How Freelance Writers Know Your Audience helps you do the job your customer needs

Freelance writers know your audience. Okay. Veteran British reporter and broadcaster Michael Parkinson used to have a sports-centred chat show on BBC Radio 4 one day a week, and I would listen to it if I happened to be on my way from my office west of London to my home in the north of Shropshire – a journey of nearly four hours in those days. Most of it was wallpaper and long forgotten, but I still remember his evening with Preston North End and England old boy, Tom Finney.

Tom FinneyIn Finney’s day, professional footballers earned very little. Staggering it may seem to the wealthy young men driving to the ground today in their Lambos and Maseratis, but England captain and Wolves centre half Billy Wright Billy Wright used to arrive at Molineux on the bus with the fans who were there to watch him play. In those circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that Finney’s father had insisted on him learning a trade. He was a time-served and certificated plumber and, when his football career was over, plumbing is what he went back to and he built up quite a successful business. Until not very long ago, you’d still see vans in that part of Lancashire with Tom Finney, Plumber on the side.

Parkinson asked him whether he envied the money made by today’s players and Finney said that he did not. ‘That was then, this is now.’ He went on to tell the story of a testimonial match he had played in. An ex-England player was ending his career at a lower-division club on the east coast. I can’t remember whether it was Hull or Grimsby, but I do know it was a fishing port. Testimonials mattered in those days – they could raise £200 or £300, which was serious money for someone with a young family and nothing else. The player had asked Finney and Nat Lofthouse whether they would take part and of course they had said they would.Nat Lofthouse

That was no small commitment in those days; there were no motorways and the drive from Preston in the West to Hull or Grimsby in the East would take hours. Finney said, ‘I drove down to Bolton to pick Nat up. I was driving because I had the van.’ He meant the plumbing van – neither he nor Lofthouse owned a car.

About the match he said, ‘We played for nothing. Well, that isn’t quite true. They gave me a cod and they gave Nat a haddock. I thought that was fair enough, because Nat was a better player than me.’

What I loved about that story at the time, and still do, is to compare the heroes of those days with the ones we have today. Can anyone imagine similar comments from one of the current England team?

I was interested to listen to that programme because I know who Tom Finney and Nat Lofthouse were. I saw them play. Their playing careers ended in 1960 and 69% of the current population of Britain couldn’t possibly have seen either player on the field because they weren’t yet born. Only a very small number will even have heard the names.

Picture of Deanna Durbin, in her day a wonderful singer

Deanna Durbin

I was 15 when I first heard the voice of Deanna Durbin on an old 78 recording owned by the aunt and uncle of a school friend. It poleaxed me. I still love to listen to her and I have her recordings on my iPod. If you want to know what it is I see in her, go to YouTube and search for Love’s Old Sweet Song by Deanna Durbin. When you hear the words, “… the dear dead days beyond recall,” your eyes may fill with tears. Mine do. But how many people even know who she was? She lived into her nineties, but for most people she might as well have been dead a hundred years.

Who makes up your target audience?

Writing for customers is not, unlike this post, a time for self-indulgence. The subject of this piece is: Freelance Writers Know Your Audience, and if I were writing a blog post for a customer I’d be unlikely to make Finney, Lofthouse or Deanna Durbin the centre of it. One of the things any freelancer should do on taking on a new client is to ask: ‘Who is the target audience?’ Get as much information as you can: how old they are; financial circumstances; leisure interests and the kind of work they do; where (if it’s relevant to the blog subject) they take their holidays; and so on. It isn’t about you, the writer, or what you remember and what you like to read about. The only people who matter are your customer’s target market.

Oh – and remember where they are. If I were writing this piece for an American blog – and more than 50% of my work is for American customers and written in American English – I’d have referred to soccer players and not footballers. Except that I probably wouldn’t, because I’d have looked for similar stories about American sportsmen instead.

Did I ever tell you about the time I met baseball’s first $1 million a year player, Pete Rose…?Peter Rose


If you’d like to learn more about the freelance writer’s life, you’ll find it here.