How To Shut Down Your Laptop and Land New Freelance Assignments

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I’m often asked by beginning writers which job boards are the best for finding work. I tell all of them the same thing: Skip the job boards. Go on the offensive. Pitch your way into the publications you’ve been eyeing.

After all, it’s what I’ve been doing for years. I regularly hole up in my condo, flipping through back issues of magazines, brainstorming story ideas, agonizing over query letters, and tracking my efforts with spreadsheets. And — slowly but surely — I’ve continued to break into new and bigger publications.

But here’s the thing. It’s not where I get the bulk of my work.

No. The bulk of my work comes to me. How? Every day, new and amazing opportunities pop up because of the people I’ve worked with in the past, or met either in person or online.

How can you build similar, mutually beneficial relationships? You’re not gonna like this, but it requires stepping away from your computer.

1. Stay connected with former colleagues, editors, clients, sources, etc. Meet up now and then for coffee or happy hour. Swing by their office for a chat, or schedule a Skype call. One of these days, they may see a call for writers that makes them think of you, or hear from a colleague who’s looking for someone with your level of expertise. One of my biggest clients today is someone I once-upon-a-time interviewed for a magazine story. How cool is that!? So before seeking out new connections, put in the effort required to maintain the relationships you already have.

2. Attend networking events, media parties, happy hours, etc. As someone within the publishing industry, I’ve always been a fan of mediabistro’s events, and also attend launch parties within my writing niche as they pop up. But you don’t have to go industry-specific. Groups such as NetParty and Networking for Professionals regularly throw more general business networking events, in locations throughout the country. And learning more about other industries might do more than build your network — it could also help you generate fresh story ideas.

3. Become involved with a professional organization. Those like the ASJA and the EFA hold regular events and conferences for their members. Offer help in planning these events and you may improve your chances of meeting even more of your fellow members.

4. Attend industry conferences. And go prepared to do more than just socialize. Conferences can be a great environment for exploring new ideas within an industry, and panels, workshops, and exhibits are de rigueur.

5. Attend (or perhaps even organize) a meetup, tweetup, or other small gathering. Sites such as Meetup, GoogleGroups, and Yahoo Groups allow users to create interest-based groups from scratch. But do a search first to see if a group specific to your interests already exists. In addition to making valuable contacts at these get-togethers, you can also trade battle stories, seek out advice, and get opinions on any new ideas you’ve had percolating.

6. Take a class. Not only will you have the opportunity to learn some valuable tricks of the trade, but you’ll get the chance to workshop your active projects and network with both your professor and your fellow students. Check out the continuing education opportunities at the schools near you.

7. Start a writing group. There are a number of valid reasons for forming a writing group. Aside from the sense of community, you’ll have fresh, objective eyes on your writing, someone you’re accountable to, someone to bounce ideas off of, and a group of people who love you so much, they’re willing to share contacts and opportunities with you.

8. Try coworking. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, coworking can do more than just improve your levels of productivity. It can also provide you with some much-needed human contact, an expanded professional network, and opportunities for collaboration.

This list can go on. But basically, anytime you’re among new people, you have the opportunity to build fantastic connections and develop new ideas. So volunteer. Attend lit events. Try a new exercise class. Tag along to a party with one of your friends.

Remain open to possibility.

How to Build an Enduring Freelance Career

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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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