How to Build an Enduring Freelance Career

Slipping into the life of a full-time freelancer was deceptively easy. A former classmate sent me a lead on a permalance copy editing gig at a daily newspaper, which I easily landed. I also parlayed an internship at a web magazine into another regular gig, managing and writing for their products blog. Sure, I took on other projects here and there… But it didn’t take much hustle to pay my bills, and I soon slipped into a sense of complacency.

Then, just as the recession was creeping close enough to slap us all upside the head, the newspaper I was permalancing at folded. Months later, the web magazine I was blogging for cut back on its posting frequency. Suddenly, I realized: I’d been coasting.

These days, the more projects I’m juggling, the safer I feel. Which is obvious, but what I’ve also learned is that the more you have to offer, the more projects you’re sure to have on your plate.

So I write and blog for print and online magazines. I ghostwrite ebooks. I do a bit of copywriting. I take on proofreading and copy editing projects. Not only that, but I earned my career coaching certification so that I could coach other freelance writers and publishing professionals. I host networking events. And — just for kicks — I’m an on-call funeral singer.

Aside from the singing, I feel as if all of the work I do is in some way connected, each service I offer a natural extension of the others. Which makes it easier to build a cohesive brand. So, as a freelance journalist, what else could you be doing to bring in the bucks?

1. Seek out different types of writing clients.

It’s all well and good to write for your favorite glossy mags, but when that lifestyle is characterized by pitching, waiting, more waiting, more waiting, maybe landing the assignment, pushed-back pub dates, and payments made at least 30 days after publication (why are we doing this again!?), it could be smart to consider additional forms of writing income. Some alternate forms of writing to consider? Industry-specific articles for business-to-business publications. Corporate copywriting. Ghostwriting (books… blog posts… even social media accounts!). Greeting card copywriting. The possibilities are endless!

2. Use your word nerd abilities to clean up the writing of others.

Always hand in perfectly clean copy? You may have a very bright future on the other side of the red pen. Consider copyediting or proofreading for a magazine, newspaper, or book publisher. Offer freelance editing to other authors. Become a section editor for a print or online publication. Consider angling for a developmental editor position at your favorite publishing house.

3. Self-publish.

Of course, if the thought of nurturing other writers instead of working on your own manuscript makes you wince, you could start a niche blog and find a way to monetize it. Advertising dollars aren’t what they used to be, but you could always use your blog to build up a mailing list and promote your other products and services. Speaking of products, why not develop an information product, like an insider report or ebook? You won’t have the power of a traditional publishing house behind you but, depending on how you self-pub, you could have all the profits.

4. Share your boundless wisdom.

There are universities with strong continuing education programs out there just itching for some high-quality, part-time writing profs. Sites like mediabistro also offer classes and publishing panels, and are always looking for new teachers. Or if you’d rather go it alone, you could host your own e-course. Of course, if the thought of teaching large groups of people makes you feel light-headed (I’m with you, man), you could do what I did and offer one-on-one coaching or consulting.

5. Brainstorm some other ideas.

Ask yourself: What do I love to do in my spare time? What parts of my job or other life activities do I most enjoy? What are my natural talents and my greatest successes? What are my passions? This list has a lot of ideas, but it’s not complete.

If you’re struggling financially, I strongly suggest that you consider diversifying. You have a lot to offer. More than you think.

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