The Best Tip I Ever Got from a Content Manager

Have you ever tried writing about something you really don’t know much about?
It’s ridiculously hard.
Even the best writer will spend 3-4x longer putting together a piece about a subject they’re unfamiliar with because, well, they have to learn about it first. Duh.
This was something a well-respected editor and content manager shared with me early on. She explained that she only hires writers who not only have fantastic writing skills, but that a solid knowledge base around the subject matter her company covers.
When I first heard this, I thought, “Okay, sure, I get that. But I can research the crap out of anything and learn it forwards and backwards if I really want to.”
That’s writer hubris, my friends.

Master of None
The “I can learn anything” mentality is the epitome of what’s known as a Master of None. If you only know a little of something about everything, you don’t ever get to know a lot about anything.
When it comes to freelance writing, the same is true.
You can’t expect to be a stellar writer on all things email marketing and then take on gig to write about organically growing hydroponic tomatoes. Not only does the latter topic not line up with the subject matter you know and write about on a daily basis, but it also means the client may end up with some lackluster copy—and that impacts their perception of your overall writing abilities.

The tomato gig might help pay for your yoga classes and the Lululemon gear to go with it, but it's probably not going to further your personal brand.
Find Your Place
Niching down to a specific industry and subject matter is one of the smartest things you can do as a writer—and that’s exactly what that content manager was trying to tell me years ago.
Doing this means your life gets a lot less stressful, as when you write, you’re constantly working from and expanding an existing knowledge base—rather than starting from scratch every time.
Your clients will come to know you as a subject matter expert—and they’ll defer to you for other relevant opportunities. Over time, you’ll spend less time reading up on topics that you have no previous experience with, and you’ll write more effectively and efficiently on the things you do know about.
It seems so simple and obvious, but for years, I made this same mistake. I saw an opportunity for work, relevant or not to my existing knowledge base, and I’d say, “YES PLEASE, Let’s do this.”
But then when I’d dive into the task, I’d get stressed out about how little I knew on the topic, would end up investing way more time then I should have into the project, and spent weeks going back and forth with the client over edits. It sucked.
The bottom line here: Stop grabbing at any job that comes your way, and start being more selective in the work you take on. Position yourself within a niche. Be a master of one, rather than a master of none. (Also, random sidebar here but did you watch the show Master of None? It was really good.)
ANYWAY. Picking a niche means you can charge higher rates as time goes on, because you’re someone who can consistently deliver amazing, high-quality writing that does everything your client needs it to do.
To the content manager who was trying to tip me off early on in my freelance writing career—I get it now! This is such an important lesson to learn (which is why I’m sharing it.) I hope you’ll keep it in mind, too.
For those of you who are writers—how long did it take you to figure this out? Or have you found that writing for whatever comes your way still works for you? Tweet me

This article originally appeared in my newsletter, A Cup of Copy. Sign up and get these free tips sent right to your inbox every other Wednesday.