Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Your Assignment: Drop Everything and Read

I'm teaching a college freelance writing roundtable course this semester, and one ongoing assignment I'm giving my students is to read magazines. Lots of magazines. A variety of magazines.

When we next meet in class, I'm going to tell them that they should spend time each week perusing not only the publications they already know and love, but also any other magazines they can get their hands on.

I'm going to encourage them to go over to friends' houses and raid their coffee tables, to dive with gusto into whatever random titles they come across in the dentist's office or while they're waiting at the vet. (Yes, I know those public copies in waiting rooms are germ central. But come on. So is about every place on a college campus.) 

I'm going to suggest that they head to the nearest bookstore, grab a latte, and spend a few hours perusing the racks upon racks of magazines for sale there. They don't have to buy any, but they should at least loiter for a few hours and see what they can find.

I'm going to encourage them to step outside their comfort zones, to flip through AARP or Modern Dog or whatever other title they come across that might be new to them.

And then I'm going to take my own advice. And I suggest that you take it, too.

Because the thing I realized today is that I don't look at magazines enough anymore. I used to have a voracious appetite for them in college. I'd explore any issue I could get my hands on. It was a passion, perhaps even an addiction. Plus it was basically a requirement for a magazine journalism major.

Now I read a few of my favorite titles when I get a chance, but when it comes to work, I rarely pick up a magazine unless I'm eying it as a potential market.

And you know what? By doing that I'm missing out on markets I might not have realized are out there, on story ideas that might spring to mind as I read an article in a certain publication. I'm missing out on a potential creative spark.

Yeah, I know sitting with a stack of magazines is not anything I can bill time for. It's not something that will immediately yield a paycheck. But for a freelance writer who's always seeking new article ideas and new markets, it's a key step in the creative process.

What magazines do you rely on for inspiration?

Photo: theseanster93 via flickr

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Using the B Word

No, I'm not talking about that B Word. I'm talking about another B Word that many freelancers don't like to use: Business.
Are you open for business?
If you're like many freelancers, you start out dabbling, taking on writing projects here and there while you continue with your full-time work as a doctor, a lawyer, a grocery store clerk, or whatever it may be (really, I know examples of all three who freelance on the side).

That's what I did. Right out of college, I was fortunate to land a full-time gig in publishing. But I still freelance wrote and copy edited on the side because I loved the work, I thrive on being busy, and I liked having a little extra fun money. Any projects I did were tackled in evenings, on weekends, or occasionally on my lunch hour.

I'd track my time if I was being paid hourly but otherwise didn't pay attention to how long a project took. I wasn't worried about the rates I was paid; I was just excited to get some extra cash. I had three solid clients I was incredibly happy working for and could care less if I landed any others, although I did jump at an occasional one-time opportunity for some work if it happened to land at my feet.

That all changed when I became a full-time freelancer. Suddenly the projects I landed weren't paying for plane and concert tickets, they were paying for car and health insurance bills. Securing a random project here and there wasn't enough.

That's when I realized that full-time freelancing isn't like having a hobby. It's business.

Running a business means getting serious about the things I hadn't worried about before, like tracking how long different types of projects take so I know how much I'm making and how much I should charge.

It means staying on top of invoices and tracking income and setting goals for how much I need to make weekly, monthly, yearly to pay the bills. (Not to mention making sure those paychecks arrive.)

It's actively seeking new work—often—rather than sitting and waiting for projects to come to me.

It means diversifying the types of services I'm offering rather than relying solely on my bread-and-butter projects.

It means building relationships with clients—from those who have been around for a while to new ones I'm just starting to work for, with the hope they, too, will be around for a while.

It means marketing myself, my work, my business—yes, I said it again—anytime, all the time, as much as possible.

It's true: In the midst of running the business aspect of freelancing, it can be hard to find the time to actually write and edit and complete the projects that necessitate all this other stuff.

But finding a way to stay on top of the business is the name of the game if you're going to be successful.

What part of the freelance "business" do you like the least?

Photo: Studeo Grinta via Flickr

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year, New Resolve

I'm starting off 2013 on a mission to rededicate myself to my freelance writing and editing career—and, along with it, this blog.

 I stepped out of the full-time freelancing world a few years ago when I took on a job working as the sustainability manager for a community college. Although I still dabbled in a few writing and copy editing projects here and there, most of that work took a backburner to my full-time job.

(Although, thankfully, my job did give me plenty of opportunities to write, edit, and communicate in new ways—now I've added grant writing and communications consulting to my freelance skill set!)

But now I'm back to juggling a combination of college teaching and freelancing, and I couldn't be more excited.

Of course, diving back in comes with plenty of legwork. I started by reconnecting with editors and publishers I've worked with closely in the past to let them know I'm back in the game. (It's a great time to do so, as many are planning for 2013 and making assignments right now.)

I'm also trolling the usual sites, as so many freelancers do, looking for gigs worth applying for. I'm brainstorming story ideas I want to pitch to a variety of consumer pubs. And, of course, I'm updating my resume, my LOI, and profiles on freelance sites, all while trying to whip my freelance website into shape because it has gotten woefully outdated.

So much to do, and so little time. But it's only Jan. 4, and I'm well on my way.

As a freelancer, what do you do to kickstart a new year?

Photo: VancityAllie via Flickr