November 9th, 2008
I posted about freelancing during a recession last month. Then I wrote an ABC News column about it, did a podcast on it, and gave some advice on mediabistro’s GalleyCat blog about what freelancers can do to stay afloat right now. Some of my top tips follow, all of which I discuss at length in my new book:
Diversify your markets. Have your two or three niches, sure. But make sure that if you’re a health and fitness writer, you’re not just relying on the health magazines and lifestyle section of newspapers. Worm your way into online media outlets like AOL or iVillage. Write for trade and alumni publications. And don’t turn you nose up at writing newsletters for the wellness and medical industries or writing marketing copy for companies selling vitamins, fitness equipment, or any other products in your area of expertise. Even if you just do one trade publication article or copywriting gig a quarter, it’s a foot in the door with another type of revenue stream should the bottom fall out and you lose the bulk of your preferred work.
Diversify your skills. Adopt or beef up any peripheral skills you can. If a writer can edit, project manage, broadcast, podcast, design, code, or teach, she’s just greatly expanded her marketability and income-earning potential. Ditto for the illustrator who also does web coding and design. Or the bookkeeper who prepares taxes.
Stay in touch with all clients you value, past and present. An editor or manager who jumps ship or gets forced out of her current job may very well be willing introduce you to her interim replacement (if there is one) and ”take you with her” to the next company she works for.
If you can’t name at least 10 other freelancers you know, it’s time to make some new friends. Yes, even in your own line of work. As I’ve said before, your fellow freelancers are one of your best sources of referrals. If someone offers me a job I’m not interested in or available for and a trusted freelance pal (note the word “trusted”) is looking for work, you bet your hide I’m going to refer her. Only a scrooge wouldn’t.
For the record, in the past three weeks I’ve had one client close their doors to freelancers, another lay off 10 percent of their staff (no news yet on what, if anything, this means for their freelance budget), a couple projects that were supposed to start early November get delayed indefinitely, one of those delayed projects come back to life with a vengeance (supposedly with three to four times the workload than originally anticipated), two former clients offer me a fair amount of new work, a couple periodic clients say they didn’t have any work for me at this time (I’d called to check), and a three new contacts say, “Yes, yes, yes! Please send me your bio/samples. I need to increase my freelance pool.”
I could have written the above paragraph two years ago, pre-recession. This is the way it always is for freelancers. Clients come, clients go, and the self-employed soldier on. They key to not going hungry is to keep as many pans in the fire as you can and never get too comfortable.