10 Ways Freelancing is Like Cross-Country Skiing

Carol Tice

Recently, I had an unusual opportunity to do some cross-country skiing — out my front door. We don’t usually get enough snow that sticks around, where it stays cold enough to go out and ski right on my street.

But that’s just what I did. We hauled the skis out of the garage and off my husband and I went. It was hard, but a lot of fun. I’ve only done cross-country a couple of other times, so let’s say I’m glad no one was filming that for YouTube.

It was hardly ideal conditions. Snowplows had come through and mashed down a lot of the snow into hardpack, and it wasn’t very deep, maybe 4 inches at best.

While I was struggling to ski along on this difficult surface, it came to me that trying to carve out a life as a freelancer is a lot like cross-country skiing.

Here are the similarities I thought about as I skied along:

  1. Get some tips before you start. Don’t want to end up with your legs tangled up and your skis crossed? It makes sense to take a few classes first to learn the basics. I took a few UCLA Extension classes in magazine and copywriting once I realized I was going to be a freelance writer.
  2. Grab the opportunity. Like my seldom-snowy road, sometimes a chance presents itself to a writer that you have to just grab. Otherwise, it will soon melt away and be gone. Last year, I got a couple of offbeat opportunities I wasn’t an obvious choice for — a government agency’s annual report and a hospital’s nurse-recruiting package. I had no direct experience with either types of writing, but I just plunged in, and both projects turned out great.
  3. Sometimes, it’ll be slow going. At points, the snow was perfect and pristine and I could schuss right along. Then a car would come and we’d have to sidestep over to the edge of the road and wait. Your freelance career is like that too. You want to be going one direction, but you may have to take a few detours before you get on track. Just be patient.
  4. There will be icy patches. Seemed like every time I got in a good rhythm, I hit ice and start slipping and struggling to stay upright. In freelancing, even when you’ve got a great stable of clients, you should never get complacent. No client is forever in the world of freelancing. Suddenly, you won’t have any revenue booked at the beginning of the month and will have to scramble to find some new work.
  5. You are going to fall down. Yes, it happened to me — I hit a sudden bald patch in the road and ended up facedown. I’ve screwed up freelance gigs and client relationships, too. All you can do is get back up and do better next time.
  6. You can’t be afraid to look stupid. Try to envision me wearing three different layers of clothes, gloves, scarf, hat, clunky ski boots, and also trying to get into some kind of skiing rhythm. It was especially fun when my neighbors would come walking by. Anytime you’re writing something, your similarly exposed. Sometimes, your writing won’t be Pulitzer-worthy. I once misspelled an 80-point, front-page headline. But as one editor once said to me, today’s error is tomorrow’s fishwrap. You have to just keep moving forward and write again.
  7. It can feel a little scary. When you ski a slippery roadway, you’re not in control. It’s the same in freelancing — one day a client’s budget is eliminated, and you’re done. There’s always the uncertainty that you could fall at any point. Freelancers have to push through this fear and keep going.
  8. Keep your knees bent and your head low. Get cocky skiing and you’ll usually find yourself taking a pretty ungainly spill. It’s the same in writing. You want to keep your mind on your work, stay humble, and not worry too much about what others are saying about you. Just write your way to where you want to go.
  9. This is not for sprinters. Cross-country, like freelancing, is a long-haul activity. It’s assured you won’t get where you want to go instantly. They’re both about the journey, and the chance to carve a path and work your way along to get to the places you wanted to see.
  10. You can go faster if you get in a groove. Once you get a rhythm going in cross-country skiing, you move much faster and it’s easier to travel forward. Often, you do that by traveling in existing ski tracks. In freelancing, I’d liken that to using tried-and-true marketing methods like in-person networking or prospecting emails, rather than poking about online hoping to find a client through a Craigslist ad. It also reminds me of sticking to a niche where you have expertise — it’s always easier to report and faster to write stories where you know the material well.

What have you learned about your freelance career this winter? Leave a comment and tell us what happened.

Image: stock.xchng – Wia-Tirol

12 Comments

  1. Karen Cioffi

    What great tips. I love the analogy. And I agree, #6 is really good to know – we all make mistakes and that “today’s error is tomorrow’s fishwrap.”

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