Follow your passion, but act like an entrepreneur

Heads up, freelance writer. You’re an entrepreneur and to succeed you must think and act like one.

That was the takeaway from the 2015 NPC-SPJ Spring Freelance Workshop at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on May 8. Woman reading a newspaper in a newspaper library.

Peter Smith, a business development coach and founder of Smith Impact, drove that point home with his three keys for success:

  • Follow your passion.
  • Get really good at what you do.
  • Learn how to market and sell what you do.

Smith was one of eight panelists composing two panels who discussed the pros and cons and ups and downs of freelance writing. The workshop attracted seasoned professionals, students, and the curious.

But while Smith was blunt in his freelancers-as-entrepreneurs approach, other panelists touched on successful entrepreneurial techniques as well. Networking, managing your client base, and managing your finances are roles all successful entrepreneurs must master.

Katherine Reynolds Lewis, a full-time freelance writer for the past seven years, was one of several panelists who discussed networking as a key ingredient for success. Why is networking important? Because clients hire people they know and trust. In the entrepreneurial world, that’s as true for selling words as it is for selling shoes. Freelance writers must network where editors gather, such as conventions, Lewis urged. But editors are one part of the mix. She surprised many in the audience when she said “networking with other freelancers is the most productive networking that I do. … I’ve learned that networking with other freelancers and developing really trusted relationships with people who may have complimentary but not exactly the same interests I do is very helpful.”

Networking lands you clients – perhaps even an anchor client. An anchor client is one who gives you steady work over a long period, sometimes years. Anchor clients come with a warning, however. It’s very easy to get comfortable with a steady income. Perhaps so comfortable and so busy that you curtail your networking. That’s a mistake for any entrepreneur. Clients don’t last forever. And if you lose your anchor client, you lose your income. Tam Harbert, who moderated the first panel, is chair of the NPC Freelance Committee and a 10-year, full-time freelancer. Experience has taught her that no one client should comprise more than 20 percent of her income.

So, never stop networking. Keep growing your client base. Next, manage your finances.

The first step in managing your finances is to compute how much you need to earn an hour to make a decent living. Include not only business expenses, but your mortgage, utilities – and vacations and retirement, Lewis said. Then track the time you work on every story or project. That will help you determine which clients pay the most per hour, Harbert said. Can you secure more work from them? Conversely, which clients pay the least? Should you replace them with higher-paying clients?

Many freelancers – and other entrepreneurs – nail the first two points Smith made – follow your passion and get really good at what you do. Successful entrepreneurs also nail point number three – learn to market and sell what you do. And, that includes networking, managing your client base, and managing your finances.

See you on the other side of the notebook.

(Tam Harbert on the entrepreneurial personality.)


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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One response to this post.

  1. Great tips. Thanks for sharing.

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