How to Generate Work from Your Local Knowledge


50 place-based ways to grow a freelance business


Do you like people, your corner of the world, ongoing learning, variety, flexibility, and being creative? Would having these elements in your freelance work make it more meaningful and fulfilling, fun and easy? Generating work from local knowledge — general, specialized, or a bit of both — may be for you.

As the publisher of local guidebooks and regional histories for over 20 years, I traveled in the circles of local everything — local knowledge, local lore, local street cred. From the beginning to the end, I was surprised by, enlightened by, and in service to the power of all things local. It left no doubt that this was a rich, near endless area anyone could tap for work inspiration and options.

I’ve seen dozens of people create and evolve customized freelance work in this area that provided good reliable income for themselves in a relatively short amount of time, delivered their desired lifestyle, and endured. What’s beautiful is that it’s okay to start with where you’re at and what you have — that’s all you can do anyway — and build from there.

Before getting into 50 place-based ways to grow your freelance business, here are the top big-picture tips I’ve gleaned from observing those who come to specialize in content production based on local knowledge:

  • Develop multiple income streams and develop them simultaneously.

  • Explore various income-rich areas including writing, speaking, classes/workshops, tours, products, consulting, and commissions/sponsorships/cross-promotions/affiliate marketing.

  • Participate in the ecosystem of connections around you (e.g., friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, professional groups, clubs, where you eat, where you play, where you shop, churches, libraries, schools…)

  • Always be learning and expanding your knowledge — go broad, go narrow, go lateral.

  • Cultivate, maintain, grow, and work your lists — email and media.

  • Maximize exposure through traditional media and social media.

  • Slowly increase pricing as you and your time become more in demand.

 

  1. Provide content on all things local wherever and whenever you can. Here’s a master reference list of local and regional hooks and angles for writers, authors, businesses, marketers, and publicists.

  2. Know the power of engaging sense of place when writing for your audience and clients’ audiences.

  3. Provide local material for local businesses’ content needs. Find these businesses outside your front door or through local chambers of commerce or tourism organizations. Here’s how to work with these (mostly) small businesses.

  4. Approach local newspapers and magazines (print and online) and offer a regular column on a local topics (e.g., important people or dates in local history, the origin of local street names, local flora and fauna).

  5. Pitch travel, history, culture, people, and business freelance articles about your place to local, regional, national, and international publications.

  6. Focus your own blog on all things local, some narrower slice of local interest, or the intersection of your area of expertise and local knowledge.

  7. Start a Substack newsletter devoted to some aspect of local interest.

  8. Find Patreon patrons with regional travel or history offerings.

  9. Sell local tourism information, fun regional to-do checklists, and similar products on Gumroad.

  10. Publish your own ebooks on favorite local topics (e.g., food & drink, crime/vice/scandals, ghosts & legends, hometown vernacular) and sell on Amazon, your website, and other outlets.

  11. Consider having print copies of your book to sell at speaking events, your speaking events, to your classes/for classes, on your tours, to local libraries (including school libraries), and to dozens of local stores who do well selling local content (bookstores, gift shops, neighborhood vendors, and tourist locales of all stripes). How many do you think you can sell? Your print choices include print-on-demand (2–20 at a time), short-run printing (100–500 at a time), or traditional offset printing (1,000–3,000 at a time), with unit costs going down dramatically with higher volume.

  12. Follow in the footsteps of authors I know like Amy Bizzarri, Margaret Littman, Greg Borzo, Jean Iversen (and thousands of others) and write one local specialty travel book after another for indie presses, university presses, and major publishers.

  13. Research and write as a way to get paid for your local knowledge and learning, but also to cultivate a readership and as a foundation for developing the other income streams I elaborate on below.

  14. Begin an income stream based on giving public programs. Extrovert or introvert. Enthusiastic amateur or noted expert. Informal and intimate or polished and charismatic. Regardless of temperament or approach, if you have local expertise of value—make that any degree of interesting knowledge — to share with others and can put together a solid program for delivering it, you can start making money as a speaker. See Speaking Gigs 101.

  15. Start with one excellent stock program that can be customized for different audiences and build from there. Make sure your first public program is solid, interesting, polished, professional. Those who hire speakers and presenters love to share knowledge. If you are mediocre, unprepared, flail, they will spread the word. If you arrive polished and deliver something fascinating and wonderful, they will also spread that news.

  16. Next, find ways to enhance your local-interest program/s: playing music that relates to your topic as the crowd is settling in, props, artifacts to pass around, slideshow or video, cross-promotional giveaways from local businesses, and your own swag (postcards, bookmarks, etc.).

  17. Ask the audience for things after your programs end: to sign up for your mailing list, to permit a crowd photo for your social media purposes, to invite them to snap a photo for their social media, to ask for referrals for other speaking engagements. Build marketing and business development nudges into your activities and the work will flow to you more easily over time.

  18. Speak on your topic at libraries. Consider travel time when pricing a program that may last only 45 to 90 minutes.

  19. Speak at historical societies. Consider reducing your fee if you have a book that you want to sell and sign after the program, especially if a big crowd is expected.

  20. Speak at clubs and luncheons— private clubs and hobby-based clubs, fraternal organizations, alumni associations, Ladies Who Lunch, and ROMEOS (retired old men eating out).

  21. Speak to meetings of professional organizations. Consider speaking for free if you’re just getting started and need testimonials, or if you have something else to gain from a particular crowd: referrals, potential clients, book sales, etc.

  22. Speak to retirement communities, senior centers, and independent living facilities where local nostalgia, love of history, and free time run deep.

  23. Speak at schools, from elementary to college to adult ed. Adapt your material for each setting. Fun fact: Most school districts mandate a local history curriculum for 3rd/4th graders.

  24. Once you’re comfortable speaking and have a deep well of local knowledge, develop classes and workshops for different audiences on different topics and in different formats to teach what you know. Who wants to learn such things? Why? How?

  25. Match your topic to the format. A genealogy workshop might take 8 hours. A local fauna class may happen on a 60-minute hike. (Also see Author Events 101 for more details on customizing events for your purposes.)

  26. Match your format for the audience. Classes for business travelers or tourists who don’t live locally may require audio or video options that can be purchased online.

  27. Your customers are not always those who take a class. Consider that grade and high schools purchase programming for their students. Retirement communities and senior centers likewise arrange classes for their residents and guests. Once down this path, ask the program coordinator for referrals. They tend to know others in the field who also hire for programming.

  28. Along those same lines, partner with institutions that are in the business of offering a range of classes: adult education/enrichment centers, libraries and historical societies, university extension programs, nature centers, music schools, and similar.

  29. From classes, it’s an easy segue to local tours — by foot, bike, Segue, private car, bus, trolley. Think of tours as informal classes in motion. You may offer your tours independently or through other organizations, such as historical societies, tourism agencies, tour companies, or corporate event planners.

  30. Get a feel for planning and leading tours by partnering with other organizations first. Consider these paid internships! Not only will you learn more about the process and logistical details, you will get an idea if this is something you can do on your own or if you’re better off doing tours for others.

  31. As with speaking programs, start with one high-quality basic tour that can be customized for different audiences and build from there.

  32. As you build up a repertoire of available tours, think both broad (highlights of a city) and narrow (neighborhood, food, sports, music, history tours).

  33. Build stops into your tours based on relevant connections. What all would add a little something, something to your tour? Guest appearances by a local chef, musician, archivist, architecture expert? Behind-the-scenes sneak peeks at ballparks, City Hall, museum loading docks?

  34. Keep adding in the extra: Yes to food samples, costumes, and music, but also to the ongoing refinement of your material. Better jokes, anecdotes, historical nuggets, ways to rally the crowd.

  35. Tours, like classes and speaking programs, are captive audiences, but often captive audiences that are more inclined to spend. Find ways to tie in all the other things: How can you also sell products? Promote your content? Work with sponsors? Mention related consulting services?

  36. Another option for your local expertise are related products (physical, digital, and audio) that you can sell from your website, at speaking events/tours/classes, and through local stores.

  37. Consider audio products (music/spoken word, books, tours, classes),

  38. Consider video products (tours, classes, a You Tube channel).

  39. Consider physical products: souvenirs, T-shirts, postcards and other photo-based products. Only produce products that are a good fit with your brand and that you are proud of. No junk for the sake of having stuff to sell.

  40. Work the numbers in advance for physical products so that you are only buying inventory in reasonable quantities that you can realistically move and sell at a price customers will pay that ensures you a profit.

  41. Take as many forms of payment as possible to make it easy for people to buy from you in informal settings such as after presentations or tours. Cash, checks, credit cards (through Square or similar), PayPal, Venmo, Zelle. (Note: Having taken hundreds of personal checks from strangers in my career, I think I have only received two bad checks, and one of those the customer eventually made good on.)

  42. Have your products available at as many places as possible (that actually sell and not just store or display your offerings) and share this information widely (your email newsletter, from the podium at events, etc.).

  43. Consult. As you grow your freelance options in the local knowledge sector and build up your connections and areas of expertise, stay attuned to specialized ways you can employ your growing stashes of information. Do you know a neighborhood like the back of your hand and its changing demographics? Who in the real estate and business relocation worlds would pay for your insights? Who needs your in-depth history knowledge and research skills? Businesses who want to incorporate historic elements into their headquarters design? Movie location scouts?

  44. Consider offering one-hour conversations in which you can share your expertise for money.

  45. Practice making offers to possibly interested others suggesting the ways you can help without expecting positive responses. Get used to introducing the idea, proposing things, starting conversations. Make it second nature. Expect that some ideas will fly, some clients will bite; others will not.

  46. Here’s a good formula for the above: “If x is something that is useful for you, I can do a, b, and c or something a little broader/narrower like d, e, and f.” If they express interest, tell them you’ll send some more details and options in an email (include 2–3 options at different price points), then follow up to firm up. It’s “service marketing,” and it’s a great way to build a 100% referral business.

  47. Over time, you’ll discover two useful and somewhat contradictory things: how to listen and tailor offerings to the specific customer and their needs and what sort of “packages” appeal to the most people that you can flesh out as your primary offerings.

  48. Finally, the extra gravy: sponsorships, commissions, cross-promotions, and affiliate marketing opportunities. Doing local knowledge work, you will always be meeting new people, expanding your networks, and happening upon felicitous synchronicities. When synergies spark with other solo professionals, businesses, organizations, and tourism agencies, consider how you can work together to help each other out. Can a neon sign business help sponsor your book of local neon photography? Can your ghostly legends tour make a stop at a haunted pub that provides you a commission based on sales? Can you and fellow guides pass out brochures for each other’s tours?

  49. Just like starting out with consulting, realize that it takes practice to think up ideas in this category and practice proposing them. Acclimate yourself to the process and it will become casual and second nature in no time.

  50. Consider in advance proposal options as well as the language you’ll use. You want to be clear in what you’re suggesting and also give the other person a chance to gracefully decline or propose their alternative. Focus on maintaining the relationship.