How to leverage research to come out on top as a freelance writer

How to Leverage Research to Come out Ahead as a Freelance Writer

how research can help a freelance writer to come out ahead

There has been an increase in the number of online entrepreneurs lately. Walter talked about it in this post the other day. There are many trades; so many ways you can make money online and people have realized it. It is not just writers, but people are honing different skills to make themselves earn a buck on the online market.

Don’t believe me? Just look at the Facebook groups available online – Awesome Transcribers in Kenya (ATK), Freelance Writing Jobs, Remarkable freelancers in Africa, Freelance Writing Jobs in Kenya, Writers for Writers, and so forth, you get my drift.

For some, it is the lack of employment that leads them to try it out. For others, it is the love for independence; be your boss, they say.

I’m a freelance writer, and I started working online by accident. It was supposed to be a short stint: a side gig while I waited to land my dream job; a way to carry my weight.

Many months later, I’m still here, and the difference is, I’m not going anywhere now. Not yet, at least.

There are so many of us

If you are on ATK, you have seen the questions that are commonly asked by every other new member of the group. ‘How can I make money online?’, ‘Can someone train me?’  and it is irritating for people who have been there longer to see them all repeated.

Commonly asked questions about freelance writing

Answers are almost always the same: ‘get trained,’ ‘there are many opportunities,’ join Upwork’ …

Common questions freelance writers ask

By the way Walter, why don’t you guys do a ‘Q & A post’ with commonly asked questions and answers? That way, new members can just look there and see what they are looking for.

I digress.

My point is, there are so many of us competing for the same / similar jobs, and it is a good thing to some extent. I mean, you only become the best by competing alongside the best, so in that case, the competitiveness of the market forces you to either get good at your craft or quit.

But, if you are not yet the best, or are just unfortunate, you know landing those jobs is no walk in the park. Let me suggest another approach to increase your chances of getting that job you’ve been eying.

Adopt advice thoughtfully

Have you noticed something? Few of those questions asked on ATK go unanswered. I mean if other people are unable to answer, you will see tags like ‘Hi Walter, please heelp!’ and he swoops in to help.

So what’s the problem?

First off, you should always ask for advice when you are stuck. It is the reason the groups are there in the first place. However, when you get that advice, as far as it is unique to another business, think about it.

What do I mean?

Sometimes processes that have been tried and tested by other people will not necessarily work for you. Your situations are different in every sense. The timing could be wrong, the clients you are targeting could be different; your writing style could be inappropriate and so forth.

Let me tell you a story to demonstrate my point.

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend about a business he was trying to start. He was looking for investors, but he wanted guys who were loaded. He wanted investments totaling to 20 million Kenya shillings. Naturally, I wanted to know why.

What he said was surprising.

He stated that he wanted to set up his businesses in different places all at once. Why? Because people always copy and if he started small, he would soon be out-phased because other similar businesses would open up everywhere.

Drum rolls.

My mother has always been entrepreneurial.  As a young child, I remember longing for the days I would visit her small tailoring shop. She was the famous ‘Mama Maj’, everyone in the village wanted clothes made by her. And this was her side gig.

Now you must understand that it was a long time ago. Being a tailor and a teacher then was a novelty. You were it – la crème de la crème.

A few years later, there were more tailoring shops in that small market than there were people. I’m not exaggerating for effect. What’s more, they were all making wedding clothes: those dresses that had ‘stairs’ – they were the in thing.

She was becoming obsolete as a business. So what did she do?

She opened a textiles shop where she sold everything the tailors needed to transact smoothly. I’m talking zips, linings, buttons and so forth.

Business was booming, but it was not long before other textile shops started coming up.

Lesson? We are always copying one another without thinking much about setting ourselves apart. Of course, there is much to be said about the dynamic nature of the market, but that’s a topic for another day.

Implement advice strategically

Before I explain further, let me talk of an example that is almost general knowledge.

Do you remember Nokia? – The Symbian OS? If you don’t, that’s my point.  Nokia had been making smartphones for quite a while, but Apple swooped in and edged them out in less than 2 years. At the time, Apple had never manufactured smartphones. Not even once.

So how do you suppose they were so successful?

That’s right. Strategy!

I understand that strategy has become a buzz word. We throw it around to make ourselves sound like we know what we are doing but I do not mean strategy in that sense.

What I simply mean is:-

Find a competitive advantage

How to leverage research to come out on top as a freelance writer

As earlier mentioned, there are so many of us freelance writers coming up. From the look of things, with the rise of sites like Kuhustle, Crowdsource Africa and intentional government efforts to ‘officialize’ working online, the trend will continue.

If all we do is copy each other’s strategies blindly, we will soon find ourselves scrambling for clients within the same market with the same resources and skill set. No one wins! Except maybe the best.

What is likely to happen is; we will be so many, we will drive the prices down. If you don’t do a job, someone else will. So many fish in the sea will become more than a metaphor.

Setting yourself apart is not just important as an immediate goal – you get more clients, with little or no competition, but it will also be essential for the online freelance writing market in general.

How can you make yourself different?

Copy principles, not processes

I get it; stories of people who have done it are inspiring. They are a ray of hope and more so when you are simply looking to put food on your table.

But here is the thing:

You want a long-term solution to your problem.

So? When you receive advice, seek to find out the principle and then emulate that. Leave the process alone, will you?

Entrepreneurship rests on the idea of innovation. It is coming up with new/different ideas to solve existing problems. It is building upon common/general principles to come up with something novel.

In our case, it is,

  • Offering a different service
  • Providing the same service differently
  • Having a different process of delivery
  • Venturing into an untapped market
  • Combining all these

Let me give you an example of a company that has managed to set itself apart.

Do you know IKEA? They are a Furniture company. What they do is, they design their furniture and ship it to all parts of the world in parts. They do not assemble their furniture; they send their designs with the parts for people to put together for themselves.

This strategy helps them to produce more designs, to distribute further into the world easily because the unassembled parts are easier to transport and to stand out/compete in the market.

Their strategy is so complex that even if they reveal it to the world, it will be hard for others to copy because it would require changing their whole system.

They do not stop there; they keep adopting and smoothing their process. Just recently, they switched their designs to furniture that snaps together to ease the process of assembling for their clients.

It is a daunting task

By now you are probably thinking that only big companies need to do that. Or it sounds complicated to you.

I will not lie; it is not an easy task.

But here is an encouragement:

Sometimes strategies will find themselves out with time. You will be writing an article for a client, and then you will realize that there is a whole market that is untapped and voila! – Your strategy. So don’t use this as an excuse not to be writing.


More practically, finding a competitive edge involves a lot of research. It is getting your hands dirty and sticking with the grind no matter what.

You need to know who you are competing with, what they are offering, who they target and so forth. With this information, you can determine your skill set, what is lacking in the market or who are not being catered to and find out how you can meet that need.

I once saw an answer I liked on ATK, as to how to get around the Up-work rejection problem. The advice was, to find a skillset that was not common such as ‘virtual assistant’ or something like that and apply it.

This is ideally the principle; find the gap, fill the gap.

While looking to find a competitive advantage, always imagine a client asking you why they should pick you instead of anyone else.

Don’t be afraid to adapt

The market is dynamic. What works today will probably not work tomorrow. As such, you must be willing to add new skill sets to your portfolio and to adjust your strategies accordingly. You don’t want to be phased out now, do you?

I’ve read this post; I’m challenged, now what?

I would be falling short if I left you more confused than you were when you began reading this post. So, to help with the issue, I will break down the things I’d want you to take away into three points. Of course, if you take away more, you are the ideal student!

  • Find something that makes you different and experiment with it until you find what about it works, then stick with it.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day – be willing to invest as much time and effort as you need to.
  • Copy the principles not the processes and the main one today is – find a gap and fill it.

Don’t forget to let me know if this was helpful, what part and how I can help you better next time in the comment section below. 😀

Till next time!