Setting Up Writing Success for 2016

What’s on the iPod: Running on Empty by Jackson Browne

How was your Thanksgiving? I was able to head home (great weather for it) and visit my parents. My dad is dealing with emphysema and lungs filled with asbestos, so every visit is a gift right now. You don’t realize how quickly time passes until you see a parent at the tail end of their earthly journey.

I never know what song will pop up on my iPod just before I write a post. The Jackson Browne song is appropriate in many ways, but especially for freelance writers. In December, we’re usually running on empty, aren’t we? Empty wallets, an empty desk, empty client pipeline….

If you’ve not planned ahead and are needing to make money right now, it’s often the worst month to do so. Not impossible, but it sure sucks trying to get clients thinking of starting new projects when many are winding down their fiscal year. Not all, but plenty of companies use December 31st as their year end.

But this post is about looking ahead, not behind. You could cruise through December and hope for the heavens to rain down projects on you. Or you could schedule things now that help you come that much closer to starting the new year with a healthy earnings stream.

Here are a few ways to get projects lined up for your new year:

Ask for post-New Year commitments. Especially those clients that have been stringing you along for a while could use a nudge. Now is the time to get on the phone (I’m afraid so — phone calls work) and ask to get some written arrangement signed for. Sweeten the pot with a 10-15 percent discount if they sign before December 20th.

Suggest some additional projects. That client who has been sending steady work your way mentioned a while ago that he wanted a blog. So why not map out about 10 ideas (just ideas — don’t give away everything without a written commitment) and suggest that you could start writing anywhere from one per week to one per month for them. Or maybe your client could benefit from a quarterly newsletter or a website refresh. Put together a healthy-looking brain dump and pass it along. Then follow up with a phone call (in fact, it doesn’t hurt to ask for a call as you send the ideas).

Get article ideas circulating. Many of the magazines I write for expended their annual freelance budgets about a month ago. However, January is so ridiculously close. Why not propose an article for either January or February? I have one I’m working on that’s due Feb. 1. Nothing like knowing February already has a $2K head start.

Look farther ahead. Whether it’s a conference or a particular holiday or event, hit up your clients now with ideas for that trade show or those webinars/podcasts they’ll need. They don’t have to act on them now, but that you’re thinking ahead sure eases their burden.

Continue your usual marketing. Not everyone lets a holiday slow down their production, and you may have clients or prospects who are needing writing help now. Keep marketing and following up, and do so wisely — look for those companies that have a heavy output of communication pieces through past Decembers, or those with ongoing content/proofing/editing needs.

Writers, how do you use the slow periods, be it December or otherwise?
What’s your best marketing method for securing future work?

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  • Paula Hendrickson November 30, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    We're on the same wavelength again, Lori.

    I only have two concrete assignments on tap right now, one due this week, the other has an open deadline. (Favorite Editor said they're adding a 10th issue for 2016, so she was looking for things that could run almost anytime, and that second assignment is one of those.)

    On the way to a 4-day family retreat in the North Woods, I played Assistant to my graphic designer sister – helping her answer her email and texts, find tracking numbers, and dialing contacts. (Yep. She had a project that had to be printed and shipped Wednesday to be delivered on because the printer was closed Friday…and the client had yet to give final approval! We tracked her down, got everyone on the same page and all is well.) On the way back I was trying to figure out how many more assignments I can tackle between now and December 17th, when Puppy Stanley comes to visit. Once he's here I'll be in high gear getting ready for Christmas. I always take time off around Christmas and New Years – it's easy since most of my editors take those weeks off.) I decided to contact an editor who has quick turnarounds and needs articles every day to see if she might have some pieces to schedule that I can complete before the 15th or so.

    Glad your Thanksgiving was nice, too. I bet your dad was breathing easier just having you there for a visit. It's weird to feel glad I've been spared seeing parent's decline. My grandma was hale and healthy at 95, and died suddenly. Everyone else pretty much died young, suddenly, or both.

  • Cathy Miller November 30, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    So glad you had a nice Thanksgiving and I totally appreciate the importance of valuing your visits with your family. Mom was in Atlanta for Thanksgiving. She was upset I would be alone but after two weeks of constant interacting with my friend, teammates, and 2,200 walkers on the 3-Day, I enjoyed the quiet.

    I'm still playing catch-up. A longtime contract (8 years) came to an end with my SD trip. It wasn't unexpected (company was acquired and going in different direction). The good news is two days later a prospect contacted me on something that looks like it could produce a lot of work. I sent off the proposal this morning with fingers crossed.

    I also have a planning call when my contact from another longtime client returns from maternity leave next week. I also have emails out the door requesting the same from other clients.

    I usually use this time for my own planning and I have a major design changed for my business writing site. I am soooo behind on holiday shopping.

  • Lori Widmer November 30, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    Paula, the lack of ability to plan by others absolutely astounds me. That the client couldn't get final approval out for your sister sooner is, well, rude. There's no way anyone didn't know it was a holiday week and that printers might not be operating. Sheesh. I hope it was a one-time oversight!

    Cathy, I've had holidays like that, and you're right. Sometimes they're totally refreshing. We've spent a few Thanksgivings just going out for a drive (one time we ended up in a diner — it was so much fun) and enjoying nature. We spent last Christmas on the beach (Absecon, NJ) and in a Dunkin Donut. 🙂 To me, it's a nice break from tradition (and sometimes stronger memories).