Sociable

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fanning the Freelance Fires


Freelancing isn’t easy, whether you’re aiming to edit; write copy for specific industries, online zines or print publications; or some combination thereof. If you’re just getting started, the old adage about not giving up your day job is sound. What the average part-time freelancer makes annually usually doesn't allow for personal insurance, but there are a few things you can do to boost your chances (and income) while prowling the freelance jungle.

First, do not undercut yourself. Devaluing your time and hard work makes it harder to raise your rates significantly later on. And please do not be one of those freelancers who spends years bidding on work through write-for-hire sites or pay-per-view places. By agreeing to take on these projects that pay pennies, you will soon slam into the burnout wall. You’ll also join the ranks of those who give their work away and make it harder for others to charge a living wage.

So, what can a freelancer do to improve his chances and his bank account when he has no or few clips in his portfolio? Be smart – spend a good deal of time researching the industry. Use search engines to find out what salaries full- and part time freelancer writers earn. A good pay scale calculator can be found here: http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Freelance_Writer,_Technical/Hourly_Rate


Knowing what you’re worth at the outset will serve your career well. Just as in other industries, you’ll have to start out at the bottom, but once you’ve gotten some exposure and experience, you’ll at least know what to charge by the hour or project, according to national averages.

Look for smaller publications and industry newsletters to get your feet wet. There’s nothing wrong with writing pro bono for nonprofit agencies for a while when you’re new. The clips you build will move you into a more profitable future.

Once you’re ready for the next level – paid freelancing jobs and projects – forge relationships with a few editors and publishers. This is easier to do than many writers think. By being accurate, submitting early vs. just at deadline or (gasp) past due, you endear yourself to employers. And always give them lagniappe (a little something extra) with each assignment: a nice sidebar of resources or statistics, free companion clip art, correlating jpegs, or an offer of a follow-up article. Once you’ve got the publication’s style and readership down and have sold a few articles, you can offer to do a feature or series. When your relationship with the boss has solidified with happy results on both ends, maybe you can snag a weekly or monthly column.

Once you have a few reliable markets in your stable, you can branch out. As in all businesses, start slowly and build steadily so as not to take on too much at once until you know what sort of workload you can comfortably manage.

By following the simple equation of thoroughly researching your market, turning in quality work ahead of schedule, and always providing a small bonus, you won’t be lumped into the ever-growing pile of available freelance sources.

Remember: just because “free” appears in your job title, doesn’t mean you have to give your work away.

25 comments:

Kathryn Magendie said...

A-men!

Anonymous said...

Angie,
I have chances to write with the organizations that I volunteer with. Press releases, fundraising letters, talks, all are necessary with these groups. Pretty good feeling when someone says "You wrote this?".
Oren

Angie Ledbetter said...

Hey, Kat!

Oren, why am I not the teeniest bit surprised your volunteerism extends to the writing arena? I'm so proud to be your friend!

Terri Tiffany said...

I've had to do quite a few free writing but it built my clips where now I get paid. Very concise nice article--I like your style--wish I could write that way!

Embee said...

Thanks for the useful info. Any advice on where to start looking (and/or begging?) for work?!

2nd Cup of Coffee said...

I have two years' worth of clips from a small newspaper column and write mostly humor-related posts, but I'm not sure what to do with my writing. I had a successful professional writer tell me that I'm giving away my writing for free on my blog and should stop that immediately, but I'm overwhelmed by what to do first. Book writing is not a goal unless it's a collection of humor pieces, but there is no single thread of unity to tie the pieces together, and so I can't come up with a great book proposal. Any suggestions?

Angie Ledbetter said...

Terri, I enjoy your writing too, and thanks for the kind words.

embee, start local and work up. Is there a paper, a regional magazine? Check Craigslist for your city too, but beware of scam job offerings!

2nd, how about trying to recycle your columns to other papers, and eventually work up to syndication, then consider putting your blog posts together in a book format? Humor is a great uniting thread, BTW. You've probably got great fodder on hand for making your columns/blog posts into articles you could sell. I love recycling! Thanks for stopping in. Coming to check out your place.

writtenexpressions said...

Good advice! I've found most of my clients by putting out feelers in my own neighborhood. We have a lot of small businesses who need to advertise but don't have internal staff who can do it. They are often more than willing to pay somebody who knows the community to do it for them.

Small Footprints said...

I read through this post and then, I read it again, substituting other self-employment positions for "freelance". And it works! Whether one edits for a living ... or cleans houses ... the advice is the same: value one's time and research the market.

Wonderful post!

Small Footprints
http://reducefootprints.blogspot.com

Angie Ledbetter said...

Written, that's excellent advice to seek out in ye ol' neighborhood first! In bad economic times, at least freelancers may finally get the benefit of staff cuts and downsizing by offering good contract labor.

Write on, Small! And I can vouch for house cleaning. I had my own commercial/residential cleaning biz for about 10 years, along with freelance writing.

tut-tut said...

Good advice; I'm a freelance copy editor with three clients, one big. I had to tell the big one I wouldn't work for under a certain amount. And they complied! If you've proved yourself and you're valued, you should be able to negotiate successfully.

Ang said...

Great advice. I am just starting out so any advice I take to heart. Thanks Angie for this post.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Tut-tut, good for you! You're right about clients willingness to pay for good, dependable service.

You're welcome, Ang.

Melissa Marsh said...

Once upon a time I had wanted to embark on a freelance career, but then I realized that I hated to talk on the phone and hated to call people for interviews. :-)

Now, I do very specific part-time freelance writing where I don't have to make any phone calls!

I know, I'm weird...

The Paper Whisperer said...

Wowzaaaaaa, Angie...thank you, thank you, thank you for the plethora of information. Rock on wit ur bad self!!! Huggage, Bim

Rachel Burton said...

Wonderful, practical advice. I haven't gotten my feet wet yet, but I've been eyeing the freelancing world for a little while now!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Melissa, I freelance and am rarely on the phone. *grin* I've done a few telephone interviews, but mostly now do 'em by email. You might want to consider it again, since so much is done online now.

Hey, PW/BIM. Love ya.

Rachel, dive on in, the water's fine! :)

colbymarshall said...

Good post- very informative. Thanks!

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Great advice! One day, I'm hoping to try my hand at freelancing--thanks for the info!

Angie Ledbetter said...

YVW, Colby!

Alyssa, as that old TV commercial used to say, "Try it, you'll like it." :)

giddymomof6 said...

Wow! You're just a fountain of knowledge! It's awesome! Thanks for the tips.

mlh said...

Thank you so much for this advice!
I jumped right on it and explored the link. I'm trying to build up my clips (writing to the newspaper and entering contests) and I am having a little success. This will definitely help!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Giddy, I'm a fountain alright. LOL. Glad you enjoyed.

MLH, thanks for visiting and bravo to you with your writing strides!!

thedomesticfringe said...

Great advice. Thanks.

Angie Ledbetter said...

TDG, glad you found it useful!

Labels (Posts, not Peoples)