Friday, July 29, 2011

Staying Afloat in Today’s Market

With the economy the way it is today, it’s become harder and harder for freelancers, like myself, to stay afloat. The age-old doggie paddle just won’t work anymore. Sure, by kicking your feet you’ll keep your head above water, but little else.

So what can you do to make sure the Big Bad Wolf doesn’t come knocking at your door. The answer is diversify. Regular businesses learned this long ago, so it’s time that you as a writer learn it, too.

Before you cut the cord to a full-time job and seek work as a freelancer, you need to figure out what kind of financial base you have from which to operate your freelance business. Yes, that’s right, I said “business.” Every business has some sort of backup plan for tough times, and you should, too.  Thoroughly do your homework so that you’ll have the confidence to know about the writing markets before you begin.

I started out slowly, writing on Sunday afternoons. Then as I got better and got some assignments, I worked at night after teaching school all day. Soon I was writing as much as I was teaching. But I really didn’t do enough research, so when I did quit teaching, I didn’t have much to fall back on.

I decided that if I was going to do this, I would see work in areas that used the knowledge I had gained from the subjects I wrote about. I began teaching continuing education classes about travel destinations—I was an aspiring travel writer—at a local community college. This led to teaching writing classes. After all, I was both a writer and a good teacher, so why not combine the two.
But I still wasn’t making enough.

I sought out a part-time  job at a travel agency since I did know a lot about travel and world destinations. That gave me a regular paycheck with enough time to continue writing. Eventually, I got a full-time job at a better agency while still writing. But that put me back in the same position I was in as a school teacher with one exception. I had learned a lot about the travel industry working in these agencies and this gave me the knowledge and experience to write for travel trade magazines. Once I started doing that, the assignments kept coming in. By the time I had moved to a third agency, I knew I was in a rut. So one day I quit.

But now I had travel trade assignments and articles published weekly in five local newspapers. Plus I was teaching more continuing education classes in the evenings which left my days free to fulfill my assignments. I was on my way to freelance success.

Today, my company, Bob Brooke Communications, encompasses several different areas. Besides writing articles and books, I also have a fairly packed continuing education course schedule. My interest in photography led me to learn as much as I could about digital photography and now I teach that at several locations several times a year. I have also developed a modest lecture circuit which pays well for the time involved. To get material for lectures, I use the information I gather for articles on various subjects and combined with my photography, turn them into lectures.
But to fill in the voids left when writing markets go astray, I began designing Web sites, mostly for small businesses. I began with my own site, then developed three more informational sites. I’ve designed over 25 sites to date. These I do occasionally, but the pay is good enough to tide me over.

So if you have to seek out other work, make sure it’s related to what you write or that you can learn information that will be useful in your writing. My continuing education courses and lectures are all based on what I write. My technical expertise, which I developed solving my own computer problems and designing my own site over the years, has helped me tremendously in my web design work.

Remember, don’t work at anything that will take away from your writing. Work only at jobs that complement it–if you have to seek outside work at all.

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