As a freelance writer you pretty much have two options — One: write within a niche, sticking to an industry, or within a specific area within multiple industries, or Two: market yourself for anything and write about it all. In order to do the second, you must adapt quickly when given a job writing about something you know nothing about.
Based on my experience as a content creator, I fit into the second category. I’ve broken into new industries numerous times. I’ve had to write, in detail, about a product or service I’ve never used before. The key is presenting a level of confidence to new clients so they know I can learn anything and write it well. I also have to give myself the leeway to learn the basics necessary to succeed.
Admit you’re in new territory
The first step I take when working in a new area is brutal honesty. I make sure clients know I’ve never written in this exact space before, but since I’m a writer first, I’m comfortable with any topic.
I also ask new clients to share any links or resources that would help bring me up to speed about their business, industry, etc. I review these materials as part of my process, so there’s no extra charge for me to learn a little more than usual for an assignment. It’s all research and that’s the part of a writer’s job it’s hard to set a time limit on.
I gather details about my audience at this stage too. How familiar are they with the topic already? Is the primary question I always ask. I don’t want to risk over-explaining simply because the subject matter is new to me.
I’m also brutally honest about my love of learning new things. This helps make new clients feel comfortable even as I build up my knowledge for their industry. For me personally, getting to learn on the job is exciting. It’s one of my favorite parts as a writer. I’ve become an ‘expert’ in subjects I’d never have learned anything about otherwise. It’s all thanks to my willingness to make writing my comfort zone, no matter the subject.
Become an ‘expert’ after one assignment
You’ll never know as much as your client, but your goal should be to lessen the knowledge gap. Front-loading the time you spend learning means you’ll finish future assignments faster, spend less time asking questions, and have more productive meetings developing future topics.
This trick enables you to immediately become a more useful contributor that the client will keep coming back to. You’ve established your value right from the start after all, and that’s always how freelancers know how to to work.
The more you can self-start, because you’ve done upfront research, and spent time getting to know your new subject, the better.
Know your limits
As important as it is to reach some level of expertise quickly, you should also know when to say ‘no.’ Even a jack-of-all-trades must acknowledge their limits. This may manifest as the number of subjects you’re willing to juggle at once, or even as a list of areas you simply won’t cover.
For me, I’m a details person, but not an extremely technical writer. I’d rather focus on lifestyle content — pieces that inform — and/or work on items that have a stronger marketing feel.
I struggle with pieces that are overly technical, and don’t get me started if there’s math involved. I’ll take jobs like this if I’m extremely comfortable with the client, having written for them in other areas before, or if it’s an industry I know well, but usually I shy away to remain in my comfortable space. My jack-of-all-trades title has some limits, and I think that makes me a more focused writer.
Me, as a jack-of-all-trades
Today, the industries I cover range from real estate to hemp, video production to green initiatives, HR to Medicare. My career started in education, and that pops up sometimes still, but as you can see, most areas I now write in regularly stray far from my beginnings.
I started from scratch with each new industry, and now feel surprisingly comfortable within them all. I love it. The variety not only keeps me engaged, but, to quote an old ‘friend,’ I’m “always learning.”
My advice is to stay in your comfort zone as a writer, but consider a path where you get to learn something new all the time. Tackle a new industry or subject area, and become an expert.