Tuesday, September 11, 2007

POST #13: 40 Days to a Successful Freelance Writing Career

PUBLISHER NOTE: If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know about the upcoming freelance writing seminar in October. Details.

Many have inquired about what will be discussed at the seminar. So, in order to answer your questions and to get you prepared for what to expect, I've started a series of posts entitled "40 Days to a Successful Freelance Writing Career."

To start at the beginning, click here. And, welcome to the blog. Now, on to today’s post . . .

Freelance Writers: How to Approach Your Existing Employer for Work – Without Jeopardizing Your Job

My sister started Inkwell Editorial, the editorial staffing we owned from 1996-2004. What many of you may not know is that Inkwell Editorial started out as an editorial outsource agency.

The Story of Inkwell Editorial: How an Employer Contract Led to the Founding of a Corporation

For those of you who know this story, forgive this bit of repetitiveness.

My sister and I worked at a large legal publisher from the late 80s through the mid-90s. She got me the job there. We both started as part-timers while we were in college, and went on full-time after graduation.

We both started in admin and worked our way into editorial departments. During the mid-90s, the company outsourced a lot of work (copy editing, inputting editorial corrections and coding, primarily).

As the editorial department was overwhelmed, we started to take on projects in a freelance capacity. Meaning, instead of doing simple overtime, we charged the company a certain rate for each project. Someone blabbed to HR that we were doing this, and we were told that we couldn’t.

Want to learn exactly what to do to earn $100, $150, $200/day or more as a freelance writer, editor and/or copy editor? Inkwell Editorial's upcoming Freelance Writing Seminar will tell you how. Details. It's a career anyone who can read and write can start  with the right information.
To this day, we don’t know who went to HR, but I will be forever grateful to them because this gave me my start as an entrepreneur.

Now, let me note that at no time did we, or the department managers who assigned us the projects, realize that this was against company policy. We later found out that there was no official policy against it, but according to the powers that be, “it didn’t look good” that we were making money on the side while working there full-time.

So, my sister – brave soul that she is – decided to quit her fulltime job and form a company. That way, they could officially outsource projects to us via our company, Inkwell Editorial.

You see, we had started to make more money from the outsource work than we made as full-time salaried employees.

HOWEVER, there was one glitch – we didn’t make enough to cover two salaries, plus office expenses (my sister rented a small office space in midtown). So, as the business could support only one full-time salary, she quit and I helped her with the projects. She paid me under her company name (Inkwell Editorial).

So, it worked out for all concerned. And this was the rocky beginning to Inkwell Editorial.

"But," you may be thinking, "how did you actually get the first freelance project?" To be honest, I don’t remember the first project. What I do remember is that my sister and I had great reputations as hard workers. I’ve always been the kind of worker that you can give a project to and not have to worry about it.

This is one of the main things that managers (people who can throw work your way) look for. If you haven’t already done so, work on this.

How to Get Work from Department Heads/Managers

You really have to know people to be in business – any type of business. So, what does this have to do with getting a manager to give you a shot at a project? Consider this: Managers have budgets, bosses, time limitations and family/friends they want to spend more time with. What does that have to do with you?

Managers are accountable for the freelancers they hire. If they feel like you can make them look good, they will throw more stuff your way all the time. Looking good means covering the following bases, primarily:

3 Things to Focus on to Get Work from Department Heads/Managers

Time: As in, complete the project on time. I always set my due date one day before I told the client I was going to get it back to them. And, with rare exception, I made it. I worked many 16, 18 and 20 hour days. I remember one night my sister and I stayed at the office until 5:30 am finishing up a project.

She was like, “We can get one more day,” but I said, “No, we’ve never been late and we’re not going to start now.” This particular project was for our previous employer. We were friends with the managers who outsourced work to us and it wouldn’t have been a problem to get one more day – as a matter of fact, it was common among many of the freelancers they used.

BUT, I wanted to be different. I wanted to always, always, always deliver early or on the due date. And, I’m convinced that’s why we were practically always given first dibs on most projects.

Budget: Most departments have budgets. Managers are responsible for staying within those budgets. What does that mean for you?

Get really good at estimating to within a 5-10% certainty of the final price because if your estimate is significantly off, you will blow your chance at getting more work very fast.

Obviously, if you’re soliciting work from your current employer, you should have a good idea about how to price a project. Just starting out, you will make mistakes. But, eat the losses (take the hit) and consider it a learning curve.

All things being equal, I’d always rather undercharge if my estimate is off. Doing this, you will get better very quickly at pricing projects.

Error Free: Managers like it when you turn in a project and they don’t have to do more than give it a precursory look. One manager confessed to my sister and I that he never bothered to look at stuff we turned in because our work was always impeccable.

That’s about the highest compliment you can be paid as a freelancer.

If you save managers time, this means they can get on with other business, actually get out of the office early or on time to spend more time with family and friends, etc.

Remember when I said the following back in Post #2, which discussed how to create a marketing piece that sells – a lot? I said:

You never want to sell clients; you want to share your services with them in a manner that highlights the benefits to them.

The reason grasping this concept is so critical is that when you approach your marketing from the standpoint of how it benefits potential clients, you are really able to hone in on what is important to them.

By saving managers time, staying within budget, turning in error-free project, you are appealing to what they need – to look good to their boss, to spend more time with their family, to remove worry about “one more thing” from their plate, etc.

With all that being said, following are four more suggestions for getting work from your current employer without risking your job.

1. Be Nosy: Or, in more professional terms, if you don’t work in the editorial/ communications/ marketing department of your company, make it your business to find out who does and take them to lunch.

The purpose is to find out as much as you can about how that department operates – and use it to your advantage when the time is right.

2. State Your Desire: Let it be known that you are interested in working in/with this department. To get started, submit a story to the company newsletter, suggest “little, helpful” changes to the company website, etc. The reason little and helpful is in quotation marks is because you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.

3. Volunteer: Many companies have special projects that you can volunteer for. This is a great way to show them what you can do and build credibility to ask for freelance work.

4. Be Blunt: My final tip is, just be bold and ask. Something along the lines of, “I love my work here and would welcome the chance to do some freelance work on the side. No outside freelancer knows the company, products, procedures, etc., like I do and I’d love the chance to prove myself in this manner.”

How you get freelance work from your current employer depends heavily on what kind of company you work for – eg, are they open to this type of thing; can you ask outright or must you play the “corporate game” first; what type of boss you have; etc.

I happen to know that many companies – I’d even venture to say the vast majority of them – hire current or past employees as freelancers because they know practically all there is to know about the company. Hence, the less they have to explain.

The Bottom Line: If there’s work to be had from your current employer, you have the inside track on getting it – you just have to figure out how. Good luck!

NEXT POST: In Post #14 tomorrow, we’ll talk about registering your freelance business – as in, should you? The answer might surprise you.

What do you think? If you have questions, comments or observations about this post, send them in. Email them to info [at] InkwellEditorial.com.

Editorially yours,
Yuwanda (who is this person?)
What's Next in Inkwell Editorial’s Newsletter?

TOMORROW: Gordon Graham. We ring in the “editorial season” by interviewing Gordon Graham, aka “that white paper guy.” Gordon writes and edits white papers and case studies. He charges $90/hour just to edit a white paper and a minimum of $4,000 to produce a white paper from scratch.

Now, do you see why I had to interview him?! Most freelancers don’t even dream of making this type of money. I can’t wait for this interview.

Missed the latest issue of Inkwell's freelance writing newsletter? The 8/15 issue featured an interview with B2B freelance writer, Meryl K. Evans. Want to break into this very lucrative market? Meryl's interview sheds some detailed light on how. Sign up to receive your copy to read what Meryl had to say.

Gain clients, web traffic and brand awareness. How? Let us interview you for our popular newsletter? Full details. Read the first issue here.
Copyright Notice: May be reprinted with the following, in full: Yuwanda Black is the publisher of InkwellEditorial.com: THE business portal for and about the editorial and creative industries. First-hand freelance success stories, e-courses, job postings, resume tips, advice on the business of freelancing, and more! Launch a Profitable Freelance Writing Career in 30 Days or Less -- Guaranteed! Log on to InkwellEditorial.com.
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