with Mir Kamin
I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.
To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/
Last week I asked what questions you’d like to see addressed here—preferably germaine to freelancing, but I’m not all that picky—and you came through with some really good ones. Sheryl was the first comment and asked the question everyone wants the answer to:
I’m curious how you look for work. I’m sure most of it comes by word-of-mouth recommendations, but when you’re soliciting, how do you decide who you want to work for, and how do you approach a prospective employer. Do you frequent freelance sites,or do you wander around the internet looking for bad writing and then swoop in to save the day?!
This is the quintessential how do you freelance? question, and as a bonus, I now want to wander the Internet looking for terrible writing. Heh.
There are three primary ways to find paying freelance gigs, of course, and I’ll try to explain how/why I do what I do. Your results may vary, and I only speak for myself, of course. (Was that enough disclaimers? I hope so.) That said, here’s the rundown:
1) Look for job listings (and/or list yourself for hire on a relevant site). I mention this one first for two reasons: First, because it’s perhaps the most obvious answer; and second, because it’s the thing I do least. Crazy, right? Not necessarily. Listing your credentials somewhere takes very little time, so absolutely do it, but don’t expect prospective employers to flock to you, necessarily. And while there are plenty of jobs to be had that get listed on a job board or Craigslist or whatever, in freelancing I find that applying for something cold (not knowing anyone involved) has a much lower chance of success than going into a situation where I already know someone. So you can look for a listing that sounds good and apply, sure, but I find this method not nearly as productive as…
2) Networking. You already knew that, Sheryl, but of course “networking” can sound kind of big and scary, particularly for us introverts, and my point in bringing it up here is that it doesn’t have to be. There are two areas for networking: with your freelancing cohort and with folks likely to have jobs for you. Many, many freelancers see fellow freelancers as competition, and therefore see networking amongst them a sort of “fraternizing with the enemy.” Simply put, I find this mindset beyond dumb. There’s a lot to learn from your fellow freelancers, first of all, plus you probably have a lot in common, plus when someone has too much work to take on and they know someone whose work they admire they are likely to say, “I have to pass on this project, but here’s someone you should call, instead.” Everyone knows they “should” network with people who can hire them, but a lot of people forget to freelance with other freelancers. I get tons of work through knowing other freelancers; similarly, when my plate is full, I return the favor and pass along work I cannot cover. A rising tide lifts all boats, etc.
Whether networking with other freelancers or people who have the potential to hire you, events are a great place to break the ice—conferences, particularly, as everyone’s kind of wandering around meeting people—but you absolutely can network through email, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. You do not have to travel and spend a lot of money to network. People forget that, as well. It’s just about getting your face/name out there as someone who’s available for work.
3) Purposeful pursuit. You never want to stalk a potential client; there is a line between “I am highly motivated to work for you” and “I am the annoying person you’ve grown to hate because I cannot take a hint.” If you don’t know where that line is, freelancing may not be for you. If you do know where that line is, then feel free to set your sights on a brand or website or company for whom you know you could be a great asset, and then pitch them your fantastic idea(s) periodically. Find a contact in a relative position of power (it doesn’t have to be the person who does the hiring, but you don’t want to be pitching the coffee boy, either)—this is usually accomplished through networking—and make your pitch. If you are turned down, thank them for their time, and let them know you’ll be back with another idea. If the turn-down was along the lines of “great idea, we’re just not in a position to do it now,” then let them know you’ll check in again in a month or two. Keep doing this. This is my favorite method because when it works, you end up with a gig you really want, and also because it works a lot (assuming you set realistic goals). It takes some time and patience, but the payoff is generally worth it.
Those of you who’ve been reading me a long time may remember that I used to write a book review column for Scholastic. I love Scholastic and pitched them every month, for well over a year, before I got that job. It was quite possibly my favorite gig ever. (Budgets dried up and after a couple of years it came to an end, but it was great while it lasted.) I decided I wanted a job there, and I just didn’t go away until they gave me one.
Also, I make regular pacts with the devil.
(No I don’t. That was a joke. A really lame joke.)
Basically it’s a dash of Stuart Smalley-esque self-confidence and then the willingness to put yourself out there, knowing that it may be a while before actual work emerges. The good news is that the more you’re out there, and the more you work, the more often someone will come to you (out of the blue, even) to offer you work. And that means less of that nail-biting, gut-wrenching looking and possible rejection.
In conclusion: You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and now you just need to tell people who don’t already know.
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