[Want to know about the best $0.99 you'll ever spend? Scroll down to the bottom of this post.] Here's me from 10 years ago, in my old office in our old house; I had just gotten home from a speaking gig. (Please note the Diet Mountain Dew bottle close at hand at hand along with the general office disorganization behind me.)
I've been thinking a lot about successful freelancers (including six-figure ones) and what sets them apart from writers who are equally talented (if not more talented!) than freelancers who struggle to meet their financial goals.
One aspect of freelancing that I love is that there is no single path to success. I know successful writers who write books exclusively, and those who have never written a book, choosing to specialize in shorter forms. I know successful writers who specialize in corporate work and those who have no interest in doing it. Same goes for ghostwriting--I know successful writers who do lots of it (like me) and those who do none. I know successful writers whose primary income results from print assignments and those who all but ignore print work for online assignments. I know six-figure writers who have tens of thousands of Twitter followers and those who (gasp) don't even use social media--though I'm willing to bet they'll get on LinkedIn eventually.
My point? Your career is completely individual to you. Sure, you can emulate other writers, and adapt their business model if it works for you. But the bottom line is that the choices you make will determine how much money you make, and how pleased you are with freelancing over all.
I'm pretty transparent when it comes to my career, whether I'm talking about money or contracts or how I run my business. Still, people have misconceptions about how I work, and what has helped me stay afloat in a demanding field for more than 16 years. Here are five things that may surprise you about my career:
1. I suck at social media. Seriously. I know writers who get leads and even juicy assignments through Twitter and LinkedIn. Me? Not so much. Yes, I have a listing on LinkedIn, and I have Twitter (@kellyjamesenger) and Facebook accounts. But have I figured out how to make those work for me, freelancing-wise? Nope. It's on my to-do list, but I admit it's not a priority right now.
2. I take work other writers wouldn't. I posted recently about an assignment I accepted that paid $400 for 650-700 words including photos. A few years ago, I may have just refused the assignment. But as I pointed out in my earlier post, I have solid reasons for saying yes, and since then I've received two more assignments from the market. The per-word rate is relatively low, but my per-hour rate is still close to $100/hour, which is what I try to average on assignments. I also just reached out to a potential reprint client that pays only $40/story. Hardly worth it, right? Well, if this market buys one story from me, that's $40 for about 15 minutes' worth of work. And if the market buys more than one story (which most of my reprint markets wind up doing), my ROI--and my hourly rate--just keeps climbing.
3. I don't work full-time. I haven't for almost eight years. Today I work about 15 hours/week. I couldn't have done this at the outset of my career; it took me plenty of hours (think 40+) to research potential markets, send query letters and LOIs, and get my career off of the ground. Now that I do more ghostwriting (and typically have a book project on my desk at any given time), I spend less time marketing and more time writing for money--which is how you make money, after all.
4. I'm lazy. (See number 3.) Well, no, not really. I'm a type A by nature and I like to work. I like to make money. I like making clients happy. I like the satisfaction of supporting myself (and my family) doing something I love, at least most of the time--and I love the freedom freelancing avails me. That means if I can do a pretty good job on a story in, say, five hours, or a stellar job in eight hours, I'll opt for the former. (Shhh...don't tell my clients.) That doesn't mean I don't care about doing good work. I do. But I've found in almost every case, "pretty good" is good enough. That makes me less perfectionistic, more productive (and less stressed) writer.
5. I'm an extrovert. If you've met me in person, you know this already. One of the most challenging aspects of freelancing for me has always been the isolation. I "reboot" around other people, especially those who make me laugh. Yeah, I go on Facebook but online relationships aren't enough for me. I need IRL friends (both writers and non-writers) to feel connected, stable, and happy. So I've learned to incorporate socializing into my day. No, I won't burn my work hours to get together with a girlfriend, but I'll happily drag my three-year-old along to lunch with a fellow freelancer (or better yet, host at home) or meet up for drinks after work. That's what recharges me and makes me excited about my life--including my career--again.
6. I have worn the same outfit to the ASJA annual conference no less than five times, over the course of as many years. It's a pair of flat-black pants and a bright pink blouse in a weird polyester fabric that is both flattering and comfortable. One year another writer saw me and complimented me on it. "That is a great color!" she said. I thanked her. The next year, I ran into her again, and we said hello. I saw her look at my shirt, and I laughed. "Yes, it's the same shirt!" The next year, I saw her again...and yes, I was wearing the same shirt. "Same shirt!" I said, pointing. She seemed a little worried by my lack of wardrobe (I hate to shop) but I thought it was hilarious, and vowed to continue wearing the shirt. And I have! So make sure you compliment me if you see me wearing it. :) (And note the shirt in the photo above!)
Readers, what about you? What about your freelancing career would surprise others in our field? Please share below! :)
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