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August 17, 2016 (Updated: August 16, 2019)
Where is your freelancing career now? Where do you project it will be in a year? How confident are you that you will still create content professionally a decade from now? These three questions aren’t ones you considered when you started attacking your inbox this morning, but if you’re not devoting attention to these questions, you’re effectively quitting your job. You just haven’t realized it yet.
Sustaining a career as a freelancer in a constantly evolving marketplace requires focus and planning. Discover some ways that you can stay current as a freelancer.
Image via Flickr by Lyn Lomasi
How do you consume media when you’re surfing the Web? Have you ever taken time to consider your own behavior in the most important aspect of your profession? Even if you haven’t, a computer engineer named Jakob Nielsen has you covered. In 1997, he deduced the future of the internet by evaluating the way that others used the nascent technology and then drew several conclusions. He predicated all of them on one innate truth: Basic human behavior is to scan information, not read it.
His knowledge of this behavior led to a series of usability goals. Nielsen maintained that any quality web experience would include five components. These components include highlighting keywords with a hypertext link, a critical element of SEO. He also asked for clarity of subheadings, explicit headers, bulleted lists, and other functionality that effectively turned internet writing into computer programming subroutines.
Nielsen’s most important belief was that each paragraph should include a single thought, a tactic that too few writers use. In this way, he offered the blueprint for mobile internet consumption a decade before freelancers needed the information.
A decade ago, smartphones with internet capabilities were in their earliest days. Apple didn’t unveil the original iPhone until Jan. 9, 2007. In the year leading up to its arrival, only 63 percent of teens used a cellphone, according to the Pew Research Center, and fewer teens texted constantly. Today, only 12 percent of teens in the 13- to 17-year-old demographic don’t own a cellphone, according to the Pew Research Center.
How do these stats impact your vocation? Witness the amazing aspect of constantly shifting user behaviors. Seemingly disparate statistics impact your career in subtle ways. In 2006, long-form internet articles were much more popular. Analysts often cite Twitter as the boogeyman for quicker discussions, but that argument misses the point. The smartphone itself forced a change in your writing style.
Early generation smartphones included limited bandwidth and harsh data caps, training the first cycle of users to cycle through information quickly. Attention spans naturally shrank under those conditions, reducing long-form content’s popularity. Even as thought leaders such as Neil Patel show that long-form content ultimately earns more traffic, site managers choose to broadcast to the masses. If you were in the business of verbose content, you lost work through no fault of your own.
How could you have avoided such a fate? You could have followed the money. Businesses such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Uber received massive coverage in their early days thanks to the amount of funding each attained from angel investors. Savvy freelancers anticipated business models for each one, understanding that where investment money went, outsourced work was soon to follow.
Perhaps Snapchat is the best example of this scenario. Its current estimated valuation is $20 billion. Only three years ago, Snapchat gained a $60 million round of funding. By the end of 2013, both Google and Facebook had offered multibillion dollar deals to acquire Snapchat. Snapchat was clearly a promising business entity in the minds of Silicon Valley experts, which meant that Snapchat would have offers available for opportunistic freelancers.
The trick was solving the puzzle of how to solve the puzzle of crafting content that literally vanishes after a brief period. A radio host named Mark Kaye found a way. He surmised that a perceived negative of Snapchat was actually a positive. “Unlike Twitter and Facebook, nobody else can see how many interactions you actually get on a particular Story,” he described to The Freelancer.
In other words, every freelancer’s content is equal in the eyes of Snapchat users. Unknown professionals have the same chance to garner attention as seasoned veterans.
You’re likely wondering how any of the earlier examples help you. After all, each opportunity has come and gone. What’s important is that you understand the underlying mechanics. When mobile platforms moved toward dominance in the field of internet consumption, the proper strategy was to plan your writing around quicker reads. With Snapchat, you needed to find a rising tide and allow it to lift your boat. You’re learning from the past.
Now you need to plan future moves based on what you’ve learned. You’ll always want to follow the money trail. The places where investors are directing sums of capital double as the best upcoming business opportunities for you as a freelancer. You don’t have to get in on the ground floor. You simply need to make inroads before such an industry explodes into corporate ubiquity. Your career will ascend in parallel with growth.
What’s the best way to boost your freelancing career now and forever? The answer is branding. While the turbulent world will never stop changing, your basic skills as a content creator will have the same baseline. You’ll be you. The parts of your personality that make you a promising freelancer won’t change even as you augment those traits with new talents.
Consider all the avenues available to you today as well as emerging ones for tomorrow. Build a YouTube channel for your business that explains who you are and why you’re great at your job. Open an Instagram account specifically for personalizing yourself. Potential clients will react more strongly.
Finally, stay alert for the emerging technologies that can elevate your branding. The medium of note at the moment is Twitch, which the generation younger than age 25 treats like conventional television broadcasting. You can brand yourself to a new batch of customers by occasionally hosting a Twitch channel. Then, upload the clips to your YouTube channel. You’ll double your potential clients while building a permanent footprint of your freelancer brand.
To stay current as a freelancer, you’ll need a few skills. You must understand the history of internet content creation. You need to follow the money trail to find career-making clients, and you should future-proof your career through branding. If you follow these steps, then you could end up writing articles like this one in 10 years.
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