Smart Insider Strategies For the Ambitious Freelancer in 2016
Lynn Freehill-Maye is an independent writer and co-chair of this year’s American Society of Journalists Conference (ASJA). She writes about “compelling people and places from her home in upstate New York and beyond.”
Before becoming an independent writer, she worked as the tourism and environment reporter at the Pulitzer Prize-winning Virgin Islands Daily News and as editor of the University of Texas’ 200,000-reader alumni magazine, The Alcalde. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Islands, Culture, Afar, Texas Monthly, Modern Farmer, and others.
In our recent #ConnectChat, “Smart Freelancing Strategies for 2016,” we chatted with Freehill-Maye about her career. In the Q&A, she talked to us about time management, marketing yourself, leveraging social media, keeping writing fun, the ASJA conference in New York and more.
Lynn, please tell us about yourself and how you began your career as an independent writer.
I’m a proud journalism grad from @DrakeJMC, where I gained all the tools to report & write. I reported at Virgin Islands Daily News and edited @TheAlcalde. But the happiest three years of my life have been since I went freelance! I’ve lived and written on four continents now. There’s nothing like the time and geographic flexibility of freelancing.
What is your role with ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors)?
Oh, I’m proud to be a member of @ASJAhq, the nation’s leading organization of nonfiction writers! This year I co-chaired the national conference, #ASJA2016, with my friend @cindykuzma.
Why is it a good time to be a freelancer at this point in time?
So many reasons to be excited about freelancing now! There are more outlets than ever — new online publications, and more online content needs from traditional magazines. Culturally, I think we’re starting to value flexibility and work-life balance more — and freelancing has a definite appeal for that! And two more words: content marketing. It’s smart storytelling from businesses and pays well! Content marketing is a growing side of freelancing.
Should a writer choose a specialty?
In a word, YES to choosing a writing specialty (or multiple). Many of us have wide-ranging curiosities, BUT choosing even a broad set of specialty topic areas really helps you focus publications to pitch. Specialties also help editors trust you as knowledgeable about certain subject areas. When you have a knowledge base, you save research and use time efficiently. And specialties help you develop a platform for if/when you want to write a book.
How can you increase your reach and have editors know you exist?
Twitter is a great start! Add editors to a list you start, like “GreatEds” then engage with them. Of course, pitching ideas directly is probably the single best way to connect with editors. Through @ASJAhq, we get the annual opportunity to meet editors in person, like this year at #ASJA2016, which always helps.
What are some of the best ways to market yourself?
Your own website is a nonnegotiable must-have to be a freelancer. It doesn’t have to be pricey, but it should be polished. Good news: pitching is marketing yourself! Send editors your ideas and link to your website. Look for surprising outlets. For instance, @jlwf says look at your direct mail. As a health writer, she contacted hospitals, etc., that sent her magazines and mailings. She now gets paid to write her own junk mail!
Is blogging a way to increase your visibility?
Yes, blogging can be extraordinarily effective! My blog is simple, a way to show editors my raw work and have occasional fresh draws to my website. For that, my colleague @joanprice advocates a “rule-breaking” blog. Hers is on senior sex!
How do you leverage your writing with social media?
Headlines are the best attention-getters. Twitter’s 140 characters makes us better writers, teaching us to trim the fat. Don’t just say you’re a writer. Write in your voice — the best way to promote yourself. Don’t just share your own content. Promote other writers — and potential readers. No more than every five tweets should be about you.
What is the biggest mistake a freelance writer can make with regards to time?
So much to learn about time management! I’ve gained so much from author @lvanderkam on this. No matter how busy you are with projects, you must budget time to pitch and market yourself.
How do you resolve this issue of time mismanagement? It can keep you from getting the results you want so how do you fix it?
I tracked my time for one week, as @lvanderkam advises. How do you TRULY use the 168 hours we all have? First, measure that. For truly scary results, track the time you lose surfing online and on Facebook. (Pro tip: sign out!)
You MUST take regular, measured breaks or your mind will wander. I use the @PomodoroTech to great success. Blocks of 25-min concentration followed by 5-min breaks.
A lot of work goes into creating a freelance career – how can one keep it fun?
To keep freelancing fun, balance passion projects with big-payout work. @DawnReiss [shared] great thoughts at #ASJA2016. Follow your curiosity on those passion projects. Chase the stories that light you up. Develop a tribe of freelancing friends. Sharing ideas, contact info, feedback, jokes and support helps loads!
There’s a misconception that freelancers don’t help each other sometimes since it seems they’re competing with one another. What’s your take?
That’s a real misconception — freelancers know there’s enough business for all! Trusted friends help you flesh out ideas, outlets. Freelance writing is running your own business, so the rules of being an entrepreneur apply.
Do you recommend side jobs to keep a steady income and when (if) can you rely only on writing?
Side jobs can be good if they provide necessary income while you build up your freelance career. Side-job side benefits: if you’re an extrovert who craves real-time interactions. A side job could also teach you a skill that’ll expand your skill set and increase your marketability. But no to side jobs if the work is taking you away from marketing time. You may be better off devoting that time to marketing each week and may make more money that way.
How do you keep the momentum going and keep getting clients?
Never neglect marketing! Always keep looking for new clients. From reaching out to local businesses to asking clients for referrals, there are always ways to grow your writing business. .@kellyjamesenger and her books have great marketing ideas.
#ASJA2016 was held in May 2016. For details on next year’s conference, check out asjaconferences.org.
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Evelyn Tipacti is a audience relations specialist at ProfNet. She is a former broadcast journalist with years of experience behind the television camera and radio mic.