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Key Takeaways from “The $100 Startup” for Freelance Writers

A few months ago, I was browsing the bookshop for a book that would help me improve the way I think and approach my business. I decided to read book, ‘The $100 Startup’ by Chris Guillebeau.

And wow, let me just say, I’m late to the party.

Although this book came out in 2012 and focuses on product-based businesses, there were a lot of key takeaways for freelance writers as well.

Here are the top four lessons I now carry with me from this book. I’ve recreated excerpts here that are slightly paraphrased or summarized for clarity.

Always Bias Towards Action

“ When you’re just getting started, how do you know if an idea is marketable? Well, you don’t always know for sure — that’s why you start as soon as you can and avoid spending much money.” (Chapter: The One Page Business Plan, page 95).

Many new freelance writers get bogged down with which course they should buy, building a website, tinkering with niches, and other stuff that isn’t necessary for the very beginning.

Update your LinkedIn, draft up two samples about things you want to write about, and go find some people who might be interested in having you write about those things.

Doesn’t matter where you look, you’ll find these same three tips. So the sooner you take action, the sooner you can begin knowing what it’s like to work with clients, the kind of things they’re looking for, and honing the skills that will support your success.

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Content Marketing is Customer Service

“Many of these unusual businesses thrive by giving things away, recruiting a legion of fans and followers who support their paid work whenever it is finally offered.

“Empowering others is our greatest marketing effort,” said Scott Meyer [business owner]. “We host training, giving away free materials, and answer any question someone emails us at no charge whatsoever.”
(Chapter: Renaissance, page 6–7)

This paragraph really struck me because it goes to show: content marketing is customer service. You’re putting in the time, effort, and resources into helping readers out well before they’re close to making a purchasing decision. On some level, people know and appreciate that, and may eventually feel inclined to return the favor.

I use this sentence in my conversations with potential clients. Sometimes you need to shift the value perception of written content so you can have a better chance of getting hired.

Content Should Always Be Leveraged as Marketing Material

“A well-designed FAQ page has another, extremely important purpose. You could call it “Operation Objection Busting”. (Chapter: An Offer You Can’t Refuse, page 120)

In this quote — Guillebeau is saying that your FAQ pages should work like mini-sales copy. Use it to answer common objections and give your readers the little extra nudge of confidence they need to buy.

However, I love this quote because it illustrates a larger point. Content should never just sit around and exist for free. Content should only be created if it promotes your offer and supports your larger marketing goals. Put every last word to work.

When planning out content, consider how each piece of content addresses a chunk of the sales funnel and/or the buyer’s journey.

Informative content helps with discovery list content helps readers know their options, comparative content helps with decisions, and so on.

Think about how you can internally link pieces of content together so your content leads people from discovery to sale.

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Focus on Value & “Usefulness” — not Innovation

A marketable idea doesn’t have to be a big, groundbreaking idea; it just has to provide a solution to a problem or be useful enough that other people are willing to pay for it. Don’t think innovation, think usefulness.”
(Chapter: The One Page Business Plan, page 95)

As freelancers, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to invent something entirely new to offer. We have that creative spirit, after all.

But, not everything has to be brand new — and in fact, when you’re just starting out, it’s probably safer to stick to something that has been market-tested. Once you hone down your core skills, you can always add your own flair, value, and expertise.

Yes, you could niche down to “writer who takes Facebook live videos and turns them into virtual-reality press releases” — but it’s better to start small and scale up as you learn more about what the market needs.

Even though it’s from 2012, there are a lot of interesting business lessons in there, especially for freelance writers who are looking to niche down or design a signature service that frees them from feast or famine.

Especially in these weird and uncertain times, I think it’s important to bias towards action if you’re in the headspace to do so. It’s a safe time to try new things, experiment, and create more than you consume.