In 2016, I started to get serious about freelancing.
I knew I wanted to be full time by the beginning of 2017, and figured I needed at least a two or three month run up to hit the new year at full speed.
In September, I took stock of what I was currently doing and where I wanted to be.
How I built up to full time freelancing
I was doing a fair bit of research for universities and charities -it was really interesting work, but it didn’t pay so well compared to my other writing work. I had three projects on the go, with new referrals coming in.
I had good relationships with four or so editors and was regularly writing for them. When I say regularly, I mean it might be a few weeks between pitches, but generally, I got responses, not the dreaded editor silence, even if they were rejections.
I started thinking about diversifying my income and focusing on a couple of specialities, or niches. I wanted to focus on health, business and food writing. I signed up for a few content marketing agencies (not content mills – the ones that pay you $25 to produce 1,500 words) – ones that pay good money for great content.
What I was doing was ok, but it wasn’t enough
When I looked at the work I was doing, I was happy, but it wasn’t any where near enough to sustain me or my family. I needed to be strategic. With my research work, although it doesn’t pay as well as freelancing, it is fairly regular hours as well as having the added benefit of superannuation. I decided to continue with the research work, but to limit it to five or so hours a week. I felt that was enough to keep my foot in the door for any future potential academic work, but also left enough hours to focus on higher paying work.
Trying a new strategy
While I had great relationships with the four editors I was working regularly with, from September onwards, three of them finished up at their jobs. In fact, since I started freelancing, nearly every editor I’ve worked with has moved on. Sometimes they have recommended me to the editor taking their place (but this doesn’t always mean the new editor doesn’t bring their own preferences for freelancers they like to work with), but lots have moved into roles or organisations where they don’t directly commission freelance writers.
It can be tough breaking into a publication and developing a strong relationship with an editor, only to have them leave and your work with the publication dries up.
I decided to focus on making multiple connections within one publication/business/organisation so that I got to know the publication or brand intimately and so even though I might be writing for different editors, I’d still be writing for the same masthead. I worked on implementing that in November/December – I asked one of my initial editors if she would mind introducing me to the editor of another division, which she did, and I now write for both. And even better, this is in one of my new niches – food writing.
Be top of mind
The other thing I did to grow my business for 2017 was to proactively follow up each time I filed a story. Once a story had been accepted for publication, I would email the editor and ask if they were looking for more pitches or whether they had any stories they needed to assign a freelancer. More often than not, they would come back to me with, “I need someone to write a story about X, would you be interested?”
Would the editor have offered me that article if I hadn’t followed up? It’s hard to say, but it’s something that has worked incredibly well for me in the few shorts months since I’ve implemented it. And if the editor says they are open to more pitches, I always have one or two ready to go.
Actively look for opportunities
I also kept my eyes open for opportunities either on LinkedIn or Twitter and saw individuals, businesses or publications who were looking for writers. Following up on these has meant that my start to 2017 is looking strong.
These small tweaks along with setting up a target monthly income spreadsheet and pitching to new publications were the key to building up to full time freelancing for the start of 2017.
Are you trying to build up your freelancing business for 2017? What steps have you taken so far?