Monthly Archives: March 2011

The “right” mix of marketing and creating

A great post on The Urban Muse this week got me thinking: Is there such a thing as the “right” mix of marketing and creating?

Ideally, freelancers spend at least a few hours a week marketing their work — i.e., searching for and contacting new clients along with Tweeting, Facebooking and otherwise promoting their writing. Normally, I enjoy this mix. I almost consider it a break to switch from the intensity of creating new stories to sniffing out opportunities to sell more.

But this week — one in which I found myself rolling from corporate writing to journalism to public relations and back again — I barely indulged in social media and entirely ignored the idea of marketing to new clients. In fact, every time I accidentally flipped from my to-do list to the page behind it — a running list of editors to contact — my stomach lurched.

Why? My reasons were both patently absurd and completely logical. I was overwhelmed as it was, working early mornings and late nights, and worried another editor would say yes. How ridiculous is that? I was afraid of more success.

But one of my hard-and-fast policies — never accepting work I know I can’t finish on time — was firmly at play. There was simply no more time in which to squeeze a last-minute assignment, and most of my stories have a one- to three-day window between assignment and deadline. In the interest of creating well, my marketing had to go on a short hiatus.

I suspect this mix is a tenuous one for a great many freelancers, and something that needs to stay fluid. As my business changes, shifts and grows, I need to be open to the idea that some weeks may include almost no marketing, and that is just as OK as weeks in which I exhaust my list of new prospects. The goals are the same, after all — to maximize my output, my potential for growth and my ability to do my best writing for each client.

So maybe there’s no “right” mix of marketing and creating at all — maybe it’s a recipe that, depending on the portions, tastes a little different every day. It’s one of the reasons freelancing rarely grows bland or stale. A tasty career choice indeed.

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Why freelancers should never stop learning

I’m pretty excited. I recently was accepted into the American Society of Journalists & Authors — a process that involved a review of my portfolio and credentials — and just registered for its annual conference that’s held in New York City at the end of April. It’s always a good idea to meet your colleagues, shmooze with editors and maybe exchange a business card or 10, right? Even a writer-hermit like me can see the value in it.

But I didn’t realize how much two days among some of the leaders in this biz might teach me about aspects of it I’ve barely grazed. It’s going to be mighty difficult to pick which seminars to attend — including those on marketing, technology, craft and blogging — from among the dozens offered.

During one time slot, I can choose “Tweet, Blog, Like and Link! Using Social Media to Build Your Platform” or “What Else Can I Write? Adding Income Streams to Your Portfolio.” During another, I have to decide if I’d rather learn about “Negotiating a Book Deal” (hmm. . . maybe someday) or “Producing a Podcast” (which has never crossed my mind).

In the health field, it’s called “continuing medical education.”  In education, it’s known as “professional development.” But no matter what you call it, time spent adding to your knowledge base can never be a waste. Here’s why freelancers should never stop learning:

* Ka-ching, ka-ching: Obviously, the more you know, the more you can convert your knowledge into money. If I learn to podcast, for example, I will add another income stream to my business. This could help protect me from losing income during down times.

* Name recognition: All of that platform-building I’ll be learning about at the conference can only enhance my ability to get my name out there — which is half the battle to getting clients, I think. We don’t need to become famous, but I’m always gratified when a new editor I’ve contacted tells me she’s already seen my work. Names matter.

* It’s fun: Really, when you’re in a field you love, how can learning more about it be boring? It’s a kick to find out even better ways to do what you’re already good at, and it fans the desire to take your business up a notch.

I’m sure there are many more reasons I don’t touch on, but I’ll bet you’re already thinking of your own. How do you keep your “student status” active while running your freelance biz?


How persistence pays off in freelancing

I spend a fair amount of time every week prospecting for new writing work. Despite the lucky fact that I’m often on the brink of having too many assignments these days, past experience has taught me I can’t stop looking for more. And as I pick up additional clients, somehow I’ve managed to keep all of them in a rotating system of deadlines everyone’s happy with. For now.

My golden tool and most successful so far is the LOI — letter of introduction. As I scout out leads for potential new gigs, I zip off an LOI to each of them — a tactic that has netted me quite a few quick assignments and even a number of rejections I appreciate, the kind where editors praise my clips and tell me they wish they had the budget to hire me but can’t.

But sending LOIs isn’t as simple as it seems. It would be all too easy to email them to the publication’s HR rep and hope they’re passed along to the right editor, but often that just lands them in a nebulous vat of slush. And finding the right editor’s email address can turn into a time-sucking detective game since many company websites won’t list staff names under the guise of protection.

So I’ve had to get craftier to hit the bullseye. Often I call the publisher’s main number, explain who I am and what I want, and get what I need — the contact info for someone who may be looking for freelance talent and actually in a position to pull the trigger. But sometimes I end up talking to a reticent receptionist refusing to tell me anything but the HR rep’s email address (thanks lady, I could have gotten that off the website).

Lately I’ve found myself playing around with different iterations of email addresses to see if I can circumvent the gatekeepers. Firstname.Lastname@company.com, FirstInitialLastname@company.com, LastnameFirstInitial@company.com — these are commonly used variations of email formats, and I have no qualms trying all of them in an effort to reach the right editor. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? They come back undeliverable, and I have to try again.

I realized last week that two of my most recent gigs — including one with a huge, prestigious medical center — came from editors whose email addresses I’d wrangled with before sending my LOI. I could have sent them into the virtual slush pile, or I could have given up when the receptionist wouldn’t tell me what I needed. That extra step meant the difference between victory and obsolescence.

It’s a satisfying reminder how much persistence pays off in freelancing. How has it paid off for you?