— Susan Johnston (@UrbanMuseWriter) April 28, 2014
The secret to freelance success isn’t secret. It takes work, excrutiating attention to detail, the ability to ask tough quesitons, negotiating
skills chutzpah, and above all, writing chops.
That’s a succinct summary of advice I shared during a teleclass on freelance success that took place early today and was sponsored by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), a professional group open to staff and self-employed buisness and finance journalists.
The other speakers sharing advice during the call were Jennie Phipps, freelance writer and owner of the Freelance Success website; and freelance technology reporter Jonathan Blum, aka the Digital Skeptic. Daniel P. Ray, editor in chief of CreditCards.com, moderated the hour-long session.
In case you missed the call, I’m sharing some of what I discussed, plus links to popular WordCount posts on interviewing and writing that I provided to everyone who called in — scroll to the end of the post to see them.
SABEW posted a recording of the one-hour call on its website here: Past Teletraining – Freelance Training: Secrets to Success.
Thanks to the following freelancers who tweeted nuggets from the teleclass, some of which I’ve embedded in this post –Susan Johnston, Vanessa Richardson and Fiona Young-Brown.
The keys to freelance success
There’s no magic formula that you can follow to become a successful freelance writer, no short cut to self-employed fame and fortune, no secret website that’s going to pay you $3 a word for articles you can write off the top of your head. If there were, there’d be a whole lot more people trying to make it as freelancers than there already are. The secret is simple: work hard and be the best writer you can be. When it comes to the nitty-gritty of running a freelance business, apply the same rigor you bring to reporting, analysis and writing to the way you run your freelance business.
1. Use your network.
Keep in touch with people you’ve worked with before – editors and writers. You never know when someone will switch jobs or get promoted and be in the position to farm out assignments. Keeping in touch doesn’t have to mean emailing people asking for work. It could be a card at the holidays to say how much you enjoyed working with them over the past year, or connecting on LinkedIn, or sending them a link to an article you think they might be interested in, or RT them on Twitter. Make it genuine.
2. Think like an editor.
When you’re working on an assignment, ask yourself, what would my editor want? Make their job easier – that could mean including a suggested title, description, keywords, non-copyrighted photos, statistics for a graphic, links to primary source material for fact checking purposes, etc. File your stories on time. Write what you say you’re going to write. Turn rewrites around quickly.
3. Ask the tough questions.
This goes for sources and editors. A lot of freelancers don’t like confrontation, don’t like conflict, are nervous about asking the touch questions. Get over it. Your interviews will be better. And you’ll do better in negotiations with editors.
4. Pick up the phone.
On FLX, I see a lot of writers posting questions about how to handle this or that situation with a story that could be easily dealt with by a quick call or note to their editor asking for direction. Editors aren’t the enemy, they’re not somebody you should be afraid of. They’re on your side. They have a vested interest in helping make your story the best it can be. And you aren’t working with editors who’ll take your call or get back to you on a question right away, find editors to work with who will!
5. Run the numbers.
If you’re negotiating an assignment, don’t say yes before you have a chance to pencil out if the dollars and cents make sense. That could mean telling an editor you’ll have to think about it and get back to them, so you have a few minutes to determine if the assignment meets the hourly rate you need. Don’t feel compelled to say yes to everything, either;
Be the best reporter and writer you can be
Here’s a list of links to popular WordCount posts on writing basics:
On research, reporting and interviewing
- 7 steps to becoming a trendspotting ace
- Getting sources to talk: Secrets from an ex-FBI profiler
- Asking the hard question: Top 10 interview tips
- Stalking the reluctant source: 10 secrets to getting anybody to talk
- 5 secrets of successful interviewers, or how to get sources to tell you anything
- 12 insider interview tips from 2 accomplished writers
- 8 secrets for getting better HARO (crowdsourcing) query results
- New ways to use LinkledIn to find story sources
- Dear WordCount: Is it OK to conduct interviews via email?
- Goodbye Google: 8 Internet search alternatives
- 8 online search tips from research ninja Marshall Kirkpatrick
- Writing basics: The lead
- Back to basics: The nut graph
- Why good writing is all about context
- Writing basics: The deck
- Back to basics: The quote
- How to write fast
- More tips for writing fast
- A few words on writing short
- Everything you need to know about word counts but were afraid to ask
- Exorcise these filler words from your writing
- How to keep your writing fresh
- 4 simple steps writers can take to become better proofreaders
- 7 steps to cutting a story that’s too long
Famous writers on writing
- 10 things J.K. Rowling taught me about writing
- 10 writing lessons from Annie Proulx
- My 5 favorite books on writing
- 6 writing lessons from Barbara Kingsolver
- 6 writing lessons from Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Stacy Schiff