Recently we've been looking at the issue of specialization for freelance writers. John Soares and I covered the issue on the podcast, and we kicked off a blog series where freelance writers talk about their own specialties, how they market themselves, and how new freelancers can do the same.
Today we're going to continue with that series with landscape writer, Wendy Komancheck.
Interview with Wendy Komancheck, Landscape Writer
Wendy Komancheck specializes in writing for green industry clients -- covering lawn care, landscaping, and outdoor living (not to be confused with the green energy niche). She made the move from print publications to content marketing writing, such as blog posts and web copy, after discovering an unfilled demand in this market on social media.
In this interview, Wendy shares her story about how she got into her current freelance writing specialty, the benefits of that specialization, and tips for newer freelance writers who are still looking for a niche of their own.
What made you decide to specialize in writing copy and content for green industry clients? Before writing for trade publications in that area, you wrote for local papers. Did you cover topics in this industry for them, or was your move to trades the start of your green industry focus?
If I remember correctly, I did a mix for my local newspapers and I did write about gardening topics. I interviewed local garden centers and extension agents on different garden topics--usually by season.
Then I started writing about small to medium-sized farms for a trade publication company and my local newspapers (agri-tourism and keeping farmers farming were big topics back then).
The trade magazine company I wrote for also published magazines focusing on lawn care and landscapes. And I moved to interviewing experts and business owners in the green industry.
Given your industry specialty, do you tend to also specialize in working with local clients, or do you work with a broader target market? Are there particular types of clients or projects you take on more than others (such as blog posts for industry-focused sites vs copy for landscaping companies)?
I mostly work with lawn care and landscape companies across the U.S. Right now, I don't have any local clients. I specialized in part because there was so much local competition that I needed to differentiate myself from the competition.
I write for small to medium-sized lawn care and landscape companies as well as a national chain. I've also worked for marketing companies who landed a green industry client. I've developed a specialty of writing digital marcom--blogs, case studies, white papers and web copy. I don't do a lot of advertising/catalog copywriting.
I like a mix of committed clients and one-time big projects. I like to develop long-term relationships with my clients--but I also enjoy variety in my work. I can only write about crabgrass and grub control so much before I'm sleeping at my keyboard.
What have been the biggest benefits of specialization in your freelance writing career? Has specializing had any significant downsides for your career?
Benefits--Since I was one of the "first" writers in my industry, I've become a "brand name" of sorts. And my business is growing because I stay committed. I gradually "grew" the business by hiring a local website designer, buying some social media ads, and trying to keep up with all of my social media marketing duties. I recommend that a new writer develop a budget as well as a long term plan. INMO: It's best not to take on debt if at all possible.
The downsides: Getting clients to pay on time! And wearing many hats--I do all of my own accounts receivable/payable, marketing, business development, client consultants, answering emails/phone calls etc. And it's hard to take time off...especially this year since I had more clients consistently hiring me from the high busy season of late winter/spring through July. Usually my work load drops off in June. I'm glad for the uptick. I'm just trying to learn better time management skills.
If you had to choose one or two marketing tools or tactics, which would you say have been most effective in helping you reach your target market in this specialty area?
First, figure out where your ideal clients hang out. For example, I know of food and homemaking bloggers who do a lot on Pinterest. My clients hang out on Twitter, LI and Facebook.
Then make a plan. What are your clients' pain points? How do you solve them? Then you start blogging, posting, etc. on those sites where your sales prospects hang out.
Also, join associations, LI groups and other organizations related to your niche. Go to trade shows (even small ones in your local region). And make a plan--especially when you start out. If you decide to blog 1-2x a month--stick with it.
Develop relationships instead of just looking for the next client. Treat others on social media how you'd like to be treated. And, please be professional--hire a photographer to take your picture and keep it clean...a good friend of mine took my pics.
What one piece of advice would you give new freelance writers who are looking for a specialty area of their own?
Think about what you're passionate about. Make a list of 5-10 things that you feel strongly about and businesses that serve those areas. Then do some research and see if this is an area that's under-served or one where you could ease your prospects' pain points.
Keep the customer's needs first. And if I could offer a second piece of advice--get a mentor and continue learning. Right now, I have a SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives). Last September, I connected with a mentor because I had some clients who weren't paying. I also needed help with business development. My SCORE volunteer has helped me A LOT in making my business successful.
Here's some encouragement: I have a degree in English/Secondary Ed. Yet, when researching possible niches--I had zero passion about writing education topics. But farming, gardening and outdoor structures were very interesting to me. There are a ton of garden writers out there--so I needed to be different from that crowd too. Since I also had a passion for helping small businesses succeed through marketing, I married my two passions together to form this satisfying career.
It's not too late to be the first, or at least one of the first, freelance writers to specialize in a niche, and Wendy is a great example of that. So if you're still struggling to find a freelance writing niche, dig a little deeper. You don't need a huge target market to fill a full-time freelance schedule.
Do you have an interesting specialty area you think All Freelance Writing readers would enjoy hearing about? Tell me about it in the comments or email me, and perhaps I'll reach out to interview you for the series.