freelancing in tough times

Although the Dow may have peaked 10,000 again, freelancers tend to operate in a “lagging indicator” market — a lot of companies still have yet to really rebound, and once they do they have to develop fresh confidence that their rebound is not about to re-rebound. Then they can build up their work and staff again — and then they’ll be able to think about farming work out to their stable of freelancers again.

One thing that’s been a shock to a lot of writers is the discovery that they can lose even their oldest, most trusted clients just like that — and the hardest part is not taking it personally. Long-term clients become like friends; you know about their kids and their vacations, you send them birthday cards and get invited to their company holiday dinners. But they’re often in the same boat as you. Earlier this year, I wrote an article for one of my oldest clients and the following week I wrote her a letter of recommendation. In the intervening time, she and the rest of her department had been laid off.

It’s been that bad.

But just because things are starting to look up (however sluggishly) it doesn’t mean you can afford to let out a sigh of relief and wait for the phone to start ringing. The beginning of the upswing is a good time to get people thinking about you. Here are some things that might help you generate some much-needed future business.

Drop them a line. Funny how we often forget the simple things. Try something that will last longer than an e-mail and linger longer than an e-mail — a greeting card, a one-sheet flyer with a handwritten note, a refrigerator magnet, a coupon for 25% off your next substantive edit. If they have a sense of humor, send them a favorite cartoon and a note saying “I think you’d appreciate this.”

Do the in-person thing. Let them know you’re going to be down their way soon and you’d like to get together for lunch. Don’t press them about work, this is about rebuilding the relationship. Show them you’re human.

Network, network, network! Is there a chapter of the STC or the EFA near you? Do they have social events or meetings? Do you go? Why not? Bring lots of cards and prepare to be conversational. It’s OK, that’s what these events are for. People expect it. Be confident.

Network, network, network!: I’m going to go against the grain here and advocate for LinkedIn over Facebook. Why? Think of them as different kinds of parties. Facebook is the company Christmas party: spouses, food, drinks, music, conversation. LinkedIn is the trade show mixer: power suits, business cards, elevator pitches. Trying to drum up business at the Christmas party is — well, it’s just gauche, folks.

Cold call 2.0. Everything old (and inefficient) is new (and slightly less inefficient) again. But using the vast array of online resources available now for free through — yes — your public library, you can narrow your searches of potential clients much better than the old days. Associations Unlimited is like Writer’s Market for nonprofits, if you know how to use it.

Job Lists. For freelance editors, there’s the EFA’s job list; for writers in DC, there’s the AIW job list. Note that these are likely to be member-only perks (like the EFA’s), but considering the other benefits of membership — everything from newsletters and event discounts to being able to list it on your resume — it may be worth joining anyway.

Any other tips and techniques that you’ve found helpful for finding work? Any good resources on the web that you use? Share them in the comments!


Author: Paul Lagasse

Paul Lagasse provides expert-to-expert communications services to nonprofit, business, and government clients in the metro Baltimore-DC area. Specialties include science and medical writing, technical report editing, and content marketing.