Freelancing is often a career we pursue in fits and starts. I’m a perfect example — I started out as a freelance writer back in the early ’90s, then had staff writing jobs for 12 years and started freelancing again in 2005.
Many women writers (and some men, too) take big breaks from work when their kids are young. Then when the kiddos head off to kindergarten (or college), we look to pick up our writing lives again.
Recently, I’ve noticed a trend among many returning freelancers: They feel like newbies. Take a look at this recent comment on my blog, for instance:
I don’t know where writers get the idea that if you’ve been out of freelancing for 5 or 10 years, it’s like you’re starting over from scratch. But it’s a common delusion.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You are not the same as a newbie writer! You have written and been published before, and that means you can prove you know how to do it. Your skills should enable you to move up more quickly than a newbie, too.
This is not a situation where you have to go back to Start like in a game of Chutes & Ladders. Your goal should be to scrape off a little rust and get rolling again quickly, more or less where you left off.
Here is an action plan for getting back into freelancing at good pay rates, rather than going to the bottom rung of the ladder again to begin your climb:
Start spackling the holes
Yes, there is a whole online world of writing that has sprung up since you’ve been away. Social media and blogging can be great income opportunities, along with writing website content and sales pages.
The first step to getting into this new world of freelancing opportunity?
Stop “Hands-to-Shoulders Syndrome” — throwing your hands in the air to exclaim “But it’s all so overwhelming and I don’t know anything about it and I’m not technical!”
Then, start learning.
There are ample online resources that can familiarize you with how to put up a blog post, promote it in social media, and more. Start a blog of your own, even if it’s just an experiment to learn how it’s done.
One thing’s for sure: It won’t be easier to “catch up” your social media knowledge a few years from now. There will only be new platforms and methods to learn! So start getting a grounding in the basics.
And try not to obsess about how much you don’t know. You may find clients who love your writing and are willing to train you.
All of my early blogging clients had to train me, as many used proprietary, custom-made platforms (and also, I had barely started blogging). I learned three or four different blog systems on the job — so remember if a prospect asks, you can do it.
Reclaim your portfolio
Writers often tell me their clips are all lost to the sands of time. To which I say, “Bull*#%!”
Newspapers keep morgue files — an archive of at least one copy of every issue they published. Same with magazines.
If they folded but were bought out by a competitor, that competitor may still have their morgue. Inquire and find out.
Businesses also tend to keep folders of past marketing campaigns so they can recycle ideas and review what’s been done. Ask and see what you can find.
You can also often be surprised what you can find from the dark past that has been re-posted on the Internet. I once reclaimed an article I loved that I’d done for a magazine that closed after spotting a reprint on a trade group’s website.
To sum up: Find your clips.
If you have only paper copies stuck in a dusty old physical portfolio, work with your local copy store to get the best, most readable PDF file you can made from them. Worst case scenario: Retype them onto a page of your website, noting the market where they first appeared.
Use your clips
Are your samples all older than five years, and you feel you can’t use them anymore? Wrong.
I’ll tell you a secret: Prospective writing clients do not care when you wrote that piece.
They care that you have the chops to write for a daily paper or weekly or magazine or a business. That is all.
I know because I routinely send out 5- or 10-year-old clips if they demonstrate a particular expertise. And I have never once in my life heard a prospect say, “We loved your writing, but these clips were too old to consider.”
Writing on the job counts
One final note here — if you wrote it at a day job, it counts as a clip, too.
Don’t know why many writers exclude these samples, but you still wrote them! Prospects don’t care what your work status was at the time.
If you wrote it, it means you can write it. Period.
Stop “applying”…and apply yourself
Whenever a writer tells me “Nothing I’ve applied for online has come through,” warning bells go off. Applying to Craigslist ads is not the way to restart your writing career — not if you want to get paid a living wage.
As an experienced writer, sending off a resume full of gaps to a website that’s getting 200 responses is not going to get you anywhere, as this writer found.
And with the kind of clips most of these lowball jobs offer, the work won’t help freshen up your portfolio, either.
The big thing that’s changed while you’ve been gone is the rise of what I not-so-fondly refer to as the Underworld of Online Freelance Writing Gigs. Dirt-cheap pay for loads of work for websites with shaky business models. Race-to-the-bottom bid sites. Revenue-share articles that usually earn pennies.
Just know that these places aren’t for you. You don’t need “exposure” or practice perfecting your craft.
If you used to work for mid-sized businesses, go right back to pitching them. If you wrote for national magazines, send queries. Start networking — look up former editors on LinkedIn, see where they are now, and connect. Let them know you’re back freelancing and would appreciate their referrals.
You know you’ve got the skills. You’ve got something else, too — more life experience than you had last time.
Don’t discount the new interests, industries, hobbies, or jobs you’ve had since your last freelance stint. They’re all possible fodder for article ideas and client leads.
Have you come back to freelancing after a gap? Leave a comment and tell us how you ramped it back up.