Why You Should Pursue Too Many Jobs in Freelance Writing

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on October 10, 2012 in Freelance Writing Jobs
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By Megan Harris

Freelancing can be a difficult job. You work long hours, sometimes after a full-time job and other responsibilities, and have to deal with the feast and famine cycle that is common with contracting work. A good way to combat this is to pursue more jobs than you can take on each month. Here's why you should do it and a few ways this will help you battle feast or famine and keep business consistent.

What's With This Crazy Idea?

If you're reading this and think I'm crazy, just hear me out. Freelancers worry all of the time about the feast or famine cycle where some months are high paying and during others you find yourself eating Ramen Noodles and pinching pennies. It's not fun and doesn't feel very stable, but the tradeoffs like having a more flexible schedule and being choosy about who you work with can make it worth pursuing.

The idea behind over-applying to jobs is not only to battle feast or famine, but to keep your eyes open in case other projects you have fall through. If you have stable clients, you might feel secure for some time, but you should always remember that plans may change. It is always a good idea to keep an eye out for new opportunities, and applying each week or each month is a good way to do this.

If you take this crazy idea and apply to jobs or send out pitches each week, good things can happen! Here are just some ways over-applying can benefit you as a freelance writer.

Increased Connections

Not all the jobs you apply to will lead to work. This is a given in freelancing because clients might choose someone else, change the pay rate to something you're not comfortable doing, or scrap the project altogether. There are a million reasons why you might not get the job that are outside of your control.


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However, you can increase the number of connections you make if you apply to many jobs, which makes your network larger. A project might not work with them, but they may know someone else that needs your particular skill set. It's worth it to apply to multiple jobs you qualify for if it means getting your name out there.

Improved Marketing

Think of sending out pitches or applying to jobs as good practice in marketing. When you apply for many jobs, you learn to talk about yourself better. It might be easy for you to write copy for others or talk branding with a client, but what about your own brand?

Overbooking yourself with jobs gives you an opportunity to practice your way to better marketing practices. You learn how to better sell yourself and your services, so even if the job doesn't go through, you have worked on your job skills anyway.

Good "Karma"

Let's say you apply for ten jobs one week and either never hear back or are told they chose someone else. Those weeks might feel discouraging, but don't give up! You might find that you will get business in other ways.

Perhaps you are down about the job posts, but soon get a bite from a blog you wrote or a referral from a past client. Just getting out there and applying to jobs can give you karma you can benefit from even when the jobs don't work out. Putting good vibes out there through applying to jobs can pay off in ways you didn't imagine before.

Conclusion

It might seem like contradictory thinking, but when you freelance, but you should try to apply for more work than you think you will get each month. Overbooking yourself gives you more flexibility to do what you want and make a stable income. Plus, increasing your network and working on your marketing are added bonuses! Give it a try and see how it pays off for your freelance business.

About the Author

Megan Harris is a freelance copywriter, editor and social media manager. She writes about the freelance life at MeganWrites.com and likes to motivate others with her story of how she became an independent writer. When she's not writing, she researches her family tree in her spare time, hangs with her husband and their dog, Cooper, and is earning her Masters in Public Administration at University of Illinois-Springfield. You can also connect with Megan on Twitter or her Facebook page.

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13 Comments

  1. Thanks for hosting my post, Jenn! I hope this idea benefits others who read it. :)

  2. Matthew Loomis October 10, 2012 Reply

    Another excellent article, Megan! I’m taking this advice. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Vcmcguire October 10, 2012 Reply

    I was expecting this post to recommend how to handle the possible result of over-applying for jobs–you might get more work than you can realistically do. It can’t be good for your reputation to get so overbooked that you can’t produce high-quality work, or that you miss deadlines.

    I confess I sometimes send out extra pitches, on the assumption that not everyone will say yes. But it can be awfully uncomfortable when I get more yesses than I was expecting.

    • But isn’t more “yes’s” a good thing? You have the ability to pick and choose, or possibly ask clients if they would wait a few weeks for your help since you are backlogged. If they understand that and really want to work with you, they won’t mind waiting a little bit.

      I would agree that getting overbooked would be a problem, but it’s my experience that if that’s the case, you can easily refer the work to other freelancers who might be able to help. That’s why it’s good to network and get to know other freelancers; you never know when you can help each other out!

    • Jennifer Mattern October 11, 2012 Reply

      I take an approach similar to what Megan talks about in her comment. The difference is that I do things that make prospects come to me rather than actively pursuing X number of clients at any given time. But the results are the same — sometimes you get too many yeses.

      In those cases I set up a waiting list or (more frequently these days) I refer work to colleagues. That’s always a good idea because the more work you refer out, the more referrals tend to come back in. And it allows me to be rather picky about the gigs I take on. I’d say it’s usually better to have too many gigs in the works than not enough. You can always tell the last ones to respond that you’ve just lined up other gigs, so you’ll have to work theirs into your schedule when they’re completed. I’ve found clients respond well when they realize you’re in demand, and even better when you make it clear you respect their work enough to just squeeze it in when you’re schedule is already fully loaded.

      • Vcmcguire October 11, 2012 Reply

        You’re both talking about client work, primarily. I can see how overpitching would be an easier thing to juggle with client work, because you can more easily push deadlines later, subcontract or refer people, or use your busy-ness to show the client that you are awesome and worth waiting for. I do very little client work. Mostly I’m pitching magazine and newspaper editors, and so this principle doesn’t work as well.

        * I’m selling myself, specifically, not the job I’m offering to do, so it’s much harder to refer the work to someone else and will in some cases mean I can’t ever work for that editor again. It’s sort of frowned on to say “I’ll write you a feature about XYZ and you should assign it to me because I have the right contacts and experience for this and I have the right voice for your publication and I know your house style” and then say, “Is it okay if my friend Bob writes it, after all?”

        * Topics are often timely, and even if they’re not, an editor who says yes is probably saying it because they have a hole to fill in their editorial calendar at a specific time.

        That doesn’t mean I don’t over-pitch. I don’t have a 100% acceptance rate (something to aspire to!) so if I need 4-6 assignments per month, I need to pitch more than that to get what I need. But then there are the months, all too frequent, when I need 4-6 assignments so I pitch 10 times. I get 5 assignments, which is great, but then one of them says they actually want A 1500 word trends piece instead of the 500 word profile I pitched, and that one editor I pitched last month unexpectedly said yes after I thought my pitch had just gone into a black hole, and another freelancer needs me to fill in on their column and it’s good money so I say yes, and something I turned in three weeks ago is still in edits because they’re reconfiguring the publication and their word length requirement changed, and and and. It makes it awfully tempting to pitch 4 stories when I need 6 assignments. I know this is a success problem, but it is a problem nonetheless.

        (And yes, there are the months when I need 4-6 assignments, I pitch 10, and I get 2. So I pitch 5 more, and I get 1. And then the month is over, and I need to somehow secure, and excel at, 6-8 assignments the following month to catch up.)

        I’m looking forward to your follow-up post, Megan, but I guess I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about the times when you’re unavoidably overbooked because you overpitched. We have all pulled through times like that, but you can’t sustain that. Once that starts happening more frequently, I think you have to ratchet back on overpitching. I suppose what I’m asking is, how much is too much? What are the limits of the overpitching strategy, and do you think once you reach a certain point in your career it is actually better to stop overpitching? Or do you think you should keep doing this forever?

        Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

        • Jennifer Mattern October 12, 2012 Reply

          Magazines are clients, just as other businesses are. The difference is the type of writing you do for them.

          In my case, the specialty is business writing. And, like you, I sell myself over the services. That’s why prospects come to me on their own, and it’s why many have been willing to wait weeks, and even months, for my schedule to open up. When they can’t wait and I’m not available, they appreciate referrals, and those referrals carry more weight because they trust me. And many of those clients come back for future projects down the road. I actually don’t know many professional writers who sell services over their personal brand. That’s just a part of being a freelancer — you have a face to your business.

          As for the issue of overpitching, you have to remember that a pitch doesn’t equal a contract. You’re not committed to anything until those terms are negotiated. It sounds like the real issue is a problem with saying “no.” For example, you mention that you’d say yes to filling in for someone else just because the pay is good. If you know you’re already busy, then it’s really not an issue of overpitching. It’s an issue of over-committing. So I don’t think there’s any such thing as a time when you’re “unavoidably” overbooked. You might not want to, but you always have the option of saying “no” or negotiating something that would start shortly before or after other work you’ve already been contracted for.

          My suggestion would be to go into the process as organized as possible. You know what your average response rate is, and factor that into your target number of pitches each week or month. You know how long it takes you to write certain types of features, so account for that when you commit to projects. I’d pitch to fill the maximum amount of time you have, and I’d wait a certain amount of time for responses. If they don’t come in, you can send a second round. There’s nothing wrong with taking on extra work from time to time, especially if a killer project comes along. The key is finding balance.

          As for cutting back on pitches just because you’re overbooked, I wouldn’t. The general rule is that you should market yourself even more when you’re busy, not less. That’s because the marketing you do at those times is what attracts work for later times that might otherwise be slow. That’s how the stereotypical feast-famine cycle happens in freelancing. People get comfortable with current work, so they stop looking for new clients. If you have a pitch-based marketing system in place, the pitches have to keep going out.

          If being overbooked happens on a regular basis, then that’s another issue. It’s very possible that will happen as you build relationships with editors. And of course at that time you might reevaluate your query volume. No marketing strategy should be static. I recommend tweaking marketing plans at least quarterly.

          If you’re not comfortable sending pitches for new work in excess of what you could realistically take on, you have some other options. For example, you might send out X number of queries and Y letters of introduction. This way they aren’t all pitching direct ideas with a specific time frame in mine. You could also send some queries and send some pitches for reprints of articles where first rights were already sold or queries that would involve tweaking past work for a new audience rather than creating something entirely new. All of those things allow you to overpitch so you can avoid dry spells a bit easier, but they don’t put you at quite as much risk of overcommitting your working hours. :)

          Just my $.02.

    • Jennifer Mattern October 11, 2012 Reply

      Just a quick update: Megan thought it was a great idea to expand on this post and talk about what to do if you get too many positive responses. So she’s going to write a follow-up guest post which will go up here early next week. Thanks for bringing that additional angle up. :)

  4. paraplus October 11, 2012 Reply

    Great article and some very useful advice, putting all your eggs in one basket can be fatal as a freelancer!

  5. Lori October 12, 2012 Reply

    I have to agree with Jenn. Magazines ARE clients. I treat them as such. If they weren’t clients, I wouldn’t have $12K extra in my bank account right now.

    I pitch as many as I can think of, and mind you, those are targeted queries. I don’t waste my time or anyone else’s by sending out something that’s slapped together or won’t fit. I don’t have anywhere near a 100-percent success rate either, but I don’t hold back on ideas because I’m afraid of too much work. I simply go back to the editor and request a different due date. I’ve done as many as three larger (1,500 to 2,000 words) articles in a month alongside other client work. I won’t say it wasn’t challenging, but I think writers can learn how to prioritize well enough to juggle it.

    For instance, today I’m working on a large website project, putting finishing touches on an article that’s part of a magazine I wrote for another client, pitching to a third client whom I’ve worked with in the past, sending out an article pitch to a favorite editor, and starting blog posts for another client. They won’t all get done today, but I know which ones can wait until Monday to finish and which ones have priority.

    Megan’s point about overbooking to ensure a steady income is solid. I market every single day for at least 15 minutes. Today’s sure thing is tomorrow’s memory. Clients disappear just as quickly as they appear. You have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

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