by Ellen Goldstein
In Lisa Sonora Beam’s book The Creative Entrepreneur (Quarry Books, 2008), she presents the following journal prompt “Who is in my business advisory circle?” For the beginner freelance writer or editor, this can be a potentially traumatizing question. However, it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need an army of smart-phone-using, business-suited colleagues to have a business advisory circle (although for a few hours it might be nice); just a few people, some of whom you may already know, to give you advice about running a business.
Mine your friends and family.
Just as you have certain friends you talk to about relationships, you should have certain people with whom you can talk about your business. Even if none of your friends are freelance writers, they may still have experience with invoicing, paying taxes, researching lawyers, etc. Did you have a friend from elementary school who outsold everyone in Girl Scout cookies? Is she the marketing manager of some corporation? Call her up, remind her of your Girl Scout days, and ask her for advice.
When I took calculus in college, it was not my computer science friends (you know, the ones who took ordinary differential equations for fun) who helped me pass calculus. It was my French major friend who did not excel at math, but was a little more technical- and number-minded than I am, who got me through. In your advisory search, find someone who is farther along in her career than you, but not so far along that she can’t remember what it is like to be just starting out.
Find a consultant.
Get in touch with other freelancers you know. Offer to take them out for lunch and discuss the nitty gritty details of quarterly tax payments, as well as the more interesting aspects of your field. If you don’t know any freelancers (and even if you do), look into joining freelance and professional unions and associations. With a professional association, such as Editorial Freelance Association, you’ll find meetings, classes, resources, and even job leads. The National Writers Union or the Freelancers Union offer contract assistance and other business advice.
Look beyond traditional business mentoring models and check out local skillshares and barters. Bartering can be either a formal or informal exchange of goods or services, with no money changing hands. Craigslist has a barter section under its “for sale” section. Skillshares are more organized events where people lead workshops to teach other people what they know. Where else can you learn how to write a resume in the morning and fix your bicycle in the afternoon?
Find many consultants.
Maybe your consultant is actually a group. You might have luck finding business support in a group environment, such as a listserv, online forum, or support group. You can usually join a listserv for free, and become a part of valuable discussions, often about the very questions that plague you…or will soon enough. There are listservs for copy editors, science writers, poets, technical writers, and writing teachers, among many others.
Find a freelance support group. Get together with other people who are thinking of taking the freelance plunge or who have been practicing freelancers for years. Meet and discuss your insights, struggles, and coping methods. Set business goals for yourselves and work together to achieve them. Meetings are a great reason to leave the house and hang out with people who can talk shop with you.
And while building community, don’t forget to comment on your favorite blogs or freelance blog networks….
Ellen Goldstein is a freelance editor and poet living in Beverly, Massachusetts.