How to Survive as a Freelancer

August 12 2009, 11:18 AM
Last week The Denver Post published a trend piece titled "Gigonomics," an unfortunate catch phrase about people making the leap to a freelance lifestyle. It can make sense: The job market has shriveled, 9-5 work can feel constricting, and there's always the thought that it could be fun and flexible to work at home in your PJs. As a woman who has never opted to take a full-time job, it's a good time to weigh in on the reality of the freelance lifestyle, with a few tips from my own freelance career. 1. Know your niche. It's hard to stand out as a freelance writer. And it's still hard to stand out as a freelance lifestyle-and-entertainment writer. Which is why I pitch myself as the writer who will try anything for a funny, fish-out-of-water story, and a writer who has keen knowledge of two diverse industries: classical music and the craft-brewing community. Once you find your way in, your confidence in an area of expertise will actually open the door to expanding your work into new areas. I had never written about boxing or Dumpster diving but did so after pitching myself into a weekly column about Boulder's beer world. 2. Believe in karma. It's unbelievably difficult not to feel competitive when you hear about a friend getting a great gig writing a monthly column that pays the bills and lets him work on his novel. But you only admit this to the bottom of your beer, and then suck it up and offer to copy-edit his first few columns to make sure he makes a good impression. Because if he does, he passes your name on when he hears about another opportunity. I can't say it enough: The freelancing world is smaller than you think, and its only currency is karma. 3. Avoid office politics, but be aware of what they are. Not being involved in office drama is one of the top perks of freelancing, but don't forget that your boss is still swamped in his or her office culture. Be sure to read Dan Baum's treatise on how he got fired as a freelance writer for The New Yorker. Baum points out that your relationship with your contact at the company is crucial. When you fester at home all day as a freelancer, you'll often start questioning things: Why aren't you hearing back from your company? Where is your paycheck? Why haven't you been given any feedback? It's easy to stay inside your own head, but before you send any emails you regret, do something simple. Ask your contact at the company out for coffee (or beers), and hear about his or her life in the workplace. A little context can help you understand where your boss is coming from, and also help you better strategize. Your question "Why was I overlooked for a pay increase?" can focus to "You mentioned we're cross-branding. Would there be extra money if I helped out the other team?"