15 lessons from a year of freelancing

I meet a lot of talented young writers who are eager to break into magazines, including many who want to be freelancers. I met today’s guest blogger, Vanessa Santilli, in the spring of 2012, just before she made the leap from a staff job. I invited her to share what she’s learned since going solo.

Vanessa Santilli head shot

Vanessa Santilli

One year ago, I quit my stable journalism job to pursue freelance writing full-time. All the new experiences this road-less-travelled has given me made it well worth the risk.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my first year of self-employment.

1. Network like your job depends on it — because it does. In my experience, being a member of a writers’ group, such as the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC), has been immensely helpful in getting face time with editors.

2. Pitching is not personal. It’s business. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And again. And, well, you get the point.

3. Know your worth — and your rights. If you’re not happy with a fee being offered, try to negotiate when possible. If the client isn’t worth the time, don’t be afraid to turn down the assignment. And never sign a contract without reading the fine print.

4. Pick up a side gig to give yourself a source of steady income. It’s also helpful in giving yourself a bit of a schedule and staying connected with the outside world. Shoot for opportunities that will enhance your skill set. For myself, working part-time as production coordinator at a university newspaper has given me the chance to learn more about the advertising side of the business.

5. The corporate writing world is one avenue to earn enough money to pursue “passion projects.”

6. Sticking to set working hours goes a long way towards being productive. I typically work 9 to 5, but start earlier if it’s going to be a particularly busy day. Without fixed hours, it’s easy to get too laid-back.

7. If used correctly, social media is an excellent, cost-effective marketing tool. But it can also be a huge time waster. Log out of social media when you’re not using it for work-related purposes to avoid surfing.

8. Continuing education classes or workshops that are going to enhance your business are good investments. The write-offs they bring don’t hurt either. (Moderation is key.)

9. Keep in touch with a network of other writers so you don’t get lonely — and to stay inspired.

10. Always be on the hunt for new publications and clients. The unlikeliest clients can end up being the best ones. The Canadian Writer’s Market is a great resource, too.

11. Keep a daily freelance log of all the work you’re accomplishing. It will give you an instant lift at the end of the week…or serve as a motivational kick in the butt if you’re not being productive enough.

12. As your office manager, it’s up to you to be on top of the paperwork. Set up a system to ensure that you invoice promptly. And, of course, closely track what has been paid. (I find an Excel spreadsheet is the easiest way to do this.)

13. Give up trying to explain to your relatives that, yes, freelance writing is your real job.

14. Stay positive during slower periods. Never forget your reasons for wanting to freelance in the first place.

15. Freelance writing is really hard work (and not glamorous). But it’s also extremely rewarding to run your own writing business.

Vanessa Santilli (@V_Santilli) is a Toronto-based freelance writer and a former youth editor and reporter for The Catholic Register. She has written for publications such as MoneySense, The Medical Post and Canadian Living, and she is a member of PWAC Toronto Chapter.


 

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