Four years ago, I stepped out of my comfort zone and left a wonderful job to begin a freelance career. It was scary and I didn't know how things would work out. I trusted God, kept plugging away and built my business one assignment at a time. It's been quite the journey, but I'm so grateful for this job that I love and the people that I get to work with. I've now been freelancing for nearly as long as I worked at a magazine! And I wanted to share a few things I've learned along the way--some things I'm still learning!
Communication is everything. You could be the best writer, with the best story ideas, and still struggle to get published... if editors find that you miss deadlines, are difficult to work with or hard to get ahold of, they won't want to take the risk and hire you again. I try very hard to have dialogue with editors during my planning and writing process, so if a sticky situation crops up, we can handle it together. Deadlines run my work life. I know from being on staff at a magazine that when I turn in a story, it is just the first step in a long chain of work completed by other people. So if I'm late, it pushes everyone else back. The least I can do is get my part turned in on time!
Maximizing efficiency is crucial. This is a lesson I've learned from taking on too many assignments at once during busy times. But it really hit home when I became a mom, and I went from being able to work all day every day to a finite number of hours in a day. I cannot waste time. I struggle with this daily, and I've tried all kinds of things to keep myself on track. Here are the things that help me: 1. A written to do list front and center on my desk. I write out how long I think tasks will take, and highlight the most important tasks of the day. Checking things off makes me feel accomplished and motivated to do more. 2. Passion Planner, also front and center. This planner helps me, well, plan out my days, weeks and month and it relieves a lot of stress from remembering when I have a commitment. I've used Workflowy, and it helps, and I use Google Calendar, but they don't relieve mental stress like these two paper items. 3. The Antisocial app. This app on the computer blocks social media sites and any other site you want to avoid (cough Etsy) for a set amount of time. I use it when I'm transcribing or have writer's block. 4. Dragon dictate. Transcribing is my least favorite writing task. It makes me want to stab my eyes out. I have a couple of techniques to avoid transcribing every.last.word, but if i want to get a long interview transcribed quickly, I use Dragon Dictate. It's not perfect, doesn't really get horse terms, but it saves my fingers and brain... and of course, some time. 5. Photomechanic. If you have to edit photos.... or even just look at them and sort them quickly... you need this program. It took me 4 years to get it. So much time wasted! 6. Break tasks into time slots. I also categorize my work tasks into "things to do during Wilder's nap" that include interviews and phone calls, and "things to do after he goes to bed" which include writing less urgent emails, editing photos, transcribing and actually writing articles.
Do the work. Despite all of the above, freelancing is still a lot of work. I might not go to a 9-5 job, but I definitely put in a lot of hours. Flexibility is a tradeoff! I get to take Wilder to the park, and travel with our family, and run errands during the day sometimes, but I also work just about every night till bedtime and every nap, and early in the morning, and of all the trips we've taken, I only took off work twice. To make that happen, I worked and worked and worked before and after those trips. I've interviewed people at 3 am while I was on Australia time, written articles from a hotel room more times than I can count, and learned how to transcribe on my laptop during our mandatory monthly trips across Texas. It's a blessing to have the flexibility, but I still have to put in hours. I absolutely love it though!