel comfortable in your knowledge. Also, put your research materials on hold. You shouldn’t be reading a book while you write about the same thing. The risk of offhanded plagiarism is too high – you may not even realize you’re doing it. Instead, take notes from all of the resources you have been gathering and use them to build your content.
Finally, when you’re done writing, run your content by someone who knows their stuff. You can ask someone on the forums or send it back to your client for review. The goal is pretty simple – you want it to pass as a comprehensive, generally informative piece of content. If you cannot do that, this isn’t a niche in which you should be writing.
One last note. If you get to the end of a piece and realize that you just cannot write in the niche – maybe it’s too general, maybe it’s just plain awkward – let your client know. Most clients will be happy that you’re not only honest with them, but that you say something quickly instead of dragging out the project and wasting their time and money. Trust me, it’s better for your career to focus on things you know you can write well and not to send in subpar work to clients than to aim for profits and profits alone.