Put another way, is your business “a series of jobs” or a “profession”? (And yes, I know how most of the commercial freelancing pros who weigh in here would answer, and I’m counting on that…).
Success as a commercial writer begins in the mind.
I know, typical positive-thinking mumbo-jumbo, right? And not even terribly profound. But hang with me here.
I was thinking about how I started in this business of lucrative commercial copywriting 15 years ago, and realized that how I viewed this business and how I entered the profession has made all the difference. A dear writer friend of mine who does mostly magazine work likes to say, not unkindly, that I’m a businessperson first and a writer second. She’s not implying I’m not a good writer (perish the thought…), just that if I were a “pure” writing animal, I’d probably be writing feature stories or novels. Or would at least have started out that way. Fair enough.
When I discovered this field back in the early 90s after stumbling on Bob Bly’s, Secrets of a Freelance Writer, it was an epiphany. You mean companies actually hire freelance writers to execute many writing projects and pay them far more than typical “freelance writer” rates? Who knew? I’d wanted to be a writer, but wasn’t willing to starve at it. Proof, perhaps of my friend’s gentle charge of “businessperson/writer” not the other way around. Anyone who was a pure writer would relish starving – at least for a few years anyway.
But, not me. I looked at it dispassionately. I enjoyed writing, knew I was good at it, but I didn’t live and breathe it (remember: NO writing background, experience, or paid jobs before I started out). Nonetheless, I had long been on the lookout – perhaps unconsciously – for a way to turn that aptitude into a career. Once I read Bly’s book, I was hooked. This was how I was going to do it.
I know many of you have heard this story before, but the point here is this: Right out of the gate, and with zero starving-writer experience under my belt, I looked at this field as a true pay-all-the-bills career. It wasn’t a hobby. It wasn’t a lark. It wasn’t a supplement to other less-lucrative writing. It was my profession.
As a result, from day one, it wasn’t playtime. It was serious. And I think that’s made all the difference in how it’s turned out. But, that was MY path. There’s not a thing wrong with coming at it any other way, but I say the initial foundational perception of your business may have a lot to do with its outcome.
Many who come to this field were writers first, and came to this field as a way to make more money, crafting a mix of both jobs. I’d never say they’re not as serious as I am, but am curious as to their perceptions of how it unfolded for them.
I’m not 100% sure of the point I’m trying to make here, but my gut tells me it’s a good conversation-starter… 😉
How did you come to this field, as a businessperson/writer or a writer/businessperson?
If the former, what impact did that initial perception have on your ultimate success?
If it was writer first, and you’re successfully established now, was there a point at which it became more serious?
And what advice would you give other “pure writers” about making this a serious career instead of just a series of jobs?
Tanking economy. Up-and-down stock market. High and growing unemployment. The end of the world as we know it. Etc, etc, etc. How’s all this affecting your commercial writing business? Perhaps less than you might imagine…
Okay, rest assured, I’m not here to say that all the economic turmoil is just a mirage. It’s not. But I am here to say that you’re in control of how you view it, and in turn, the extent to which you allow it to affect you.
I thought about offering a collection of tips on dealing with your commercial freelancing clients in tough times, but others, like Mike Stelzner are doing a good job of that. Instead, let’s talk about our thinking….
When you watch the news (Mistake #1), do you go into a sort of trance-like state, mumbling to yourself along the lines of,
Okay, that’s called flabby thinking. Understandable, perhaps, but still flabby. Let’s toughen it up a bit. No mind-control hocus-pocus here. Just a few facts. During tough times, will businesses stop marketing, stop communicating with employees (internal communications), stop trying to reach new customers (ads, direct mail case studies), stop building web sites or updating existing ones, and all crawl into holes and wait and hope for things to get better? The very idea is ludicrous. And incidentally, I’m busier than I’ve been in a long time…
Will some businesses cut back on outside resources and perhaps bring projects in-house? Yes. But many can’t because they don’t have the in-house resources to do them.
And if there will be some cutting back, does that mean that bigger companies who’ve been using pricey ad agencies, design/PR firms and marketing companies might be cutting back on them? Yes. At which point, might the idea of hiring a far more economical, but-just-as-if-not-more effective freelance writer/designer team sound much more attractive? You bet it will.
And how much effect does the economy truly have on ONE person’s quest for financial self-sufficiency and freelance success? Given that that ONE person needs to garner only a tiny sliver of the entire universe of possible lucrative commercial writing work out there? Not much.
And don’t forget: there will be a certain chunk of your competition who will buy all the gloom and doom, will blink and run, opting for something they perceive will be more secure, and will leave you with less competition.
Feeling better yet?
If you’ve been around the block a few times, what are your thoughts?
What other tough-thinking strategies can you suggest?
What are you seeing from your clients?
What do you see as the keys to getting through tough times?
Shoot. Crap-ola. Aaargh. Happens to the best commercial freelancers several times in their careers, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. I finished up a marketing brochure for a commercial writing client a few months back. Everyone loved it. We all looked it over probably 10 times each. How we all missed it is beyond me. Went to print – 5,000 copies. Finally got a few samples in the mail a few weeks back. Turned out nice. Then, uh-oh. Oh, man. Don’t tell me. There it was. Not as glaring as a misspelled word, thank heavens, but rather, unnecessary punctuation. Very unnecessary. Not one of those, “it-can-go-either-way-depending-on-which style-guide-you’re-consulting” kind of punctuation mistake. No, this was pretty clear cut. Though, in truth (he said, rationalizing), it seemed more prominent since I knew what I was looking at. If someone wasn’t looking for it (by definition, the overwhelming percentage of readers), they might or might not notice it.
Of course, first stop was my last file sent to them to see if the error was in there or was added after my hands were washed of it. There it was, in all its cringe-inducing glory. Ouch.
And they printed a 5,000 of them, because they got a good price. I’d emailed the graphic designer before I know how many they’d printed, to say, “Hey, hate to tell you, but I found this error that was MY fault, so in case they’re going to back to print at some time soon, you can fix it.” Course, at the rate they’ll likely go through them, I’ll be collecting Social Security before they run out… Sheesh. I didn’t feel good about it, but he and I decided on a vow of silence. You know, let sleeping dogs lie. But, I’m sure I’ll still lose a few winks over it.
Did I do the right thing?
Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did it unfold and how was it resolved?
Are you satisfied with your handling of the situation?
If you’ve never been in such a situation (you will, eventually…), how would you handle it if you were?