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


  1. Wise words built on some good ol'e experience. I've been on a really similar moonlighting track but have not yet tried on the Big Girl Freelancing pants--or had the necessity to. Been lucky enough for referrals to come to me and enjoy it while it's lasted.

    Could probably find it in me to freelance if I had to, but the organization, relationship building and negotiation skills would certainly pull me out of my comfort zone. Maybe one day if I had a collaborator.

    That's something else to consider, at least in my line of work: freelancing often depends on building relationships with a network of partners who help you pull a project off (and/or diversify your service offerings).

  2. I say keep going with the moonlighting track if it works for you—there's something to be said for the security of benefits, a steady paycheck, and such too!

    You're right, too, that collaboration is key, whether you're collaborating with clients, other freelancers, or both.