I could NEVER be a writer!”
That’s the sort of response I get whenever I’m asked that classic cocktail question of what I do for a living. It’s as if I told them I get shot out of a cannon on a nightly basis. Somehow answering that I’m a writer gives the impression I am either:
1) A trained novelist who probably makes millions.
2) Received multiple degrees and have impeccable grammar.
3) A journalistic expert at something like international business that only I can decipher and turn into discernable jargon for the masses.
In truth, I am none of the above and am instead a generalist freelance writer who specializes in travel, but can write about anything from running a chiropractic business to non-profit theaters in the South. I am not an expert in much of anything except how to cram in 20 hours of work a week with a toddler, I hold a degree in Film and Video and my grammar is suspect at best. I’m also not the most talented writer out there yet I land work repeatedly.
Instead, my strengths lie in reading between the lines and figuring out what a client, figuring out what they want, and syncing up with the tone and vibe of the type of writing they want.
There’s good news and bad news if you want to be a freelance writer too. If you’re literate, read a lot and practice, writing isn’t terribly difficult to break into. This is also why there is so much competition for it. But I do have something many budding freelancers don’t.
I’m flexible and reliable.
That’s really it. But what does flexibility really mean as a freelancer?Flexibility is all about giving your clients room to breathe. They’re not hiring you to help shape your goals and ambitions. Think about what your clients actually want out of a freelancer. They want you to alleviate their stress, turn in solid work on time, understand when mishaps happen and get things done.
You Don’t Need To Be An Expert
A successful freelancer isn’t an expert unless you’re doing something like reviewing legal contracts. Freelancers are just people who make things happen. They don’t sit around and bite their nails waiting for a client to hold their hand through a difficult project. Instead, they piece together what they can, ask for advice from a colleague and come up with short, to the point questions to ask. The client can answer in just a few moments so you can get to work.
Think about it this way. Would you sit down and go hunting for the most qualified, experienced and prestigious bookkeeper you could possibly find? Or would you want someone reliable who could take away your worries and tame all your finances without calling you every five minutes?
Do you want the graphic designer who holds an MFA from an Ivy League school and can’t pick out a font without ten phone calls and a case study work-up? Or the one who can figure out what your tastes are based on a short survey, a five minute phone call and a completely charming attitude?
It’s the same thing with a freelance writer. No one cares if you have an MFA unless you’re trying to teach. No one cares if you didn’t work in finance as long as you have a great handle on dissecting the issues at hand and makign it relatable. Whenever you pitch any kind of client, you want to figure out what they really want and why. Figure out their pain points and deliver a solution they can’t say no to.
Marketing Flexibility + Reliability
One of my strengths lies in the cold email pitch where I make it very clear what I do and how I can help them in a short paragraph. I open with a friendly tone and address my correspondence by name. Next, I give a brief set of qualifications and make sure to say something like, “If you’re looking for a specific writing clip, I probably have it. While I specialize in travel, I write about everything from personal finance to parenthood.” This tells them I’m not just qualified, I can bend to whatever they need to get done.
But what if you don’t have concrete qualifications for whatever freelance market you’re trying to break into?
Go out and create it. If you want to be a freelance video editor, go out and do some pro bono work and come back with, “I’ve done numerous projects for a local woman’s shelter, restaurants and community centers. But at the end of the day I’m a creative Jill of All Trades and would love to hear about what you need a hand with.”
There’s no right or wrong answer to showing how you can be flexible and versatile. The idea is to figure out how to let them know you’re flexible and are willing to jump in somewhere else until someone eventually bites. You might be hired to do some PR work at first based on your prior work experience, but can transition into working on some video promotions later.
Don’t Get Pigeonholed
The only real problem I’ve encountered with being super flexible is getting pigeonholed. I’m not always looking for writing work and also dabble in video editing, podcasting and social media. But I often accept their offer for writing work if they tell me that’s what they really need at the moment. The way around this issue is to agree to a set term for a project like a few months or three articles. “After that, I would love to talk more about working on your social media and figuring out how I can help out in different areas.”
Saying yes once doesn’t mean you’re on the hook forever. Remember, you own this freelance journey and only you can guide it to the milestones you’re looking for. The hard part is getting started and having enough confidence in your ability to get things done. Set one actionable goal today and see how close you get to it!