by Contestant Mary Hay Davis
1. Not All of Your Time Will Be Spent Writing – When I committed to becoming a full-time freelance writer, I had glorious visions of spending my days pounding away at the keyboard creating masterful compositions. What I neglected to consider was how much of my time would be consumed by administrative tasks such as bookkeeping, invoicing, website maintenance (just to name a few) that took a good chunk of time away from my writing.
The Lesson: Make Sure You Budget Time to Stay on Top of Administrative Tasks, and Include at least Part of this Time When Giving Estimates and Billing Clients.
2. You May Consider Yourself “just” a Writer, But the Truth Is – You’re Really a Marketing Specialist (Whether You Like It or Not) – As a freelancer – YOU ARE THE PRODUCT! If you want to be successful, you need to commit to becoming a solid Marketing Specialist – one whose goal is to build and brand the business of YOU.
The Lesson: Self Promotion is not Vain – It’s Essential to Survive and Thrive as a Freelance Writer.
Resource Note: A couple books to try are: 1) ‘Brand You – Marketing for Real People, Real Choices’ (This is a college textbook and a bit pricey – you might also check e-Bay.)
and ‘U R a Brand’
3. Project Management Skills Are 50% of the Game – Once you get established and projects start rolling in, you’ll need to learn to juggle these multiple projects successfully. Project Management is an essential skill — one that separates successful freelancers from the rest of the pack.
The Lesson: Take a Project Management Course – Your Clients (and Bank Account) Will Thank You.
4. Networking is Essential – Many of my clients came from referrals or friends of a friend. I never realized how many people didn’t know what I did for a living until my neighbor said to me, “I didn’t know you were a writer!” The fact she didn’t know was a red flag for me, alerting me that my self-promotion skills were woefully inadequate.
The Lesson: Cast a wide net. Make sure you ask existing clients for referrals, and that you’re taking advantage of professional opportunities like Linked In or your local Chamber of Commerce. And, tell your friends and neighbors what you do. J
5. Train Others to Treat You Right – One of my tenets in life is this: People will treat you as badly as let them. Whether it’s a client who walks all over you, or family members who don’t respect your time or view your writing as ‘real work’, it’s up to US to train others — firmly and respectfully — of our expectations. It’s easy to complain about a demanding client who repeatedly asks for rush projects without wanting to pay rush prices, or a spouse who continually interrupts you, but unless you take a stand, you’re just training them that they can continue to treat you like that.
The Lesson: Draw the line at what you will and will not tolerate, then stand up for yourself. Have a much needed heart to heart with the offender, and discuss what the problem behavior is, why it’s a problem and then detail what your expectations are.
6. Be Careful What You Post Online – We’ve all been warned to be careful what we post in e-mails, and to not send them in haste or anger. But no one ever warned me about chat rooms and message boards, whose inner workings are often accessible via internet searches. Imagine my surprise when I Googled myself and found a posting that I thought was “Private” readily available for all the world to see. Luckily, for me it was very professional and actually positioned me well.
The Lesson: Nothing is Private on the Internet. Never Type Anything with the Expectation of Privacy, and if You Wouldn’t Want the Whole World to Read It – Don’t Type It!
7. Silence Doesn’t Always Mean ‘No’ – You’ve submitted a query to an editor and the silence is resounding. That must mean ‘No’, right? WRONG! One of my best publication credits came about through perseverance and not taking silence as an answer. When I didn’t hear anything back, I e-mailed the editor again. When I still heard nothing back after two weeks, I got ‘brave’ and picked up the phone. It turns out she never got it because of a new spam filter, and she was very interested in my pitch. A year later (yes, the downside to print media), I had another national publication credit to my portfolio – all because I picked up the phone.
The Lesson: We’re repeatedly told that phone calls are usually not a good idea. However, sometimes they are. If you target a publication and think your pitch truly has merit, take your future into your own hands and pick up the phone. The worse that can happen is that they say ‘No.’ The Best – seeing your name in print in the publication of your dreams.
8. Continue to Challenge Yourself – It’s easy to get into a routine, especially if the paychecks are decent and the work is palatable. Writing about elastomeric coatings may help pay the bills, but is it really helping you grow professionally and as a whole person?
The Lesson: If You’re Not Growing, You’re Stagnating. Whether it’s taking a class on something that interests you, or entering a Freelance Writing Jobs Idol contest, you need to stretch your creative muscles in order to develop.
9. Invest in Your Continued Education – Ten years B.I. (Before Internet), writers were pretty much ‘just’ writers. Nowadays, however, successful writers know that they need to be full-service professionals that give their clients extra value.
The Lesson: Whether it’s taking courses on HTML, editing or marketing, you need to broaden your level of job-knowledge in order to better serve your clients and enhance your perceived value.
10. Commit to Scheduling Time Away from the Office – This can be hard to do, especially when there are bills to pay. But it’s imperative that you take a break now and then.
The Lesson: Take a Break! Whether it’s deliberately scheduling interviews in person instead of over the phone, or a taking a daytrip to research material for a possible pitch, getting out of the office gives you fresh perspective (and often great new material).
BONUS: Because every Marketing Specialist worth her salt knows that you should always give your customers added value by offering premiums and freebies, here is item #11:
The Difference Between Successful Freelance Writers and Those Who Fail is This:
The Successful Writers Never Gave Up!
Mary Hay Davis is a professional writer whose work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Costco Connection, Family Times/Parenting Today and San Diego Family, Magazine. She specializes in writing SEO web content, advetorials, informational articles and marketing material. Before becoming a writer, Mary worked over two decades as a police dispatcher, an occupation rich in anecdotes about the foibles and frailties of the human condition. You can contact Mary through her two websites: www.webprowriting.com and www.maryhaydavis.com.