Freelancing Actually: Tricks of the trade from freelance writing pros who balance full-time jobs
Storytelling Communications

4 Tips from Freelance Writing Pros (Who Also Work Full-Time)


Over the weekend, I found myself watching an excessive amount of Netflix and bad TV (and not thinking about freelance writing). One evening while I was sucked into Love Actually, I started wondering what the characters were up to when we couldn’t see them on screen. Given the multitude of famous actors with lead roles, and because all of their lives interlock as a result of love, family, and employment, several characters end up on screen together in surprise scenarios. But what about the people that we don’t see at work or falling in love? What are their days like? What does Alan Rickman do when he’s not buying a necklace to give to his mistress?!

Flash forward to Monday, back at the office, where this idea translated to the people I work with on a daily basis as an associate community manager. I talk with writers, bring them onto new writing programs, introduce them to editors, and ask them if they’re up for projects with tight turnarounds. But what do those writers do after they press send or hang up their phones? How do they make time for everything?

Much like the intertwining lives and perspectives that we glimpse in Love Actually, the Skyword editors, strategists, and I each gather different impressions from the contributors we work with. At times I’ll do extra digging to explore writers’ About Me pages and read through their personal blogs, but I want to know more about the day-to-day of the writers I work with—especially the people who juggle full-time jobs in addition to freelance writing. After talking with a couple of Skyword writers who manage freelance jobs on top of their 40-hour work weeks, I noticed key themes for maintaining sanity and exceeding client expectations.

Here are the top four tips.

Freelance writer with a full-time job.

1. Explore Variety Within Your Expertise

While many writers appreciate variety and are open to researching and interviewing to flesh out their stories, people are naturally stronger when it comes to creating content on subjects that fall under their areas of expertise. Fortunately, this plays to their advantages, as many clients seek subject matter experts with years of industry experience. Fran Howarth, a freelance writer and senior analyst at Bloor Research in Amsterdam, NL, has been writing for Faulkner Information Services’ Security Management Practices (part of InfoToday) for 14 years—and has “never missed a month in all that time.” She’s also a regular contributor to a variety of trusted blogs within the IT tech and security industry. “[This assortment of clients] has allowed me to develop fast and efficient ways of researching and writing, often about areas I’m unfamiliar with,” she says, adding “that is one of the things that I love most about the freelancing part of my life…working for a range of vendors with different products, services, styles, and audiences.”

Kristin Emery, a meteorologist for KDKA-TV, the CBS television affiliate in Pittsburgh, PA, has years of experience in television, radio, print reporting, and weather forecasting. While their careers are drastically different, both Howarth and Emery are passionate about their primary employment tracks and their work as freelance writers. In her writing career, Emery has created an extensive portfolio of work—radio, televised, and in print—which includes medical, health, environmental, and weather-related topics. But much like Howarth, she says that working with local clients gives her the opportunity to speak to a variety of audiences in different formats, all of which fall within her creative wheelhouse. What’s more, as a Pittsburgh native, she finds her local work to be particularly meaningful. “I get a kick out of the fact that I now write a regular column in my hometown newspaper—the same one I grew up reading,” she says.

2. Create a Detailed Schedule—But Plan for the Unexpected

While the goal of an editorial calendar for any client is to plan content production on a monthly basis, you never know when certain situations can make it difficult to meet deadlines. Topics can be assigned late, securing interviews might take longer than expected, you might get sick. Freelance writers are known for their detailed schedules, but with a full-time job that occupies the majority of the day, it’s essential to plan for the unknown.

Beyond the obvious regimented schedule with reminders throughout the day, the biggest takeaway from talking with Howarth and Emery is that you have to factor in time for setbacks. Both women set premature deadlines should they run into any delays, whether on their side or a client’s. Like setting your alarm 10 minutes early in the morning, it’s a guaranteed way to make sure they always meet a deadline. They also agree that scheduling interview calls and outlining first drafts at the beginning of the month allows for ample time to conduct interviews and complete larger projects with deadlines that fall in the second and third weeks of each month.

According to Howarth, keeping the lines of positive communication with editorial teams open is also key when the unforeseen arises. “I always try to ensure that I list the deadline as being slightly earlier than it actually is, but things have gone awry on occasion,” she says. “That makes maintaining a good relationship with commissioners so important as I do need to plead for deadline extensions from time to time.”

Nobody likes to ask for a deadline extension, but opening the lines of communication and providing some personal context is better than radio silence. In the event there’s no flexibility in the schedule and the article needs to be reassigned to a different writer, it’s always better to connect with your point of contact if you’re going to run out of time. In the event there is flexibility, everyone is in the know and you’ll be allotted enough time to finish the piece. Just make sure you don’t make it a habit.

3. Learn the latest technology trends

With advancements in technology happening daily, freelance writers have more opportunities than ever to simplify their lifestyles and advance their careers. Mobile apps, tablets, calendars, and social media tools are allowing writers to take on more projects and connect with influential people who are changing the industry. Considering the schedule of someone who has to manage a daytime career, and potentially a family, these tools are essential. Howarth says, “Things can get difficult when I need to travel and fit everything around that. But I’ll always have my tablet with me, and Wi-Fi being so ubiquitous makes everything much easier.”

Emery also highlights the value of technology in enabling her to build a network: “The biggest struggle I have faced as a freelancer was getting started and getting my first clients. I feel like in the freelance writing world, you’re nobody until you’re somebody. I couldn’t get my local newspaper to give me even freelance assignments until after I had worked in my current market (and hometown) on television for more than a year. Once I was a known commodity and I met someone who knew someone, I had the connections to open some doors. Getting that first door to even crack open can be quite a struggle.”

4. Find and embrace flexibility in your free time

Freelancers with full-time jobs often have to find ways to pursue their creative endeavors outside their nine-to-fives. But one of the best things about choosing your own freelance hours is that you have the freedom to decide when you want to power through a piece and when it’s okay to wind down. Howarth and Emery both praise the freedom that their freelance careers allow them. Both women love that they’re able to put their writing on hold if the need arises, and they make sure their sanity comes first. When battling an article she just can’t get her head around, “there is nothing better than being able to spontaneously take the day off [from writing] and go do something completely different,” Howarth says.

“I’m still trying to figure out a way to travel the world and have my writing fund it,” Emery adds. “Isn’t that the dream of so many writers and travel addicts?”

While taking on the additional responsibility of freelance writing is no easy feat, Howarth and Emery have carved out lifestyles that complement their primary careers. In addition to identifying writing assignments that align with their strengths, they coordinate their schedules and take advantage of technology trends to ensure that they stay on track.

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