Posts Tagged ‘networking’


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

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, www.writerruth.com, “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 (www.writerruth.com), 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: http://www.communication-central.com/2013/events/2013-conference/

Staying Connected: Fostering Freelance Relationships

The corporate world has the water cooler, schools have the teachers’ lounge and kids have the playground. Everyone has a place to hang out, brainstorm, share ideas or simply to complain. What about freelancers? Where do we go to get encouragement or to vent about our latest projects or clients? Some would argue that we don’t have a place. But not me. I never feel lonely as a freelancer. I have exactly as much companionship as I want or need on any given day.

Jelly Bean Neuts

Jelly Bean Neuts

If I’m writing or editing, I’m likely alone in my home office which suits me just fine. Of course, I’m not truly alone then. Jelly Bean, my favorite eight-pound source of inspiration, is always there if I need a friendly face or just a break, and her siblings, Sammy and Ginger, are always handy with a meow or a purr to cheer me on.

When I need to feel a part of something bigger, or need human contact, I work at Starbucks or downtown at my favorite bakery. And when I really need to feel connected, I visit with friends online. I also connect with my freelance friends at local networking events. It might be at an event sponsored by SPJ or Media Bistro, or a meet-up that friends threw together to keep in touch. Regardless, I am only as lonely as I want to be.

For me, this ability to stay connected is crucial to my success, but also to my sanity. While I don’t miss cubicle life, I do miss seeing friends every day and being able to blow off steam when I need to. I make sure I maintain that camaraderie for myself but also to support my freelance friends. These relationships offer an intangible source of comfort and advice, as well as potential project leads. Even more importantly though, we are here to encourage each other.

Just last week, I talked to Anna Pratt, a fellow freelancer and member of SPJ’s freelance committee, to catch up. I asked her what her dream project is and how it was coming along. We both discovered that, while we have ideas, projects or stories we might want to work on “some day,” we need someone else to check in with us, to see how it’s going and to push us when we get stuck. We also like having someone to talk to about issues like collecting late payments, finding more work or firing clients.

  • Stay connected offline through networking
  • Stay connected online – Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Tumblr, etc.
  • Support and encourage each other

So even though we may work in a solitary environment at times, we are never truly alone. We have ways to connect with each other, virtually and face-to-face, and we should foster freelance relationships to support each other. It makes the freelance life so much more fun.

How do you support your freelance friends? I’d love to hear how you stay connected.

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Dana NeutsBased in the Seattle area, Dana Neuts of Virtually Yourz has been a freelance journalist for 10 years, specializing in business, feature and community writing. She is also the publisher of iLoveKent.net, which won a 2nd place award in the 2012 NW Excellence in Journalism contest for “Best Online Community Engagement.” Dana is currently serving as the national SPJ Secretary/Treasurer and will run for President-Elect in August 2013. Follow her on Twitter @VirtuallyYourz and @SPJDana.

 

Fellow Freelancers: Friends or Foes?

Connect with your freelance friends for advice, suggestions and contacts.Last night I attended a Media Bistro event in Seattle. There are usually two or three of these every year, and I’m lucky to make it to one. Not because I don’t want to go, but because I can make a zillion excuses of things I should do instead. I asked a non-freelancing friend to go with me this time to ensure I’d go…because my introverted side (yes, I *do* have one) was taking over, and I wouldn’t have attended otherwise. Last night’s crowd was more on the freelance writer/journalist side, and I had the opportunity to connect with about half a dozen fellow freelancers — all of whom I had met via SPJ at one point or another.

I am so glad I did. The crowd is usually a mix of editors, journalists, PR and marketing folks, and the conversations were lively and informative. We shared ideas, contacts, success stories, pitching tips and a few assignments-gone-wrong tales of woe. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed mixing it up with my peers.

From the outside looking in, my non-freelance friend didn’t understand how this was possible. “Aren’t you competing for the same work,” he asked me afterward. My friend was particularly surprised to hear me offer concrete suggestions to a marketing copywriter in attendance who wanted my advice on growing his client base. Why did I do it? Because that’s what the freelance community is like, at least in my experience.

Whether I’m in Seattle or D.C., I have found the freelance community to be one that is warm and welcoming. People are willing to share ideas, connections and advice freely. Why? Because there are so many clients, media organizations, publications, nonprofits and government organizations out there that need our talent, that we rarely compete directly with each other for assignments or clients. We have each developed our own niche. My specialties are business and community stories, Annika Hipple is focused on travel and hospitality, Crai S. Bower specializes in travel, adventure and humor. Even when our specialties do cross over, there are so many stories to be told that the prospect of two of us pitching the same story with the same angle to the same outlet at the same time are virtually nil.

Here’s an example. I’ve been wanting to write for Northwest Travel magazine. David Volk and Crai Bower both write for that magazine. The geographic area is limited, so there is some potential for cross over. When I told Crai that I’d pitched the editor a few stories last month, Crai offered to introduce me to the editor. I didn’t ask. He offered, and I’ll take him up on it because the “in” will improve my chances of my pitches getting read. Crai doesn’t expect anything in return, but if I can ever repay the favor, I’ll be happy to do it.

This is how the freelance world works. Fellow freelancers are not foes. Far from it. They can be our biggest fans and our greatest allies.

The takeaway:  seek out your fellow freelancers in and around your community, through organizations like Media Bistro and SPJ, and online on your favorite social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. You never know where your next great idea or introduction will come from.

 

Dana Neuts, Freelance JournalistFreelancer Dana Neuts share tips to keep writers motivated.
National SPJ Secretary/Treasurer
2013 Candidate for President-Elect

Based in the Seattle area, Dana Neuts is a freelance writer, editor and marketing pro. She is also the publisher of iLoveKent.net, an award-winning hyperlocal blog highlighting news, events and more in the Kent, Washington community. Most recently, her work has appeared in The Seattle Times, 425 magazine, South Sound magazine, Grow Northwest and Seattle Woman magazine. For more information, or to contact Dana, visit her website, VirtuallyYourz.com.

 

 

 

 

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.

My Over-Networked Life

Every freelancer knows it’s important to use social media to stay connected with editors, sources and the general public.

But with so many networking sites out there –Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, Yammer, Orkut, Plaxo, Jaiku, Bebo, Ning, Hi5, Multiply, Meetup.com, FriendFeed, Friendster, Flixster – the savvy freelancer needs to be choosy. Time is precious, and it’s far too easy to spend so much time updating your Twitter feed that you might not get around to sending out that all-important story pitch.

So which should a freelancer choose? Three tips:

1)  Divide your time between “broad” sites – like Facebook, which has 500 million users – and “specialty” sites, like Geni.com, which serves a very specific, narrow niche (in this case, people interested in genealogy). Aim for a 50-50 mix. But don’t overdo it! You might consider joining as few as two sites — one broad, one niche.

2)  When using that “broad” site, try to zone in on how it can help you connect with sources and ideas inside your reporting area. It might help more than your niche site does. For example, if you’re an entertainment writer, a “broad” site like MySpace might connect you with emerging musicians far better than a niche music site known only by industry insiders. Similarly, broad sites like Twitter can give you new ideas for entertainment stories.

3)   Think about WHY you’re on a social media site. Are you looking for a job? If so, groups that encourage face-to-face meetings – like Meetup, BigTent, or CouchSurfing – would be more beneficial than nationwide sites without local filters or groups. Are you busy juggling work and family, and you’ve joined social media only because your mentor said you should? Then join something quick and easy, like a micro-blogging site, which won’t impose the time demands of building an entire Facebook page complete with photos, or require the hours you’d need to build a LinkedIn page with your resume, detailed job history and references.

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