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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thinking Long-Term: The Key to Freelance Success

We're nearing my favorite day of the year--January 1st--and next week I'll talk about setting goals for your business for the coming year. (I'll be working on mine, too.) But right now I want to talk about a challenge that fulltime freelancers face--the burden of continually recreating your career.

Sure, you can keep doing the same things day after day, but trust me: you will get bored. You will get burned out. And you will probably question your desire to continue writing fulltime—or find that while you're doing the same old things, your business stagnates.

Yet at the beginning of your freelance career, you’re probably too busy looking for work and mastering the business to worry about your long-term career plans—until you find yourself dreading sitting down at your desk in the morning. That's where a long-term plan comes in.

In fact, a long-term focus is key for your writing career. I was reminded of this when I wrote Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money. Most of the six-figure freelancers I interviewed had been freelancing for more than 10 years; and nearly half had been self-employed writers for more than 20 years. Obviously they’re doing something right.

Sure, they were all talented writers. but they were also dedicated, confident, and most important, adaptable. They’d ridden the ups and downs of the economy and the market for years.

My point? To succeed long-term as a self-employed writer, you have to be able to stretch, to grow, to take on new challenges. That may mean writing in a new genre, covering different topics, teaching, or switching forms—say, writing books instead of magazine articles, or adding blogging to your repertoire.

As freelancers, we all aspire to be busy—but too much work can be a drawback to your long-term career. When you’re working long hours just to meet your deadlines—or spending hours pitching to make sure you have enough work to pay your bills—you tend to ignore questions like “so, where do I want my writing career to go long-term?”

The wonderful thing about freelancing is that you can do just about anything. That’s the drawback too. Should you write articles or books? Focus on trades or consumer magazines? Specialize or cover as many subjects as possible? Should you do corporate work? Get into ghostwriting? Start a blog--or turn your current blog into a money-maker?

To help you narrow your focus for the coming year, take some time in the coming days to think about what kinds of work you did this year, and for what types of clients. Where did your income come from? What did you enjoy? What did you hate? What do you want to do more of? Which of your markets are growing, and which are not? And where would you like to be five years, ten years, or twenty years from now?

Tune in next week for how to set goals for your writing career in 2011.