Top 10 Freelance Job Tips

freelance writingby Joe Wallace

It’s totally misleading to headline this post by pretending to offer you advice on landing a freelance job, because I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’m starting to develop an aversion to the Ten Commandments style of freelance advice posts–probably because I’m one of the worst offenders with that particular technique.

Instead, I’m just going to tell you what’s worked for me.  And by “worked” I mean these techniques have landed me everything from small writing jobs paying under $20 per assignment to gigs writing for Wal-Mart and I’ve used the same strategies for five-dollar music review gigs and $70K + per year freelance editing jobs.

That’s not a typo.

Here’s what I do:

In no particular order:

1. I put my best gigs in my cover letter. Even if they’re quite old. I drop names like nobody’s business. Notice how I mentioned Wal-Mart in the open of this post? It tends to get people’s attention when it comes to credibility. Maybe you only wrote a two-paragraph blurb on the Book-of-the-Month Club selection in O Magazine, but the fact is, you landed a credit there and you should use it whenever appropriate.

2. I smile a lot in interviews. Even when I’m on the phone. Believe it or not, they can tell.

3. I never say no. The word no is not part of my vocabulary when dealing with a client, an editor, or anyone holding purse strings. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. Not saying no doesn’t equal saying yes to everything. The power to suggest alternatives is always in your hands. My philosophy is that it’s bad to compromise yourself, but don’t say no. Offer a third solution and make THEM say yes or no.

4. I like to be honest. If I’m asked if I know something that I don’t, I’ll indicate that I love research and that it won’t take me long to come up to speed. Simply admitting ignorance is not part of my game plan.

5. I like to have a game plan. I rehearse interviews. I ask myself what I’d ask myself if I were hiring me or bringing me on board for a new project. When I don’t like the answers, it’s time to go to work on fixing them.

6. I never, ever work for free. There have been plenty of times where I’ve traded work for something else besides money. But I don’t work without compensation. I don’t consider donating work to charity to be working for free, though. That’s a DONATION of time instead of money…which is really the same thing.

7. I’ve learned the power of thinking about my departure from a gig, even on the first day. That doesn’t mean I’m taking an assignment with an eye on quitting. Instead, it means asking what I’d do if my new income source died tomorrow, or what I’d say if conditions suddenly became unfavorable to me. I never assume the paychecks will come indefinitely–companies go bankrupt, downsize, and generally fall on tough times. Saving, financial planning, watching the horizon…it’s all part of my survival as a freelancer.

8. Giving as good as you get is an important strategy for me. Just as with everything else on this list, there’s a flip side to it that I have a healthy respect for. I lived in Japan for three years and learned an important lesson about social etiquette that has informed my freelance career. The Japanese bow the way we shake hands. There are many social occasions where you bow as low as you’re bowed to. That’s what I do when I’m on the job. Respect is a two-way street and if you’re getting what you deserve, you should give as much in return–at the very least. If not…well, you get the idea.

9. I never break a deadline. I may ask to have one changed or eliminated, but I never let the deadline come and go without action.

10. I constantly fight the urge to overextend myself. The whole reason to go freelance is to have a life outside the office.

One thought on “Top 10 Freelance Job Tips”

  1. Regarding point 7, I always make it a target to have a client base by which if I were to lose my highest paying client at any point, I’d still make enough from the rest to pay life’s necessities (rent, food, bills). There’s a major psychological advantage to knowing no one client is standing between you and financial disaster – indeed, being in this position means you effectively have more security than any traditional employee.

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