The Freelancer Balancing Act Between Committed and Stressed

I’m so extra.

One of my bookmarks is an article on the six natural resources that’ll run out. I do mental exercises so my mind is prepared for the pain if ever I’m a victim of anaesthesia awareness.

I don’t plagiarize, but I’ll take an article I wrote my damn self and run it through Copyscape just to be sure.

So it’s no surprise that I make content writing way more stressful than it needs to be.

The job I’ve created for myself since graduating is straightforward. A startup says, “We’re a startup that makes buttons. Can you write an article about fall fashion trends?”

Cool. I bang out an article. They’re happy. They pay me.

This is the part of the story where I’m supposed to move on with my life.

But I get overcome with guilt and intense pride, even if it was ghostwritten. How did the blog post do? Did it do what you wanted it to do? What are your content goals?

I get that a blog article is high up on the marketing and sales funnel and won’t have a high conversion rate.

I know I did the job I was paid for, and thank you very much for paying me on time.

But I’m still curious:

Was it good for you?

So I follow-up. I make suggestions. I get fidgety. Like someone who got attached after one date, I have to keep checking their social media channels, their blog, to see what they’re up to content-wise.

How are you doing? How are you DOING? HOW ARE YOU DOING?

Give away too much and you’ll have a nervous breakdown

It’s a delicate balancing act though.

When you write for a larger company, they have a very clear role carved out for you as their freelancer.

“You write this, you submit it on this date, we pay you. We literally do not need your opinion about anything else we’re doing. There is someone whose job title is that specific sliver of advice you think you’re blessing us with.”

But with startups it’s different. In most instances, so long as you aren’t obnoxious about it, they welcome your suggestions. Not because they aren’t capable of figuring things out for themselves, but because they have no time to think about it. They’re trying to keep the lights on and convince people to give them money so they can stop stressing about keeping the lights on.

They can barely breathe, let alone think about a data-driven content strategy.

But here’s where the balancing act comes in. You end up giving away more than you should, and if you aren’t careful it leads to exhaustion, resentment, or even irritation on the part of the client who never asked for all this extra effort and now feels burdened by your overcommitment.

New freelancers walk a fine line between adding value and stressing for no pay when no one asked them to.

I think I’ve struck a balance, but it took some time.

Add value but demonstrate your worth with informational invoices

I’m not entirely opposed to free work, so long as it’s work that’s building value on top of a piece of paid work and the person you’re providing it for respects your time. But you have to communicate that it’s a complimentary offer very clearly.

The best way to do this is by sending informational invoices. If you throw in a brief summary they can use when they share the article on Facebook, include how much it would have cost and just apply a discount on the subtotal. Another option is to simply point out how much this would have been worth when you send it along.

No matter what, make your worth crystal clear, baby. And a pox on anyone who belittles you for doing that.

Above all, if it gets exhausting, remind yourself that this extra thought is not paid thought and you can take a break guilt-free. This is easier said than done: Freelancers have autonomy and control over their schedule, but most find it difficult to “turn off”.

For me, I think the easy answer is that I should be working full-time for one company. I take a lot of pride in my work, and I don’t like a set-it-and-forget-it approach even if it’s just a teensy, tiny project.

But then I’d have to work on someone else’s terms. I’d have to “be the brand”. I’d have to look presentable every day, and I’m quite comfortable with my ragamuffin freelancer look, thank you very much.

Also: Fuck office politics.

How Upwork Success Porn Fuels My Work Ethic

About once a month, I’ll have a day where I feel completely unexcited about my work.

Does the world really need another blog post about digital marketing? Am I undercharging? Will I get carpal tunnel before freelancing even makes a dent in my student loans?

Being in a funk is a waste of time. So when I have money, I’ll go to Caffé Demetre and get a waffle. When I’m broke (or feeling frugal) I’ll find some candy, put on a random TV show in the background, and spend an hour looking at what I call “Upwork Success Porn”.

What is Upwork Success Porn?

Top-rated profiles. High earning profiles. Profiles that say the freelancer worked a thousand hours. I love that shit. It gets me so motivated to work and sometimes, it gives me pointers on how to improve my own profile.

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This is where the journey starts. Right on Upwork’s home page. (Source)

I go down a rabbit hole of profiles. I’ll click on a freelancer’s past clients and then see what other freelancers that client worked with and then see what other clients those freelancers worked with. It gets out of hand.

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Danielle bringing in that money and kicking out those typos. (Source)

But doing this helps me in two ways.

One, I’m eager to get back to work, so I can get on their level.

Two, I’m motivated to find jobs on the platform. Upwork is no longer my primary source of work. I do like the platform and you can find great clients, but there are so many posts with asks like, “10,000 words for $20” that separating the wheat from the chaff is irritating and inefficient.

The few times I go on an Upwork pitching spree is when I’ve done some serious “Top Rated” profile creeping.

I’ve linked to everyone’s Upwork profiles underneath the screenshots. I’d be over the moon if you hired ME, but I’m a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due so may the best freelancer win.

I promise I don’t know any of these people. Hustle just recognizes hustle.

 

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Go on with your bad self, Philip! Get that money. (Source)
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Ashley hitting the $100K mark like it’s nothing. (Source)
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Fellow Canadian Ryan writing copy that converts. (Source)
Great Upwork Profiles-min
NICK C. MEANS BUSINESS! (Source)
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“God damn copy genius” Stefan. (Source)

It is officially time for me to get back to work.

5 Ways I Improved My Freelance Writing Career (That Didn’t Involve Writing)

The best thing you can do to improve yourself as a writer is to write. Like Nike says, “Just do it!”

But over the last year of working from home, there have been a few non-writing related activities that have helped me become a better freelancer and grow my business.

Regularly Stretching

I suffer from intense pain in my right shoulder that, when left untreated, makes working at my computer for longer than 20 minutes unbearable.

Buying a new desk and chair simply wasn’t an option, so I obsessively started following stretching videos on YouTube and eating turmeric to reduce the inflammation.

By taking preventative measures like stretching, exercising, and sitting properly in your chair, you can reduce your chances of damaging your muscles.

Pain will get in the way of a lot of things and growing your business is one of them.

Doing Chores

Writers don’t just deal with writer’s block. Anxiety, self-doubt, stress, and more are all regular houseguests.

When these became a constant thorn in my productivity, I started breaking up my workday with manual chores. I’d work for fifteen minutes, fold a pile of clothes, work for another fifteen minutes, and then wash dishes.

It may sound like an unproductive, interrupted day of work, but it actually makes me more focused.

When my thoughts are racing and I can’t focus on the task at hand because I’m obsessing over something unrelated to the work, I can focus on what I’m doing knowing that at the end of the fifteen minutes I have some time for guilt-free stressing.

What makes it guilt-free? Two things.

One: the fact that it is scheduled time.

Two: the fact that I’m doing manual labour, which makes me feel productive. Since it’s impossible for me to do client work when my mind is elsewhere, I can wash a stack of dishes while stressing. (So long as I snap back to attention while washing the knives.)

Flipping Through a PHYSICAL Thesaurus

Before I started writing professionally, I thought I was one wordy motherfucker. Once I had to produce blog post after blog post I started rolling my eyes at the words I kept repeating.

Clients obviously wouldn’t notice this meta-pattern, but I saw the repetition between pieces.

If I find a word boring while writing I’ll quickly click over to an online thesaurus and look for alternatives. But as part of my general professional development, I’ll take the time to flip through my paperback thesaurus in the morning or before bed.

Pursuing a Specialization

Pursue designations or certifications if you can. Carving out a niche for your writing makes you extra valuable to clients who are desperate for a writer who can make their dense, uninviting topic enticing to readers.

I stumbled into writing content for tech start-ups, but I haven’t taken that fortunate entry point for granted. I’m aggressively reading as much as I can about the industry as well as looking for affordable coding for beginners resources to make myself more knowledgable.

Surrounding Myself With Other Writers

Go to networking events. Talk to friends who are also writers. And if you’re not a fan of networking or you don’t have a lot of friends who are going down the same career path, read the blogs and watch the videos of other freelancers.

I’m sociable, but I find networking exhausting and I always leave those events feeling low, so I’ve started to avoid them. My substitute has been using social media to create a digital network of people who inspire and influence me.

Writing and reading are both vital ways to improve your freelance writing career, but if you’re in the industry, you already knew that. Sometimes, activities totally unrelated to creating can help unlock your potential and boost your motivation.

Happy hustling!

Featured image via Pexels

A Quick Introduction to Buyer Personas

As a kid, I always ate my veggies before the meat and potatoes. In drama class, I insisted on learning the lines before looking for costumes.

Not because I’m disciplined, but because I like to enjoy my steak and my box full of fun outfits without a bunch of boring obligations. I’m still like this as an adult.

Currently, I’m trying to introduce some structure to my piecemeal knowledge of content strategy.

Enter Hubspot Academy.

Their blogs helped me a lot when I started freelance content writing and they have a great blog post that outlines how to create an effective content strategy. The very first item on their list of what to do? Create a buyer persona.

In this scenario, the chance to create a pretty content calendar in a colourful spreadsheet is my meat and potatoes. My vegetable is the buyer persona.

Making one of these doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to me, but I like to do things right and the thought of creating an entire content strategy only to realize I’m targeting the wrong people is exhausting.

I mean, you gotta know whose attention you’re trying to get instead of shouting into a loudspeaker and hoping the right people don’t cover their ears.

This chore makes a lot of sense.

What’s a buyer persona?

A buyer persona identifies who your ideal customer is. Making one is a combination of creative writing and market research where you put together a profile of your ideal customer.

Hubspot helpfully outlines what your buyer persona should look like and what it should include:

  • Semi-fictional character (i.e. small business owner, talent acquisition specialist)
  • Description of a day in their life including everyday challenges
  • Demographic and biographic behaviour
  • Goals and aspirations
  • Pain points and obstacles
  • Preferred method of contact

You can find several buyer persona templates online.

So how do you get the information for your buyer persona?

The best way is to speak to existing customers.

And if you don’t yet have any customers to speak to, Trent over at Bright Ideas shares a method called “audience jacking” where you do a little sleuthing to analyze your competitor’s customers. Trent’s not playing around.

At present, this audience jacking method is what I’m going to focus on because I don’t have access to the content information of customers anywhere.

Down the road it’ll be interesting to take a look at how you develop customer surveys and which questions are important to ask.

Currently, I’m practicing by creating buyer personas for companies that I’ve written content for.

If it helps me come up with on-point blog ideas to present to them, that’s more writing projects.

And if they’re like, “That’s cute, but we have someone making these for us already” it’s just more practice for me.

Featured image via Pexels