Once long ago, before freelancing, my team and I were three spoilt office workers on a well-paid and long lead project. But we moaned and groaned and feigned superiority, and then team member number four arrived, G.
He practically shook the carpeted ground underneath his feet with positivity and eagerness to please. No job was too small, no middle manager too unimportant for him to please, no reason to be pessimistic about anyone or anything.
And he didn’t mind our teasing.
He knew we wouldn’t bother teasing him if we didn’t like him but more importantly, he understood that the way to survive the client cuts and organisational purse tightening was to be positive.
While the rest of the team faded away, guess who’s still there. Five years on! Positivity is a good survival tactic.
In the freelance world, that rule works times ten over because your audience, clients, publishers or producers have a choice over who they work with and they will pick those who are pleasant or fun or positive.
With things as uncertain as they are this rule magnifies once again because positivity drives hope; negativity feeds despair. Which one would you rather be around in times of flux?
I had a couple of writers reach out recently wanting a chat about writing.
Then I remember a few of the dark months this year where work was hard to come by, and a freelance future felt out of my control so here are my insights into being positive in the world of freelance writing which your chips feel down.
1. If you can write one thing; you can write another.
2. If you can sell one piece of writing; you can do it again.
3. If you spend too much time looking down, you’ll eventually run into a tree or go flying off our bike. Remember to look up sometimes also.
4. If you’re a real writer, you get joy and satisfaction from finishing a draft; remember to prioritise these moments in your day to maximise positivity.
5. Everyone else always seems more successful than you, but we’ve mostly gone through the same ups and downs.
6. If you’re ever in doubt of the need for good and brave writers, spend a few hours reading online.
7. Take the opportunity to give positive feedback to people; we all remember our flaws very well but in downtimes forget our strengths. Inspiring others has its own reward.
8. Being easy to work has the highest ROI. Listening, being friendly, not being judgemental, recognising a state of vulnerability in each other. 90% of my work has come from referrals from people I’ve never worked with but have a personal connection to.
9. See every opportunity to give something your best; people share the good news, and they love to refer good people.
10. You are what you consume; too much Twitter will have you chirping like a bird (sparrow or crow). Too much Facebook might convince you that you’re the centre of the universe; too much hateful content will turn you nasty; so then, too much inspiring content will make you feel like you can conquer the world. The choice is yours.
11. The most important person to convince of your value is yourself. This takes time and effort but means that when you lose a job, get bad feedback or feel out of control you’ll be in a better place to rationalise the feeling.
12. It takes a lot of energy to convince someone else of your value; find the spaces where people understand the importance of your craft and avoid situations where you have to explain why a business needs well-written content. Cold emails never worked for me; maybe you’ll have better luck with them.
Side story: in my early days of freelancing, I met a woman at a business networking group who needed a website. I knew this and others had told her this but looking back she wasn’t convinced. I spent over a week, putting together a plan and reviewing what she had and pulling content together.
Then when she saw the quote, she said it was too high and the amount of time that I’d allocated to her seven pages of content was far too high. I must be a slow writer, she said.
I backed out politely. Time costs were sunken already. Ultimately she didn’t want a website; was probably just hearing me out for the sake of business networking and therefore didn’t see the value in paying for it.
Lesson — read the room. Other people do want websites; they come to me because they see the value in a website; spending effort convincing people of your value is hit and miss when you could be spending the time more productively.
Network, socialise, reach out, engage in spaces where you know the value of your craft is appreciated.
13. Own the journey; turn failures into lessons and come back stronger. That way, nothing is wasted.
14. A journey uphill always starts with a struggle and usually there’s a period of fog, but if you stop moving up, you’ll never see what’s at the top.
15. There’s no barrier to writing about what you want to write about. People are all over Linked In talking about how attitude is more important than experience.
Seth Godin wrote a blog on this recently.
16. The best leads come from unexpected places that are difficult to recreate; rather than figuring out algorithms or patterns try focusing on your writing. Focus on what you control; not on what presents itself in a nice, tidy number.
17. Pricing is tricky to figure out; no matter how often you stare at your competitors’ websites and calculate a comparison, it always feels strange in the beginning. Start with the value that you add rather than what you think their budget is and learn what works for you and your clients.
18. The days of faceless, third-person stories are over. Focus on writing what you believe in, and your voice will come through.
19. If you don’t want to work for free; don’t expect others to work for free for you. Recognise the value you give, charge with this in mind and pay other professionals in the same way.
20. Giving your best to something always feels better than putting in the minimum effort. Sometimes we forget this, especially when others seem to take a lot more than they get but sticking to an ethos of giving everything your best shot will pay off.
21. Let yourself cry and go back to bed some days; as long as you get up the next day, you’re still in the race and stronger when you wake.
22. Walking always helps.
23. Be careful not to get stuck in a loop of stagnation where you’re fighting the same corners, seeing the same faces and experiencing the same frustration; the art of freelance writing is to keep on learning for that will increase the quality of your work.
25. Beware of measuring yourself by numbers alone.
26. That final mile in finishing something always feels like the hardest. Try not to stop before this point; the final 10% is the most difficult to complete because it pushes you beyond where it would be acceptable to stop. This is the ‘good to the exceptional’ zone.
27. Beware new clients, trying to put the ‘this is a test’ mindset to you. Of course, it’s a test; everything is a test. The right leader already believes in you; one who doesn’t believe in himself will read you the ‘test’ narrative.
28. Doing more of the same thing that isn’t working will get you down. If change feels harder, remember that his pain will fade; whereas the long term effects of futility are more challenging to shake.
29. It’s never been easier to reach out to people via Linked In or social media. An excellent way to get their attention is to engage with their content. It means a lot to other writers.
30. This world is all about collaborations; go for shared values and vision rather than those others tell you would be good for you. Instinct plays a large part in forming your network; listen to it; it’s there for a reason.
31. When’s the last time you looked down on someone for trying and failing? Never, because good people admire those who try something new. Courage beats not trying at all.
32. Try everything twice just to be sure.
I think of myself as a pretty robust character; mostly able to keep my head above despair, but this year has seen some tough times.
I’m sure there are many in the same boat so I hope this inspires you to keep believing and most of all, to keep going.
Thanks for reading.