In honor of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week programming starting August 1, here are 6 things freelance writers can learn from sharks. No, I’m not advocating that we should chomp unsuspecting clients who get on our nerves, although some days that idea is tempting….
1. If something is working for you, keep doing it.
Sharks are an ancient species, and they have remained virtually unchanged for millions of years. If they haven’t evolved much, it means that as a species they have been successful. Once you find a type of writing or a niche that is working well for you, stick with it as long as it continues to make sense to you.
2. Keep moving.
Sharks are constantly in motion. They may not be actively hunting all the time, but they are patrolling the water all the time. Even if you are not currently looking for work, it pays to keep an eye on the marketplace to see what kinds of opportunities are available and who is hiring.
3. Get good at detecting opportunities.
A shark has an amazing ability to detect the presence of a possible meal in the water. According to SharkFacts.org, they have a finely attuned sense of hearing that can detect a fish from a mile away and can sense one drop of blood in a million drops of water.
Freelancers need to develop a nose for finding opportunities, too. Checking out job leads is a great way to start, but you also need to be talking to other people in your network regularly – whether you think they are able to hire you or not. Some of the best gigs come from word of mouth or referrals, and you aren’t competing against hundreds of other people for them.
4. A thick skin is a helpful attribute.
Shark skin is an interesting organ. If you were to stroke it in one direction, it is very soft and smooth. Run your hand the opposite way, though, and it is as rough as sandpaper. The skin was even used as sandpaper by wood carvers at one time.
If you are going to be putting yourself out there as a freelance writer, you need to develop the ability to not take the word “No” personally. You aren’t going to get every gig that you apply for, and not every client you work with one time will turn into a long-term client. Some people are very easy to work with and know exactly what they want, while others can be very challenging to deal with.
5. Sometimes a test bite tells you all you need to know.
If a shark sees something on the surface of the water and isn’t sure whether it is food or not, it will take a test bite to check thing out before making a meal of it. Unfortunately, when the object in question is a person on a surfboard instead of a seal, the test bite has the potential to cause a serious, if not potentially fatal, injury.
When you accept a gig from a new client, it’s a good idea to start slowly. Instead of committing to a large project, start with a handful of articles instead. That way, you can see whether the two of you will work well together. If not, you can finish what you agreed to and swim on looking for your next great gig.
6. Once you develop a bad reputation, it sticks with you.
Sharks aren’t inherently bad; they just do what they need to do to survive. Unfortunately, they also tap into our fears of something lurking in the deep that we can’t see until it’s too late.
Sharks are definitely on our radar, in a way that other predators don’t seem to be. We refer to surfing on the Internet, and it can be compared to a great big ocean of knowledge. While we want to make a name for ourselves and become big fish, so to speak, we don’t want to get the reputation as someone who is flaky, difficult to work with, or who provides subpar work.
Susan Gunelius says
I love it, Jodee! Perfect timing and great info!
Great analogies. A very interesting read. =)
sharon maynard says
I strongly agree with point 5 — sometimes a pub and a writer are not a good fit. This isn’t the writer’s fault, and it isn’t the publisher’s fault. I think sometimes we writers are very sensitive about our work, and we forget we are extending a working relationship with a human being that may not need our services at the particular moment.