When I first started freelancing, I had a challenge marketing myself. I wasn’t just a proposal writer. I also did education and outreach, technical papers, marketing, speech writing, engineering documents, and training and development scripts. I rather liked the opportunity for variety my previous corporate jobs offered me, and I wanted to keep doing that. Can you market yourself as a generalist? Yes and no. Read on!
The Good and Bad of Being a Generalist
The good news about having experience in multiple writing products is that you can afford to be flexible with the types of customers you can work for and the types of work that you do. Instead of taking on all that variety with a single employer, you might end up spreading them out across multiple customers.
Additionally, while a customer might hire you to do one type of writing–say, proposals–and they like the work you do, they might ask you to take on other projects as well.
The down side of being a multi-function writer is that some employers might see you as a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Additionally, not a lot of solo entrepreneurs or small companies–my original target market–are looking for a writer who can do five different things; they just want someone to help them with a proposal, a brochure, or a business letter.
Another challenge I faced when I was first starting out was that I was not always finding customers who were a good “fit” for the types of work I wanted or was best suited to do. My self-branding was a little too broad because I was trying to be all things to all people in an effort to bring in more business.
Focusing Your Efforts
After talking with my buddy Kate the coach, I realized that I really wanted to stay in the field I’d just left–aerospace. However, at the time, they weren’t looking for my particular skill set in my neighborhood (Orlando, Florida). More importantly, I was looking for employers who were used to hiring multi-skill, multi-function technical writers.
In short, I was looking to recreate the environment I was used to operating in, but now as a freelancer.
This required me to start reaching out to members of my network who worked in large organizations. On the plus side, I could show off a resume that highlighted my familiarity with the subject matter and the types of documents large aerospace companies needed.
I also had this realization about supporting larger vs. smaller companies:
- Larger companies can afford to pay more.
- They have more projects to do and hence more potential work.
- Larger companies are used to employing technical writers for multiple types of tasks.
- The projects tend to be larger and require more time.
- Supporting two to three larger organizations requires a lot less marketing “hustle” than seeking out work from half a dozen or more clients.
There were other routes I could have taken, I suppose. For instance, I could have targeted different types of small businesses to get the work I wanted. However, being at heart a corporate guy (and a bit lazy), I stuck with a couple large companies. I still get to exercise my talents several different ways, the work is just spread out a little differently.
I have friends at my local coworking space who specialize in supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses because they enjoy the personal, one-on-one interactions. They also have the patience to walk sole proprietors through their needs assessments. A lot of it goes back to the types of customers and work environment you’re used to supporting.
So…can you find work as a “utility player?” Absolutely! The trick is to identify which type(s) of customers need the things you can do.