Category Archives: editorial

Freelancing In Crowded Markets

Joe Wallace Freelance Social MediaWhere I live in Chicago, there are record stores in practically every neighborhood. I can count ten that I go to on a regular basis from my local shop (the venerable Laurie’s Planet of Sound in Lincoln Square) to places wayyyyy out in the western suburbs. You might think this makes for a very tough market for record sellers to thrive in, and you’d be right. I myself sell vinyl records, but taking one look at the already-crowded landscape several years ago, I decided a storefront was a scary and probably ill-advised investment.

Instead I sell online and at conventions. My choices on where and when to market myself have kept me in business, however part-time, for many years. And that’s something I learned from being a freelance writer. Choosing where, when, and how to offer things in a crowded market isn’t something I was born with, I had to learn over the course of my career. And sometimes that learning was painful.

For a while, I struggled as a freelancer to make ends meet, and found a “secret” place to land gigs and pay the bills–creative temp agencies. But while the money was very good and the people I worked for equally so, I learned that I wasn’t that happy temping, even as a writer. Long-term clients and short term gigs are what I’m all about, but a good number of the creative temp jobs offered to me required on-site work, often out in those far-flung Chicago burbs where some of my favorite record shops are.

I found myself fretting over wasted time spent in traffic–time I easily could have spent actually working instead of driving–and dreading those rush hour commutes every bit as much as I dreaded not paying the bills. In the end, I ditched the temp work and found more long-term clients on my own. I work for plenty of people I have never met face-to-face, and the entire process is far more efficient when I’m not wasting two hours or more of my day behind the wheel waiting for the lights to change.

Finding the work in crowded markets isn’t easy–I’ve had to get very creative about the types of writing and social media work I can do. I realized I had areas of interest that hadn’t been mined to death in the freelance world and I started moving toward writing about them. I also found there are some topics that I have a unique perspective on due to experience and am very qualified to write about, and a great deal of my work lately is informed by those experiences and skill sets.

Mining my own experiences for freelance opportunities is one of the best things I ever did–looking inward to find my own expertise instead of trying to find editors willing to publish my work in other areas, hoping I might be able to tap into something I’m less experienced with has worked better for me over the long haul. For some, the opposite winds up being true. Which one are you?

–Joe Wallace

Writers – Take The Superbowl Challenge!

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

by Catherine L. Tully

I think most writers have one.

An article, short story or novel that they keep thinking about, but don’t actually write. Or–they start writing and never finish.

I know I have several floating around up there in my brain. I think about them from time-to-time. Even jot down quotes that would go with the piece or rip out magazine photos that have to do with the topic. And then…well…nothing.

But I am making a pact with myself, and challenging those of you out there with a similar issue to do the same. I’m going to actually write one of these pieces and submit it before the Superbowl. Yep. That’s the plan.

Up for the challenge?

Here’s the road map I’ll be following:

  • The piece will be written during the holiday slump (between Thanksgiving and the Superbowl, where it is impossible to get anyone to answer you about anything).
  • I will work on it no less than an hour a week from Thanksgiving until it is finished. Even if I just sit there jotting down notes for an hour.
  • I will research a market and submit the piece promptly (read – within two weeks) of finishing it.

Now. If you know anything about these vague, dreamy pieces that float around in the head, you’ll realize that this is much harder than it seems. But I feel like these ideas keep coming back to me, so they must have some type of importance/value/potential.

And I’m determined to find out.

Are you in?

Chaos Theory

FractalAbout two weeks ago, I had a bolt of inspiration…or maybe it was lunacy. By this I mean turn my household (including my home office) upside down and reconfigure the way I utilize my work and living space. Not that it wasn’t perfectly functional,  it just didn’t make sense anymore.

It all began last December when my son Will completed his academic curriculum and entered the home stretch toward graduation in May. He already had a full-time job, and since he no longer needed to spend school nights at his dad’s to be closer to campus, I suggested that he come to live with me in my spacious, two-bedroom apartment.  At the time, the logical choice seemed to be that I would incorporate my home office into the larger master bedroom, and he would occupy the smaller bedroom.

At first, I liked the convenience of my integrated office and personal space, but over time, as my son and I got comfortable in our daily rhythms and routines, it became clear that we were both cramped in too-small spaces, while an absolutely lovely 150 square-foot living room went virtually unused. It’s decorated in a Japanese motif, with shoji screens framing a sliding-glass door that opens onto a balcony overlooking a wooded ravine with a creek running through it. Truth be told, I’ve fantasized about making it my personal space since the day I moved into this place eight years ago, especially since I don’t do much entertaining at home.

So…in that moment of inspiration / lunacy, I decided it was time to deconstruct my world. I had no trouble enlisting Will in the process, and the following Saturday, we set about the task of relocating every object we own: clothing, furniture, artwork, books, office supplies, computers, televisions, appliances…absolutely everything. Of course, this would mean living (and working) in chaos for a couple of weeks until all was put to rights; but it seemed a small price to pay for the reward of more spacious living for us both.

The following morning, when I awoke amid a sea of boxes and dislocated furniture in what used to be my living room, my first thought: “Good Lord!…what was I thinking?” As a Type-A personality, chaos makes me cranky, even if I’m the one who created it. But if there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I’m a firm believer in the divide-and-conquer method of task completion. My motto: I can’t do everything, but I can do one thing. And that’s what I’m doing…tackling the chaos one tiny task at a time until my well-ordered world once again approaches an entropy of zero.

CelesteHeiterFZBioCeleste Heiter is the author of Turn Your PC into a Lean Mean Freelancing Machine, the creator of the LoveBites Cookbook Series for Kindle Fire, and the author of Potty Pals , a potty-training book for children. She has also written ten books published by ThingsAsian Press; and spent eight years posting her recipes, food photographs, and film reviews on ChopstickCinema .

Visit her website, and her Amazon Author Page.

My Freelancing Motto

book and script editor for hire Joe Wallaceby Joe Wallace

My freelance philosophy is pretty simple. I don’t over-commit, but I do wake up at 5:30 every morning wondering how I’m going to get everything done. It all gets done, on time.

That sounds like I am a total workaholic, spending every waking moment of my day on projects, gigs, and with clients. But that’s not true. I spend plenty of time learning and attending classes. I also travel. But my workload is respectable and actually causes fear in the minds of less-busy people.

I’m happy with that.

The key is that I combine my interests with my work. I love collecting vinyl records, so I sell them online. This gives me a great excuse to buy more records. I love the internet, and a great deal of my work involves online research. I am addicted to cinema, recording, making music, and editing.

So I started working on independent film and video game projects in the Chicago area, doing location audio, sound effects capture, post-production and dialog editing.

To be fair, I have a background in these things. I didn’t start from scratch in media. But it’s not hard to learn what it takes and the world is full of independent film producers now. You can find a way in if you look hard enough. But having the persistence to stick out the lean times in that industry is the same as any other. A true freelancer finds a way to keep at it.

One of the most important things you can do as a freelancer is determine what kind of work you DO NOT want to be doing, and move away from it as soon as it’s financially possible. For some, that isn’t realistic for a variety of reasons. But you CAN work TOWARD doing that. It’s a financial tightrope, but as you become more skilled and confident in your work (and have results to show for it) you can make a determined move towards combining your interests and your work routine.

Joe Wallace is a freelance social media writer and audio professional based in Chicago. His recent projects include video game sound effects and music composition for Shedd Aquarium, location audio, dialog editing, and post-production for the web series Family Values, and location audio for the indie thriller Still. Wallace is set to release his own short independent film, 45 RPM, in early 2014.

Books about Freelancing

Joe Wallace Vinyl Collector and authorby Joe Wallace

There seem to be quite a lot of books about freelancing. A quick look at Amazon.com shows a number of titles, some of which seem dangerously close to being outdated judging by dates alone. Why do I say that? Because things change so much in this electronic age that the book in 2008 or even 2010 that seemed relevant and on-target is quickly dated by the types of social media platforms and fads used to network, the always-shifting challenges when it comes to the quality and availability of freelance work, etc.

There are two basic types of books on the freelance lifestyle. One I personally have no use for–the ones with titles like, “How To Make Bizillions of Dollars In Freelancing” and “90 Days to Quitting Your Day Job Forever And Ever Amen Because You’re a Hotshot Freelancer Now”. Sure, saying there are only two basic types is a massive generalization, but a quick look at the books out there does tend to make one believe that generalization has legs. Or at least is growing them rather quickly.

The OTHER type of book about freelancing is far more valuable. These are the books with titles like, “How I Went From Being a Day Job Zombie To A Full Time Freelance Superstar”.

See the difference? One type of book is stopping just short of claiming it can help turn YOU into a full time freelancer in 90 days or less (or whatever), the other type is explaining “How I Did It”.

The value in the second type of book? There are NO PROMISES IMPLIED. Unlike the first kind where there’s the implication that if you just follow the magic formula, success can be yours. These selling points are fairly misleading even when they don’t set out to be; “How I Did It” is far more valuable, honest, and worthy of your hard-earned book buying dollars.

Sure, many will disagree. Some will tell me not to judge a book by its cover. But I’m NOT, I’m judging it by the title and any promises implied therein. Maybe it’s even more shallow to judge a book by its title…but I believe in the old idea about truth in advertising. And if your book’s title isn’t “ad one” for your work, what is?

–Joe Wallace

Joe Wallace sells vinyl on the internet, writes articles about personal finance and veterans issues, edits book manuscripts, and is an audio professional specializing in field recording, post production, and sound effects. Contact him: jwallace@freelance-zone.com

What You Can Learn About Freelancing From Vinyl Records

Josie and the Pussycatsby Joe Wallace

When I am not freelancing, I sell vinyl records on Etsy, Discogs.com, and on my vinyl blog Turntabling. Vinyl records is a passion of mine and also an additional revenue stream for me, helping me stay in business as a freelancer and remain generally self-employed.

Believe it or not, the two worlds have a LOT in common. The whole reason I turned to vinyl in the first place, years ago, was because of the freelancer’s need for diverse income sources. Clients come, clients go. Some pay on time, some never do.

So diversifying the income portfolio, as it were, is a must–you want to eat every day? Make sure you have three or more checks arriving at various times in the month. Save up a cushion to deflect the problems created by those late-payers. That’s the message the freelance life has consistently given me since I started in 2002.

But the most fascinating things I’ve learned about freelancing from vinyl records can really be summed up by that Josie and the Pussycats vinyl record you see here. Look at this thing! You probably laughed when you spotted it, right? But here’s a fascinating little piece of data–that record is, at the time of this writing, up for sale on Ebay (not by me) for TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS.

It’s sealed, very hard to find, and somebody might actually pay that $200 to get it. MAYBE NOT–but there’s actually a chance, because of that tricky combination of nostalgia, impulse buying, and the near-eternal appeal of vinyl records for some.

The lessons I take away from this for the freelance life? Pretty simple but very important:

1. Like the vinyl record, your services are worth what people are willing to pay for them. I have been paid $200 an hour or more for my work. I’ve given it away for free, I’ve bartered, I’ve cut people deals. But at the end of the day, you get paid because a client was willing to pay and you were willing to do the work. It can be counter-productive–at least for me–to view freelance work in terms of fixed, unchanging price tags.

2. There is a market for expensive services, and it’s harder to find. In the vinyl market, I have customers willing to pay large dollars for rare, near impossible-to-find records. But I have just as many who simply want good, decently priced vinyl they don’t have to scour the earth to purchase. Balancing the high-paying hard-to-find commodities with lower-priced volume income is key. When it comes to my writing work, some writing has much greater inherent value, and therefore costs more. Some is intended to keep Google’s attention focused properly through steady posting and dependable content. This lower-priced work is not the same research-intensive stuff as the high-priced material, not should there be an expectation that it be anything more than what it is.

3. Go where the market is. I’ve tried selling on Amazon, at fan conventions, on Etsy, eBay, Bonanza, and many other places. When one avenue isn’t working over time, I ditch it and move on to something else. If you’re pounding your head against the proverbial wall in one area of your freelance career, it may be time to look elsewhere for better results. This is a notion that has served me very well since 2002.

There’s more, there’s SO much more…but the last lesson I can impart from my experience selling and collecting vinyl records is knowing when you’re in danger of overstaying your welcome.

Joe Wallace sells vinyl records, writes about military issues and finance, and runs several blogs and social media concerns. Since 2002, he’s written for acres for magazines and the Internet. His credits include American Fitness, Indie Slate, HorrorHound Magazine, and is one of the many essayists featured in a forthcoming book about obscure and under-appreciated horror films. You can reach him by email at jwallace242 @ gmail.