Five Quick and Easy Ways to Know Your Market

by Devyani Borade

December 2013

'Know your target market!' is an oft-repeated piece of sage advice offered to novice freelance writers. Makes sense, really. You can't work for or with someone without knowing what kind of work they do and what they are trying to achieve.

But how do you go about it exactly?

For writers who write for a variety of clients, not just literary venues, knowing your market means knowing who your customers are, who their customers are (age, gender, usage habits, and the values they hold dear), and what needs they are trying to satisfy. It also means knowing if their business is expanding or declining, where they get their funding, how large a subscriber base they have, what the current industry trends are, and what their competition is doing.

In an ideal world, every freelance writer would have plenty of time to perform:

a) indirect market research, based on existing published information available in libraries, regional directories, exhibitions, trade fairs, even the Chamber of Commerce and Office of National Statistics; and

b) direct market research, by approaching customers, agents and suppliers personally and gathering feedback.

However, the world is far from ideal, and if freelance writers were to invest so much time into doing research about their target market, they would never get any actual work done. Besides, there is no guarantee that getting market details right also gets a successful result 100% of the time. So you need to work smart to get the most value out of the least effort. Here are five quick and easy ways to get to know your target market:

1. Subscribe to their newsletter

Every business has an online presence in the form of a website, and most offer free newsletter subscriptions in return for an email address. Create a mock email address that you can use for such activities and subscribe to their newsletters to know what topics they are talking about and how they treat them.

2. Use social media

Most businesses also have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. It is easy to "follow" them online to keep in touch with the latest buzz. Eventually you will get an idea of what they like and dislike, and may even start predicting forthcoming content. Voila! You are on the road to a commission.

3. Read market reports and trade press

Every industry has a collation of information leaflets/pamphlets/tidbits called "market/trade news" which profile the small and big players in that field. This is a priceless mine of information about potential markets. An added advantage for the time-pressed freelance writer is that this information is delivered in a concise and precise nutshell containing the most pertinent and relevant points, so it is easy to scan and there's not an overwhelming volume to digest.

For example, a popular market dipstick is (formerly Duotrope's Digest), although this now requires a fee subscription for use. Others are,, and The traditional forms are annual compilations published by the likes of Writer's Digest and Children's Writer.

4. Use online tools

Online tools like polls and questionnaires are a popular way to sample the customer base. These may help you to identify new customers and understand what appeals to them. That is one step away from enabling you to make suggestions for new slants and come up with fresh ideas and pitches to garner their attention.

5. Ask family and friends

Often it may be as simple as requesting your family and friends to keep their eyes and ears open and let you know of any areas of interest that could develop into a future sale for you. Writers whose work you like or who write in similar domains as you can be great sources for market tips. Just check their biographies and websites for ideas about new markets and what your market of interest is looking for.

Once you determine what works for you, do keep a track of which method got the most results, so that you can repeat your success!

Devyani BoradeComment