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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Guest Post from Susan Johnston: 5 Trends for Freelancers to Watch in 2014

Thanks to freelancer extraordinaire Susan Johnston for today's guest post on freelance trends. I think you'll find it illuminating: 

Happy New Year, writers! Last year ushered in rapid changes and new developments in the media industry and 2014 promises to be no different. Not only are the markets and opportunities for freelancers evolving, but changes are also afoot to the way we get paid and insure our freelancer selves against potential health issues. Here's a look at five trends to consider as 2014 unfolds.

1.     More opportunities in content marketing.
Many of the freelancers I know have shifted their focus from magazine articles to content marketing (also sometimes called brand journalism or custom content). I even spoke on a panel about content marketing last year. Good content marketing places the needs of its readers before the desire to sell, sell, sell, which should alleviate some of the fears of sales-wary freelancers.

Big brands in industries including healthcare, finance, and consumer products now invest heavily in content marketing, and many of them use freelance journalists to produce that content, a need that I only see increasing in the coming year. Several industry insiders predict how content marketing may mature in the coming year. To read case studies and learn more about this growing field, I recommend reading the posts at the Content Marketing Institute and Content Strategist.

2.     Innovative uses of social media.
Freelancers use social media to crowdsource ideas and sources, promote their work, interact with readers, and in some cases even publish the work itself. I predict that writers' use of social media will continue to mature and evolve in 2014, so if you aren't signed up already, now's the time to claim your book title or name on social media before someone else does. I've even had prospective clients ask how many followers I have on Twitter or Facebook, so a strong following could be used as a selling point for savvy freelancers.

3.     Writers going indie.
Freelance pay rates for magazines have largely stagnated, and online and newspaper rates are generally even lower. Given these conditions, it's not surprising that journalists are becoming entrepreneurs by launching startups or writer communities, crowdfunding articles instead of selling to a publisher, monetizing a blog by charging readers, or self-publishing as Kelly has done with Improvise Press.

All of these smaller trends point to the broader movement of writers relying more on their own ingenuity and less on traditional publishers, a shift that I find encouraging and expect to see more of in 2014. However, these ventures aren't any easier than landing a magazine assignment or a book contract. In many cases, it's a lot more work to build your own media empire. It's also more rewarding because you pocket more of the profit and the glory if the project succeeds.

4.     Growing payment options.
Instead of mailing checks to freelancers, a growing number of companies now pay contributors through PayPal, direct deposit, or other electronic means. This is often faster and more secure than mailing a paper check, taking it to the bank, waiting for it to clear, and so on.

Sometimes clients gross up payments to cover PayPal fees, but many expect freelancers to absorb that cost (it's usually tax-deductible as a business expense but check with your accountant to be sure). Hopefully you're pricing your writing high enough that a small convenience fee from PayPal won't break the bank. However, my favorite workaround is Fresh books' $.50 flat Paypal fee on transactions. Invoice using Freshbooks and you'll only pay $.50 per PayPal transaction regardless of the invoice's size. 

If your clients still pay by check, don't despair. Mobile check deposit, which I covered for US News & World Report, has made it easier for me to deposit checks without a trip to the bank. A growing number of large and small banks have added this functionality to their mobile apps. Still, don't be surprised if more clients switch to PayPal or direct deposit in the new year, which is easier for both parties.

5.     The Affordable Care Act.
The Affordable Care Act has had its share of hiccups and controversy. Politics aside, many aspiring freelancers in the United States hesitate because the idea of going without employer-sponsored healthcare and buying their own just seems too daunting. I'm sure there are other freelancers who stay in marriages or domestic partnerships to avoid losing a spouse's employer-sponsored healthcare.

It may take some time to iron out the state healthcare exchanges, but their implementation could help those who previously felt tethered to an employer for the benefits. Massachusetts implemented its own health insurance exchange a year or two before I quit my job to freelance full-time and it's one of the things that even made that transition possible.

Freelancers, what trends are you seeing play out as the new year begins? Leave a comment and let us know!

**Susan Johnston has contributed to print and online publications including The Boston Globe, Self Magazine, and US News & World Report. Her ebook, The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets, will soon be updated for 2014, and if you buy it now, you'll get a copy of the current edition and the updated version once it's available.

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