If there’s such a thing as a freelance insurance policy it’s the ability to pick out trends. If you can successfully identify changes in how things are done, how people behave or how the world works, you can turn them into story ideas, and have editors begging to work with you.
But how to you find out about trends? It takes digging and practice.
Here some ways to get started:
1. Read your hometown news. I follow local news religiously to see what’s happening in local politics, city planning, crime, culture, sports, etc., that might be indicative of national or global trends.
2. Talk to people. Remember when you were a kid how embarrassing it was that your mom talked to EVERYONE. As a freelancer, you need to embrace your inner extrovert. Follow Mom’s lead and chat it up with people at the store, subway, airport, church, school, soccer field, mall, cocktail parties, parent/teacher conferences, networking events — you get the idea. You never know when a conversation might lead to your next story. And if you really can’t stand the thought of talking to total strangers, eavesdrop — that’s what ears are for.
3. Get out of the office. One of the best ways to tap into the zeitgeist — which translated means “spirit of the time” — is going to a conference, seminar or meetup of the industry or subject you cover. I try to get to at least one conference a year. Sometimes I pay my own way, and sometimes I get some or all my expenses paid — but I always get a story, and more often than not at least two or three. There’s nothing like immersing yourself for 24 to 72 hours with the people who live and breathe what they do to sniff out trends. If you can’t afford to go out of town, check out the local chapters of professional organizations in the field you write about.
4. Go both ways. I track trends by writing for both consumer and trade magazines. Things companies in XYZ industries are dealing with today will translate into issues that will affect shoppers, consumers, workers, etc., 6 to 12 months from now, and in some cases vice versa (like the consumerization of office technology).
5. Look online (you’re on there enough anyway). These days, blogs and social media are great ways to see what’s trending, and find trendsetters to follow. If there are a handful of influential bloggers who write about what you cover follow them on Twitter or Facebook, and subscribe to their posts so you see what they’re writing as soon as it’s out.
6. Stick to a few subjects. This is where it pays to have a writing specialty, or several. If you’ve covered a subject for a while, you’ll be more in tune with changes in the status quo that could signal a trend, something you could turn into one or multiple pitches.
7. Write for at least one regular outlet. It’s tough when you know you’re onto something good but can’t convince an editor to give you the assignment because it’s so new they haven’t heard of it, or you’re too new to them to take a chance on. This is when it pays to have a few regular markets where you’re a known commodity, so when you tell the editor, “This is happening and I think we should cover it,” and he or she trusts your judgement enough to say “OK.” I’ve had that with editors before and it’s wonderful. It helps if the editor is also good at trend spotting so you can bounce ideas off each other.
What are your secrets for spotting trends? Share by leaving a comment.
[Flickr photo by Kara Allyson]