Dear Freelance Content Creators,
Listen to Tom and Don’t Back Down
If you’re a Tom Petty fan like me, the news of his recent death was heartbreaking. But it was what I learned about Tom just hours later that will continue to inspire me.
I follow author Jeff Haden on LinkedIn and his post showed Tom as not only a prolific singer and songwriter, but also a true entrepreneur. Tom fought the early establishment of music and won. He stood up for his creative talent and what he was worth—in his words, he didn’t back down.
As a freelance content creator, I’m dedicated to telling the story that makes a difference. While I was lucky soon after college to get my editorial dream job, life threw me a curve ball with the birth of my daughter that same year. I’ve stayed home since, built a writing business and assisted some awesome clients. Sounds like I have it easy now, right? Wrong. Even after all these years and many accolades behind my name, some still challenge why I should be paid what I’m worth.
I know I’m not alone. For all the writers out there who love crafting content to build a brand or communicate life-changing information to the masses, it’s often easy to overlook the business side as you meet deadlines with a creative product to keep clients coming back. But, if he were in our shoes, what would Tom Petty do?
I believe Tom would want us to be both creative and business savvy. Here are a few things I’ve learned that might help those just starting their freelance writing careers—or inspire those like me who continue to fight what I now call “The Good Tom Fight” each day:
- You’re not “just a writer.” I always laugh (or cringe) when family and friends think I eat bonbons all day while writing maybe one or two features…a year. (“What a great hobby you have,” they gush.) The reality is hectic days filled with deadlines requiring numerous interviews and reviews (sometimes overseas in the middle of the night with a 24-hour turnaround) while over the years I’ve either tried to keep a toddler quiet, volunteer at schools or race to and from my kids’ sporting events. It’s easy to think you are just a writer when you work from home, but believe me you’re way more.
This point has evolved tremendously with the birth of content marketing. Thanks to Content Marketing Institute founder and the leading evangelist for content marketing Joe Pulizzi, compelling, multi-channel storytelling has become key for brands to attract and retain customers. Joe started CMI just over six years ago because he believes passionately there is a better way for brands to market than how they’ve done it in the past—with original, audience-connecting content.
And, a vast amount of marketing professionals are desperately trying to figure out how to tell their company’s story to generate business by building their audience and overall virtual presence. Attend CMI’s now famous Content Marketing World (CMW), which draws over 4,000 attendees from around the world, and you’ll breathe in the need for great writing. As one of my heroes author Ann Handley said to a packed session at this year’s CMW, “Be a writer first, a marketer second.”
Ann inspires me and I was thrilled to meet her. When listening to her, I was reminded that what I write is crucial—and those who are great at marketing love to collaborate with great writers.
- Get out of the house. Ahhh… the freelance laid back lifestyle of yoga pants and no makeup. It’s up to you how you want to live it, but I’ve found like any business getting out and networking (and showering) is required—not only for your sanity, but inspiration.
Case in point: Not too long ago, work was slow and I saw through LinkedIn a local chapter of the Business Marketing Association (BMA) was being formed. I marched into the BMA’s first happy hour, passed out my card and made connections with people who are now close business colleague confidantes (A special shout out to Jacquie Chakirelis and Craig Coffey!). They opened doors to new work and most importantly, they continue to inspire me and make me laugh! They also got me to volunteer as the BMA’s communications chair. A win-win.
- Get it in writing. I’m a trusting girl, so when a return client offered me an amazing opportunity to fill in for a managing editor role, I jumped. No contract? No problem. I had worked for them before and trusted their word. After nine months of 40-hour a week work (and putting off other potential clients), leadership changed at the company and I was left asking when I would be paid next. “For what?,” they asked. “You don’t have a contract and we have no record of what we technically owe you.” From that point forward, I get an agreement in writing before writing the first word. (I did finally get paid for my hard work…nine months later).
- Find a business mentor. I admit I can write (and talk) all day, but give me a spreadsheet with financials or a lengthy contract with monetary terms and I get physically sick. Numbers are not my forte, but I found if you really want to be a success at the business of content, you better find someone who excels at business. I’m lucky to have a friend who has built an incredible business (not in writing!) who graciously reviews my contracts before I sign anything. His advice over the years has saved me from potential future hassles, encouraged me to become legit by forming an LLC (Limited Liability Company) and helped me make money, too!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth. After 20-plus years, I’m grateful for the opportunities I have and the people I get to talk with each day to tell their stories. But, whether you’ve built 20 years of experience or 20 months, the truth is your talent and its worth will continue to be questioned. So, back to Tom Petty: In the early days he felt his contract (as most in the music industry at the time) was one-sided, with royalty agreements paying them pennies per album sold. Even though this was how business was always done, Tom knew it had to change and he took a stand. He did, got out of his contract and the rest is history.
The lesson is if a client says they only pay freelance writers a certain rate, that rate may not be what your experience warrants—and the reality is their rates may not have been updated for over a decade. Even if your accomplishments speak for themselves, you need to speak up. From experience, it never hurts to ask. Not only will you potentially get what you deserve, you’ll be respected for not backing down.
Beth A. Kapes is Founder & President, Moving Words Into Action, LLC. She loves telling the story that makes a difference—and listening to Tom Petty. Beth is on LinkedIn and Twitter, or you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a real conversation, give her a call at 440.773.5324.