Freelance Writing and the Rise of the Digital Start-up

On a recent trip from Edinburgh to Newcastle, I was browsing the technology section of the magazines in W H Smith. Amongst the usual tech magazines that you normally find in train station bookshops, I was surprised to see a number of mags geared towards digital start-ups, a few examples of which you can see in the photo I took above.


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Having read dozens of articles online about digital start-ups as research for my own (and my client’s) ventures, I realised that I’ve never seen any guides about digital start-ups in print form. So, with larger bookstores now seemingly aligning their focus on would-be start-ups and freelancers, I thought I’d do some research into freelancing as a career in 2014, and as it turns out, in digital terms, it’s all about content.


Freelancing – Where it all Began


Nowadays, all you need to start your own digital empire is a laptop and an internet connection, but where did the idea of freelancing come from? Well, the first use of the word ‘freelance’ appeared in the book Ivanhoe written by Sir Walter Scott in 1819 when a mercenary soldier said “I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.” Even in the context of this 19th Century story, the term ‘freelance’ is self-explanatory as the solider offers his work to the highest bidder.


An Increasingly Popular Career Choice for Gen Y



We’ve all seen the comic strip above and chuckled to ourselves with the slightest feeling of guilt that what we’re doing isn’t considered a ‘proper job’ by some. However, according to a recent ELance survey, freelancing is now seen as a highly attractive and lucrative career path by 87% of students who hold first or second class degrees. This compares to 77% of those who hold lower class degrees. The survey reports that 21% of graduates with first class honours say they have already made a conscious decision to work as a freelancer, which suggests that freelancing is on the rise for graduates with the strongest degree results.


Interestingly, 29% of the graduates interviewed said that freelancing is part of their five year career strategy plan. So, in the light of these findings, how might we respond to the freelance sceptics? Well, we could always take a leaf out of this writer’s book when it comes to responding to such freelance taunts.


It’s all about the Content, Baby


As more graduates choose freelancing as a career, the more digital start-ups we’ll see over the coming years. So what freelancing skills will be most in demand in the future? Well, according to the same ELance survey from 2013, if trends continue, then us freelance writers will be the ones reaping the rewards:


Top 10 Skills Supplied by UK Freelancers to Businesses in 2013:

  1. Article Writing
  2. Content Writing
  3. English translation
  4. Blogs
  5. Web Content
  6. Graphic Design
  7. PHP
  8. Copywriting
  9. Creative Writing
  10. HTML


Great, so as freelance writers it looks like we’re quids in when it comes to outsourcing. But let me play devil’s advocate for a few sentences. Remember, there will always be some freelancer out there willing to write the same content as you for half the price. More than likely though, the quality won’t be as high or the results as obviously measurable. Outsourcing websites like the one that commissioned the aforementioned survey, don’t exactly set high industry standards when it comes to pricing. The solution: standing out from the crowd.


Freelance Survival – Carving Out a Niche


As we begin to see an increase in digital start-ups, it might not be long before we’re all competing for the same contracts so what can we do to future-proof our freelance careers? Well, from my own observations and having done this myself, new online businesses tend to produce industry-standard or ‘filler’ content – the type that might enable your website to rank within Google’s first ten pages. So as a freelance veteran, establishing yourself as an authority in a few niche topics can go a long way to ensuring your survival. By focusing on optimizing for a handful of topics that reflect your expertise, you’ll set yourself apart from the competition and differentiate yourself from the young guns coming up the ranks.


What do you think about the seeming rise of freelance writing as a career? What do you make of the survey’s findings? Do any of these statistics surprise you? What steps have you taken to future-proof your freelance career? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Jamie Thomson

Jamie Thomson is an award-winning senior copywriter and the owner Brand New Copy copywriting studio. With over 15 years professional writing experience, he helps companies engage with their target audience through tailored content strategies and exceptional copywriting.

  • Great post Jamie! Personally, I’ve established working relationships with agencies where I’ve found a niche in several areas of writing and tend to focus my talents on those niches, as you mention in your article. There will always be companies looking for cheap “filler” content but if we keep searching hard enough we’ll find those who want quality over quantity. I think it’s important to always keep marketing yourself too – I try to devote some time each week to marketing and looking for new opportunities!

    • Hi Paula. Thanks for your comment. I’m the same. I tend to get offered work within my niches. Sounds like you’ve got it sussed on the marketing side of things.

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