Collaboration: A Secret to Building a Successful Freelance Business

by Sandra Reimer

In June 2004, I was downsized from a job I loved as a Community Relations Coordinator for a non-profit organization. By August, I recovered from the shock of losing my job after a decade and began freelancing as a writer and editor. Like many new freelancers, I tried different types of projects to discover what I loved to do that produced great results and clients would pay me for. 

I continued writing for my former employer, and the executive director referred me to an industrial company that needed an employee newsletter. Another friend referred me to write a newsletter for a charity. I also transferred my public relations and professional writing skills into a new industry and represented authors as a publicist for a while. 

In that first year, my freelance earnings matched my previous part-time employment income—plus, I had the flexibility to be with my two young children, who were 4 and 8 at the time. Maybe freelancing wasn’t so bad. 

Balancing Freelance Responsibilities

But the last 16 years of freelancing has not all been chocolate and whip cream. I know the stress of being a small business owner. Constantly, you must balance doing the work, managing your business, and finding clients. Most freelancers love to share their creative skills with the world but finding enough clients to earn a sustainable income can be challenging. 

To find clients, freelance creators and communicators assemble a portfolio, put up a website, polish their LinkedIn profile and get active on social media—hoping people will find them. However, on the internet, they blend in with others who offer similar services at similar prices. Unless these freelancers find a way to stand out, sales trickle in at best. 

Faced with this situation, many freelancers turn to platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, and Indeed where clients post projects and freelancers bid against each other to secure work. Clients often award projects to the lowest bidders or the top talent with the highest ratings. Apparently, only 10% of freelancers find work on these platforms. Plus, the platforms take up to 20% of your pay, and you don’t own the relationship with the client—they do. 

Another Way to Build a Successful Freelance Business

Early in my freelance career, I stumbled on another way to build a successful freelance business—collaborating with professionals with complementary skills. 

In the beginning, I tried doing the layout for the newsletters and annual reports I wrote. The results were mediocre at best. I understand design principles, but I was working outside my strengths. Then while producing an industrial company’s employee newsletter, I met an excellent graphic designer. Soon, I began collaborating with Audra on most of my print communication. The results were outstanding as I focused on my strength—compelling writing and she on hers—beautiful design. It was easier to get repeat business when my results were more professional. Plus, I could sell higher-value projects because I provided clients with complete solutions—not just writing and editing services. 

Over the years, I have collaborated with other specialists, including my husband, a front-end web designer. Together we secured higher-value projects, such as websites worth thousands of dollars. I did the marketing strategy and wrote the content, and he developed beautiful and user-friendly websites. I continued to work with Audra on print projects. As we combined our skills, clients benefitted from professional results and complete solutions.  

My husband and I earned a satisfying income that paid our mortgage and our two children’s needs, with enough to spare for vacations and other wants. After five years, my husband went back to a corporate job while I continued working with freelance specialists on communication projects. 

Then about three years ago, I began to wonder if I could help other freelance marketing and communication professionals multiply their impact and income through collaboration. To test this theory, I am running an experiment. I launched an online community to help Canadian freelance communicators and creators trade referrals, co-promote our work, and collaborate on higher-value projects while learning together and having fun.

Editors’ note: Many of our readers may benefit from a group like this. If you’re interested in CoLaborNation, click here

Sandra Reimer is a communication strategist who helps world-changing businesses and non-profits tell their stories. She collaborates with other freelance professionals to produce compelling print and digital communication that sells clients’ products and services. Her fundraising letters and proposals have helped non-profit clients raise millions of dollars to fuel their missions. Prior to freelancing, Sandra was a Community Relations and Volunteer Coordinator for a non-profit. As a social entrepreneur, Sandra cares about the earth, earthlings, and earning.

Are You Ever Really Finished?

A good book has no ending.

– Robert Frost

There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.

– Frank Herbert

A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.

– Italo Calvino

Art is never finished, only abandoned.

– Leonardo da Vinci

How do you know when it’s time to let go of your manuscript or project? Do you feel pressured to tie things up or are you able to trust the conclusion to your audience? Please share your thoughts below.

Which Work Is Which?

by Randy Petersen

In my early days as a freelancer, I would try to keep a tally of how much money I earned each day. If I had a 2,000 word article to write for $200, and I wrote 500 words one day, that was $50 to my credit. I set up certain goals for each week and each month.

It wasn’t a bad way to ensure that I was actually making a living as a writer, but over the years I’ve learned to see my work differently.

Let’s say I start a week with a dozen important work-related things to do. Just how important are they? As I plan my days, it might help to ask certain questions that define the efforts in different ways.

Is this work I’m getting paid for? This is the simplest category, and naturally it would get a high priority.

Do I need to do this in order to get work in the future? If you spend all your time on work-in-hand, you may finish it and have nothing to do. Proposals, polishing a resume, tinkering with your website, even schmoozing with editors—all of this is valuable work that may keep the workload steady.

Does this task help me learn a new skill or subject that will help me with future work? Many of us old-timers need a crash course in modern technology. It’s hard to invest precious work-time learning about websites or social media, but that’s probably a great investment.

Does this help me organize my work? Various tools are available to help with, say, billing, communication, presentation, or research. Each one requires some time to learn, and some time to transition from an old way of doing things.

Am I building community with colleagues? It’s hard to quantify the value of networking, but it could be huge—in terms of connections made, work acquired, or expertise shared. (By the way, that’s what I’m doing right now. It’s what the CFWN is all about.)

Am I donating this work to a church or charity? You might choose to exclude this from your normal “working hours,” but it’s important to consider your volunteer work in the total account of what you do.

Is this creative work that feeds my soul? I write plays. Maybe you compose songs or poetry, or you might have a novel in the works. A privileged few make money from these artistic endeavors. The rest of us find other satisfaction in it. If this is not income-producing, it’s wise to carve out some “off hours” to do it. But don’t squeeze it out of your schedule entirely. You need this type of writing to refresh the writing you do for money.

So what?

If you love to schedule things, you might map out a week with time for all these things. In a 40-hour work week, it’s not unreasonable to spend only 20-25 hours on paid work. The rest of that time is not wasted—it’s invested in your freelance career.

This should also inform the way we estimate work time and charge for our services. Maybe you could get this 50-hour job done in one week—if you neglected all these other things necessary for your business and sanity. But more reasonably, you should take two weeks for that, and get paid accordingly. Like lawyers and doctors, you need a billable rate that supports your whole business and not just the time you spend composing copy.

In my early years of freelancing, I’d often feel frustrated at the end of a day. “I’ve been working hard for hours, but my calculations show I’ve only earned a pittance.”  Granted, freelance writing is not the most lucrative profession, especially when you’re just starting out, but understanding the different types of work might help you think and talk about it differently. And that might help you develop a more well-rounded sense of your whole business.

Five (Plus One) Tips for Flawless Copy

by Ann-Margret Hovsepian

If you want to play the trombone professionally, you need to work at it. If you want to cut hair, make furniture, or sell insurance, you need to learn how.

Writing is a craft that, like any other, you must learn well and get better at. Yes, natural talent and creativity play a part, but if you want people to take your writing seriously, pursue excellence.

Here are my top tips for submitting a polished manuscript every time.

1. Get it on the page.

When you bake a cake, you dump all the ingredients in first. You don’t start to decorate the cake until it’s baked and cooled down.

In the same way, resist the urge to copy edit until after your piece is completely written. You may need to refine the content as you go, but don’t waste time correcting sentences or paragraphs you might later delete. (In fact, if you aren’t close to deadline, let your writing sit for a while. Putting some distance between yourself and what you just wrote can give you perspective.)

You can’t edit what you haven’t written, so put your first burst of energy into writing. Get it all down, as much as possible, even if it sounds lousy. Once it’s all on the page, you can start to clean it up.

2. Relax your grip.

When you’re ready to edit, put aside any affection you have for your manuscript. Don’t keep a sentence or paragraph just because you think it’s brilliant or it took you hours to write. If it doesn’t fit in, take it out. Read your work with the eyes and ears of a stranger.

3. Fact-check.

Fact check and then double-check your fact-checking. Editors don’t like finding out they published wrong information. Save everyone embarrassment and frustration by checking numbers, geography, name spellings, titles, dates, and references.

4. Watch sentence and paragraph lengths.

The energy of a written piece is often directly related to the length of its sentences and paragraphs.  So if you’re dozing off while proofreading, consider those factors.

If a sentence takes up more than two lines of type, shorten it. It should not contain more than one idea. Express the central idea first. If necessary, use separate sentences to include other significant points. Same thing with paragraphs: Make your most important point at the beginning of the paragraph.

The traditional approach is one theme per paragraph. That’s generally a good idea but sometimes a new paragraph can emphasize a point in the previous one, it can indicate a change in time or place, or simply break up text that is getting too dense.

Paragraphs are visual punctuation. Your paragraphs should not look bigger than a hamburger. On average, look at 100 to 200 words, but sprinkle in shorter or longer ones as necessary, which helps avoid monotony and making the reader’s eyes glaze over. For example, opening and concluding paragraphs might be shorter, and topics that need serious and in-depth discussion might be longer.

5. Crosscheck before take-off.

Read through your story one last time while comparing it to the details laid out in your assignment or contract. Tie up loose ends, submit your manuscript to God and then submit it to your editor. (On time!)

Remember that these five tips won’t make up for copy that’s shoddy. I’ll talk about eliminating weak writing (that’s the “plus one” promised in the title) in my next post (on March 2).

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Perseverance

I do not think there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.

– John D. Rockefeller

Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.

– Biz Stone, Twitter co-founder

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

2 Peter 1:5-7

Sometimes You Have to Say No

by Randy Petersen

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. A major Christian publishing company was offering me thousands of dollars to write a curriculum series. I had done a good amount of curriculum before, but this rate was more than double what I usually received. Hallelujah! For a making-ends-meet freelancer, this was a gift from on high.

A speaker had created some video teaching sessions, and the company wanted me to create Bible study lessons around them. I was confident in my ability to do this, but there was one problem. When I read over the transcripts of the videos, I completely disagreed with what the speaker was saying.

This wasn’t a minor theological quibble. I had a major problem with the whole thing. It appeared he was pushing a particular political viewpoint and applying Scripture to it irresponsibly. I questioned whether churches should be spending their Bible study time on this propaganda. I certainly didn’t want to help make that happen.

So I called the editor and regretfully backed out of the project. And I threw out my list of all the things I was going to buy with that money.

You Get What You’re Paid for

Earlier in my career I had another job I considered high-paying at the time: a brochure for some Christian ministry. It only took me a few hours to write, though the payment was enough for a week of work. And just when I started to count my blessings, I got a call. They wanted a rewrite. Then another rewrite. Then another. I wasn’t quite getting what they wanted, though they weren’t quite sure what that was.

I ended up giving them that week of work, and then some.

A similar situation occurred this year, though in a much more positive vein. I got a huge project that was expected to take two months, though it paid enough for six. I loved this work, but it was hard. As we dug in, my editor, his boss, and I all realized that the task was far greater than expected. It actually took—you guessed it—six months.

From these and other experiences. I’ve drawn a basic principle of freelancing: You get what you’re paid for. That is, the actual work will expand to match the amount you’re paid.

Sure, there are exceptions, and those are sweet. But a good rule derives from that principle: Don’t take a job just for the money. If you have problems with the people you’ll be working for, the content you’re asked to create, or how it’s going to be used, don’t let money sway you. Pay attention to those problems.

Of course Jesus challenged us not to let money be our master, but in addition to that, I offer the Rule of Expanding Obligation. That high-paying assignment is likely to exact a payment from you—in terms of extra work, frazzled relationships, even lost sleep.

If it’s a task that brings you joy, wonderful! Throw yourself into it, even if it takes longer than you expect. But if the paycheck is the most enticing thing about the assignment, beware. You pay for what you’re paid for.

Keep Office Hours

I have found that unless I make myself some office hours and stick to them—8.30 to 11 A.M. and 1 to 3 P.M.—I don’t do any writing. I pick some wild flowers and arrange them, wash the dog, and make a cake, and then it’s too late to start this morning. So I read another chapter of the book I started last night and go swimming. Morning is really the time your mind is clearest, I remember being told. There’s no sense in trying to start writing in the afternoon. So I’ll write tomorrow. I really will.

But I wouldn’t if I didn’t have my office hours. If I can’t think of anything to write about, I just sit in front of the typewriter and brood.

― Louise Rich Dickinson

Where’s the Freedom in Freelancing?

by Lori Arnold

For the better part of a year, workers across the country—and the globe—have discovered a little secret that freelance writers have known for years: It is possible to work from home and earn an income. It’s possible to not just survive, but to also thrive.

When COVID-19 restrictions forced most Americans to work from home last spring to accommodate stay-at-home orders, many scrambled to create workspaces in bedrooms, dining rooms, closets and sheds. They struggled to establish boundaries even as their children began distance learning. (For a terrific resource on working in your jammies, check out this e-book, The Joy of Working at Home, by four Evangelical Press Association freelancers.)

But those of us who are established freelance writers were already well entrenched, thanks to laptops and the Internet. We’ve managed to cut the employment cord by using cell phones, Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangout for interviews. We publish with InDesign and QuarkXPress, and keep all the details straight with Trello and Redbooth. Each of these advances has completely revolutionized the act of gathering and telling stories.

I often marvel at the opportunities to practice my craft. There’s never been a better time to be a freelance writer—technically speaking—and I was well positioned to meet the shelter-in-place demands to stay at home without interrupting the income stream.

Except . . . I live in California.

In January 2020, two months before coronavirus infiltrated our vocabulary, California implemented a new law aimed at so-called “gig” workers. Gig is a clever and broad-based moniker for independent workers. Think of musicians who hire out for entertainment gigs.

In essence, the new law removes the free from freelancer as the government seeks to control the who and how of our work. The new reality is: There is no freedom in freelancing.

The nexus for AB5 was a 2018 state Supreme Court ruling requiring employers meet a three-prong test to use independent contractors. Another factor was complaints of unfair labor conditions, most notably by drivers for ridesharing giants Uber and Lyft.

Convinced that all California freelancers needed saving, San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a former union organizer, seized the opportunity to create legislation designed to coax employers into making independent contractors part-time employees by placing significant restrictions on their use. The bill, however, went well beyond transportation services. It impacted videographers, writers, photographers, interpreters, truck drivers, janitors, health care professionals (but not doctors), health aides, performers, and landscape architects. There are special carve-outs for accountants, attorneys, real estate agents, and dozens of other specialized occupations.

Because of the broadness of the bill and its random caps, it’s deeply flawed. California freelance writers, for instance, were suddenly limited to 35 articles per publication annually. In an October 2019 business article for The Hollywood Reporter, Gonzalez addressed the restrictions impacting journalists.

“Was it a little arbitrary? Yeah. Writing bills with numbers like that are a little bit arbitrary,” she confessed to reporter Katie Kilkenny.

The problem with her plan is that news outlets are using independent contractors for a reason. With declining ad revenues and circulation, they can’t afford the cost of salaries and benefits for employees.

The plan backfired.

Although the bill applies only to California businesses, some companies outside the state, fearful of violating the law, also blacklisted freelancers, saying it’s too cumbersome to track the story counts. The fine is steep, $5,000 to $25,000 per infraction. Additionally, according to the Orange County Register, employers can be forced to retroactively cover payroll taxes, overtime pay and other costs.

The Personal Cost

For me, practically, I reached that 35-story limit with my (then) biggest client in April and I was kept from contributing to them until January 2021. The clock starts over in the new year.

It is particularly irksome that the state has decided freelancers are not wise enough to determine the best professional pathway for their families. One lawmaker, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, went so far as to dismiss journalists’ concerns about AB5 by saying they were upset because their “lollipop” was taken from them. (I would argue that, before the state got involved, it was more like “Good & Plenty.”)

While I thrived in corporate work settings for three decades, working for myself allows me the flexibility I need to help with an aging parent, to spend coveted date days with my semi-retired husband, and to maintain my health by spending precious hours each week at the YMCA pool.

But there’s good news. The reaction from the journalism community in California was swift. Bending to pressure, Assemblywoman Gonzalez authored a fixer bill to remove that cap, one of several tweaks to the ill-conceived AB5.

The new fix for writers, AB 2257, passed through the legislature this summer and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it into law as an urgency measure on Sept. 4, meaning it went into effect immediately. Unfortunately, my client remains skittish and has yet to approve my return to their freelance roster.

National Push in the Works

Why does this matter to freelance writers in America’s other 49 states?

California has long been known as a bellwether state—legislation here usually sweeps across the country. Several other states, including New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, are already considering similar laws.

In February, Congress passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, mostly along party lines. H.R. 2474 is a multi-faceted bill that stifles independent contractors while also dismantling right-to-work protections by forcing all employees to fund union activities through dues. The bill got stalled in a Senate committee, but in September Joe Biden tweeted his support.

In an article just weeks before the Nov. 3 election, CNBC reported freelancers nationwide were widely concerned about their livelihoods in light of H.R. 2474. In a February piece for Forbes, Erik Sherman warned the union-sponsored bill was actually hurting the workers they were seeking to protect.

The saving grace for Christian freelancers is that we serve a miracle-making God, one who is bigger and more powerful than government. As is his way, as soon as the state closed one door, God opened another for me through a national ministry that showed great compassion as they waded through the murky elements of AB5. Although it took more than six weeks to maneuver through their legal department, they ultimately decided to take a chance on me. Ponder that. They pursued me in spite of the government-mandated obstacles.

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:8

Lori Arnold is a national, award-winning journalist who spent 30-plus years as a writer-editor for both a daily community newspaper and at the Christian Examiner. She owns StoryLori Media and her work’s been published by Christian Headlines, Cru Inner City, EPA Liaison, LifeWay, Teachers of Vision and Metro Voice.


			

Christmas Greetings from Our Team

We appreciate each reader who follows, reads, comments on, and shares our blog posts. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas in a few days, four of our writers would like to share some thoughts with you. Enjoy!

Christmas Drama

by Randy Petersen

For a decade and a half, I wrote a new Christmas drama for my church each year. I loved doing this, but it became a huge challenge to find an angle we hadn’t tried before. Allegory? Been there. A zany innkeeper? Yep. Time travel? Every which way.

An approach we began to use exclusively was the modern-world story in which characters encountered and internalized the Christmas story in some way. This was a challenge too, because I always wanted to avoid a hokey conversion scene. I found that incremental changes in a situation or relationship carried more power. Two estranged sisters beginning to talk again. A prodigal daughter with an illegitimate child being welcomed home for Christmas dinner.

As a Christian communicator, you’ve probably wrestled with this too, or something like it. The Greatest Story Ever Told has been told many times. We don’t need to improve on it, but we do need to bring it home. How does the miracle of Christmas apply to the Worst Year Ever Lived (at least in the 21st century)?

It’s an honor to share this assignment with you, my freelancing colleagues. So as we go through this season and into a new year, let our creativity flow, our imaginations bursting forth with innovation, our hearts brimming with empathy, our minds honed to extreme clarity. May the miracle of Christmas invigorate our language as we find new ways to bring glory to God in the Highest.

Treat Yourself to the Joy of Writing

by Ann Byle

The holiday season can wreak havoc on your writing schedule, what with all the present buying and wrapping, decorating, making food for special meals, and gathering with friends and family in person or virtually. On the other hand, it can be a lonely time for those whose family is gone or far away.

Whatever kind of season you experience, finding time and space to write can be an oasis of calm in a fraught season. Search out those half hours of time to calm your heart and mind and write a few paragraphs. If time is all you have, start a project you’ve only dreamt of so far. Treat yourself to the joy of writing this holiday season in small pieces or days at a time. Writing time is never wasted and is the best gift ever.

My plan? Write when I can amid lots of activity, write when I have no other choice except to go bonkers, and write with joy and intention. And look forward to Ordinary Time when things settle back down sometime in January. May joy and peace be your companions this holiday season.

The Message

by Stephen R. Clark                                                                                                                   

The season speaks to us, a secret signaled incessantly in blinking lights and garland flags of pine and tinsel. Green with hope and red with joy, the message turns our thoughts outside our own needs, desires, and wants.

Trees suddenly grow indoors, decorated with memories, bearing the fruits of love and time. Gilded and ribboned packages magically appear under these incongruous evergreens—expectations and dreams captured in cardboard boxes.

At night, the air aglow with star shine on the snow, whisps of angel songs drift white and pure straight into our hearts. We gather inside our homes around hearths ablaze, warmed by goodwill and God’s grace. On the mantle, the story of Christ’s birth is played out in a motionless menagerie, objects of simplicity and awe.

Through eyes of innocence, we look past the nascent Nativity, just beyond the horizon of the season, where the new year waits poised with promise. The Message of the season fells fear of the future as the immanence of Christ’s presence is again heralded by the world.

Childlike, we are reborn, our voices and souls caroling the Gift of the Ages, in whom we live, and move, and have our being. It’s Christmas. Emmanuel is come. Maranatha!

If You Were a Christmas Carol, Which One Would You Be?

by Ann-Margret Hovsepian

As you listen to the same carols over and over (and over and over) again this season, try this: Ask yourself which titles best describe your life. What message does your life— and, by extension, your writing—send out to those who are listening? Here are several examples to get you started.

  • What Child Is This? — Is Jesus unknown to you? Are you seeking Him?
  • Do You Hear What I Hear? — Are you so intently focussed on what God is saying to you that you are eager for others to hear Him as well?
  • Come Thou Long Expected Jesus — Do you desire to be close to Jesus? Do you tell Him so?
  • Silent Night — Are you able to be quiet and reflective of God’s gift or is your holiday full of noise and activity?
  • How Great Our Joy — Does your relationship with Jesus fill your life with great joy?
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain — What’s the message you send out to people at Christmas? That you’re excited and stressed about all your festivities and preparations, or that the birth and life of Jesus is the best gift you’ve ever received?

This Christmas, just as these songs proclaim the good news of Jesus’ birth, may our lives of joy, peace, and love do the same.

Highlight Reel

by Ann-Margret Hovsepian

A couple of years ago, this blog was just a gleam in our eye (which sometimes made me wonder if I needed to clean my glasses yet again) so it’s exciting to look back over the last year of activity on the Christian Freelance Writers Network blog. We weren’t sure whether it would take off and now we’ve already got material lined up for our readers for the next few months, so we’re not even close to running out of posts to share with you!

Some of you are new to this blog, so you may have missed the earlier posts. Today, to celebrate CFWN’s first anniversary, I’m going to highlight several posts you shouldn’t miss (or might want to revisit). Click on the titles to read the posts.

In no particular order…

The Best Way to Be Creative (It Involves Coffee) by Anita K. Palmer

As writers we tend to work in isolation. An original idea, though, most often does not come in a lightbulb moment. No “eureka!” Good ideas need a community.

5 Tips to Enrich Your Pitch by Randy Petersen

Is our breadth keeping us from finding a successful niche? Is our desire to be everything to everyone keeping us from being anything to anyone?

Three Essential Qualities by Jen Taggart

Having cerebral palsy has helped me to develop empathy, problem-solving skills, and humor. These three qualities are essential for anyone to have, especially a freelancer.

Pursue Excellence, Not Perfection by Ann-Margret Hovsepian

When we breathe God into the things we create and produce—when we do what we do with love and humility and generosity—we raise them from the level of “good” to “very good.”

5 Questions to Ask Before You Challenge Your Editor by Michael Foust

Imagine, for a moment, that your story is a triage unit, and you’re determining which patients need the most help.

Is Writing a Spiritual Gift? by Joyce K. Ellis

Just as some pastor-teachers use their gift in large congregations, others at racetracks, and others in children’s work, some of us use ours in print.

Ten “Its” for Writing Well by Stephen R. Clark

For many, writing well in a compressed period of time seems impossible. But you can write quickly and write well. 

Thank you for following our blog! We’d love it if you shared it with your writing friends, students, and groups.

P.S. To find more writing and freelancing tips, use the “Categories” or “Past Posts” lists on the right to access our archives.