Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Freelance Affliction

If you’re a freelance writer or freelance editor (actually a freelance anything), you probably suffer from the same affliction we all do – the feast or famine disease. Either you are scrambling for bits of business and the specter of the bag lady starts hanging out in your bedroom at night, invading your dreams – or you have so much writing to do that you’re having nightmares about not being able to meet your deadlines and ruining your reputation for all time. Either way, bad for your health.

Why can’t your clients come in at a nice steady linear pace? Because clients aren’t like that. They don’t confer with each other, saying polite things like, “After you,” or “I’m happy to wait.” Instead they care absolutely nothing about your other clients (why should they?) and they say things like, “I’m almost ready to begin – maybe in the next two weeks” usually followed two or three months later by, “I’m ready! Can you have it done by next week?”

My tip for the first challenge – not enough business – is to not give up. Keep marketing your services and know that marketing isn’t linear either – in fact it’s downright spooky. You will be marketing to a group of people you think would be good prospects, and nothing will happen. But what will happen is that a person from a totally unrelated group, who you have never contacted and did not know existed – will suddenly appear and hire you. This does not mean you can forego the marketing efforts, because if you do, no one will appear from anywhere. All of us are part of an invisible web, you see, and when you tweak the web by marketing to one group, the web vibrates elsewhere, awakening others. At least that’s my theory. But it really doesn’t matter how it works – just do it.

For the second challenge – too much business – my tip is to develop a Referral List of others in your industry (yes, your competitors) who you know do excellent work and conduct themselves with integrity, and to whom you can refer your “overflow.” Overflow is such a beautiful word. In this way you will have served your clients, making them happy and appreciative that you went an extra mile to get them what they need. They will say nice things about you, and probably refer you to others. This is called Good Will and it is invaluable. This also gains you good will from the competitors you’ve referred – and if they’re as good as you think they are, they too will have overflow at times, and probably refer back to you – perhaps at the same time the bag lady comes to visit you again.

I have two such Referral lists – one for editors, and another for ghostwriters. Developing the Ghostwriter Referral list is quite challenging, because I simply refuse to refer other writers whose work I don’t know, admire, and trust. Ghostwriting excellence takes many more skills than just being a good writer, which is why I now offer a program called Learn to Ghost. People who complete this program satisfactorily immediately go right on my Ghostwriter Referral list.

And now I don’t lose as much sleep.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit http://www.primary-sources.com/.
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  1. I have freelanced on and off through out my career and am intimately familiar with the feast or famine syndrome ... although famine was usually the greater malady. But I've known plenty of freelancers who thrived in the business.

  2. Oh gosh, boy do I know about raining and pouring! Sometimes I have three months work I need to have done in one then one entire month with nothing. Which can be scary. But something always falls in my lap when I need it. *knock on wood* I hope that doesn't stop now. Ouch! lol :o)

    Ghost writing has always intrigued me, but I'm a really slow writer so I doubt I would be very good at it.

  3. Thanks for the excellent tips. I have been quite busy of late with editing jobs and am so glad that I have a referral list. When I am contacted by a new client, I let them know the timeline I am already on, and if they don't want to wait a month or so before I can get to them, I refer them to one of the excellent editors here, as well as some others I have met.

  4. Having "too much" business--that's a nice problem to have! But yes, it does happen, it seems freelance writing or editing is always "feast or famine."

  5. Kim, you describe the life I lead perfectly! Feast and famine are equally as stressful, just for completely different reasons! I recently found myself explaining to potential clients why they might want to wait 11 weeks for my services, though--and talked most of them into it. Then my Dad died and I lost 10 days. Then I read your post today and thought "A ghostwriting course--that sounds fun!"

    You can see my problem...

  6. Yes, I'm looking for editors that are somewhat in my price range (low) to refer extra work to, not that I have a lot of it, but when the time comes, I don't want to shrug and say, "sorry can't help you."

  7. When I'm in the "feast" phase, I almost never say no, unless there truly is no possible way I could get the project done. But if I have to sacrifice sleep for a few days or weeks, then so be it. I'd rather do that to keep the client happy and make some extra cash to keep me going through the famine phase (when I catch up on my sleep)!

    I also have one client who does exactly what you describe--they make me wait and wait and then hurryhurryhurry! But they pay me well and they're all really nice people to work with, so I always say, "Sure! Of course, it's no problem!" There's no way I'm referring this one out. They're all mine. :)


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