Tag Archives: advice

The Truth About Thriving Freelance Careers

Joe Wallace Turntabling Rare RecordsI read something on a known freelance blog today that should be filed under the “you know better” department. “It’s always nice to hear a good success story…(name deleted is) a UK-based freelance journalist (who) successfully made a career out of freelance writing with no previous experience or training. (Name deleted) is proof that as long as you can write well, you can start a thriving writing career at any time.”

Not really.

Experienced folks know better than this, and it always irritates me a bit to see such platitudes handed out disguised as encouragement. If the writer had said, “(Name deleted) is proof that as long as you can write well, know where to pitch your ideas, and how to market yourself in an overcrowded field, you can start a thriving writing career at any time.”

Writing well isn’t really what the freelance game is all about.

To be sure, knowing your trade as a freelancer–ANY freelancer–is important. But the marketing, the networking, the cultivation of sympatico pros is crucial to that thriving career. How many books did Stephen King write before he landed his first major success with a publisher?

I believe the magic number was FIVE. And the one that made it was fished out of the trash can by his wife, who basically saved the novel Carrie from oblivion.

Maybe not the best, or even relevant example. But it goes to show you that writing well isn’t really the key to success. It is an important part of the equation, but it’s not what lands you the paychecks. Take inspiration from the success stories, but ask yourself how those people got where they are today. In the blog post I read, the writer took a leave of absence from her unrelated career, started building her networks and portfolio, and landed some paying gigs before returning to work two months later.

The writer lived a spartan existence, saved a nest-egg and worked at her old gig until she felt safe enough in her new freelance career to ditch the day job. She also performed that time-honored freelancer magic of taking on so much freelance work she no longer had time for her day job.

How do you apply these things in your own situation? The trick is to learn how to use your current resources and network in the same way, even if you don’t think your current contacts are freelancer-friendly.

You never know. It takes a bit of creative thinking and some determination, but your existing network might be the key to getting that thriving freelance career up and running. Your writing will come along over time–even if you fancy yourself a good writer (or whatever skill you’re honing) already. Finding one gig isn’t too difficult. Finding enough work to sustain you over the transition from employee to self-employed is another thing. You have to cultivate relationships, build your portfolio, and create a living wage from scratch.

How to begin all this? Look at your current network. There’s the key to your freelance success.

To be fair, the bulk of the blog post I criticized in my intro here isn’t about blowing sunshine up your kilt with false hopes. The beginning, which sent me into this rant in the first place, is misleading and poorly chosen, because the bulk of the writing truly does touch on the principles I mention here. But some will read that opening statement and run with it–and that I’d like to avoid. Aspiring freelancers should know what they’re getting into. Being realistic doesn’t equal discouragement from trying…but it IS important to keep it real.

Joe Wallace is easily annoyed by advice blogs, always amused by defensive replies to his snark, and fancies himself a better writer than he really is. He also collects and blogs about vinyl at www.Turntabling.net.

Five ways to focus

paperpilesOne way freelancers make it at the end of each month is by knowing their billable time reaches the desired goal. But when tech distractions pile up, it becomes difficult to focus on what you’re doing. And Monday turns to Friday while you’re still plugging away at an assignment that shouldn’t take five days. For many of us, that wasted time turns into lost revenue.

The 3/18/2012 New York Times has an article on how to get organized when technology overwhelms. The five key points might help you get a grip on your next freelance assignment, or get your writing done faster, giving you a better hourly rate of return.

1. Capture everything everything that has your attention. In other words, make a list of everything you’re trying to do.

2. Clarify what each item means to you and decide what results you want and what actions are required.

3. Organize a to-do list and reminders for those tasks.

4. Review and reflect on your commitments.

5. Finally, and you knew this was coming, “deploy your attention and resources” …. which means get to work! The goal is to get a grip on where you should focus, gain control, and get results.

If you’re a fan of the “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system created by David Allen, it won’t surprise you that he wrote the Times article, listing the five ways to optimize your focus. He makes a living helping people prioritize and get organized to reach goals. Not a bad plan. Learn more about GTD here.

BIO: Helen Gallagher joined Freelance-Zone.com to share her thoughts on small business and technology. Her blogs and books are accessible through www.releaseyourwriting.com. She is a member of ASJA, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.

Working in the Cloud

Ready to work with your head in the clouds? Cloud computing isn’t a new fad. It’s been used in the corporate world for many years and smaller firms caught on in 2006, with the proliferation of laptop computers and the mobile workforce.

cloud-2Cloud computing lets you access your data from any web-enabled computer, and for a small fee, use the software of your choice. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars for an upgrade to Office or  Adobe products, you can cut expenses for software licenses and  tech support.

You’re already working with cloud software when you use Gmail, Google Docs, Shutterfly and hundreds of other programs. If you use an online backup program, you’re backing up to the cloud. Mozy Stash gives you 2 GB of free backup storage in the cloud and iDrive offers 5 GB backup storage space for free.

Benefits of cloud computing

  • No need to purchase software licenses or update software
  • No need for a powerful, fast computer with large disk space
  • No more worry about backups and virus/spyware problems
  • No need to pay for tech support if your computer crashes the day before a client presentation
  • With data stored remotely, you can work from home, on the road or collaborate on projects with others.

Start working in the cloud for free, with these well-known options:

Google Docs
Google Docs for word processing, presentations, spreadsheets. It also offers loads of templates, forms and drawing tools.

Software developer Oracle Corporation now owns OpenOffice, the free equivalent of Microsoft Office that’s been around for a few years.

Microsoft Office Web
Microsoft’s Office Web is a browser-based version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, for a fee of 5 cents to 96 cents per hour for small users, paid monthly.

Adobe recently launched Creative Cloud, for sharing tablet applications and allowing people to share creative services with software including InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator. Prices start at $49.99/month, instead of thousands of dollars to purchase the software.

Head for the cloud
There is an inherent risk in storing all your data in the cloud. We take this risk every day with any online service, including banking, email and web browsing. Short of an electric power outage, cloud computing has real benefits for freelancers. Sound good? Sign up for a test run and enjoy the freedom of having your software maintained and updated with no hassles.

BIO: Helen Gallagher joined Freelance-Zone.com to share her thoughts on small business and technology. Her blogs and books are accessible through www.releaseyourwriting.com. Address questions to mailto:helen@cclarity.com.

Finding Meaning and Fulfillment — as a Writer, and as a Human Being

commencement_bannerby Mike O’Mary

This week, I want to share a commencement address. This is one of those things that should be passed around on the Internet until EVERYBODY has read it. Or at least until every writer has read it. It’s intended as advice for young people who are just graduating from school, but it’s full of wisdom for people of all ages. And it contains especially good advice for writers. Here’s a sample:

“It’s not the privilege of anyone, writer or not, to peak out or burn out or drop out before he or she has given back to this world.  So I’ll say right now that you will not fulfill your life until you find out what it is you have to give to the people around you, and have given it, and they’ve accepted it in some way. It may take years to find out what you have to give, and more years to turn it into something acceptable, but if you’re making the lives of the people around you better and happier, you’re going in the right direction.  If you’re making their lives worse and more miserable, stop and turn around.”

That’s a quote from a graduation speech that my friend, John Rember, delivered last year — and it’s just a sampling of the wisdom you’ll find in his commencement address. It’s one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read in recent years.

To read the whole speech, click HERE. After you read it, pass it on to a young person. Or to an old person. Or to anybody who is striving to live a meaningful life. They’ll thank you for it.

Mike O’Mary is founder of Dream of Things, a book publisher and online book store, and of the Note Project, a campaign to make the world a million times better by inspiring 1 million people to write notes of appreciation. (Photo courtesy of Knox College)

How to Get 5,000 (or even 50,000) Followers on Twitter

by Mike O’Mary

logo_twitter_withbird_1000_allblue copyOver the last few months, FZ has featured some very helpful and insightful posts about social media in general and about Twitter in particular. If you missed them the first time around, be sure to check them out now:

Today, I’d like to add to the conversation, not by sharing my own (very limited) knowledge, but by introducing you to Lynn Serafinn, a real expert when it comes to Twitter, social media and online marketing.

iStock_000005894033XSmallWith Lynn’s help, I went from no Twitter account nine months ago to 5,600 followers for @TheNoteProject on Twitter today. Lynn herself has 50,000 followers across four Twitter accounts.

What good is 5,600 followers on Twitter? It’s been very important to me. My goal was to spread the word about the Note Project, a campaign to inspire people to write more notes of appreciation. My contacts on Twitter led to media interviews, posts and guest posts on various blogs and websites, and free gifts to Note Project participants by people and organizations that support the Note Project. In fact, more than half of the Note Project’s 50 sponsors came via contacts on Twitter.

What is the secret to Lynn’s success? It’s not as difficult as you think – and fortunately for us, Lynn recently shared all of her secrets in a three-part series on her Spirit Authors website. Click below to read all three segments – and start building up your community on Twitter today.

“10 Tips to Get Followers on Twitter and Why You Should” by Lynn Serafinn

Mike O’Mary is founder of the Note Project, a campaign to make the world a million times better by inspiring 1 million people to write notes of appreciation, and of Dream of Things, a book publisher and online book store.

The Not-So-Lavish Lifestyle and the Printers Row Lit Fest

First things first…I recently asked folks to take a one-question survey to share what they like about freelancing (see “The Lavish Lifestyle of a Freelancer” on May 18).

Here are the top five answers:

#1 answer (a tie): “I’m my own boss” and “Ability to set my own schedule”

#3: “Variety of work”

#4 (tie): “Working from home” and “Satisfies my inner entrepeneur”

The least selected answer? “The lavish lifestyle!” Go figure.


Printers Row Lit Fest June 4-5

If you happen to be in the Chicago area this weekend, check out the Printers Row Lit Fest, formerly known as the Printers Row Book Fair. It is the largest free outdoor literary event in the Midwest. More than 125,000 book lovers are expected to attend the two-day showcase. And if you happen to be at Lit Fest on Sunday afternoon between 2:00 – 4:00, please stop by the Chicago Writers Association tent, where I will be signing copies of The Note, and talking with folks about the Note Project. (Tell me you read about Lit Fest on Freelance Zone and I’ll give you a free DVD!)

Mike O’Mary is author of The Note, a book about the power of appreciation and how a simple note can change a person’s life. He is also founder of the Note Project, and of Dream of Things, a book publisher and online bookstore.