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Okay, I don’t necessarily mean psychiatric or psychological help (although there’s nothing wrong with that either).  But, of all the comic strips that I’ve created this one is a personal favorite of mine.  Why?  Well, it’s really symbolic for me: first because I, too, have tried to “cut” corners and give myself a haircut many years ago as a teen (needless to say I certainly have a solid appreciation for hair stylists) and two because as a freelance writer it speaks volumes about my first freelance writing year and the lessons I’ve learned about DIAY (Do It All Yourself).

Hopefully, once you’re through chuckling or laughing (hopefully you found the comic funny), you’ll recognize that at the core of it the message is that we’re all good at something and downright bad at others.  That’s why there are experts or people with a knack for certain things–like giving you a haircut that turns heads (and not for the wrong reasons either).

As I reflect on my first year as a full-time freelance writer, finding experts in the field to help me with either my articles or with transcribing recordings was one of my weaknesses.  Bottomline: I didn’t like asking for help.  Surprisingly, I didn’t realize this was a part of my character.  I realized that it I was overwhelmed with other assignments, yet I still continued to burn the midnight oil to transcribe my interviews for articles I was working on. It didn’t make sense (at the time) for me to spend money having someone else do what I could do on my own.

But after reading a post from another writer, I realized that sometimes the time you take to DIAY can also be a waste of money.  And basically time is money.  For instance, the hours I took transcribing several interviews, which could be about 3-4 recordings per article was not only taxing, but it’s also my least favorite task.  Eventually, I started to use a transcription agency.  And when I calculated my time and their rates–it was a no brainer because I was saving money (i.e. it cost me more to do my own work because of the time I took versus the rates charged).  Not only was I saving money, I didn’t have to do a task I really didn’t enjoy. It’s a win-win situation!

I also sought out expert help on how to grow my freelance business.  One writer in particular is Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing.  She’s been an invaluable expert who brings writers other experts to learn from–clearly demonstrating the importance of learning through others.  She’s started a member site called The Freelance Writers Den, which I encourage every new (and veteran) writer to just try out one of her free webinars (which occurs every first of the month, visit her site for details if you’re interested).

But I eventually realized that the only way to grow as a writer is to reach out to those who have made a successful career out of it.  It’s been a year filled with ups and downs.  For 2012, I’m open to joining organizations, marketing my skills, networking more, owning my own website, and more.  It’s about being fearless and recognizing that the difference between being a hobbyist and a serious writer.  And that means making decisions that surpass just being able to support myself financially today, but to build a career in which I’m thriving year after year.

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There’s been something brewing beneath the surface since I decided to begin freelancing.  It took me a while to put my finger on it.  But my transition from a 9 to 5 job to working for myself has been met with low rates by many clients and a lack of support by people in my personal life.

Whether it’s a client with ridiculously low rates, or the constant inquisition by certain people about when it is that I plan on getting a “real” job  — I’m over both.  Frankly, I was exasperated with having to defend and explain my line of work over and over again.

Here’s a typical Groundhog Day-esque conversation about my work:

The Inquirer — “How’s work?”

Me — “Work’s going well, thanks?”

The Inquirer — “Huh, so what is it that you do again?”

Me – “I’m a writer.”

The Inquirer — “Oh, yes!  You work at that medical publishing company.”

Me – “Uh, not anymore. These days I’m a full-time freelance writer.”

The Inquirer — “So you’re just doing that in the meantime until you find a real job.”

Me — “Nope, not really. I work for real clients and they pay me real money.”

I don’t want to take you through the rest of this long-winded conversation— it gets really redundant with the person asking me the same thing in different ways.  Basically, I get the sense that some people I know really comprehend what I do. But they still make judgments with respect to my line of work. Whether it’s the ill-conceived notion that I have a lot of time on my hands or that writing doesn’t take a lot of work.  After all, in their minds, I’m probably just stringing together words to make sentences.  How hard can that be?  Ha!

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No one takes into consideration that I’m not just pulling words out of thin air.  I’m working on building a business and that involves a lot of work: I have to market myself to get new business clients. Freelancing also means that I have to manage my finances quarterly and pay estimated taxes. I have to manage projects in a timely fashion so that I don’t fall behind on my work. I’m usually juggling more than one client, and I also have to find time for my own writing endeavors. There’s research, editing, interviews, and loads of administrative tasks involved…and this is before I sit down to write.

My issues don’t only lie with some of the people in my personal life.  I have major issues with some would-be clients too.  When I first decided to work as a freelancer I was literally shocked with the expectations of some potential clients when it came to rates.  The work that would have to go into the assignment, and the meager earnings that they expected to pay me made my jaw drop.  I mean some of the prices being offered for assignments compared to the amount of time and effort I would have to put in was preposterous.  I recently listened in on a webinar hosted by Carol Tice and featured guest speaker Laurie Lewis that covered how to handle  the discussion of your rates with clients.  Well I have to tell you it was really refreshing to participate in that webinar because I realized that I wasn’t alone in the idea that writers have to command their earning power.  And that webinar really provided some helpful points on how to to make that happen.

In these next few months in 2011, I’m implementing strategies that will help me build my career as a freelance writer. And these tactics will also secure my position as a writer who commands respect for her work from clients who undervalue what I do and to people in my private life who thinks a career means having a cubicle or office space (not a laptop, discipline and—ahem, a latte).  Here are the top three things that I do to command respect:

  • Exude Confidence: I’ve been freelancing for a while now, and I’ve secured some great clients and projects. So when I’m asked, “What do you do?”  I respond unequivocally, “I’m a writer.”  I don’t explain myself to people who don’t get it.  I refuse to indulge in negative conversations. The fact that, in a short amount of time, I’ve worked on many writing projects and received positive feedback from my clients after leaving a full-time job speaks for itself. If someone doesn’t get that then it’s not my burden to convince them otherwise. At the end of the day I love what I do, which is something very few people in my personal life have bothered to ask me.
  • Don’t Take Low for an Answer:  To be fair I think when I first started freelancing I didn’t realize just how much work was involved.  But now after many assignments under my belt, I know exactly how much work goes into writing given the amount of research and revisions among other things that I’ve had to do.  So, when a client is vague about rates, I jump right in there to discuss the details of the project and what that’ll costs.  If the client refuses to appreciate that what I’m charging is right for the amount of work then we’ll have to part ways.  A hassle in the beginning makes for a messy end…at least that’s what I’ve learned.
  • Stay in Good Company: I find that surrounding myself with like-minded freelance writers who know their worth and command respect for the work that they do is great for my writing chi.  Before I became of full-time freelance writer, I dabbled a bit in content-mill writing.  It took me 60 articles after the fact to realize that I was not recognizing my worth.  I let the fact that I don’t have a journalism background and a lot of other negative mental chatter in my mind get in the way of success. Which is why, I surround myself with other writers who believe that quality work deserves quality pay.

Commanding respect as a freelance writer is about making good choices for your business such that people sense your confidence, business acumen, and passion. Once you set the bar high for yourself people will respect what you do because you do it so well.

Working as a freelance writer has been challenging and exciting. I’ve worked on interesting projects and some really cut and dry assignments, which weren’t creative at all.  But, I can’t really complain because I’ve gotten the chance to make some really great connections along the way. One of the biggest challenges is taking the different projects and connections to the next level. What I mean by that is, how do I grow my freelance business into a flourishing career? Things are good now. But how do I take something good and make it great, stable and lasting. In order for me to grow my freelance business I have to raise the bar regarding my expectations and goals. Who said you have to wait until January 1 to execute a new plan of action for the year?

I’ve decided to create new plans that will allow my freelance writing career to continue to grow. And that means having a clear idea of the type of writer I want to be. But my writing aspirations shouldn’t just be limited to project-based assignments. Growing as a writer means that I have to push myself even further by identifying my long-term financial goals. Reading the blogs of other successful freelance writers has given me the confidence to realize that I can also take my writing aspirations and grow it into a thriving business, which sustains my livelihood.

As a first step toward taking control and thinking like a businesswoman, I’ve recently asked an editor for a pay increase. I had a bit of nervous energy there at first.  But to my surprise the editor replied to my e-mail on the same day with new rates, which fell right in line with my expectations. And shortly thereafter I received two new assignments from that publication. But does raising the bar stop at just asking for more money? Nope. As part of my business plan, I’m going to reconnect with old clients. Sometimes dropping a line puts you in the forefront of people’s mind. And even though there may not be an opportunity at the time, I may be just the person they think of first when new opportunities arise.  But it’s just not about looking back, I’m also reaching out to create new business for myself. I’d like to build a stronger writing portfolio by writing for different audiences (I’ve been mainly writing for health professionals).

Other things I plan to do to grow my business is to take continuing education classes or e-courses as a way to boost my skill set. So far I’ve been pretty much self-teaching — picking up tips here and there, learning from feedback and mistakes. It makes sense that if I’m able to accomplish all that I have in such a short period of time on my own then signing up for a few online classes from successful freelance writers and organizations such as the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) would only boost my skills up even further.

Also it’s important for me to create works of my own. It’s a vital part of maintaining a successful career as a writer. I’ve written several health and medical articles. But I’m also working on larger bodies of work that I’d like to published.  With so many platforms available to writers the days, I’m looking forward to seeing my books published. As a ghostwriter, I’m able to produce content for other authors.  That in itself is gotten me thinking: Well, if I can write a book for someone else why can I do it for myself and see it through the end.

I’m having another one of my “I can’t believe we’ve passed through half the year already” moments. When I reflect and look back at what I’ve accomplished so far, I can be a little hard on myself.  And so I realized that I had to take time to appreciate my accomplishments too. It’s been a bittersweet first eight months in 2011.  It all started when I decided to step away from a job that wasn’t fulfilling in pursuit of freelancing as a writer. Well, that was a scary move, but it’s also been the most refreshing steps forward in taking control of my life.

The bitter part: I started off wanting to break out as a health writer. It was scary in the beginning because I pitched and pitched and pitched my tush off — and nada.  That was very scary! Ack!  No writing gigs means no income.  Of course, I began to doubt myself and the choice I made to leave a 9 to 5 job that I found to be an unfulfilling, dead-end career choice.  I wanted more, but my dream was not working out exactly as I had envisioned it.

The sweet part: So, after realizing that writing for magazines alone wasn’t going to cut it I decided to take charge of matters.  After all, when you’re working for yourself you are accountable for your level of success. With that in mind, I quickly patrolled job sites for other freelance opportunities, and I even put the word out to past contacts that I was interested in freelance work. And let me tell you, I was really amazed at the turnaround time for me to begin receiving opportunities for work. I heard back from a company that I’m now helping to produce content for science textbooks as a writer.  One of my contacts has provided me with ongoing opportunities with a publishing company.  An editor that I’ve written a couple of articles for reaches out to me from time to time with articles she’d like me to cover, which is great because I get to still dabble in magazine writing.  And earlier this summer a past client of mine referred me to someone she knew who needed a ghost writer.  I’ve never worked as a ghostwriter before, but so far the feedback from my new client has been making it a really great experience.

So the lessons I’ve learned so far this year have been:

  1. When something isn’t working out, take a moment to breathe and reevaluate the situation.  When magazine writing wasn’t working out as I expected I began to feel discouraged.  But taking a step back, rather than to continue pitching, I was able to reevaluate my progress and take realistic actions to move my freelance writing career forward.
  2. You have to be open to opportunities.  I set my sights on magazine writing because that’s what I wanted to do.  However, by opening myself up to opportunities, I landed a ghost writing job!  Ghost writing wasn’t even on my radar.  But when I got rid of my one-dimensional desire of wanting to breakout as a magazine writer, I opened up new paths for opportunities to come my way.
  3. Be a leader in my life and that means taking charge of my career. I worked in companies for other people for so long that it was extremely weird breaking out as a self-employed woman.  I remembered a scene in the movie The Holiday when Arthur (Eli Wallach) was asking Iris (Kate Winslet) why she was acting as the friend when she should be the leading lady — and if you can be leading lady in your own life and claim your happiness than no one else can.

I’m looking forward to the remainder of the year — the final months in which I am working on my first novel, securing new clients, giving myself a raise, and meeting other positive and ambitious writers. I’m not waiting around for the magical moment when I’m validated in my writing career.  Every moment that I receive positive feedback, return clients, and recommendations is proof that I’m growing as a writer and that my career is on the path toward greater heights.

This past weekend, I watched in amazement as my 3-year-old nephew spat out the word no with relative ease and affirmation.  Whether it was about picking up his toys or eating his veggies — the reply was a swift, definitive no. NO  As I watched him, albeit frustratedly, I also started to wonder when did it become so hard for me to say no.  After all, if a toddler could do it so could I, right?  One of the reasons I think it can be difficult to say no as an adult is because we learn different social behaviors, which makes it difficult to say no when someone asks us to do something.  I think most people can attest to having a difficult time saying no, and it doesn’t matter if it’s personal or professional.

The key to breaking out of the vicious cycle of taking on too much because you can’t say no begins with acknowledging that you are the problem and the solution.  I’ve already started to put into practice the art of saying no sans the toddler attitude, and I’ve already begun to see a change in my own life (For starters, I’m not so stressed).  Here are some of the tips that I’ve implemented in my own life that I hope may help you as well:

  • It takes a bit of introspective work to figure out why you can’t seem to utter the word no.  Are you a people-pleaser?  Are you afraid that if you say no to an assignment you won’t ever hear from that client again?  Or is it that your family has dubbed you the “official” go-to person for planning family events (How could you say no after all those years of planning baby showers and buying pinatas for kiddie birthday parties?)
    • Examine your feelings next time you’re asked to do something.  Taking the time to evaluate your emotions can be quite telling when you find yourself in a compromising situation.  And it can be the start toward taking control of you life and doing the things that you choose to do, not the things you feel obligated to do.
  • Really understand and revisit your personal and professional goals. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle of your everyday routine.  And before you know it you’re off-course and that vacation you were planning to take went poof and vanished into thin air all because you bit more than you could chew.
    • Establish boundaries with people in your professional and personal life.  If it’s a family function that you can attend, but don’t have time to bake your famous chocolate cake — just say no (and by no means should you offer to bake brownies instead because you’re feeling guilty).  On a professional note, let’s say you’re working on several projects, and an editor you’ve been meaning to work with again contacts you for an assignment.  The only problem is your deadline is really tight, and you have a lot of other obligations.  So, what do you do?  You say no.  Nope, you didn’t read that sentence incorrectly.  It’s okay to say no to a client.  And if they dump you for saying no then you don’t need to work for a company like that anyway.  But if they value your work then you’ll hear from them again.
  • Practice makes perfect!  If you’ve gone into many situations before with the intention of saying no only to find yourself uttering yes then you need to practice.
    • Tap into the inner assertive you and practice saying no in front of the mirror.  Ask your family and friends to help you practice by acting out situations that you know you don’t want to do or don’t have time for.  Learn to keep it simple, no is only a two-letter word.  Yet, people tend to feel that they need to go into a long-winded explanation as to why they are unable to do something.  I’ve learned that a simple: “No, I’m unavailable”, is quite sufficient.  And leave out the “I’m sorry” part.  Because if you’re busy or have other obligations then you simply can’t do what’s being asked of you.

So take heart and begin the journey of saying no to the things you’re unable to do or the things that aren’t a good fit for your personal and professional aspirations. And you’ll begin to see  that you have more time for the things that truly matter to you.