One of the most common obstacles that freelance content writers face is the demand for articles in subjects they know very little about. By the time you sit down to write, someone has always taken the article about visiting the part of the United States you could write pages on and you’re stuck writing about the reproduction of plant cells for a biochem lab. This can frequently be a stumbling block for new business writers, who expect to be able to simply, as the saying goes, “write what they know.” Luckily, the path to being an expert on any topic doesn’t need to involve a university course, a kind-hearted and wise old yogi, or even more than twenty to thirty minutes of your time. Fundamentally, expertise in subjects you are unfamiliar with is about time management.
Tip 1: Make a Plan
Nightmare scenario: you took an offer from a hardware company about the ways to cool data centers. Don’t panic, just plan. As a business writer, you have already mapped what you expect to make per hour. Content this specialized usually carries a higher asking price for writers, so factor this in. You can learn all you need to write a strong article on heat sinks in 15 minutes of attentive research. Set a timer and start searching.
Tip 2: Go Social
Most companies are using Twitter now to connect with their audiences, including you. Go to twitter and follow the company you are writing for and see what they’ve linked to. What you are looking for are industry specific websites and news sources — these usually publish guides for managers and professionals. If you were writing about data centers, for example, you might find Data Center Journal, an entire website about those wonderous server farms that keep the Internet running.
Tip 3: Skim, Then Read
The last thing you want to do is waste your time reading an article that won’t help you write. Don’t read anything until you’ve already assessed its worth. It is important to skim and make sure you’re not taking something from a biased source, that doesn’t relate to your field, or looks like it was written by someone seriously lacking in English language proficiency. As soon as you find one article that works, save it and find a second. Then read them both.
Tip 4: Write What You Know and What You Knew
Business writers may not know much about the technical specifics of data centers, but they do know about ROI and TCO. Use your existing expertise to augment your new knowledge. By connecting new information to something you are already familiar with, you are not posing as an expert — you are one.
Seth F writes about games, does comedy, and works on screenplays when he isn’t selling articles about asphalt and yoga.