Archive for August, 2011


Your first task in freelancing: Suck it up

Hall of Fame hockey player Wayne Gretzky is synonymous with excellence on ice, but it turns out he also had superb advice for the prospective freelancer.

“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Sure, he meant that about hockey in particular. But in general, Gretzky’s wisdom stretches wide to encompass whatever we do in life and prompts thoughts about what we stand to lose when we fail to take chances.

For writers or editors eyeing independence as a way to a life-sustaining career, opportunities abound. Everyone, no matter their skill set, requires help with words, either creating them or crafting them, and your skill in these areas may be all another person or organization needs to convey the optimum message of the moment. Moreover, the market for effective, engaging communications continues to grow exponentially.

Yes, newspapers as a medium are going away, but the demand for what they try to offer their communities — responsible, accurate reporting — has not diminished and in the wake of social media has grown more acute. Besides personal engagement, we as a society also hunger for dispassionate views that help hone those engagements.

So, yes, the opportunities for freelancers are more and varied than ever. And it’s time to take your shot.

Your goal, then: suck it up. Don’t chicken out.

“But how?” you might ask. “Where should I start?”

The easiest, simplest and perhaps most flippant answer is, “At the beginning.” But aspiring freelancers can have trouble distinguishing the well-traveled path from the one least taken. They need advice, however small, and guidance, however approximate, to start moving in the proper direction.

In truth, the beginning can be anywhere. What matters is clearing the path beforehand, accepting sacrifice before reward. Biting the bullet.

Sucking it up.

Here are a few things that must be cleared out of your path:

Procrastination — The phrase, “Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” should hang from a sign in front of all freelancers. They are their own bosses, they are their own staff, they are the sources of their own motivation. Workers who are confined to cubicles have their environment as a sprawling reminder to stay busy; freelancers have only themselves. The best help in this area is a schedule that delineates working time and non-working time — and rigid adherence to that schedule. If the working time you set for yourself goes from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with two or three breaks spaced between those hours, then stick to the schedule. If you prefer a more liberal structure to the working day, fine. Regardless, work when the schedule says “work,” and nothing less.

Distraction — This tends to provoke procrastinate and in general comes in the form of television, video games, social media, peripheral noise and activity, among other things. Remove them, or somehow set them aside, and keep them there. Author Anne Lamott says, “Turn off Twitter. … And don’t clean house.” Author Carl Hiaasen wears noise-dampening headphones when he writes. And I, presuming to include myself at their level, gave up television a couple years ago when it became obvious my remote was getting a better workout than my keyboard. Indeed, that sacrifice has helped, if not quite to the extent that I can join Anne’s and Carl’s company.

On the other hand, silence and isolation may only amplify the ringing in one’s own ears, whereas a distraction or two instead stirs the imagination. In author Stephen King‘s view, “Any day’s routine interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress and may actually help it in some ways. It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl.” In other words, be comfortable: cherish what you can work with, expunge — really expunge — what you cannot.

Surprises — Said expunging speaks to planning. The more one has even the dreary little details of freelancing mapped out, the better one can navigate through or around them. Work flow, illness, budgeting and networking all are issues that take time away from writing and editing but are essential up-front considerations for every freelancer. Attend to small details early and the bigger ones that arise later will be easier to handle.

Generalization — You could write or edit anything and everything with the notion that volume means security. Look around though and you will find that successful freelancers do not have vague notions about what they are doing. They took the time to research the marketplace for needs not already addressed, or rarely so, by other freelancers. They chose specialization and hewed closely to a small number of subjects, educating themselves each day on the finer details of those subjects. Armed with unique knowledge, freelancers can attract expert clients, instead of the other way around.

Boredom — Banality abounds. The key is not letting it slip into our work. A person in a cubicle somewhere may not have that option, but freelancers, as noted above, possess the power to chart their own course. In an earlier post on this blog I noted ways to stay busy between jobs and they are just as effective for helping break out of monotony. However, if the urge to leave freelancing as a career in pursuit of other excitement still seems too tough to shake, try talking through it with other freelancers; they may have been in the same hole and found ways to climb out.

Freelancing should be fun, something you want to do every day. Unless you suck it up and clear the road ahead of obstacles, the fun will seem only further and further away.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

How to stay productive even when you’re not working

Busy freelancers out there ― and you know who you are ― have the blessing of bounty on their plates with one or more projects stacked atop each other. But some of these time-challenged souls are pounding the keyboard one minute, interviewing and conducting research another minute, and plumbing the market for more work in between. A moment lost is a dollar lost, the thinking goes.

After a while though, this routine takes a toll and the constant churn can make one yearn to do something else ― anything else. Giving in to this feeling, however, may instill discomfiture, perhaps panic, if it’s believed that slowing down even a little could possibly reduce the steady stream of income to only trickle.

There are ways though to break the routine and still remain productive, because in truth there’s more to freelancing than incessant work. The key is to vary one’s routine during busy periods as well as slow ones in ways that actually are be beneficial to the creative and productive processes. At least three pursuits allow this to happen:

Taking classes ― No, this probably isn’t the first thing on a writer’s list of diversions; education and training require time and money. Still, acquiring a skill or honing a current one opens the mind to new ideas and possibilities and may also pave a path to new clients. As the freelance marketplace crowds with former newspaper journalists, the choices available to prospective clients varies and finer distinctions such as skill sets can become determining factors in which freelancers are hired and which are left hunting. Learning something new at every opportunity, whether in classes, seminars or online training ― particularly about the latest Web-based technologies ― can keep the mind and the client sheet fresh.

Social networking ― And no, in this case, we’re not talking about Twitter or Facebook; we’re talking about good, old-fashioned face-to-face networking. Sure, there’s the networking one does to find work, but there’s also the networking necessary to keep it coming. It’s this second kind that can be easy, laid back, with the investment of occasional lunches or dinners to show clients and valued sources they’re more than just tools of a freelancer’s trade. The result can be not just a better working relationship, but also more ideas for later stories.

Personal projects ― Here again, the question of time and money are bound to surface. Nevertheless, spending a little of both on projects not already on the assignment calendar, whether they’re hobbies, community services or pro bono efforts, can be restorative and salubrious, and they can enhance one’s portfolio.

A little diversity in routine, just like a little diversity on a résumé, affords more than a change of pace. Consider each non-work-related undertaking to be the buff and polish that a working life needs to maintain its shine.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Freelancer: Need a mortgage?

By Paula from AffordAnything.org

Ah, to be self-employed and in need of money. Those of you who haven’t experienced this impossible task delight will soon learn that many banks assume “self-employed” is a euphemism for “unemployed.” Without a stable paycheck, they’re reluctant to give you a loan.

Here are a few pointers to finding a mortgage:

  • Apply at local banks and credit unions. You’ll be able to meet directly with decision-makers such as the vice president of lending. You’ll have an easier time pleading your case when the ultimate decision can be made in your backyard, rather than in an underwriting department two time zones away.
  • Gather as much documentation as possible. Pull together paystubs and income statements from all your clients. Highlight your longest-running clients. Draw attention to any clients for whom you regularly work. If you have any contracts or obligations — for example, a publication that pays you to write a regular weekly feature — highlight this assignment. It denotes stability.
  • Ask the lender if an “income audit” will help your application. This is an independent audit, performed by an accountant, that many banks look upon favorably as income verification.
  • Repay as much debt as possible before applying for the mortgage. Lenders will pay close attention to your debt-to-income ratio — the amount of debt you carry compared with your income.
  • Ensure that your credit report is free of errors. You can request one free copy of your credit score from each of the three major bureaus per year. The best way to schedule this is to check one report every 4 months. Many sites claim to let you check your credit for “free” but try to trap you into a subscription. Annualcreditreport.com will genuinely allow you to view your report for free, though it won’t show you your score.
  • Look to alternative sources, such as “hard money lenders” and owner-financed properties, if traditional banks and credit unions won’t lend.
  • Keep saving for a down payment. The more “skin” you have in the game, so to speak, the less risky you seem from the lender’s point of view.

Want to know more about buying a home? Here are some factors to consider before you buy.

Want to know more about getting a mortgage? Here’s a synopsis of fixed-rate vs. adjustable rate mortgages.

And for a personal touch, here’s my story of buying a dilapidated shack — er, I mean, my home.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit


Newest Posts

Highlights through Oct. 22 October 23, 2014, 3:39 pm
Why Twitter should be a non-negotiable for journalists October 22, 2014, 9:31 pm
Dealing with rejection October 21, 2014, 3:42 am
Region 7 Career Connection, 10.20.14 October 21, 2014, 1:25 am
Three alt weeklies bow out in one week October 21, 2014, 1:05 am
Ebola in America October 20, 2014, 2:20 pm
#ILoveMyJob, Even if ‘Journalist’ Isn’t In the Title October 20, 2014, 1:00 pm

Copyright © 2007-2014 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ