by Rachel Smith
30 March 2021
Updated March 2021
You might be heading into the Easter break with a long to-do list of stories you need to get cracking on. Or, maybe you’re having to plant a few seeds here and there to give your freelance garden a little boost.
For me, it’s a bit of both – and I think that’s freelancing all over. You pitch, you plant a seed, you wait for a little green shoot, you water it. You plant seeds all over the place. You wait. If you’re desperate, you take a scattergun approach and hope that one or two of your seeds germinates before you have to haul your broke ass off to Coles to stock up on two-minute noodles.
And if you’re lucky, you might have a freelance garden that’s a mixture of newly planted seeds (pitches), little green shoots (stories you’re working on) and a heap of flowers ready to be plucked and given to the right person (finished stories).
But what happens when your garden bed is bare, brown and all your planted seeds are showing zero signs of life? We’ve all been there, and here are some suggestions.
And stay positive. The more you pitch, the more chance you have of something getting picked up. Plant those seeds, let go and let them germinate. (And monitor them with our handy pitch tracker, available in our Toolkit.) If you need inspiration, check out this post on generating story ideas, read editor Rob Johnson’s post on how to pitch and get a yes, or listen to our episode on The Content Byte podcast with John Burfitt on pitching – it’s packed with tips and info.
Last time my garden was looking bare was last June. Possibly the worst time to hustle for a lot of freelancers, but I rang a friend – well, ok, I rang several, both freelancers and editors – and said, ‘Heard of anything?’ / ‘What’s the word on the street at Medium Rare?’ / ‘Are you taking freelance pitches right now, or is that freeze still on?’ The response was, ‘I’ll fling you a little something’ / ‘I’ll let you know if I hear of anything’ / ‘Pitch away, yep’ or ‘That sucks, I’m in a slow patch too’. All of which is so nice to hear when you work for yourself and just need someone to talk you off the ledge, give you a little something or tell you it’s going to get better.
As Paul Jarvis told me in this Q&A, freelancers can fill their pipeline by contacting past clients who may have dropped off their radar. And you should also be hustling for new ones, too. If you’re relying only on your old stable of clients and nothing’s happening or they’re not feeding you stuff, trawl LinkedIn or even our jobs board and make a list of who you want to work for. Send LOIs (letters of introduction). Making this lead generation / marketing activity part of your weekly routine and track it with a tool like this to get things moving. Don’t forget to follow up and set up coffee dates.
Big call, I know. You want to make this freelance thing work. But sometimes, it’s more of an uphill battle and it messes with your mental health. Sometimes it’s good to take a break, take an in-house role – even just a 3 or 6-month contract – and regroup. You can build up your freelance work on the side in your own time, and chances are when the contract’s over you’ll be back on track. I have two friends who routinely switch between in-house contracts and freelance. Both get to enjoy stints with regular paychecks, the challenge of doing something new and fresh, and the camaraderie of an office. Then, they can get back out on the freelance beat with a heap of new contacts and a shiny new skillset. It’s a win-win.
How’s your freelance garden looking right now? Lots of colour, or a bare patch of earth?