8 Freelance Lessons I Learned in 2017
As I write this, I’m watching “Snoopy, Come Home” with my mom. The snow is falling outside the living room window, blanketing the trees and grass in the courtyard. The peace I’m getting here is very much needed.
The past year has been full of ups and downs, career-wise at least. My family and friends have been mostly solid. They’ve been by my side through my successes and setbacks, and I couldn’t have maintained my sanity without them.
I didn’t really think about how cool my freelancing career got until I did my #WhatIWrote2017 thread. My favorite national bylines were for Vogue.com and The Guardian, but I’m working on a couple of stories for national magazines in 2018.
But through all the craziness, I learned a lot in 2017. Here are some of the things I’ve figured out in 2017:
Save money whenever you can.
This year I was laid off from my part-time job, took a three-month contract job and started freelancing full-time all in one year. Last year, I resolved to get my finances in order so that I could be prepared for an emergency. I’m so glad I stacked up my emergency fund, paid down some debt and built up my client base. These small moves took time, but they helped so much when I was down. Freelancers, try to stay on top of your money. It’ll be one less thing to stress about when the shit hits the fan.
It’s okay to stick up for yourself.
This year, particularly in the past few months, I’ve had to hold fast to my principles more than ever before. Whether it’s explaining to sources why I have to fact-check or cautioning editors not to add things that are offensive, I’ve had to be firm. Not that I haven’t had to do so in the past, but it feels like I’ve had to more so this year. And I’ve been uncomfortable with it in the past, but now I’ve accepted it as part of the job. Generally speaking, women are conditioned to be nice and somewhat docile. But in business, you have to have uncomfortable, firm conversations in order to protect yourself, your sources and your clients.
If at first you don’t succeed, try again.
What one editor won’t take, another will. Don’t give up a pitch just because one editor said no. And don’t be afraid to pitch an editor again if he/she/they says no. The Vogue.com piece that I pitched, for example, was turned down by another Hearst magazine. Luckily, Vogue took it. I hope to write for them again, maybe for their print issue one day. This year, I’ve accepted rejection as part of the job. Of course, it sucks, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pitch your idea elsewhere. It doesn’t mean your idea is bad; it’s just business. Look at their pitching guidelines, media kit and previous stories to make sure the idea is a solid fit.
Trying new things will help stay current.
Beyond staying on top of new tech tools, I’m exploring new services in 2018. I’m testing out my consulting services and have explored creating an online pitching course. We’ll see how it goes. I’m learning more about new platforms, new business techniques and more about myself. In the end, these skills will be useful to me, anyone I consult, and my future employers.
Find a couple steady clients.
I learned this lesson the hard way! Grab an “anchor client,” meaning a client to hold you steady as the rest of your freelancing ebbs and flows. A few options for this: a weekend editor, an evening editor, or a columnist position. If you have marketing experience, you could also do social media management or content management for small or medium-sized businesses. Start with one or two steady clients. That way you can build your emergency fund, reinvest in your business, and focus on the projects that matter. It will also, most importantly, ease the financial stress that comes with freelancing.
Be honest about the state of your business.
When running a business, it’s important to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Lately, I’ve been asking critical questions about my business. How do I feel about this client? Do I like working with this publication? Will working with this place provide me the income I need to have the lifestyle I want? I’ve been asking myself these questions a lot this year. And when I find myself saying, “No,” I evaluate the situation and try to find solutions.
Running a business is one of the hardest things I’ll ever do.
On the outside looking in, my life looks fairly simple: write articles and get paid. I work from home. I pitch the stories I want to write, and I get paid to be curious. But what people don’t see is the ebbs and flows of the business. There’s so much positive rhetoric about freelancing that its difficulties come as a shock. This year, I’ve been hit with plenty of obstacles and have fought to keep my business afloat. I didn’t go into this expecting it to be easy, but I definitely felt the heat this year.
Take the role you want, not the one you can get.
I know it’s hard to do sometimes. We all have to do stuff we don’t want to do at some point. But the biggest thing I’ve learned this year is not to take work out of fear. In the past, I’ve taken jobs that turned out to not be the best for me because I feared not being able to support myself. I’ve faced situations that ranged from inappropriate and unprofessional to downright offensive. In the end, trust your gut. Does the role fit your skillset? Have people spoken out against the company online? How are the current employees treated? You can judge a company based on how it treats its freelancers and its staffers. It may be hard to turn work down. But in the long run, you don’t want to take on a job that will damage your mental or physical health. Look for the role that suits you best.
I look forward to learning more in 2018! What were your lessons this year? Tell me in the comments or email me at email@example.com. Happy holidays!