Not to blow my own trumpet, but I think I am a pretty good journalist and copywriter and have always had great feedback from clients. I just find I don’t get nearly enough work to actually feed myself. Is this happening across the board, or is there something I can do to change this? (Sorry for the ‘how long is a piece of string’ question). Anna
This is a recurring theme on our blog, and in a lot of cases, I think not getting enough work, or any work for that matter, boils down to one thing: not marketing yourself as much as you should. Some freelancers do struggle heaps, unfortunately, but I know of quite a few who are making a ridiculously decent living, even when things are a bit quiet out there or it’s tax time, or print titles have a freelance freeze. How? Because they market the HELL out of themselves, they’re good at it, and they never take their eye off the ball.
Here’s what that should look like:
1. Letting clients and editors know you’re there. While you may be shit-hot and the BEST at whatever it is you do, most clients and editors are not going to go out of their way to chase you down and throw lucrative projects your way, which means you have to go out of your way to find them and coax them into giving you work. I know that sucks, but it is what it is. Of course, when you DO find those clients and alert them to your presence and brilliance, be aware that they can and will Google you immediately. So make sure your LinkedIn, Facebook page, Twitter account, blog, online portfolio – or wherever else you promote yourself – is up-to-date. And offer a multitude of ways you can be contacted.
2. Staying in touch. The once-every-six-months-missive-when-you-remember to a client lead that’s gone cold is not what I’m talking about. In your marketing strategy, you need to establish a decent reminder program that prompts you to get in touch with clients and editors at least once a month. (I’m personally terrible at this so I really need to take my own advice.) That might mean a quick email, a pitch, a mention of a WordPress update you’ve seen or a cool plugin they might be interested in. Or it might be a newsletter. I know freelancers who send regular newsletters to their editor and client base – and while that might give some of you the willies, it’s a really interesting exercise in keeping your employers up to date with what you’re doing, and perhaps even make them think, ‘Hey, Anna just wrote about X, I might get her to do a related piece about Y for my publication / website / blog’. The flip side is an editor / client thinking, ‘Why are you sending me this? I get 500 emails a day. DELETE’ but you’re always going to come across this, and it shouldn’t stop you putting yourself out there.
3. Write a blog about what you do. If you’re good at what you do, then BLOW that trumpet, Anna! It’s not only a great way to share your knowledge and set yourself up as an authority in your field, but it’s a bloody FANTASTIC way for potential clients and editors to get wind of what it is you actually do, and with any luck, hire you to to do it for them. How to do this? On your own blog, preferably, that you MARKET the hell out of at every opportunity, but you could also make use of LinkedIn’s publishing platform. You’re already connected on there to a wide network of potential clients, and it’s a way to stay engaged and connected to them. And hopefully, pique someone’s interest in potentially hiring you for their next project.
4. Pitch. Then pitch some more. Wouldn’t it be lovely if all editors flooded our inboxes with offers of work at $1/word? Ahhh, let me just daydream about that for a moment. Right, back to the real world. You have to pitch to get work. You have to SELL ideas to editors – good ones – that will work in their publications. You have to offer value to clients. You have to help solve their problems. Do this and do it regularly, and I guarantee you’ll get more work. We’re currently revamping our pitching document for the new site (launching hopefully in April) which will help you track your pitches – stay tuned for more on that.
5. Don’t lose heart. Have you ever heard it said that you have to put yourself in front of people six times before they decide to buy? That’s why it’s important to have a long-term marketing strategy that you are diligent in following – to keep yourself fresh in your clients’ minds, to chase new business and new clients, and to ensure you always have a wide pool of income streams from which to fish from.
What do you do to market yourself and ensure you have enough work?
This week, a journo friend of mine who’s expecting her first baby asked her mates on Facebook about what life will be like after her baby arrives – and how she’ll still work, and do everything she normally does (once maternity leave is over). The post was full of the kind of brilliant advice only parents could give, and it’s stayed with me.
I still think the hardest lesson I had to learn after having Charlie was to let go of the fact that I could do everything, especially workwise. Because I used to, and then suddenly – I couldn’t. It sounds depressing, but I think it’s quite liberating to acknowledge that you’re not a superhero, that you have choices and that you have to carefully prioritise in order to create a happier and less stressful life for yourself. Here are some strategies I have used and I’d love to hear yours too!
Strategy 1: Focus on money-making over passion projects.
While pregnant I started a pregnancy and motherhood blog… and yep, I know, nothing like choosing a saturated market – but it was mainly for me and my husband’s family overseas. I religiously wrote a post once a week for a good 18 months. I started to monetise it and worked hard to grow it, but ultimately I didn’t have the resources or the time to focus on it. I had to make the tough call to focus on my work that made money. Hard decision, but ultimately I’m happier for it (and so is the bank and all the people who keep sending me bills). Will I go back to it? Maybe, but when I can afford to have a passion project. The truth is, many of us can’t. And that’s just life.
Strategy 2: Do one thing at a time and do it well.
We like to think we can multi-task over numerous things and spread ourselves thin, while also zipping over to Facebook at regular intervals and checking on what our mates are up to and what’s happening in all the groups we’re in and … well, something invariably suffers. That’s why, when I’m with my kid, I try not to work at all. (Easier said than done). When I’m not with him, I try to close my mail, my social media programs and everything that distracts me so I can narrow my focus to one thing at a time, finish that, then move onto the next. And I have to say, I find it really satisfying to cut out all the mental chit-chat and distraction and just get something done.
Strategy 3: Have a good storage system for ideas.
Creative people are often bursting with ideas ALL THE DAMN TIME. I know I am. I also know I have to make very conscious choices as to which rabbit hole I decide to venture down into. That’s why I’m loving Trello and the ease with which it enables me to save and organise all my ideas and grand plans. It calms my farm to know that while I might not be able to action them TODAY, maybe someday I will and they’re waiting there for when I can.
Strategy 4: Don’t be afraid to negotiate on deadlines.
If I want to take a project on but the deadline is too tight, I’ll ask for more time. Right at the start of a commission, of course, not the day before the piece is due – but I find most editors are willing to help if they really want you to write the piece for them. Same thing goes with clients. I think they like to know that the person they’re hiring is in demand and busy. It gives them confidence that you’re good and will do a top job on their project.
Strategy 5: Push back against the urge to fill your schedule.
How many times this week have you said to someone without thinking, ‘Oh busy as always!’ or ‘It’s crazy at the moment’ or ‘Sorry, I haven’t had a chance to call you back – this week’s been mental’. Being busy seems to be the mantra we all live by, but do we have to? Is a full schedule necessary? Do we have to say yes to everything? Pack as much into our weekends as possible? No. I found the minute I started to build some breathing room into my life, the better I worked and the happier I was.
Do you agree? Or have another strategy to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
I love your blog and you often talk about how critical it is for journalists (like me, veterans of the newsroom) to upskill in order to be relevant in today’s market and be of value to new clients. But I don’t have a lot of time to go and re-train, especially with freelancing / making money being my top priority. What study solutions are out there for someone like me? Janet
The good news, Janet, is there are lots. I’m guessing that you’re not planning to write about the same genres, for the same clients, on the same titles forever – and I’m not either, which is why six years ago, with three children under five, I went back to school. And, I left college with qualifications in communications and media, photography, marketing and business PR in a four-year up-skilling frenzy of crazy scheduling work, kids and study that almost broke my brain.
While some naysayers said it was completely crazy to accumulate student debt (as I already had a 20+ year journalism and marketing career and qualifications under my belt), others loudly insisted that I should focus on bringing home the bacon solely as a writer. However, to me, increasing my skillset was and still is a crucial part of staying relevant in a rapidly evolving industry. It also has the added bonus of justifying my fees, broadening my job seeking range and providing a competitive edge.
So how can you get those new skills under your belt with the least possible upheaval – AND keep on freelancing at the same time? You do it online.
Studying has never been easier than it is now, thanks to 24/7 virtual classrooms, downloadable course work, video tutorials, wikis and of course online forums with fellow students. Oh, and an ability to work at your own pace, which I appreciated when I enrolled with the UTAS (University of Tasmania) to complete a unit on producing Photo Essays in 2016. Studying online fit so easily into my life that I’ve already signed up for another course on recording and maximising visual components for social media, later in the year.
Regardless of whether you want to pursue a hobby, find a diploma, complete a certificate or look into postgraduate work, these options are all available online from some of the world’s most prestigious universities and colleges. Best of all, you can search directly through your university of choice. Or, through a gateway portal like the ground-breaking Massive Open Online Course AKA MOOCS, Open2Study, FutureLearn, edX, openU, iversity or Coursera, with many of the units and modules on offer being free.
What’s on your to-learn list this year?
Every day it brings a new story, it seems, about the joys of quitting a soulless 9-5 office job to go freelance. However, if you’ve been in the game a bit longer than six weeks, you know it’s a little more complex than that.
With Valentine’s Day next week, we thought it was the perfect time to talk about the love-hate relationship most of us have with our choice of career.
On the plus side, we have the freedom to pitch ideas on subjects we’re passionate about, choose our own hours, wear what we like to work and never have to sit through another mind-numbing meeting. On the flipside, there’s the pitch void, isolation, late payments and the need to fight and protect our pay rates so we can chase some kind of financial stability.
So if you’ve lost that loving feeling, here’s a reminder from List members who answered the question, ‘What do you love most about freelancing?’ in our latest survey, in order of most popular:
1. Flexibility to set my own hours and choose when and how I work
2. Working from home (in my tracky-dacks if I so desire)
3. Ability to fit work around family / kids
4. I love the variety of work I do
5. Not having to deal with office politics
6. Being able to pitch /choose who I work for/what I want to write about
7. The ‘remote’ nature of freelancing and ability to work and travel at the same time
8. I love bit feeling trapped by a permanent role
9. I have the option to work harder and potentially make more money than I would if I was salaried in –house
10. No-one breathing down my neck or timing my lunch hour
11. I love the isolation and lack of workplace distractions
12. Less stress working from home
We also loved the comments you guys left, such as:
‘I like the flexibility to pick and choose the jobs I say yes to, and how they fit around the goals and workflow of my other part-time gig’
‘Freelancing gives me the flexibility I need with a school-aged child’
‘Freelance = autonomy, independence, flexibility. No-one can sack a freelancer’
‘I never had the same creativity or career opportunities in-house. I’m crazy about freelancing’
‘No salary cap, the sky is the limit!’
‘I love being able to ditch clients who are rude, horrible or hard to work with gives me a great sense of power over my own destiny’
‘Freelancing gives me the free time and space to write my YA and MG fiction, and other books/blogs’
‘The joy of actually writing and working with copy instead of the mountains of random admin and marketing jobs that piled up on my desk when I was an editor’
‘Honourable mentions go to: not having to deal with office politics, not feeling trapped by a permanent role and loving the isolation and the variety of work’
‘Freelance = autonomy, independence, flexibility. No-one can sack a freelancer!’
What do you love most about freelancing?
I’ve been in this game for a long time, and have a few long-standing clients I am no longer so keen on working for. It’s nothing I can really put my finger on – the occasional project creep, the more than occasional absurd change to my copy. But I’d love your thoughts on when is it time to cut your losses and move on, rather than pushing on and struggling through? Fiona
If you’ve been freelance for longer than six months, you’ve probably experienced wonderful clients, problem clients and ho-hum clients. It’s really up to you to decide at what point the misery is outweighing the joy of being paid. Because, in a career where landing lucrative long-term gigs can be challenging, most of us are guilty of hanging onto clients we’re not passionate about.
I’m not talking about the ulcer-inducing client who gives us flaky briefs, late payments and sleepless nights (see Rachel’s post, “Am I crazy to end a client relationship even if it’s making me miserable?” for more on this). I’m more referring to those clients where you’re stuck between the decision to strike out for pastures new (and clients / work that makes you happy), or stay put and operate by the saying that it’s better the devil you know.
There are plenty of reasons why you may no longer be a good fit with a long standing client, including:
They can’t afford your new rates. This one is often dressed up as you (the service provider) being too expensive. In this scenario, I’ll try and fit in with their budget by scaling back the project. The hard bit here is to stick to your guns – and not become a victim of project creep by making sure everyone understands the deliverables. This can also happen if you’ve upskilled and understandably want more money but the client isn’t willing or can’t pay it.
The client’s workflow procedures drive you bonkers. It might be that they’re super slow to respond, leave things til the last minute, change their mind after you’ve filed copy, and so on. It could be because they’re totally disorganised, or totally time-strapped. My solution is to have a monthly meeting over Skype, phone or face to face, and issue email updates on the project either weekly or fortnightly. I also outline in a table the timestones, milestones and tasks of the project, which covers my butt – and I outline that without such-and-such we’ll miss their deadline or run into new costs. But if you’re still finding this one tough, it might be time to say goodbye.
You’re bored with the work. Writing something I’m not passionate about can take days instead of hours, which is a far less economical use of my time than trying to attract new business in areas that excite me. Similarly, I’ve worked with clients for decades and then realised I no longer want to write about those things, even though I was happy to when I was younger.
To avoid any of these scenarios and more before signing a contract or even agreeing to a follow-up meeting I will also ask myself the following 5 crucial questions:
- Is the money right?
- Is the timing right?
- Can I do the work?
- Do I like the client / product / service?
- Can I honestly get behind it?
Over to you Listees: What do you do to avoid being saddled with problem clients?