These recommendations are conventional wisdom:
A freelance writer should:
- have a website
- maintain a blog
- actively participate in the online community
- participate in social media
- make marketing an everyday priority
To varying degrees, I’ve believed all of those oft-repeated recommendations.
Today, I’m questioning conventional wisdom.
I’ll spare you my long tale of personal navel-gazing and the various mini-epiphanies that led me to reconsider many aspects of my business model over the last few months. Let’s just say that I’ve decided to change a number of things and that decision forced me to take a brief hiatus from many of my usual online activities.
As I slogged through the last month, I was a little worried about not having a fully operable website (it’s still awaiting completion and a re-launch as I write this). I worried about not blogging. I wondered what a dramatic decrease in community involvement and social media might do. Mainly, I wondered how in the hell I was going to make a change if I wasn’t actively marketing myself in the process.
My decision led to a very rough patch as I moved from one set of policies and procedures to another. There was a major cash flow hiccup as I moved from Model A to Model B. Not pretty, but temporary.
Now… Well, things are good. Hell, they’re better than ever. And that’s happening even though my domain currently points to a little Blogger.com blog that says, “I’ll be back soon”. It’s happening even though I haven’t been blogging. It’s working without much professionally oriented social media utilization, without spending a great deal of time interacting with the freelance writing community and without an intensive marketing effort.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if things are just magically happening. I still work. I just haven’t been involved on those fronts lately and it really hasn’t had a negative impact on my business. If anything, my abandonment of the conventional wisdom is making me money right now by providing me with more time to focus on writing.
It’s possible that I’m an exception to the rule. The conventional wisdom may be conventional because it’s true for most folks. I realize that I started in this field a few days after YouTube launched and that I have a network of contacts that new people don’t have. If I was starting today, what I’ve been doing probably wouldn’t work.
All I can tell you is that I basically took a month off from this “world” and nothing horrible happened. I had a brief and pronounced cash flow dip (which I could have avoided if I had enough patience to roll with Model A for an extra month), but it was brief.
I’m here to tell you that there’s no law requiring you to blog twice per day. There’s no rule demanding a professionally designed website. You can live without Twitter and Facebook if you’d like. You don’t need to comment on this post to show that you’re a part of this community in hopes that will somehow put money in your pocket.
Everything is optional.
Maybe I’m just really slow. Maybe I just wandered off into some very high weeds and became slightly lost . This post may seem like common sense to many of you. This whole learning experience has been eye opening for me, though.
I’ve long laughed at conventional wisdom, but I’ve held close to it in many ways with respect to building my business. Not anymore.
I’ve decided it’s about my/your plan and not THE plan. Again, everything is optional.
This realization has been liberating. Now that the world is spinning a little slower, I can get back into the things I love and I can ignore the rest without worrying that I’m going to somehow doom myself. I know better. I slammed on the brakes for a month and lived to tell the happy tale.
When I get my site fixed to my satisfaction, I’ll slap it up there. I do have some blogging plans. I do plan to be active in certain discussions. I’m making those choices based on what I want to do, however. I’m not making them because I think they’re essential.
A good plan is a good plan. Even if it runs contrary to conventional wisdom.
This is great…. it is funny to me that I came to the same conclusion a while back…. so I feel massively hypocritical coming out of hibernation to thumbs up this piece and also for having included my (slightly rough around the edges!) website here out of force of habit – heck I’m still paying for the thing, might as well continue to promote it where possible…
But you are right. The amount of time spent “networking” every day can severely reduce the amount of time spent actually writing… at one point I was chasing new gigs so hard I was pushing deadlines for existing ones right to the wire and making myself sick in the process.
So I stopped chasing… and worked on the work I had. When I finished it, miracle of miracles, my clients simply supplied me with more – pleased it had been completed in such a timely manner.
Sometimes doing all the “stuff” can fool you into thinking you are working hard – but no one is paying you to Stumble, Digg, poke, tweet and so one…. Eyes down and get writing – that#s the only real solution to wanting more work and more money.
I fully agree with you, though the last bullet point — marketing — is a must, or a business will die.
I’ve been on my own for 18 years, and have had some great clients over that time. But I’ve had a few different times where the two biggest clients have left (closed down, pulled everything in house or brought in a new editor with other “preferred” freelancers), and all of a sudden business is gasping for air.
On the other side of the coin, continuosly marketing has brought back once dormant clients, including one that will produce more than $20,000 of revenues this year after nine years of being dormant.
But I don’t have a Web site, blog, or do anything with social media. Not to say those don’t have value for many and might have some value for me. But I still get more work by picking up the phone and talking to people than from any other source.
OK, here’s the thing. Constant marketing is key – when you are building a business from the ground up.
Marketing and blogging/commenting on blogs are NOT the same thing. And a website is, in essence, a brochure for your services – not an outreach tool.
You wanna reach people? Get out there and network with humans. Answer ads. Submit queries. No one is going to call or email you with business on the basis that you have a blog and a website. Marketing is an action verb, and while it’s true that “writers write,” publishers aren’t out there trolling the web to find your golden words and recruit you.
Another big point: once you have a solid, steady business, marketing can slow down. Not stop, but slow. Why? Because old clients will be calling, and do call, with the next project! Of course you’ll always need new clients as old ones change or disappear, but freelancing is like plumbing: folks keep coming back to a contractor who does a good job for a fair price.
Susan Gunelius says
The key is understanding what marketing efforts work for you. Social media marketing and content marketing can be extremely powerful tools to build any business (I challenge anyone who disagrees to come to one of my speaking engagements or read my upcoming book, “30-Minute Social Media Marketing” and then have this discussion with me). However, if a business owner (including freelance writers) can’t make the shift in thinking to understand how these opportunities can help them build their businesses, then that’s fine. There are other ways to build a writing business.
I think too many writers view social media as a waste of time rather than taking the time to understand exactly how it can help them. Don’t believe me? Ask Gary Vaynerchuk. Heck, ask me — my very successful writing career was built entirely on social media and content marketing. In fact, it’s quite possible that I wouldn’t be in the process of writing my 8th book if it hadn’t been for one little blog post that I wrote 3 years ago, which got noticed by a publisher doing a Google search.
Jeremy Powers says
I agree whole-heartedly with this post and the comments so far. I comment on blogs occasionally. I might be on Facebook and Linked-in an hour a week. For client acquisition, though, nothing is more effective than live networking.
I still post on my blog almost everyday, but I have considered modifying my calendar to three posts per week.
GE Anderson says
Thank you for posting this! I was just thinking the same thing this week and had decided to take the plunge into doing what you’ve already done. It’s great to see I’m not the only one doing it.
I can’t agree more. I just recently got my website set up through WordPress and I’m hoping I can do what it takes to draw clients.
I guess it all depends on how well I market myself. Some people click any link you throw at them. Others tend to ignore advertisements. For now, though, I’ve got my friends and colleagues spreading the word. Who needs Facebook when you can take face-to-face?
Tamar Cloyd says
I totally agree! I’ve been battling this very same thing myself. I thought I needed a website, but wasn’t really sure if that was a necessity. Now, I have a blog which I post monthly fundraising tips on and send out to a list of people. I love to write so having this blog allows me to share what I know and dabble in social media a bit. So far, so good 🙂