When I first started my career as a freelance journalist eleven years ago, the fact that I was based in India proved to be a huge disadvantage in terms of getting assignments from US and UK-based clients.
India, back then, didn’t have the $1-a-word article reputation that it does now, but on the flipside, it also didn’t have this booming software industry and the buzz of outsourcing surrounding it either.
For some of my editors, India was exotic. They asked me about snake charmers (as much a novelty to me as them) and about arranged marriages. Most of all, the Internet wasn’t quite as much a part of our lives then as it is now—Google hadn’t yet been invented and the way most of us got online was for a few hours a day using a dial-up modem.
It was in this environment that I pitched editors and landed assignments, and though it seems obvious that I would state my location now, back then it was almost a given that I’d have to work super hard to prove myself once the words “I’m based in India” had been uttered.
Being in India was my biggest disadvantage back then, but today, it is easily my biggest strength, the number one reason editors find my site and want to give me work they can’t hand off to anyone else.
What changed? I decided to take my biggest disadvantage—my foreign roots—and turn it into a specialty.
Over the years, I’ve heard from all sorts of writers and I’ve heard muttered a number of difficulties and disadvantages that sound similar to the one I encountered in my early years. You may live in a small town with no connections or you may come from a technical background that’s hard to translate. Perhaps you have a unique background or unique circumstances that make the writing life a little bit tougher for you in terms of what you can achieve.
No matter what your difficulty or weakness, I can assure you that there’s a way to turn it into an advantage.
1. Make your disadvantage your niche
I think one of the best ways to meet your difficulty head-on is by rising up to the challenge and actually embracing it.
In my case, I decided to specifically offer India-based stories to my editors in the UK and US and no sooner had I started doing that did my income start to increase substantially. Many of them had no need for an India-based freelancer (and I pitched general-interest stories to them) but for those of my editors who did, indeed, have international sections, I was a godsend.
2. Turn it into your unfair advantage
An unfair advantage is something that differentiates you from your competitors. In my case, it was India, and the moment I stopped seeing it as a problem, I turned it into an unfair advantage instead.
How? Well, anyone can come to India to write a story (and many journalists do), but they don’t have the specialized knowledge that I bring to the table. My unfair advantage is that I can come up with hundreds of story ideas that my editors and the journalists they send to cover my country can’t unless they’ve lived here a long time and are intimately familiar with the culture and people.
3. Identify scenarios in business in which to use your weakness as an advantage
And then milk them for all they’re worth. For instance, if you’re a technical writer, you might be able to write dry manuals without much effort, whereas for other writers this would be a challenge. Or let’s say you’re really shy. This poses a problem when you’re at a networking event, for instance, but you could do what C. Hope Clark of Funds for Writers did and write a whole book about it!
4. Reframe the problem and give it context
If you’re thinking, for example, that being an international writer keeps you away from networking events, another way to think of it is that it puts you smack bang in the middle of events that your editors don’t have access to. Sometimes, it puts you right in the middle of where the action is, for instance when there’s a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
Think of the benefits your situation affords your clients and next time you’re confronted with your disadvantage, put a positive spin on it.
Being an international writer for me means that I’m always there when my editors aren’t. I save them money because they don’t have to fly anyone here when news breaks. I add value to their pages (especially trade magazines) because I give them an international edge over their competitors. I make their life easy when I find photographers they can trust and I save them the hassle of having a journalist getting things wrong in a country he or she doesn’t understand. I save them even more money because they don’t have to hire fixers or translators.
5. Embrace your situation, don’t hide from it
The biggest mistake writers make is that they try to hide this thing that they think is a disadvantage and I was guilty of this, too, when I first started out. If you think you’re at disadvantage then you’re subtly and unconsciously communicating that message to your editors and working against yourself. You want to radiate confidence and embrace whatever disadvantages you have and make them work in your favor instead.
What do you consider your biggest disadvantage in your freelance writing business? How can you turn it into your strength instead?