Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ideas, Ideas, Ideas!

People ask me all the time:

"How do you come up with your ideas as a freelancer? Do editors assign you stories, or do you have to come up with things by yourself?"

Both. I do get assignments from editors. But before that can happen for any freelancer, you have to establish a rapport with those editors to receive unsolicited work.

And how do you go about doing that?

Send them a list of ideas that will appeal to their readers.

Believe it or not, it's not as difficult as it sounds. Here are a few things I do regularly online to come up with no-fail pitches:

1. A simple Google search: I know you're going to laugh and say, "It can't be that easy," but here we go: Go to the Google search box and type the type of market you are pitching along with the word, "issue." For example, I write for military magazines. Yesterday, I needed to come up with pitches for a publication that is read by members of the U.S. National Guard. So I went to Google and typed in, "National Guard issues." Voila, up came lists of news stories that affect my readers. I drilled into those to advance them into timeless ideas. You can do this with any market. One of my other magazines reaches pizza restaurant owners throughout the United States and Canada. I do the same thing: "waitress issues," "front of the house issues," "back office issues," "entrepreneur issues" ... you get the idea. I know, I know, I know, it sounds too simple to be effective, but you'll be amazed at how many things you can find that can be expanded upon into great feature stores.

2. Subscribe to blogs and e-letters focusing on your personal interests: I have varying interests and hobbies that are separate from the types of trade magazines for whom I write. I practice yoga. I'm a single mom. I'm dating. I'm an antique lover. I dig British history, everything from Richard III to the Regency era. And I love experimenting in the kitchen. Attached to all of these interests are blogs that I hit periodically. "Well," you might say, "what do any of those things have to do with a military magazine? Or an entrepreneur magazine? Or a Realtor magazine?" Sometimes nothing. But sometimes I'll hit a blog entry pertaining to single parenting that can also be applied to military spouses whose husbands or wives are deployed. I might read a blog about the history of a battle in the Middle Ages or weaponry and spin that into an article about how ancient warfare tactics apply today. Or I might hit a yoga blog about building a yoga teaching business -- and the concepts are similar to what a Realtor can do to advance his or her operation. Or I might see something about Victorian architecture, which can also be applied to home sale stories for Realtors. Last year, I saw a blog about recipes for people with allergies, and that led to a story about marketing to people with allergies for pizza restaurant owners at my pizza magazine. Basically, it's taking your personal interests and thinking outside that box to see how those interests might dovetail into your niche readership. Yes, it requires a bit of brain pretzel twisting, but it's worth your time and effort. And, frankly, it's fun!

3. Keep an eye on trends in social media. I have about 4,200 followers on Twitter and 300-some on Facebook. Besides my addiction to Candy Crush (it's pretty bad, but I digress), I use social media to chat and keep my radar up for issues that concern my friends, which always translates into something that concerns my readers. On Twitter, I follow a lot of parents who have children with Asperger's Syndrome, which my child also has. Again, that leads to story ideas. I also have met great PR professionals on Twitter, who tag me when their clients have stories that may interest my readers. Facebook is another treasure trove, because my inner circle friends will discuss things that I may not otherwise hear on the more public Twitter forum. This week, we were talking about the differences between Internet Service Providers, because I'm moving to a new house and am shopping. The discussion led to an idea about customer service and marketing tactics for people moving into new homes, which I will pitch to my Realtor magazine.

The bottom line is, if you have a computer, tablet or phone, you can find ideas. The trick is using the tools online effectively to constantly think creatively and intuitively. Your editors will thank you, and your bank statement will balloon in no time.


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