October 20th, 2008
Last week, I had the pleasure of doing a two-part Q&A with Mir, freelance writer and mom extraordinaire, who writes an incredibly insightful freelancing blog on Work It, Mom! Here’s my favorite excerpt from part 1 of the interview. I’ll post an excerpt from part 2 tomorrow.
Mir/WIM! asks: This recent post at FreelanceSwitch about freelancers sharing knowledge had me nodding all the way through. You’ve made a niche for yourself in the how-to’s of freelancing — so obviously you believe in that knowledge-sharing — but what about freelancers who aren’t in the business of helping others? Do you think it’s possible to thrive as a freelancer without being a supportive/helpful member of the freelance community?
I answer: The item in that post on shunning the “this town ain’t big enough for the two of us” mentality is the aspect of it I like the most. (As for the item on being psyched that someone copied your work because it’s flattering — WTF? Clearly that poster is not concerned about money and credibility lost over copyright infringement. That’s just bad advice, especially coming from a designer. Passing off someone’s work as your own is never cool and can get you in a lot of trouble, as it should. But reprinting someone’s work with permission — and, I would hope, compensation? Now that’s flattery. But I digress.)
I find that far more freelancers are willing to band together with their “competition” than shut them out (or rip them off). That’s not to say you have to share your entire contact list with everyone you meet or give away all your trade secrets or ideas. But a little mutual back scratching goes a long way. Help a freelance pal answer a burning question about how to handle a problem client and she’s likely to do the same for you later on down the line. Pass along a lead to a job you’re not interested in or able to take on and any freelance friend worth her salt will return the favor later.
To answer your question, no, I don’t think you have to be a sharer to get by as a freelancer. Not at all. But for the reasons I mention above, it’s to your advantage. Given the isolation so many at-home workers report, I’d think you’d want to cultivate as many mutually beneficial freelance friendships as possible. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself asking your cat for professional advice, which isn’t very useful.
This isn’t to say that all freelancers play fair in the world of share-and-share alike. I’ve met those solo workers who are all too happy to try to steal your gigs right out from under you or who exhibit a lack of gratitude upon receiving a referral so offensive that you vow to never lend them a hand again. Fortunately, these bottom-feeding opportunists are easy to spot. They’re all take and no give.