Author Kristen Fischer on finding success as a freelancer

Kristen Fischer headshot 7With freelancing and self-employment on the rise—the U.S. Small Business Administration reports that nearly 9.9 million Americans were self-employed during the second quarter of 2012—several new books offer business advice tailored to solopreneurs rather than small businesses with employees. Among those books is When Talent Isn’t Enough: Business Basics for the Creatively Inclined (Career Press, January 2013) by New Jersey-based copywriter and journalist Kristen Fischer, whose previous books include Creatively Self-Employed: How Writers and Artists Deal with Career Ups and Downs and Ramen Noodles, Rent and Resumes: An After-College Guide to Life.

Ebyline recently caught up with Fischer to discuss the challenges and opportunities of freelancing. What follows is an excerpt of that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.

What takeaway will readers find in your book that they won’t find elsewhere?

There are tons of business books out there. I’ve looked at accounting books, for instance, but this puts it in a single book and puts it into layman’s terms. It’s not too technical. They’re going to find a very relatable voice, not only in mine, but in some of the stories from the people I interviewed. There’s a lot of honesty that will make people laugh and not feel so alone. You’re learning from other people’s experiences and their tips.

One takeaway would be to look at your strengths. If you’re not a good speaker, it might not be the best thing to get up onstage. A writer may want to think about writing an e-book instead of going on the speaking path. It’s really going to encourage you to use your own creativity and carve out your own path. I think that nontechnical aspect is really what gives the book an edge.

What do you see as the biggest business challenges for freelance journalists and how can they overcome them?

You’re dealing with shrinking budgets. Nowadays it’s hard to get your piece published in magazines. Instead of those ads that say “I’ll pay you $10 for 1,000 words,” I think you really have to focus less on job-hunting and more on targeting things you want to write for. Chances are there’s not going to be this amazing market posting on Craigslist. Go to Writer’s Market, look at the magazines or other outlets.

Where do you think other freelancers struggle?

Most of the same across the board, a lot of people are struggling with rates and how much to charge. Freelancers need to know their rights. You don’t have to revise the work as many times as the client says. You can build that into your contracts. Whether you’re a moonlighter or going into full-time freelancing, you still need the business basics.

A lot of people realize they need some systems in place but it doesn’t have to be the same one as the freelancer next to you. As I was writing this book, it kind of helped me to see that. I’m still not using Quickbooks, I just use an Excel spreadsheet, and that could be a tragic disaster for me but it works. As long as I’m paying taxes and paying my bills, nobody says I have to use this fancy system. Everyone thinks they need to spend all this money to get software and programs, but it’s OK to do things your own way as long as you’re doing them with integrity.

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About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in Bankrate.com, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, MediaBistro.com, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.

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