Well, a shiny new 2010 is upon us. For a lot of you old hats, it’s another year of freelancing-as-usual. For rookies like me, though, it’s a new year of challenge. We have to keep working hard to establish ourselves, hoping to attract a steady stream of clients. Me, I’ve been passing out business cards at meetings. I get some good work that way. I just slide one to a colleague when her boss isn’t looking, and after she checks “yes” under “Do You Like Me”, she slides it back.
I’ve been at this for six months or so now. It’s been an interesting, confusing, annoying-as-hell ride. Now that I’m a bit wiser, I’d like to share with you the valuable lessons I’ve learned on this journey. If you’re a new freelancer, take heed – the lessons contained within will serve you well. If you’re an experienced freelancer, I hope this list inspires fond memories of your own early freelancing years. You know, like that one time you said to yourself, “I think in ten years I’ll read an article by a funny new freelancer so I can tell all my friends to give him work.”
Now, you may be thinking, “Why should I take advice from a newbie?” I’ll tell you why below:
(Above words of wisdom not available in free version of this article. Please purchase a Professional Edition license to unlock.)
LESSON ONE: For the love of God, don’t become a freelance humor writer.
Don’t get me wrong. I love writing humor. And since writing what you love is one of the best reasons to start freelancing, I’m set. But because of it, I’ve been fighting an uphill battle. Other forms of writing like copywriting and technical writing are far easier to sell to companies. Not so much for humor or magazine features, as I’ve discovered. And I’ve been sending out offers like crazy. Really nice ones, too. Like how I sent an editor my favorite trojan horse and offered to remove it when he published my column.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t focus on writing humor or magazine pieces or whatever, but get smart about it. You’re going to have to work harder to develop your presence, which is why you should…
LESSON TWO: Spend time developing a monster platform.
A “platform”, when not holding the weight of video game characters, is just a bunch of your stuff spread out on the Internet. We’re talking blogs, videos, articles, guest posts, whatever. By creating and spreading valuable content, you’re establishing yourself as an authority in your niche, which will help attract clients. As a bonus, it reminds everyone how great you truly are. Do this enough, and you can get your own holiday just like me. (By the way, happy Matt Willard Ultra Rad-tacular Appreciation Day Explosion 2.0 Maximum!)
Now, I’ll admit my platform is still in development, but I’ve already seen results from it. In particular, a guest post I wrote for CopyBlogger has gotten me attention and a job offer. I don’t know how my platform is going to take shape in the future, but I earnestly believe that it’s worth the time to develop. Personally, I don’t know any other way to fill my weekend, especially since I was forced to retire after several successful heart attacks.
Since how to build a platform is beyond the scope of this article, I’ll go ahead and suggest…
LESSON THREE: Find a “mentor”.
There’s a reason I put “mentor” in quotes up there. By all means, if you can find an experienced freelancer willing to show you the ropes, pounce on the opportunity. But if you can’t find such a person, there’s another option which does not involve a last meal of rat poison crumble in a light bleach and gasoline sauce.
I got this neat tip from SEO writer Yuwanda Black. She recommends finding a good freelance writing blog to serve as your main source of information. And trust me, with loads of blogs out there, it’s easy to suffer information overload unless you apply this tip. If any questions pop up, you can just refer to your “mentor blog” for the answers. Of course, you should learn from other sources, but having a mentor blog will keep your head straight. (Though don’t get me wrong – it’s your head’s choice to be straight or not. I mean, if a male head wants to make mouth whoopie with other male heads, who am I to judge?)
Me, I chose AllFreelanceWriting.com, run by Jennifer Mattern. As I commented on that blog and others, I became more acquainted with Jennifer, developing an informal relationship that’s similar to having a personal mentor of my own. This leads into…
LESSON FOUR: Get chummy.
Make genuine friendships with other people. Yes, there’s a business angle behind this. It’s that demon word called “networking”, which all the business books harp about doing so you can promote your services. They say you should network everywhere, even in the pool. “Hi there! That was a beautiful cannonball you just did, but I think my company can increase your splash radius at no cost to you.”
But here’s the thing. When you look to make genuine friendships, you forge a personal connection that bare-bones networking can’t top. This connection doesn’t just earn you job leads or advice. You get someone you want to hang out with, someone in your corner. That’s a pretty nice bonus. And if your friend IS a corner, that just cuts out the middleman altogether.
Of course, friendships are just as beneficial as normal networking connections. In fact, a lead from Jennifer helped me snag my first client. In return, I drew up a guest post for AllFreelanceWriting.com. As a friend, I wanted to pay her back for helping me out. It’s only fair. (By the way, Jennifer, I want to thank you ahead of time. Just remember – when Frank kicks down your door and asks for the money, stay cool. Mostly because he can cook a turkey by benchpressing it.)
Now, making connections online is easy. Sign up for the right forums and social media, then talk it up. But be respectful. And remember…
LESSON FIVE: Do your own research first.
Ever heard of “Let Me Google That For You”? It’s a website you’re supposed to link to someone when they ask a question that could be answered with a simple Google search. Now, I don’t do this since I am a forgiving angel, but I understand why it’s done. There is no quicker way to tick off your new friends than to bombard them with questions you can research yourself. (Another way is to end all your questions with, “Can you get on that for me, mortal?”)
It might seem cruel, but think of it like this. Successful freelancing is fueled by initiative. If you’re not willing to do your own research, how can you be expected to market your services or meet your deadlines or plan for the future? Yes, writer friends ARE willing to help you with your questions, but YOU need to be proactive and look for the answer first. Freelancing is not a career for those without self-direction. Make sure you know where yours is. Mine has my address on it so people can send it back if it gets lost.
Then again, accepting that kind of responsibility can be tough, so keep this in mind…
LESSON SIX: Don’t give up.
Building a platform takes time. Getting a steady stream of clients takes time. Making enough to live off your passion takes time. Freelancing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. (More like get-rich-by-digging-between-couch-cushions.)
Again, I’m a newbie, so it may not feel authentic when I tell you not to give up. But I’ve got enough experience in other fields to know it’s true. See, I’m a bit of a personal development junkie, and one of the challenges I’ve faced is changing a bad habit into a better one. It takes time and preparation to make a lasting habit change, but once you pull through…man, is it worth it. (Especially since I know how to sell habits to other people.)
That’s what I’m talking about here. You’re going to spend time and energy on this venture, so you need to stay focused and pull through. Hell, sometimes I feel nervous about how my own adventures are going to work out. But I’ve succeeded before, and with that never-yielding determination, I can do it here as well. So stick with it. Let’s get prosperous together.
So, with 2010 before us, what will I do next? I haven’t made any arbitrary New Year’s Resolutions, that’s for sure. I’m still working on old goals from last year, as well as setting new ones to expand my fanbase and develop my presence. That’s my last bit of advice – make plans for each of your goals. Follow them, and update them when they change. Achieving a goal isn’t as simple as making a New Year’s Resolution. It’s a project, an adventure, and you gotta prepare accordingly. (Which is why I’m glad they let me retake the course.)
Well, that’s it from me. Thanks for letting me impart my wisdom, and have a great new year. I know I will. After all, I don’t make calendars. I’m not going to get laid off when the demand for them drops after 2012.