As freelancers, we need to keep growing our network of contacts, keeping in touch with those we already know, and keep an eye on working ahead, because we know things can change in a heartbeat. Our clients might go out of business or change direction in a way that doesn’t resonate with us, or just want a different approach using a different freelancer or agency.
We help so many of our clients grow their businesses to fit their vision that sometimes we forget about our own vision for our companies.
So often, in addition to the encouragement to “grow our network” we are also told to “grow our business.”
I’m all for meeting and getting to know as many people as possible (even though I’m an introvert), because most people are interesting if you give them a chance, and it’s always fun when a project comes up and I can put together a cohort of interesting, skilled people to bring the project to an even higher level than originally envisioned.
The “grow your business” is something I’ve mulled over the past few months, trying to find the right definition of that for me.
As an “anti-niche” I don’t want to get too locked into one particular field. I enjoy working for a wide variety of businesses that do all kinds of unique things. If anything, my niche is “Damn Good Writer.” But not being tied to a niche meant, in the 2008 recession, I watched far too many talented colleagues suffer because they’d locked into a niche and couldn’t get hired elsewhere. I navigated that recession (which was during the time I was transitioning out of full-time theatre through part-time theatre to full-time writing) BECAUSE I wasn’t niched.
I have plenty of “areas of specialized knowledge” and I’m always working to expand those. I’m interested in different disciplines and skills. I use MY skills as a communicator to help businesses, artists, and individuals get their message across.
So in that case, I’m growing AND I’m evolving, because I’m learning new things from and about people who are passionate about what they do. That’s one of the reasons I love being a writer: I get to interact with people who are in love with their work.
As I keep working, my skills improve. Some writing needs succinct copy; others might need a play on puns; still others want something that’s more lyrical and flowing. My theatre training means I can easily mimic a company’s voice, and create fresh content in their voice to engage and grow their audience. The more I create, the stronger the work. I learn from every piece I write, and apply that knowledge to the next piece.
As far as “growing my business” I’ve focused differently over the past few months. Even before Twitter started its death throes, I’d stepped away from doing social media management for clients. I’ll still create copy; but I no longer choose to do the graphics, uploading, scheduling, and handle direct response/ interaction. That’s for the social media manager to handle, and not a role I want to take on anymore.
While I love having a variety of clients across a variety of fields, and the configuration of those clients changes over the months, I also don’t want to grow in the way a typical business grows. I want to manage the number and type of clients I enjoy working with; I don’t want to go through the overblown days of too many clients all needing time and attention at once, followed by long fallow periods. Even with consistent marketing, these highs and lows are fairly common. I also don’t outsource, because one of the reasons most of my clients want me to create content for them is for the unique voice that I bring to the table that supports the unique voice of their business and sharpens it even more. You hire me, it’s my work you get, not something outsourced to another writer than then comes “through” me for polishing.
In a similar vein, I’m doing much less ghostwriting, unless it’s for a lot of money. I have my starting number; depending on the work, at this point in the game, with my experience, I only negotiate upward.
At the same time, I limit how much work I take on retainer, and I prefer not to schedule specific hours for any one client, because I need a flexible schedule. I’m good at meeting deadlines, but the hours in which I work to meet those deadlines need to be flexible. I need to be able to take two weeks off to do archival research a new play or take a few days off when there’s a reading or production of my work somewhere. I don’t want to take on an ever-growing client load that would make that flexibility impossible.
Other people want and need the steadiness of a roster of retainers, so that they have a steady workflow. They keep fairly regular hours, and plan vacations and other times away much in the way they would if they were part of a traditional office environment, although they work from their home offices. Some of them are expanding their client base with an eye to either hiring other writers and being in more of a management position, or creating a partnership with other writers and graphic designers for a boutique agency-style business.
Those are their visions, and that’s great! They are fulfilling what they want.
Take the time to think about how you want your business to grow. How do you want to expand (or contract) your client load so it’s in alignment with the overall vision for your business and how it fits into your life? How do you want to evolve in your business, as far as learning new things, or stepping away from things you don’t enjoy in order to focus on the work you do?
Keep lines of communication open with your clients, and give them ample notice if and when you make dramatic changes in your business. But one of the joys of what we do is that we can build the business so it IS joyous, rather than a slog.
How has your business grown over the last few years? How have you evolved?