At a low point in my Clark Kent career, I decided to try my hand at freelance writing. Starry-eyed, I imagined creating my land of milk and honey with writing, my life blood. There would be gratifying assignments, like crafting crisp business proposals; or fun ones, like assisting a grade-school child with his or her English paper. I’d collect my fee, go on my merry way and await the next awesome project.
Oh, how ignorant I was about The Freelance Writing Dance! Sometimes you get dipped without warning. People suddenly want you to pirouette with no preparation. And sometimes you’re dancing with someone who has two left feet.
You may be well-aware of the potential chaos within the choreography. But if you were like me and did not, here are some tips before you put on your Freelance Writing Dance shoes:
Establish rules on the dance floor beforehand. You write for a client, they pay you and that’s the end of the story, right? That’s the way it should be but it sometimes isn’t. I had clients avoid me like a bad date once I did the writing and it was time to pay. Infuriating. Others said they had no problem paying but could they meet me in a business parking lot at midnight and bring the funds? Inconvenient and creepy. These experiences taught me a valuable lesson: let people know what they can expect from you before you start writing for them. And in turn, what you expect from them. Just like maids stated that they “didn’t do windows” back in the day before they were hired, we, unfortunately must do the same. I drew up a short and sweet document letting clients know upfront when payment is expected, payment options, etc. If the client doesn’t agree to my policies, that’s fine. At least it saved me from heartache down the road. If they do agree but deviate from the terms later, I’m somewhat protected.
Dance like you really mean it. This tip piggybacks on the first one. When I first decided to freelance full-time, I didn’t count on the possibility of having projects overlapping on occasion. I was going crazy. I knew I had to do something when my passion for writing began to wane. Fortunately, the solution was simple: get organized. I overhauled my study, eradicating clutter and got an updated computer. I also make great use of my dry erase calendar. It’s comforting to have deadlines sprawled out for an entire month right at my fingertips. I know different organizational systems work for different writers but you need one nonetheless. Nothing is more dismaying to a writer than missing a deadline. My experience has been there is no half-stepping in freelancing; you must mind your business like a business.
Play nice in the ballroom. This may seem like the most logical tip but it’s a shame how rarely it’s practiced. True story: About 3 years ago, I exchanged business cards with a woman I met at a creative career mixer. I included her on my email distribution list for informative emails about events and other things I thought were helpful. Imagine my surprise when she replied to my email one day, telling me to “stop spamming” her! I apologized and removed her from my email address book. Well, imagine my surprise again when she emailed me months later with some of the same “spam,” an event she was promoting. Fortunately, I took the high road. I replied, politely reminding her about the inflammatory email she sent me months earlier. And oh, would she please remove me from her distribution list, too? My point with this cautionary tale is that people in the creative industry, such as writers, run in tight circles. I describe what that woman had as The Cinderella Syndrome. She was unfriendly to someone who she felt had no value to her at the time but found that the person did later. I’ve found it really pays off to cultivate positive relationships whenever possible. Playing nice has effortlessly led me to some fabulous referrals.
The Freelance Writing Dance sometimes threw me for a loop but I am figuring it out and learning the complicated steps. When you make writing and business tango partners, it’s not always easy but the challenge is exhilarating. I am recovering from the sudden dips and pirouettes with much more grace.