When I was transitioning into freelance, a colleague advised me that the most successful freelance journalist he knew put out one request for new work every day to keep himself in the game. He is, consequently, one of the busiest automotive journalists in the business. Sounds like a great idea, but is it really that simple? How do you keep up with it? I spent several hours a day cold-calling companies for the first couple months, and then got distracted with current work or other projects. There was also this thing going on in the news about the economy. Maybe you heard about it.
Well, I’m back at it, networking, writing, and shaping my career into what I want it to look like before the kiddo arrives next spring, and I think I’ve found a way to build my career that doesn’t resemble crash dieting. Job hunting has a lot in common with An Inconvenient Truth: I avoided watching this movie for a long time, knowing I would feel overwhelmed at the volume of work needed to turn this planet around, and then Al gave us some small steps we could all take to do our part, AND showed us how small steps could have a huge impact. Not discouraging at all! I began to recycle more, compost, make better food choices, and lo and behold my expenses went down along with my environmental impact. I even negotiated 25% off my trash/recycling bill, because we’re so low-volume now! I just didn’t believe my little changes could make such an impact before.
Same thing with a freelance career. You know you’re your own marketer, but it’s tiring to think of having to keep up with working and networking at the same time. But what if networking weren’t as overwhelming as it sounds? What are a few small changes you could slowly make to your career to give it a boost, without burning yourself out? Here are a few:
Join LinkedIn and Twitter: LinkedIn allows you to easily keep in contact with old colleagues, and gives you access to their networks without a “let’s do lunch” effort. Twitter sounded pretty self-indulgent (“I’m sitting on the pot, reading WIRED”) until I tried it; it’s an excellent networking tool, because it allows you to notify people of new projects you’re working on, info you’re seeking, and puts you in contact with others in your industry that you’d otherwise never meet. (Please note: Blogging and micro-blogging don’t replace normal human contact.)
Cold-call Companies: This needs to be a focused effort. I researched several types of publishers I both wanted to work for and would have some credibility with because of my work experience, then called down the list. One a day would have been too frustrating–I needed to get in a groove–so I set aside several days a week when my energy was up and called as many as I could. The ones I could really offer value to responded positively. If I hadn’t tried this, I wouldn’t have found a new primary source of book editing work or gotten my first print article published in Automobile Quarterly.
Replace One Bad Habit: Just like changing your eating habits. Replace soda with juice, and juice with water, and you’ll never miss the soda. Replace people.com with gawker.com, and gawker.com with mediabistro.com, and you’ll find you’re spending free time keeping informed about news in publishing instead of Hollywood. Fewer calories, more satisfying.
Be Flexible: Writers and editors need to find a schedule that works for them in order to be productive. If you’re a night owl, spend the day exercising and networking, then write at night. If you’re a morning person like me, do the important stuff first so the to-do list doesn’t crowd it out. Don’t procrastinate your work time away, getting nothing done and feeling guilty just because you’re too tired at the moment to work. What works for you? Find that rhythm and shape your life around it. Don’t let anyone tell you what your day ought to look like, as long as you’re getting things done.
I’m sure there are many more small changes we can all make to help ourselves improve our lives and careers. What are your favorites? What works for you? Let me know in comments. I’ll post more at a later date, using your best ideas as well as any others I think of.