Note: originally published over at The Academy
When I was a kid, my parents took me out fishing on a pretty regular basis. I was terrible at it. I didn’t like how dirty my hands felt after baiting a hook. I didn’t like sitting and waiting with nothing to do. I didn’t like not catching anything. At that age, I didn’t have an appreciation for the time that comes in between casts, waiting for that little tug on the end of the line that signals something exciting is about to happen. It just wasn’t for me.
I’m learning that freelance writing is a lot like fishing. First, you have to scope out the waters, looking for the right place to throw out your hook. Then you have to dress up that hook as best you can and drum up a little interest. Once you get a bite, you have to play a game of back and forth until you can reel them in. If you’re successful, you get to eat. If not, you get to come back and try again the next day.
For the past month I’ve been using Upwork to try and find freelance jobs, with mixed success. I managed to land two jobs last month, and the experiences were as different as night and day. The first job was creating a powerpoint presentation for a business professor who was speaking at an academic conference. She was presenting one of her lesson plans and the benefits of using her particular approach. The process was really straight-forward: I sent her an application explaining why I would be the best choice, she interviewed me, I gave her a time estimate and a quote, and then I came in under budget. Easy-peasy.
My second job, less easy. It was supposed to be a quick job, a 500 word “statement of purpose” for a college application. The job post said that they wanted an Expert, which I am, so I applied at my usual rate. She got back to me, and was interested in having me do the work, but was unable to afford my rate. I bid her good luck, and thought that was it. But then she contacted me again a few days later, saying that she’d already gone through two freelancers who said they could do it for $50, and neither of them had delivered, and she REALLY wanted my help because this was her dream school. We went back and forth several times; I’d lower my price, and then the job would become more difficult. In the end, I wound up doing an $800+ job for $100. Not only that, but she had high expectations that she was unable to clearly communicate, and was completely inflexible, something I didn’t find out until AFTER we’d signed the contract and it was too late to walk away. In the end, I think the statement we crafted was really well done, and I’m still waiting to hear if she got in or not, but this was definitely an experience in negotiation and sticking to my guns.
There are plenty of fish out there, if you’ve got the skills to land them. Unfortunately, I’m still learning those skills. But I’m getting better. I’m being selective about the jobs I apply for, my cover letters are becoming more targeted and easier to write, and I’m refusing to sell myself short. It’ll take time, but success breeds success, and the more jobs I get, the easier it’ll be. I just have to learn to be a little more patient and to enjoy the time in between.