Author: Mike Russell

In Praise of Content Specialization

When I decided to become a freelance copywriter, I had no idea what I wanted to write, nor for whom. I took any project that came my way. Content specialization was far from my mind.  (In retrospect, I wish I’d made that my initial strategy, and spent more time on sites like and

I wrote a brochure for a social water heater company. I wrote professor bios for an MBA program. I wrote copy for a series of postcards for Coconut Bliss.

Focus? What focus? It was 2009. I just needed gigs!

Besides, I had no idea what I’d want to specialize in. I just knew that I wanted to make it as a freelance copywriter.

Over the years, I latched onto a series of niches: professional bios, SaaS sales platforms, Digital Health. Each time, I happened to like a client I had in that niche, and thought that I might stake my claim in that space. But then a project would come from a client in a different industry, and my “specialty” would evaporate.

Follow your personal interests.

That said, I believe it’s harder to position and market yourself as a generalist. You’re clamoring against everyone else who wants to freelance as a copywriter. Before connecting with you, your prospects have little to distinguish you from other freelance copywriters. If you try to promote yourself by blogging, the world is your topic. If you blog about writing, you’ll attract an audience of writers. What if most of your work comes from marketing managers and directors?

After a series of projects for clients in related industries, I took stock of my portfolio and realized that I’d backed myself into a niche in the “online honesty” space: cybersecurity, identity and anti-fraud. I’m still carving it out. As I do, I’m coming to appreciate how helpful it is to have a solid foundation upon which to build my marketing efforts.

Is there a niche hidden in your portfolio right now?

It’s easier to visualize my target audience and define a list of companies that I want to commit to “chasing” until I either get a project or a clear “no, thank you.” To do that effectively, I also need a clear value proposition that resonates across my messaging. Having a clear specialty makes that easier, too.

My prospects also benefit. Because I’ve already learned about their industry while working for complementary -or even competing- companies, I need less ramp-up time. I bring a more-informed perspective, since I’ve had my eye on common content types in this space. That helps me elevate from “implementer” to something of a strategist.

But the aspect of specialization that has me the most excited is the long-play of lead-nurturing. (Ed Gandia lays out his lead-nurturing plan in chapter six of The Wealthy Freelancer, a must-have book on every freelance copywriter’s shelf.)

Choose a smaller target. Take better aim.

Say you’ve chosen to specialize in the sustainable food industry, and you’ve chosen 10 businesses in that space that you’d love to work for. Doesn’t matter if it’ll take 12-24 months to get that first project; you’re committed.

First step: You’re going to keep tabs on their marketing content. The marketing managers at these companies will be promoting the content on their LinkedIn and Twitter feeds, which means they will see any thoughtful comments or suggestions you post in response.

Soon, you’ll begin to see useful marketing ideas at “Acme Foods” that might be useful to “Farm to Table.” The two companies might not be competitors. By sharing a link to Acme Foods’s latest blog post with the marketing manager at Farm to Table -along with a short note about why you think the link is relevant, and how it can be applied- you’re keeping in touch in a valuable way.

This concept may take 10%-20% more effort than just keeping tabs on each company’s marketing efforts, but it allows you to accomplish two important lead-nurturing activities at the same time:

  1. Make thoughtful comments on the publisher’s pieces, and
  2. Share thoughtful comments with marketers at related companies

Your catch-up plays double duty. Over time, you’ll bubble up to the top of your prospects’ lists of go-to freelance copywriters. Because you’ve been positioning yourself as a specialist in their industry, you’ll have a stronger base upon which to enjoy the other benefits of specialization: higher fees and greater authority.

If you’re not sure how to go about picking a niche, listen to episode 80 of the High-Income Business Writing podcast. These are great tips to get you started.

  • Are you a generalist who’s resisted picking a niche? I’d love to hear about the advantages you’ve found by sticking with “l’resistance.”
  • Have you chosen a niche? What other advantages have you found?

Lessons From Starting a Co-Working Space

Three years ago, when I couldn’t stand working another day in my bedroom, I found desk space in my friend’s studio. At $100/month, it was an expense I couldn’t take lightly. I committed to this ‘experiment’ for three months.

Three years later, I’ve increased my income and productivity substantially, and gone from a sub-leaser in a three-desk studio to a co-leaser of a space that fits eight. With my two co-leasers, I’ve invested four figures in furniture, decoration, and a semi-private meeting room. Why did I go from sub-leaser to co-leaser? Here are my lessons learned from starting a co-working space.

Why level-up from desk-renter to desk-lord?

Our landlord invited us to. She offered to subsidize our rent for six months as we got ourselves together. We figured that was plenty of time to find other refugees from home offices and the café scene. Heck, maybe we’d even turn a small profit.

Building out the space, including our time, cost several thousand dollars. That semi-private meeting space took several more weekends than we were expecting. Fortunately, our illustrator friend Andy Lunday welcomed the opportunity to grace our walls with his art.

Should you start a co-working space?

Consider these questions first:

  1. Are you willing to set up a separate business entity?

  2. As soon as the three co-leasers decided to take the opportunity, we should have set up a separate LLC (Limited Liability Company). If nothing else, it would have kept our accounting clean. Though we collect our sub-leasers’ rent in a separate bank account, that ‘income’ will make 2015 taxes more complicated and costly.

    We were smart to define our agreement in writing. We specified what we were getting ourselves into, what we expected of one another, how we would make decisions, how we would deal with expenses and revenue, and what would happen if someone wanted to back out before the lease’s term came up. Even though it’s not a legal document, the exercise of writing it out helped us arrive at a common understanding.

    We also composed an agreement for our tenants. It’s not so much a legal document as a framework of our expectations and our offering. Since signing, no one has had to reference the agreement to settle disputes. Maybe that’s because we try to offer space to fair-minded people. Maybe we’ve just been lucky.

  3. Can you afford the time to market the space?

  4. When we first considered moving, we assumed that other freelancers would beat a path to our door.

    Hope springs eternal.

    We advertise on Craigslist, PivotDesk and with a sign in our front window. Though PivotDesk charges a 10% fee for the service, we’ve had more inquiries from Craigslist and the ‘desk space available’ sign.

    Since we consciously decided to undercharge other co-working spaces -believing that would do the attracting for us- there’s little incentive to make a substantial effort finding sub-leasers.

  5. What’s your ultimate goal?

  6. Unless you want to make this a viable business, or you have extra space in your office that you’d like to rent out on the side, you’re probably better off leaving this to someone else.

    If you just want to create, just create.

    If you hope to attract prospective collaborators (developers, designers, videographers, writers, etc.), put your effort into networking. Build up those relationships. With time, you may have enough prospective partners to share a lease and space where you can focus on creating.

That said, if you’re looking for affordable co-working space in Portland’s Central Eastside Industrial Neighborhood, please email us at studio3 [at] zoomtopia [dot] com.

We may be what you’ve been looking for.