Many writers tell me they have obstacles holding them back from taking the plunge into freelancing.
They worry they write too slow, or don’t have a journalism degree, or are introverted and won’t be able to do enough marketing.
These stories always make me think of Kristy.
She’s a friend I had in high school who didn’t own any shoes.
Kristy’s father was a professional gambler who was often out of town, or out of money. Or both. With the result that most of the time, Kristy and her mother were barely scraping by.
What impressed me was that it didn’t stop Kristy from doing anything. She left the tiny apartment she shared with her mother each morning, attended school, and even sang in a vocal group with me, for which we wore a dressy skirt-and-blouse ensemble she had designed.
We performed in swanky venues like banquet halls and fancy restaurants. We even played the Hollywood Bowl once!
Kristy was never asked to leave any of those places because she was barefoot. She never even got called out at school because she went shoeless.
I was fascinated by that, so I made a study of what she did that allowed her to skate by without this usually essential item of attire.
Kristy’s secret: She never looked down and drew attention to the fact that she was barefoot.
She never acted sad or like anything was wrong. She held her head up, met people’s eyes with complete confidence, smiled her dazzling smile, flipped her super-long, strawberry blonde hair over her shoulder, and let her gorgeous soprano voice ring out.
I can only imagine how Kristy felt inside, knowing that her poverty was on view for anyone who cared to notice. But she certainly wasn’t going to give students who might taunt and humiliate her any hints on where to stick in the knife.
And it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the singing outfit she designed for our group had a full-length skirt.
How to play to your writing strengths
Kristy’s approach to dealing with your deficits works great for freelance writers, too.
Recently in Freelance Writers Den, we’ve been having writers do a SWOT analysis as part of our Freelance Business Bootcamp. That is, writers have to identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in building their freelance business
This has been a fantastic exercise that I strongly recommend for all freelance writers!
Once they’ve identified their weak points, students look at ways to improve on or minimize those weaknesses and maximize their strengths.
Here are a few tips on how to do that:
1. Fail to mention your weak spot
One writer recently wrote me that she feared her three advanced degrees and complex writing clips on arcane topics would put off prospects. They might feel she was overqualified or would want sky-high rates!
I pointed out that she could simply not bring up her academic background, and create a concise bio signoff for herself that focused on her writing experience or industries she knew.
The same goes for whatever you’ve got in your life that you think might make clients shy away.
Are you about embark on a six-month backpacking trip? Have a physical disability? Your first love is writing your novel? The client does not need to know.
Don’t be like the girl in the photo above, flashing what you don’t have on the ball. Just keep that shirt buttoned up.
2. Ignore deficits and just go for it
Many writers have fears that their lack of a writing-related degree will make it impossible for them to pursue a freelance writing career. Fortunately, I never let the fact that I’m a college dropout stop me from writing for prestigious publications including Forbes and the Wall Street Journal.
Realize that freelance writing is a field with no qualifications except what you can put on the page.
I can tell you from experience, clients don’t care how you came by your article writing skills — in a back alley or at Columbia. If you can tell a story, you can write your way to the career you want.
3. Play up your strengths
Instead of sitting around bemoaning what you don’t have on the ball, learn to emphasize your strengths, just like Kristy did.
Did you used to work for a mortgage lender? Bet those types of firms would love to have you write their websites. Prioritize those likely prospects to the top of your marketing calendar.
Do you write fast? Maybe specializing in rush work could allow you to earn more. Let your writer network know you can dive into the breach if they have a client with an emergency they don’t want to handle.
If all your clips are from content mills, just write super-strong query letters and don’t get into a discussion of your portfolio. More than one writer has gotten a national magazine article sale that way.
4. Take action to turn weaknesses into strengths
Sometimes, writers have a weakness that poses a true obstacle to their being able to earn a living as a freelancer.
Say, you want to write articles for great-paying magazines or top websites, but worry that you don’t have the writing chops.
You know you’re a weak headline writer, or you have a hard time matching your writing style to that of the publication. Or you’re shaky on how to get great quotes and weave them into the story.
In these situations, you’ve got three choices.
- Trial and error. You can spend many years writing and trying to improve on your own. (This is actually the method I took! What a timewaster.)
- Career stagnation. Or you can keep feeling insecure, holding back from marketing your writing services, and not make much progress as a freelance writer.
- Take a shortcut. Finally, if you want to solve this now, you can take an article writing class and get a mentor to share decades of their experience and tips with you.
What are your weaknesses as a freelance writer? Leave a comment and tell us how you overcome them.