5 tips to be a successful freelancer and writer

Five things I wish I had done BEFORE quitting my corporate job

In March 2016 I quit my corporate job as Editorial Director of the Americas at BabyCenter to have more time for creative writing. I felt exhilarated to have prioritized my lifelong dream. There was only a little hiccup: I still needed to make a living.

I worked at BabyCenter for almost ten years. During that decade, globalization and the proliferation of the gig economy had increased competition in the freelance space a hundredth-fold. Before my incursion in the corporate world, I had always gotten my clients through word of mouth. Now I had to work hard to define my business, Vida Now, and market it efficiently to land clients.

It has been a steep learning curve. Perhaps the most challenging part was that, after a few months, I had to reduce the time I dedicated to creative writing so I could make faster progress in my business.

The road would have been smoother if I had done a few key things BEFORE I left my corporate job.

If you are a writer considering the switch from salaried work to freelancing, this action plan may be useful to ease up your transition:

1. Define your freelance business clearly

There wasn’t any doubt that my freelance business would be built around words and communication, but I wasn’t sure which shape it’d take. I tried many different things to find out which one was the right fit. It took one year to define clearly the services I offer. I’m still considering reducing the scope so I can market myself more effectively.

I wish I had thought this through while I still had a plum salary, so I could hit the ground running when I left. A demanding job, a long commute, my family and creative writing kept me busy, but I’m sure I could have found the time had I prioritized this goal.

Takeaway: If you’re not 100% sure how you’ll make a living, set aside time now to focus on this (goodbye, Netflix binges.) Consider hiring a business coach to help you define your path. It’s worth the investment.

2. Set up your business website

You probably don’t want to launch a website about your freelance business before you leave your current job. That doesn’t mean you cannot set it up and either leave it unpublished or in beta launch. It takes time and effort to find the right person to design it (unless you do it yourself) and to get the content, look, and user experience right.

If you do it now, as soon as you give your notice, you can launch it and start marketing it.

Alternatively, get an author’s website designed and launched now, while still at your job. You can add the freelance business part after you leave, or build a second website for your business, but make sure to have all your business content prepped and ready to upload the day after you hand in your notice.

Takeaway: Start looking for a website designer and planning your website content today. If you aspire to be a published author, get your author’s website up and running now, while still at your job, even if it’s just one page with a bio and links to your most popular blog posts.

3. Launch your personal blog with intention

You may already be blogging in a public platform, like Medium. But have you set up your personal blog? You can run a blog parallel to your corporate job as far as you work on it in your free time. You can later integrate your blog into your business website, once that’s live.

Think carefully about your blog topic(s). Choose something that will help you grow your business or your author’s platform, or both. Launch it, and write consistently. One post per week is more than enough to start making an impact.

At BabyCenter I launched and ran a very successful blog platform with over 30 bloggers. I occasionally blogged there myself. But I didn’t launch a personal blog for “lack of time” and clarity about my “focused topic.” I could be miles ahead today if I had taken the plunge.

Takeaway: Launch a focused blog now, that will help you succeed in your business and/or amplify your author’s platform. Blogging about disparate topics or topics unrelated to how you want to make a living and present yourself to the world will not be as effective to achieve your long term goals.

4. Educate yourself (Hello, podcasts)

I spent two and half hours a day commuting. It was not a comfortable commute where I could settle and write. It included a car ride, a packed train ride with dozens of commuters standing pressed like sardines, and a noisy city walk. I kick myself now because I didn’t use that time to listen to podcasts that could have helped me plan my business, clarify my goals, and learn the essential skills to thrive outside the corporate world.

Now I never get in the car without prepping a podcast. I am listening to business development and marketing channels, like Amy Porterfield, as well as fun channels like The Moth to sharpen my storytelling skills.

Takeaway: Find podcasts to educate yourself about the business you want to launch, and about how to market it. Take classes, attend conferences, and of course, read. Be choosy about how you spend your time. If you want to be a  freelancer who has enough time for creative writing, you need to set yourself up for a successful business that doesn’t take 80 hours a week.

5. Start building your author’s platform

Ultimately, for me, is all about creative writing and getting my work published and read. As much as I hated the idea of “selling myself,” I’ve come to accept that having a strong platform of readers and fans is unavoidable if you want publishers to give you the time of day.

It’s been a long process to digest this concept and understand the relationship between my freelance business and my author’s platform. I’m working on strengthening the bridge between these two sides of me. Being a bilingual writer has added an extra wrinkle that I’m still pondering how to iron out.

This is what I know: Only when you offer honest and excellent content and services on a consistent basis can you earn the right to expect your readers’ and clients’ support later, when you’re promoting your book or a business product.

Takeaway:  Think about what you can offer through your blog, social media, email list and business that will make your readers and clients’ life a little better. Produce it on a consistent basis. Play the long game. If you give away good content generously for months or years, your audience will be there to support you when you need them.

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