It needs to be said: Making a living as a freelance tech writer can be pretty challenging at times.
Unless you’re able to confide in fellow writers once in a while, you might be feeling you’re the only one having some trouble—the only writer who’s not out there raking in new clients hand over fist, not building rarefied new skills with every job; not writing authoritatively for glamorous, big-name tech companies; and not smashing earnings goals month after profitable month.
The reality is that almost every freelance writer gets a little—or a lot—bashed up on their journey to becoming a successful, independent businessperson. Even the writers you most admire bear some scars from their struggle through the ranks.
And the challenges persist, regardless of the level of success a writer enjoys. Knowing how to manage those challenges effectively is what distinguishes the winners from the also-rans. This post presents the five key challenges freelance tech marketing writers face and suggests a practical solution that’s easy to implement—which could change your professional life forever!
1. Client Acquisition
The most significant challenge—because it’s the axis around which your entire business articulates—is finding the right clients to work with.
If you come into freelance writing from a corporate environment, it doesn’t take long to figure out that you’re in a new paradigm with one sizable obstacle: To keep your business afloat, you need to spend a good part of your working day doing non-billable marketing and administrative work.
If only 50–60% of all the time you spend at your desk can be billed to clients, how do you match your previous salary or even earn enough to cover your monthly bills?
The only solution is to find solid clients who understand the value you have to offer and will pay reasonable fees for your work, which can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. However you organize your search, you’ll have to kiss a lot of frogs.
Says veteran freelance tech marketing writer Yetunde, “When I started out as a freelancer, I spent entire days and weeks sending out emails, following them up, and sitting in (mostly) ultimately fruitless discovery calls with countless potential clients. Things became easier over time, and I now have a client base, but that doesn’t mean I can stop making an effort to acquire new clients. I continue to spend a lot of time optimizing my website, updating my online portfolio, and actively reaching out to prospects. Client acquisition is a never-ending process for freelancers and time spent on outreach obviously impinges on the time we can spend writing and doing other billable work. As such, finding clients remains my biggest pain point.”
Also worth bearing in mind is that for tech marketing writers in particular, getting exposure to big brands is typically harder than it is in other industries. Tech companies typically prefer to hire employees via personal referral or to work with agencies, making it hard for individual freelancers to get a foot in the door. Moreover, marketing teams and SMEs often don’t have the time or resources to invest in getting new writers up to speed on complex products. As a result, the tech industry can represent a closed shop for newcomers.
2. Admin and Paperwork Burden
Have you ever stopped to calculate how much time you spend preparing to work for your various clients, talking about the work as it’s underway, and cleaning up afterwards?
Contracts, project proposals, briefing forms, status updates, approvals, and invoices can become an enormous paperwork burden when you serve multiple clients—each with their own contractual requirements, payment methods, and work processes. The tech industry is represented by a vast range of companies, from global conglomerates to three-person startups. That’s why every freelance tech marketing writer must take the time to create and maintain a dedicated and constantly expanding library of client management templates to suit every eventuality.
Dealing with multiple clients and company types also means keeping up with a plethora of communications and project management software, apps, platforms, email accounts, and even computers—all flashing and pinging around your work station, day and night, needing passwords and usernames and reboots….now Jira, now Slack, now Trello, now Basecamp, now Google docs, now Word.
As your client count grows, so does the number of editorial, tone-of-voice, and brand style guides to be followed and mastered. Welcoming a new client also means preparing to deal with new editors and with editorial habits and processes that often seem inflexible, even irritating, or just outright wrong.
The result for a freelance writer serving a wide range of clients in diverse industries may be overwhelm and even burnout.
Tech Content for Tech Experts
3. Lack of Structure
Navigating a lack of structure within a client company can be even more painful for a freelancer than struggling to become familiar with a surfeit of rules and processes around content writing and production in a single client company.
When former marketing executive Clair stepped into freelance employment after years in a smoothly run corporate environment, it never occurred to her that her new clients might lack the systems and capabilities to implement the strategies she designed—or even to upload her content into their CMS. Her Florence Nightingale instincts leapt to the fore and she soon found herself in a world of trouble.
Says Clair, “My biggest issue was taking on too many tasks that were outside the scope of my paid work. I frequently found myself working extra hours for exhausted solopreneurs or small teams when I didn’t feel confident requesting extra pay for these ‘small’ tasks. For one client who simply had no marketing support structure whatsoever, I worked on content uploads and similar tasks for a few extra hours every month just to be sure my work was properly implemented. I didn’t consider how that was taking my time from other clients and soon I found myself working full-time hours for the client at a rate way below what I was worth. In such a chaotic set-up, it was impossible to showcase the full value of the strategy I provided because I was doing so many ‘emergency’ tasks outside that strategy. Ultimately, my confidence decreased, causing a ripple effect in my other client relationships where I also undercharged and took on too many admin tasks beyond my scope of work.”
As a marketing professional with a range of writing-adjacent skills, Clair gave in to the temptation to demonstrate all her capabilities when the need arose. Predictably, she burned out after a few years.
4. Lack of Sector Knowledge
There are many reasons freelance writers choose tech as a niche. With the global IT industry expected to be worth $13.8 billion by 2026, it makes sound career sense.
A full 53% of respondents to IOD’s 2022 survey of tech marketing writers cited superior compensation as their key reason for going into the field. Other motivations included stimulating work (23%), career growth (12%), and steady work (7%).
However, for a professional writer without any particular tech knowledge or expertise and with no prior work experience in the tech industry, choosing a tech speciality can be a headache. Cloud? DevOps? Cybersecurity? Data engineering? AI?
Each specialist area has its own target audiences, key stakeholders, concepts, and terminology. How does an outsider become familiar with the territory? And where can he or she start to acquire the sector expertise, the confidence, and the grasp of the specialist language needed to write professionally in this space and build a lucrative and meaningful career?
5. Managing Cash Flow
Many beginner freelancers quickly give up in defeat when they experience the income insecurity that comes with independent employment. But even experienced freelancers can find themselves having to chase after the client well after payment is due. Worse, in some cases they are not paid at all, and the time, effort, and cost involved in trying to get the client to fork up the cash isn’t always worth it. Not knowing whether they’ll be able to meet their monthly expenses, many freelancers may feel forced to return to the corporate jobs they’d hoped to leave behind.
Even for more established freelancers, ensuring a steady flow of income on the back of unstable piecework is a significant challenge. Many clients offer net 30, 60, or even 90-day payment terms, with longer terms often being associated with larger and more prestigious companies and brands.
Inconsistent income makes it very difficult for freelancers to plan large purchases, schedule all-important breaks, and make important life decisions.
The IOD Talent Network
At IOD, we’re leaders in tech content, serving the most well-respected tech brands in cloud, DevOps, cybersecurity, data engineering, and AI. But beyond engineering powerful content, we’ve made it our mission to build a talent network that puts you at the center, addressing all the pain points of freelance writing.
IOD does all the heavy lifting for you—bringing you clients from leading tech companies, handling client management and administration on your behalf, and protecting your interests at all times.
As a member of the IOD Talent Network, you’ll get the full benefit of:
- Proven, streamlined processes
- Expert mentors to help you learn the ropes and grow your expertise
- Exposure to the biggest brands in tech
- Professional editors to elevate your work and implement client style guides so you can focus on research and writing
- NET 10 payment