Let’s be honest. Even the best writers feel nervous when the economy closes down. I’ve been freelance 28 years and I’ve no idea what’s ahead. But I do have some top tips.
Be a contact vampire
Now is not the time to be socially restrained. I’m not saying you should suck people’s blood, but your freelance lifeblood IS the people you know. Without contacts, you are one thirsty writer.
Go through all the projects you’ve worked on. Which clients did you love to work with? Who is likely to be working now? What did you do for them that made a difference to their work, or made their day easier?
Who was that interesting woman you chatted to at that conference and were going to stay in touch with?
Put a star next to the people you most want to work with and are probably working right now. Email them, individually. Yup. No bland template emails. Write to them like you know them. Remind them of the last thing you did together and how much fun it was. It’s a kind of love letter so make it sound like you mean it.
This takes time so do a handful each day.
Don’t fret when they don’t reply. Some will be too busy. Some are terrible at email. I reckon it takes on average six months from sending a marketing email to someone asking me to work with them.
As soon as cash starts flowing, put some aside every month. You need a savings pot when you’re freelance.
Appendectomy that took three months to recover from? Yup. Nasty parasitic bug on a delicious tropical fruit. Mmmm, that took a year out of my working life. But I’ve always saved, so we had food on the table.
Share your love
Work for lots of clients.
One time I gave all my copy love to one client and when they reshaped their business I was out in the cold. Don’t do it. No one owes you work, love or loyalty if you’re freelance. So enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working for many clients and you’re always likely to have work.
All work is good work
If you’re going to starve if you don’t get a writing gig in the next month, my message is get over your pride and apply to stack shelves or pull pints. No experience is ever wasted as a writer. And you’ve got to be alive to land that next writing gig.
I’ve cleaned public toilets, I’ve sold sausages, I’ve programmed computers. Every job taught me something. And I got my first role in publishing because I wasn’t all doe-eyed about books – I knew about scheduling and budgets from two years of manufacturing paper. Make your work count, whatever it is.
Use this time to think about what makes you sing in the morning. Rate your clients: why are you still working with people who score low on pay, respect, value and interest? Build knowledge, skills and contacts in areas you’re personally committed to. It’s a slow process but doing work you love is the best thing about being freelance, so here’s a chance to make it happen down the line.
Connect and learn
Read other people’s copy obsessively. How did they do that? Why does it work? Why is that copy so terrible? Try Richard Shotton’s The Choice Factory for a new angle.
Storythings’ weekly newsletter is a jewel and they run great events.
Sian Meades-Williams is generosity personified: every Thursday she sends us a bulging list of freelance writing jobs.
Join a writer’s organisation. I’m in 26.org.uk, a friendly bunch of professional writers – find your tribe and have fun.