You could be good at writing, blogging, graphic design or translation. But what does it take to parlay those skills into successfully running your own freelance business?
Organization, discipline, fearlessness and technical savvy.
Those were just some of the characteristics cited by successful freelancers who participated in last week’s #wclw chat on building a freelance business.
The chat drew equal numbers of beginning and experienced freelancers, none of whom were shy about asking questions or sharing advice. Here are the highlights:
Challenges to starting or running a freelance business:
@jenwillis (Jen, a Portland, Oregon, freelancer since 1999): Making ends meet in a challenging economy.
@teachwhatisgood (Kate, from rural Illinois, a blogger on parenting and faith looking to do more freelancing) I’m just beginning to venture out and don’t know where to look to submit articles.
@SaraLancaster (Sara, a website content writer working on her own since 2008) It seems to change over time. Right now I think my challenge is staying inspired. Hard to work alone every day on similar projects.
@Liz_Sheffield (Liz, a Seattle freelancer on parenting, health and wellness) Narrowing my focus rather than going broad and trying to write on every topic for every possible market and media format.
@siljahurskainen (Silja, a Finnish freelance writer living in California and starting a freelance business) Getting started with the freelance business in this new country of mine. Everything’s new!
Sticking to a specialty:
@Liz_Sheffield How do you know how to specialize when your area of expertise is kind of broad, like parenting?
@MichelleRafter (That’s me!) I’ve always believed that specializing is the way to go as a freelancer. You provide added value to pubs you write for. Parenting isn’t too broad, lots of writers specialize in it.
@teachwhatisgood And if you focus on the parts of parenting that mean most to you, it helps with focus.
@MichelleRafter Another reason to specialize is because you can develop close ties with editors so they take you with them when they move to a new job.
Connecting with other writers:
@SaraLancaster I’ve tried a few co-work spaces and definitely do my best to attend networking events, etc. I’m slowly figuring it out.
@MichelleRafter I’d definitely suggest connecting with other writers in person or online. Freelance Success is a great online writer community. FLX has weekly newsletter with info on pubs that work with freelancers, online message board, pay rate database, blog and more.
@jenwillis FLX rocks! I’ve been a member since 2006, and I’m writing a market guide for them right now. The weekly market guides are good. I rely more on the online forums to share info, ask questions, etc.
@MichelleRafter There are other online writer groups as well, including UPOD, run by David Hochman, a very successful LA-based freelancer.
@SaraLancaster Networking is tough, but once you find a rhythm things will snowball. Just have to stay at it. It’s like the gym!
Tracking the news:
@siljahurskainen To get the broadest possible view of American life, what newspapers, tv channels, sites would you recommend for a foreign writer? Hope my question wasn’t too off topic, but for me as a foreigner starting my business it’s definitely one of the important ones.
@MichelleRafter For broad view of American life, try USA Today, New York Times, nightly newscasts on national & local TV, NPR.
@jenwillis That’s a tough one. Off the bat, I’d suggest Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and your local free weekly.
Where to find out about publications that work with freelancers:
@jenwillis I’d like to know which pubs are still buying first North American serial rights (FNASR) at decent rates, rather than buying all rights for increasingly less money.
@teachwhatisgood Where to find them and how to submit. I looked at nine publications one day recently and found NOTHING about submission policies.
@jenwillis Agree on JournalismJobs.com; that’s where I found out about the fellowship I’m on this fall.
@MichelleRafter For where to submit, look at the “About Us” or “Contacts” page on a publication’s website for names and email formats. Also, many publications post writers’ guidelines, or will send them to you if you email and ask for them.
@jenwillis Sometimes you just have to call or email an editor to ask about submissions guidelines.
@SaraLancaster When I started I used Writer’s Market. Helpful if you want to write in mags or enter creative contests. You pay for Writers Market. Online version has updated requirements. Makes it convenient and you’re not bidding against other writers.
@MichelleRafter My best source of work has been through ex-colleagues at websites, newspapers or magazines where I previously worked or freelanced. That’s why I’m such a big believer in networking and using sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, FB, Google+ to do it. I would say in the past two years, 99 percent of my freelance work has come through personal connections.
@teachwhatisgood WOW! I guess the goal is to get to the place where you have connections! ;-D Not there…
@MichelleRafter Or it could be that I’ve just been around so long! If you have a good experience with a publication, ask the editor to write a LinkedIn recommendation. It’s a reference all can see.
Connecting with editors:
@siljahurskainen I struggle with the shyness, too. That’s often the biggest obstacle and I really need to get rid of it.
@MichelleRafter Channel the same energy you use to track down and talk to sources for dealing with editors. They’re just people. Sometimes you have to pick up the phone or hit “Send” anyway and the shyness or fear goes away.
@jenwillis Acting fast can overcome nerves. I interviewed a famous author last week and didn’t give myself time to think before I called.
@siljahurskainen Moving to another country sure helps! You feel so stupid all the time that there’s no time for feeling shy.
@jenwillis I wrote a story for The Writer about telephone anxiety and learning how to reach out to editors.
@AuntyJuJu1 (Julia, a part-time education reporter for a metro St Louis newspaper who wants to do freelancing) Lists, lists and more lists!
@jenwillis Email folders for each story, and calendar reminders. For bigger projects, I set up a Scrivener file on my Mac. I also have a whiteboard on the wall that I can use for jotting down notes and mapping project schedules. Here’s the link to Scrivener for Windows.
@teachwhatisgood Just read that anyone who did NaNoWriMo last year and had their account validated gets a 50% discount on PC Scrivener file.
@MichelleRafter Q3: For editing work, I create a spreadsheet for every step of manuscript production and write in date when that phase of work is done.
@Tia_Bach_Author (Tia Bach, a book author and freelancer) I still like paper and have projects and to-dos listed in a notebook. I also love email folders.
@MichelleRafter I’m also a big fan of Outlook. I color code everything and put interviews, due dates, meetings, etc., on it. I also think it’s important to maintain regular office hours, whether for you that’s 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., etc.
@jenwillis Regular hours have been a challenge for me. Some interviews can only happen at night, weekends, etc.
Editing your own work:
@MichelleRafter I usually edit as a I go. But sometimes it works better to write through a first draft, then going back and edit.
@SaraLancaster I sometimes hire other freelancers to edit my work.
@teachwhatisgood Do you ever have other people read it?
@MichelleRafter I don’t have others read my work. Sometimes I switch between Word and WordPress and see things in latter I didn’t catch. My other advice on editing: have The Associated Press Stylebook read good writing. Both help with writing and editing yourself. It’s also helpful to let a piece rest overnight & read it in the morning with fresh eyes.
@Liz_Sheffield My husband is my best editor for the feel of a piece, and helps identify what I might have missed.
@jenwillis I often read my work out loud. That’s another good way to catch errors or text that doesn’t flow.
@SaraLancaster I use my husband for editing, too. We both work at home so that helps.
Archive and The August 2011 #wclw Chat
You can read the complete transcript of the July 27 #wclw chat on TwapperKeeper, a Twitter archive service, at TwapperKeeper/hashtag/wclw.
Tune into the next #wclw chat, where we’ll discuss everything you ever wanted to know about blog post comments. The chat takes place on Aug. 31 at 10 a.m. Pacific time.
Here are other posts I’ve done on starting a freelance writing business: