I was rereading a post by friend and top-notch freelance writer Peter Bowerman. It was a post he'd written for this blog a while ago, and he repeated it on his own blog recently. In it, Peter addresses this attitude of "deserving" a freelance writing career to be handed to us. His way of breaking "deserve" down to market need is worth a read. And a re-read.
It also got me thinking about this mentality, and others, that have a huge impact on the success of our freelance businesses. I won't get into the bad habit of thinking we deserve better (because Peter's post goes over that quite well). Plenty of talented, experienced writers out there are struggling. Why? Maybe it's because they're committing one or more of these career-killing moves:
Accepting the status quo. Lord, it's tempting, isn't it? The work isn't rolling in, and there are so many writers lamenting the conditions. So that underpaid gig comes along and you take it. You have no choice, right? Bullshit. You do. You can change what the hell you're doing -- stop trolling the job boards for work. Stop accepting less because you're afraid it's all you can get.
Staying nice and passive. So the job boards have become a race-to-the-bottom feeding frenzy. Why are you still spending your time there? Where is the actual effort you should be putting into building a respectable clientele? Don't think your time spent cruising through job listings is "effort." It's not. It's wasted energy. Imagine you're trying to learn how to sew. The sewing machine is broken. But instead of fixing it or trying something else, you just keep stuffing that fabric into a broken machine with the same predictable result every time. That's what it's like to rely on job boards as your primary source of clients. Figure out a better way. The money follows the effort you put into your job.
Thinking you're set. You have those top-shelf clients and some of them are paying you retainers. You don't need to market anymore! Wrong. You need to market always. I've said it before on this very blog -- the set-in-stone agreements you have today are too easily turned into sand shifting under your feet tomorrow. It's happened to me and to plenty of other writers. Company needs change, projects end, budgets disappear, people move out of jobs, companies hire marketing teams....all are reasons why you shouldn't ever believe you're in forever. I remember losing three sure things in two weeks. I hadn't planned for it, either. Don't be like that -- always expect the job to be temporary.
Forgetting it's a business you're running. Your fancy degree, your 10 years of experience, and your mounds of talent don't mean shit to people who don't know you. Sure, those things will get you noticed easier, but you have to reach out to people, and you have to focus on what they need, not on how stupid they'd be to pass on you (they may be, but that cocky attitude isn't going to win them over). If you owned an ice cream shop and you wanted to be successful, you'd try to attract customers. You'd send fliers around, mail postcards, put up signs, and maybe show up at local events handing out samples or coupons. The same goes for your writing business. You have to raise awareness, show people you can help them, and make connections. If you can't do that, maybe you're better off being an employee.
Doing what others say they do. Every single freelance writer has his/her own way to run a business and make it work. It's okay to hear how someone else does it. But if you hear this bit of advice and race to the computer to try it, then jump instantly to another bit of advice from someone else, where's the "you" in that? Where's your plan, and how have you modified it to fit your style and your personality? The try-and-fly type of marketing usually means you're not following up and you're not anywhere near consistent with any method. Instead of trying to reinvent a wheel you don't have, get your own wheel. Stay in that circle until you're comfortable enough with yourself to know what works for you and what doesn't. And if you're paying for advice that's all over the Internet for free, that's up to you. But I suggest you insert skepticism in what you read, and do a little research before you follow blindly someone else's advice. I've seen a few pay-per-advice types who change their story to fit the service they're selling. Instead, seek out the company of other writers who are willing to share experiences for free.
Not believing in you. I remember when I started out eons ago that my biggest roadblock was my own fear. I knew I had talent, but there was that doubt that anyone would agree with me. It got in the way, and it caused me to make bad choices that netted me aggravation and low pay. Get used to knowing and owning your skill. The more you work at the job (and the more you advance your own education), the better you'll stand by your rates and your business decisions.
Writers, how do you keep your business healthy?
What were some of the obstacles/bad habits you had to overcome?