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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Platform: What it is and How to Create Yours

What comes to mind when you think of “platform”? If you’re a book author, or aspire to be, you probably already know that platform refers to your ability to sell a book—in other words, what your name and connections bring to a book project.

Platform is as essential to an author’s success as writing ability and a stellar idea. “First an author needs a platform to convince the publisher that he or she can muster up advance interest in the topic that will result in eager buyers for the book when it is released,” says Christina Katz, author of Get Known Before the Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (Writer’s Digest Books, 2008). “In today's tight book publishing market, if you don't have that, it's going to be very difficult to convince a publisher to invest in you and your book concept.” Platform is just as important after your book is published, adds Katz; it helps you garner attention, interest, buzz, and sales.” 

However, platform isn’t just for book authors any longer. Freelancers of all stripes are finding that developing platforms helps set them apart from other writers, making it easier to market themselves. “In the ‘gig economy,’ every independent contractor needs a shorthand way to communicate the value he or she offers,” says Katz. “A freelancer's platform would emphasize value to the kind of client the writer is aiming to serve.”

A platform is more than a specialty. Platform encompasses not just what you write about, but who your readers are--and how many of them know who you are, and may do something (like buy your book, or read a blog post or article because you wrote it) as a result.

If you’re a freelancer without a platform, you can start building one by thinking about what your clients (both current and future) need, and what you can offer them. Freelancer Meagan Francis, creator of the blog, says platform is important because she covers a specific topic that she has personal knowledge of and strong opinions about. “I'm a mom--I write about motherhood,” says Meagan Francis, author of The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood (Weldon Owen, 2011). “I know a lot of writers feel boxed in and limited by the idea of narrowing down to a specific focus. But for me—at least right now—it gives me much-needed structure and focus to my work.”

Francis has been writing about parenthood for eight years and says developing a platform has made her more focused. “I was always interested in mind/body, wellness, psychology, relationships and self-help, from a mother's perspective, but could never figure out quite how to make that work for me when I was trying to make a living selling one magazine article at a time,” says Francis. “At some point I realized that I actually wanted to be like the Martha Beck [a well-known life coach] for moms (speaking of platform!) and that helped it gel for me. For now, it works…in my case I am lucky enough that my platform actually encompasses almost all the other things I wanted to write about, anyway.”

Once you’ve identified your unique value to clients, you can start building your platform, continuing to grow the one you already have, or creating a new one. John Borchardt, a Houston freelancer who writes for magazines and corporate clients, developed a new platform to help him diversify his freelance work.

Platforms are important to me in both writing for magazines and working as a technical writer for corporate clients. My original platform was writing magazine job-hunting articles customized to the needs of industrial scientists and engineers. I continue to write in this area. This builds on my work experience as an industrial scientist and engineer,” says Borchardt. “I developed a second platform based on this same industrial background: writing articles on various aspects of science and engineering: energy, recycling, the environment, global warming, etc. More recently I have drawn on my industrial background as a technology manager to write articles on business management.”

When you have chosen your platform, make sure you can describe what it is and what it means for clients. For example, my current platform is that I’m an experienced collaborator who helps health, fitness, and nutrition experts writebooks. That’s a short, specific statement that describes my value to potential clients.

Second, make sure that you’re spreading the word about what you do. Your social media presence on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter should remind people of your platform, as should your email signature. The same goes for when you meet someone online or in person. Ideally, everything you do should support and continue to build your platform, whatever it is. 

If you’re resisting the idea of limiting yourself to a specific identity, remember that your platform can always grow and adapt as your writing career does. A platform isn’t static; it can grow and change as your career does. The key is that it reflects your unique identity as a writer, and helps you reach clients who will want to hire you.

**This post was drawn from Secret #11: Create a platform, from Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success

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