Career Crossroads: Why Lateral Moves Are Essential to Grow Your Freelance Career

Career Crossroads Joanne Cleaver

Career Crossroads Joanne Cleaver

For freelancers looking to grow their career, up isn’t the only direction to go.

“Over is the new up!” said Joanne Cleaver (@jycleaver) during the ProfNet #ConnectChat “Making Lateral Moves as a Freelancer.”

A freelance business journalist and author since 1981, Cleaver founded and chairs the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ Content Connections conference, where freelancers meet content clients. She also is a content strategy and communication consultant with

During this Twitter chat, Cleaver shared some of her expertise from The Career Lattice about getting freelance clients and assignments, managing time, and increasing work opportunities by making lateral moves.

What’s the biggest mistake someone can make starting out as a freelancer?

1) Not realizing that client care is 50 percent of your time and probably 80 percent of your energy.

2) Writing for love not money … you need both!

3) Saying you can write anything. You can’t. Specializing is key.

How does one go about landing their first client or their first assignment? It’s a struggle to get them even when more established.

The sweet spot: Pitch what you know that isn’t being covered. Bring insight. Surprise the editor or client with a fresh take. Bring a point of view, not just facts.

What do you suggest for managing one’s time between family, writing, and other activities?

Having it all is possible! Just define ‘it all.’ For me, it’s a blend of creative writing, content strategy, and business writing … plus quilting. The freelance delusion that you can write while the kids play. Not. Treat your professional time as such.

Multitasking triumph deadline bread! Here’s the recipe: Proof yeast in a.m. Make calls. Make dough and set to rise. Make more calls. Knead and fold into pans. Let rise. Write. Put bread in oven. Work out. Reward yourself! Start deadline bread at 9 a.m., serve warm bread to kids home from school at 3.

How much time does one need to devote to pitching, landing a client, writing a story, and starting the cycle again?

I allow three to four months lead time from idea to payment. Now, let’s break it down. Develop a unique angle for THIS client. Find the decision maker. Allow a month for the decision. Expect to evolve the idea … and your fee, as you do.

I try to tee up the next assignment as I win the current one. Under promise, over deliver. I add a small extra soon after I start, such as a sidebar. Outline the project schedule and deliverables (yeah, corporate speak). Deadlines = payment.

Check in to make sure reality matches expectations. Give ideas for graphics, social content. Can you refer to a designer, etc.? Deliver top journalistic quality. Corporate clients love this! Use anecdotes, short stories to illustrate data. It IS like Build A Bear! Start with a leg, add an arm. Cross sell within a company. Show client love by referring THEM to potential customers, clients.

When it comes to money, people often have no idea what to do. How do you manage when you’re a beginner without a fixed income?

Ebyline is a great place to gain traction. I have gained great clients through Ebyline.

Specialize! OWN a topic & network with experts. Learn how at conferences like @ASJAConCon. Team with other freelancers for projects. Don’t be the lone ranger.

Is it easier to freelance when you already have a steady full-time or part-time job?

Starting with FT or PT job gives you specialization and potential conflicts of interest. To career lattice into freelancing, build a portfolio with association projects. Association work puts you in front of trends and potential clients. Millennials can get a fast start via nonprofit work, building authority.

Once you’ve become a more experienced freelancer, there’s still room to grow to increase your opportunities. How can someone branch out into other things while continuing to freelance?

Freelancers must find their own lateral moves. The Career Lattice shows how. I discovered I was great at communication and media training. Expect to invest in training to build new skills. I took a ‘train the trainer’ course. One caveat: Many writers suck at speaking. And it’s hard to get paid for speaking. Speaking requires deep knowledge plus stage presence. Writers typically have just the knowledge.

What about former journalists who may not be looking to work as freelancers – what opportunities exist for people with their skills?

Lateral moves are the only way. Consider research, analyst jobs in your beat. Project management skills are valuable, too. Know your core people skills for potential advocacy, communication jobs. If you think all PR jobs are ‘the dark side,’ you see the world only in black and white.

Have an interesting story to share about your journalism career?  Beyond Bylines’ Career Crossroads series features stories and job advice for journalists from journalists. Tell us your story by emailing [email protected] or tweeting @BeyondBylines. Catch up on previous Career Crossroads posts at

Evelyn Tipacti is a community relations specialist at ProfNet, a service that connects journalists with expert sources.  She is a former broadcast journalist with years of experience behind the television camera and radio mic.

Members of the media can register for PR Newswire for Journalists to begin using ProfNet and PR Newswire’s other free media tools.

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