Posts Tagged ‘freelancing’

Active vs. passive in finding freelance work – a website isn’t enough

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter,, “I can write about anything!”®

In a recent LinkedIn group post that had me shaking my head, someone recently said, “I found it very hard to get anyone to respond to my web site for editing. How do you all do it?”

That was it – the entire post. Not even a URL for her site so group members could take a look and offer advice based on how she presented herself, which might be a big piece of her problem.

My response was that a website by itself isn’t enough to find freelance work, whether it’s writing, editing, proofreading – or plumbing. I said: “I had a few years of in-house writing and editing jobs that gave me, in addition to skills and experience, an excellent networking base. Once I was freelancing full-time, I made a point of being active in professional organizations that provided job listings, among other services, and expanded my networking range. Most of my current projects come from people finding me, rather than my having to find them, but I still get new projects through listings from professional organizations. I also get some from being active in LinkedIn groups.

“The key is ‘active.’ A website is passive. You have to be active. You can’t sit there and wait for clients to find you. That means joining, and being visible in, professional organizations. Maybe joining a local writers’ group or writers’ center to meet potential clients, if you want to edit books. Sending cold queries to publishers and being willing to take their editing tests.

“You also have to tell prospective clients why they should hire you – what skills and experience you have, which style manuals you know, what your approach to projects and clients might be, etc.”

I also should have mentioned that, once you have a website, you have to make it as active as possible. That means refreshing, revising and adding information to it regularly – every time you do so, you improve its visibility in rankings. You have to learn a little about search engine optimization (SEO) so you can use language that will help the site do well in searches. You have to focus its content not just on how great a writer you are, but on what you can do for clients with that writing skill and experience. You have to take the lead in making the website work for you by doing something to drive people to it.

Readers of this blog, as members of SPJ, already have figured out the value of joining a professional association. Many of you also have figured out the value of not just being what I call a checkbook member, but of being active and visible. If you’re planning to freelance, you have to make sure that people know who you are and what you can do, and colleagues in SPJ are a good place to start. Just as you can’t just pay your dues and wait for SPJ to make you a better or more-successful freelance journalist, you can’t just sit there and wait for prospective clients to stumble over your website and hire you for freelance work.

It’s easier for freelance writers to find new business than it is for editors, in a way – it isn’t that hard to find publications to query with article ideas, while editors may have to be more creative in finding and connecting with prospective clients. Proving our experience may be easier for writers as well, because we can usually point to our published work, while editors and proofreaders often can’t display their projects – a lot of editing/proofreading work is proprietary, and a lot of clients don’t want the world to see how badly their projects needed our editing skills!

The key to getting more work is to be seen and heard. That means not just having a website, but being active in places like SPJ chapters and online groups, Twitter, LinkedIn and even Facebook – and not just with questions or requests for help, but with the occasional answer, tip and help for colleagues. You can’t always be taking; you have to give a little, too. In fact, SPJ itself is a good starting point – contributing to the Freelance Committee and its blog will help get your name out there as someone with a writing voice, style and substance that is worth recommending and hiring.

It also can’t hurt to let everyone you ever worked with, and even everyone you know in the personal realm, know that you’re freelancing and available for projects. Keep it low-key and professional, but you have to get the word out about your freelance business, at least initially. You can’t assume that people who might hire you, or know of potential clients and projects, will magically know that you’re available.

Getting the word about your business isn’t easy, but no one ever said freelancing would be easy. Having your own business never is – it’s fulfilling, rewarding and often exciting, but it isn’t easy.

For your website to be an active element in your freelance business, you have to promote it and use it; it can’t just sit there waiting for people to find it. Overall, for a freelance journalism business to gain traction and succeed, the freelancer has to move past the “Build it and they will come” mentality and move into one that’s more of “Here’s who I am and what I can do for you.” Don’t be afraid to make the first moves in getting the word out about your freelance business. Once you establish that groundwork or foundation, work will start coming to you by referral, word of mouth and other passive outlets, including that website, but you have to make those first moves.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter has made presentations on freelancing, editing & proofreading, and websites for national SPJ conferences. In addition to her freelance writing, editing and proofreading business (, she is the owner of Communication Central, which presents an annual conference for freelancers. SPJ members are entitled to a colleague’s discount for the conference:

Lessons from Jonah Lehrer

As a freelance journalist, I’ve occasionally reworked material on the same topic for multiple stories. I haven’t done much of this, but I’ve often brainstormed how to get more mileage out of my work. I’ve read books from freelancers who talk about repurposing written material, presenting new angles for different audiences. It seems appealing, especially for my bottom line.

So it piqued my interest when prominent science journalist Jonah Lehrer recently got himself in trouble for doing just that. Media blogger Jim Romenesko broke the story that Lehrer had “self-plagiarized,” sometimes paragraphs at a time, in numerous pieces for various publications.

It triggered plenty of discussion in the media, including everything from sharp criticism to shrugs and everything in-between.

Since then, a handful of Lehrer’s stories for The New Yorker, where he started working in June, have been flagged with disclaimers about the duplication of material. Also, Lehrer apologized in The New York Times, saying it was “a stupid thing to do and incredibly lazy and absolutely wrong.” The New Yorker has promised it won’t happen again.

Some noteworthy speakers on the subject have defended Lehrer, asking, “How bad is it to repeat oneself?” Others have pondered the broader context, blaming the “more-is-better” ethos of the web, for Lehrer’s slip-up. Others call him an idea man, not a straight-up journalist. Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, whom Lehrer has been compared to, backed him up, saying that in this new media environment, the rules for bloggers are still being written.

The situation got the SPJ Freelancers Committee talking about the practice of repurposing work. Our comfort levels with doing so ran the gamut, with some people shying away from the practice altogether. But a couple of my colleagues are veterans at this, and they offered some tips for recycling pieces while staying in editors’ and readers’ good graces. I’ve included some of their thoughts, below.

For the most part, it’s a matter of transparency from the get-go, they say.

Committee member Ruth E. Thaler-Carter has done some repurposing through the years but “only very carefully — making sure it’s clear that a version of the information has been published,” she told me.

Once, she submitted a profile on a small business owner that she’d written for the St. Louis Argus to Essence magazine. “They sent me a check for $75 and published it almost verbatim. My first national clip!” she said.

For several years, she wrote about the annual conference of the International Association of Business Communicators for a number of publications, often drawing from the same material. Her clients were OK with the overlap; their publications came out at all different times and went to different audiences, she said.

More recently, she started contributing to a newsletter for a client for whom she also pens a monthly marketing column. Before she started this gig, she let her client know that she writes for an association magazine in the same field.

“This client said it would be fine if I rewrote some of those articles for her company’s newsletter,” she said.

By the same token, “The association editor says it’s OK as long as my articles for her come out first and the repurposed ones are noticeably different,” even if the same sources and quotes come up, she said.

So, how does this differ from the Lehrer case? “I’m being open about this with my clients and their readers,” she said.

Another committee member, Dana Neuts, agrees. If a writer goes to the involved editors and says, “‘Hey, I used this story over here and I think the example I used also applies here. Do you mind if I reuse it?’ Then the second editor has the opportunity to view the original piece and decide if he wants something fresh and new or if reusing the original work is acceptable.”

When a new version of a story runs, she suggests including a citation of some sort at the bottom, noting the similarities, as The New Yorker has done for the Lehrer pieces.

“To me, the issue boils down to being forthright with your editors so they have enough information to make the right decision for their organization. It is also a matter of professional courtesy,” and it doesn’t take much time or effort, she said.

As someone who’s frequently worked under tight deadlines, I can understand the impulse to quickly copy-and-paste. At the same time, in a business that’s all about informing people, it makes sense to me to be open and honest about a story’s back-story. I’m thankful to Lehrer for reminding me to do that. Now I just need to go back through my work and figure out what pieces might deserve a new slant.


Anna Pratt (Twitter @annapratt) Email

As a staff reporter-turned-freelance journalist, Anna Pratt, who lives in Minneapolis, Minn., has ventured into garbage houses, spent the night in a homeless shelter and witnessed a fistfight in a church basement, all for various stories. Over the past nine years, her byline has appeared in the Star Tribune, The Line, the Southwest Journal, the Minnesota Independent and several suburban and community papers, web publications and broadcast media in the Twin Cities. She’s had many beats, including education, community news, business, development, arts, civil/human rights and immigration. Pratt chairs the programming committee for the award-winning Minnesota Pro Chapter of SPJ and she’s running for president-elect of the chapter. She also serves on the organization’s national programming committee. To read more, visit

Conference attendance brings many benefits for freelancers

The end of the year is approaching, which means it’s time to start thinking about planning for the new one—including whether to attend conferences of SPJ and other organizations that can help our freelancing efforts, so we can budget for the time and money to participate in such events.

That raises the obvious question of why – why go to an SPJ regional or national conference? Why go to the conferences of other organizations?

That’s easy: Because it’s good business for a freelancer. It’s a smart use of your time and money.

As freelancers, we can often feel isolated and cut off from our colleagues. One way to reduce that lonely feeling is to get out of the house and … go to a conference. Attending a conference is a great way to get reconnected to colleagues.

Conferences are learning experiences almost by definition. They offer a consolidated, in-depth and often intense opportunity to plug into the current trends of our profession (or the professions and industries of the people we write about) and to pick up on tools, techniques and other topics important to those of us who practice and care about journalism, no matter what role we play in the profession. You never know what you might learn by attending a conference.

The SPJ’s national conference will include a number of sessions specifically for freelancers, as well as plenty of opportunities. Regional meetings are likely to include freelance topics as well. (If not – be the one to offer something about freelancing at your regional meeting!) Whether you’re thinking about freelancing, starting out or have been doing freelance journalism for years, you can always learn more from colleagues and presenters.

Conference attendance is also a great way to meet colleagues in person and interact on levels well beyond the impersonal one of e-mail. Why do that? Well, it’s always nice to make new friends, but it also helps to remember that we’re more likely to want to work with people we know. Meeting in person enhances your network of people who might refer or recommend you for projects or even hire/subcontract with you. You become more than an e-mail address; you become a real person, and that makes you stand out from all those other e-mail messages in someone’s inbox, especially when that someone needs to hand off work they don’t usually do or are too swamped to take on.

Conferences bring us together not just with our peers, but with people who might hire us. That’s an opportunity we shouldn’t miss. Again, meeting prospective clients in person makes us stand out from the throng when there’s a reason to get in touch later on.

Yes, conferences cost money, and freelancers don’t have the luxury of being sponsored or reimbursed by their employers to attend professional meetings. However, those expenses are tax-deductible – not just registration, but travel, accommodations, meals, supplies, resources, etc. If you put some money aside starting in January, you can build up a sizable conference budget for the year.

You can even make money from attending conferences. SPJ may not pay most of its conference speakers, but some organizations either pay honoraria or cover the costs of travel and accommodations for their speakers, along with giving speakers free conference registration. Think about what you might have to offer to colleagues or clients, and start looking for opportunities to be a speaker somewhere in the new year!

Even attending a conference can be a freelance assignment. I have clients that pay my travel, accommodation and meal expenses, plus a daily fee, for me to attend their annual conferences and write up daily events for an onsite newsletter or post-conference report. Being there also lets me mingle with other attendees whom I wouldn’t meet otherwise and who might have a use for my freelance services, or might be good story subjects for the future.

As I said in a recent assignment (for an organization that has nothing to do with journalism), conferences are for us – designed with our professional and personal needs in mind, and intended to serve those needs by giving us what we need to stay up to date in our profession, make our work better, and enhance the skills and service that we provide to our clients.

When you go to an SPJ conference, a conference for freelancers or one for members of an industry that you cover, you’re not just among colleagues; you’re among friends. So sit down with a calendar and your budget for the new year, and plan now to plug yourself into the adventure of at least an SPJ conference. See you there!

Long-time freelancer Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is a veteran of “too many conferences to count” in various aspects of communications, as well as on behalf of clients in several professions and industries. She is the owner of Communication Central (, which presents an annual fall conference for freelance writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, etc.

The problem-solving nature of freelancing

Look around. No matter where our eyes land, we see words.

It may be just one small word, such as “off” or “on,” but the process that led to printing the word required someone to come along and write it. Decisions were made, assignments were given and the words we see around us were formed.

If prospective and novice freelancers keep that in mind, the emotional challenge of finding writing and editing assignments will become little easier to take. Understand that the world needs writers of all kinds, and that one of those particular needs is bound to fit a freelancer’s special talent.

Of course, nobody will know that until it’s made obvious to everyone. Thus, self-promotion and marketing are as important as the actual creative actions of writing and editing.

This is tough for most freelancers just starting out. The very notion of having to sell themselves and do it daily takes them out of their writing and editing comfort zones and plops them in front of risk, challenge, uncertainty, frustration — things certain to make even average people squirm and sweat. Worse still, shopping for clients takes time away from the writing and editing processes.

Thus, marketing is where a freelancer’s ego runs up against reality. And repeatedly banging into reality this way can be bruising.
There is, however, one element of reality working in a freelancer’s favor that can cushion the psychological blow and act similarly as a sales tool.

You see, people who know how to use words effectively are, above all else, problem-solvers. They bring to bear talent and wisdom nobody else has or can use in precise ways, and that precision helps answer questions, surmount obstacles and open doors for other people.

Whereas managers organize a given situation and technicians wrestle with the fine details of it, writers and editors are responsible for communicating initial needs, communicating the problem-solving processes, communicating the analysis and conclusions of the final result. And let’s face it, nothing gets accomplished without strong, effective communication at multiple levels.

Thus, freelancers are instrumental. They find and write the words that help address important issues. They are, in essence, problem-solvers. And if prospective freelancers think carefully about this before tackling the onerous task of self-promotion, that task may start to seem less onerous. By pitching themselves as problem-solvers, freelancers expand the definitions of who they are and what they can accomplish. Clients will see them as more than just communicators, too.

It’s a psychological game, certainly, but it’s one all freelancers can win. And once they start to play, it can become much easier to switch their careers from “off” to “on.”

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



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, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Always Have Too Much Work, A Partially Sarcastic Column on Freelancing

Freelancing is the dream job. Especially when you’re on the outside looking in. Your friends and former colleagues who have embraced the reality of freelance always seem to be going to exotic places, dining and meeting with exciting people, and playing golf or going to the beach.

I’ll let you in on a little secret if you’re about to make the leap from ‘traditional’ employment to freelancing. The grass is actually a lot greener on this side of the fence and there are free mimosas every morning and delightful foot massages each afternoon.

Are you kidding me? Last time I checked, the only way to get paid is to accomplish a project for someone with money. Otherwise, you’re just toiling away at a non-paying hobby. In short order, you’ll run out of food and housing and probably be living in your Pinto.

“But wait,” you say. “I’m actually working as a freelancer AND I’m making so little that I have to live in my Pinto!”

OK. THAT’s the real secret. Unless you treat freelancing seriously and hustle every minute of every day, you will find yourself living in your car. The real trick to freelancing success is eventually reaching the stage where you are turning work away and/or subcontracting some of your work out to other writers.

How do I know this? I’ve been freelancing most of my adult life and rocketed to current high standard of living only when I started turning down jobs. You see, nothing succeeds like the appearance of success and if you become unavailable, clients work themselves into a frenzy trying to hire you.

So, am I advocating turning down a job just to see what happens? Actually I am. Look at your current workflow and client list. Where is that one job that’s more annoying than rewarding. You know, the one that actually has you making $3.65 an hour after repeated edits, hours of research and artificial deadlines. Turn down the next gig they offer you.

Then, at the next drinking event….I mean networking meeting you attend, make a big deal about turning down XYZ company because you’re too busy. Word will get back that you’ve got more work than you can handle and people will assume that’s because you’re a great writer, a charming conversationalist and a snappy dresser.

Suddenly, you’ll have to hire a virtual assistant to answer your phones and return your emails. You’ll be on the fast track to real success…getting paid to write columns about what you did last weekend or how you know your cat is planning to pluck out your eyeballs while you sleep. You’ll also be able to stop getting dressed up because you’ll be considered an artist. And your calendar will stop filling up with deadlines and start filling up with cocktail parties, social events and global travel.

Just be sure not to try and ride this wave so long that all your work actually dries up. You might still have to write a few things each week and maintain a schedule where entire blocks of time have you unavailable. You can use those times to catch up on your magazine subscriptions or practice your short game.

Regardless, your success as a writer is now ensured. Go forth and turn away work! Then enjoy the fruits of your…err…relaxation.




Exercise care, and plan well, before freelancing

If you haven’t browsed the market for freelance writers and editors lately, take a look around. Even a glance on Google shows the horizon to be virtually limitless, with the scope of jobs available out there capable of keeping a person busy through this lifetime and perhaps another.

But how many of us want to dive that deep? A pool of bottomless opportunity, while inviting, may be difficult for some independent journalists to navigate for its potential to consume one’s life. So, before taking the plunge, weigh a few facts.

Time management is essential — The first thing newcomers to this line of work want to know is how much money they’ll make, and the answer is rather simple: as much as they want. If they throw themselves into their jobs, chances are the wages will satisfy. But we all have lives away from our careers, and those lives also must come into account. Therefore, set firm working hours and stick to them — avoid distractions during these hours such as Netflix and that new book just downloaded from Amazon.

It should go without saying that a good diet and plenty of rest are essential work tools as well, though even the most-committed among us need reminders of this from time to time. This usually happens when …

Sickness happens — There will be a day or two, probably more, when a scratchy throat in the morning devolves to low-grade fever by mid-afternoon, or a family member becomes ill, and working becomes impossible. Better to admit defeat and come back stronger the next day.

This means making allowances for sick time. Many businesses allow for up to 10 days of paid sick time per calendar year; use that amount as a guideline when drafting a work calendar. And by all means be honest and forward with clients when illness arises and threatens a deadline, so they can adjust their schedules, too.

Clients accept that sickness happens. Freelancers should be honest with themselves and accept it, too.

Bad clients are everywhere — Of course, for every five or 10 understanding clients, there’s one who’s impossible to please, or who’s lax giving instructions, or who’s shameless about taking freelancers’ ideas as their own. Like illness, these people require freelancers to make contingencies, but the key is to avoid them before they pose problems.

Prior to taking on a project, conduct plenty of homework. Find out some background about clients: scrutinize their websites to see who receives credit for content and how, and mine the freelance marketplace for feedback from other writers and editors for indications of trouble.

Then, when the time comes to discuss potential projects, insist that clients provide specifics instead of generalities. And listen carefully not just to what clients say, but also how they say it: rudeness or curt behavior may allude to larger problems later.

Self-promotion bolsters success — Freelancers can write or edit stories all day and still feel as though their careers are stuck in neutral. Thus, a measure of innovation may be required to move things forward.

To start, it helps to master social media — Facebook, Twitter, Quora, etc. — the fastest form of communication growing. Story sources and editing clients may prefer one of these venues to share basic information, pass along content changes and, in general, stay in touch. (Having said this, I must stress that phone calls are still the most meaningful form of direct communication apart from face-to-face meetings.)

Social media also is essential for self-promotion, though it takes considerable time and care to develop it for that purpose. For example, in the publishing world, the informal time-management rule nowadays for book authors is “80/20” — spending 80 percent of their time promoting themselves and 20 percent actually writing their books. This large percentage devoted to promotion includes such things as teaching workshops, speaking at engagements, and working with other authors and editors to develop their craft.

Granted, an 80/20 split may not suit most freelancers, given that their success depends largely on volume. Nevertheless, a nod toward innovation can boost potential and expand one’s reach in the marketplace.

Freelancers are their own bosses — the greatest perk of the business. They’re also entirely responsible for their own failures. Extensive care and planning, and the willingness to innovate, will go a long way toward keeping those failures to a minimum.

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

Freelancers, Remember to Love Yourselves This Valentine’s Day!

Contributed by freelancer Tara Puckey

It’s that time of year again—the flowers and the candy, romantic dinners and wordy cards, the Hallmark holiday of love—Valentine’s Day.  When planning your love-fest dinners, dates and surprises, don’t neglect the ever-so-important relationship with your career.  Just like a budding romance, freelance gigs need attention and care to survive.

And so in the spirit of the holiday, here are some tips to help keep that freelance passion alive.

It’s okay to wallow in rejection for a while—Most freelancers will acknowledge you can’t win ‘em all.  There are also some freelancers who maintain that in this business, you’ve got to be resilient.  Honestly, that’s true.  But it’s also perfectly fine to drown in weepy music over a rejection that really stings.  It’s like a relationship: afterward, the making up is the best part.

Turn some jobs down and opt for something you’re passionate about—Freelancing is about the money.  You’ve got to make enough to survive.  But don’t forget about the reason you started on this path.  Take a job that means more to you than just a paycheck and devote yourself completely to it.  Trust me, you’ll end up satisfied and refreshed.

Go outside the box and learn something new—As freelancers, we tend to get in a groove.  We realize our strengths and weaknesses and adjust accordingly, moving through the days with a rhythm of productivity (or at least that’s the goal).  Take a minute to move outside your comfort zone and get some new juices flowing.  Sign up for a class you know nothing about, embark on a project where you’ll be learning as you go.  Just learn something different.

Sleep in, watch a movie, take a walk—It’s happened to all of us, that block where it’s impossible to squeeze out any creative activity.  And this might be the oldest advice in the book, but it’s something many freelancers are guilty of not doing.  Everyone needs a break so find something that takes your mind off work and do it, deadlines or not.  You’ll find that when you sit back down to hammer away at the task, everything will come much easier.

Dress it up—I know how easy it is to wake up, stroll down the hall to the home office and work the day away in the comfort of pajama pants and a well-loved T-shirt.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but sometimes it’s nice to look like you didn’t just crawl out from a dark corner somewhere.  Looking great creates confidence, which will come out in your work.  You don’t need to break out the Prada everyday, maybe just once in a while.

Reward yourself, you deserve it—Deadline after deadline, projects and queries, more deadlines, more projects… The cycle goes on and on.  Break that up by rewarding yourself.  Set up a system (it’s okay to break out the kid’s sticker chart) so that when you complete so many projects, you get a massage or spend the day skydiving.  Whatever your pleasure, make sure you’re getting more out of your accomplishments than just the check.

Do you plan to get sick? If not, you should

The moment I knew something was wrong my day already was booked, solid. I had a book-writing project to work on before sunup, interviews and reviews to complete before lunch and an evening of editing that would last past midnight. If I escaped my desk for fresh air and a glance at blue sky, I would be lucky.

But then an itch started down deep in my throat, past the point where coughing scratched it. A flood of morning coffee failed to drown the symptom; granola for breakfast just made it worse. By lunchtime, the odd dizziness accompanying fever joined in to knock me out of my desk chair and into bed.

Yes, folks, freelancers suffer illness, too. Not all of them, however, are prepared to handle it. As trouble sets in they could be like I was: enduring symptoms as well as guilt, the latter caused by my belief that inactivity at work meant lost income.

The trick then is figuring how to suffer in peace rather than panic. So, before considering a new project, freelancers also should consider what it takes to keep the money coming in when the work isn’t, particularly during illness.

To start, it helps to have healthy habits. A balanced diet and regular exercise should be tools of the writer’s trade because they help ward off problems and minimize the onset of others. Before my illness set in, weeks had passed since my last exercise; as a result, my back was sore from sitting all the time and my stomach had spread over my belt loops. Returning to exercise changed my mental as well as physical well-being — I could concentrate better and see more clearly the planning errors I had made that probably contributed to my illness.

Among those other errors was having a datebook that resembled an overstuffed suitcase, filled with too many projects and appointments and not enough time set aside for rest and relaxation. Sure, I love to write, but like the saying goes, “Too much of a good thing …”

Thus, I had to dispense with the mentality that caused the overloaded datebook. I had been piling up projects thinking that the more on my plate each day, the more money I would have in my pocket, not realizing that I was devaluing myself in the process. When billing for work, freelancers should look past the day’s expenses to the larger goal of possessing a lifestyle that allows relative comfort and benefits, such as insurance. Never ignore the possibility of becoming ill and losing a day’s worth of work, or more.

Finally, explain this larger goal to clients up front. Make it clear that good health and well-being means good work on a project. And if an itch in the throat turns into something worse, have no hesitation to call clients and explain the problem. In my experience, clients understand that sickness happens. Better that freelancers understand that, too, so they can keep the job and the life they love.

Tips from other sources:
* How to handle sick days as a freelance writer
* Freelancing during an illness
* Illness: The freelancer’s best frenemy
* Where can a freelancer find health insurance coverage?
* Employee benefits for freelancers

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


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