Writers Worth: An Interview with Jake Poinier

There are some people in the freelance writing community you simply must get to know. Jake Poinier is one of those people.

I’m not sure where or when I bumped into Jake in the online world, but thanks to his congenial personality, we became friends. He’s one of the few writers I’ve met in person, and I can say he’s just as congenial in person as he is online.

A corporate wonk who’s built an amazing freelance writing business, Jake is a great source of info on freelancing — when Doctor Freelance is in, you’re all but cured.

Friends, meet my friend Jake Poinier.

Q: How long have you been
freelancing?

Jake: I did my first freelance job when I
was just a lowly assistant editor at a trade magazine–a short piece in the
Bottom Line Personal newsletter–and I continued to do occasional copywriting
for ad agencies and other publications during my entire magazine career. I went
full time in 1999, after quitting my job at a custom-magazine publishing
company. Best decision I ever made.

Q: What’s your area of focus?
Jake: This is a terribly difficult
question to answer! I call myself an omnivore, and what I like best about
freelancing is the variety: short ad copy, long white papers, websites, video
scripts, editing books, project management. Similarly, I enjoy working with and
learning from clients in all sorts of industries. The only thing I won’t do is
PR.
 
Q: How were those first few
years of freelancing?
Jake: Starting out, I had a lot of
pressure on me, since I was the only income for my family. (In retrospect, that
was a benefit, because it created incredible focus!) I’d saved a lot of money
at my job, knowing that I was going to quit, but didn’t want to dip into the
emergency fund. I had a few immediate clients from the side jobs I’d done, and
parlayed those into additional clients. Early 2001, though, was rough. The red-hot
economy of my first two years had cooled off, and budgets dried up. I felt like
the Maytag repairman waiting for the phone to ring. Lucky for me, I stumbled
across Peter Bowerman’s “The Well-Fed Writer.” His business-oriented philosophy aligned with mine, and the 400-odd cold calls
I made using his suggestions paid immediate and lasting dividends.
Q: What’s been your toughest challenge?
Why?
Jake: Psychologically, that early part of 2001 was the worst. To
put a positive spin on it, though, it proved that I could survive.
Q: What was your a-ha moment
– the event or circumstance that shifted your perspective or had you
changing the way you do things?
Jake: Writing and publishing my books on freelancing, starting in 2013, was a
big one. Although I had edited and ghostwritten numerous books for other
people, it’s a whole ‘nother deal when you’re responsible for the business logistics.
I’m still learning–so I have new a-ha moments every week.
Q: If you could tell new
freelance writers one thing to help them build a better business, what
would that be?
Jake: The overriding message is exactly
that: Think of freelancing as a business, not simply a string of ongoing
writing assignments. On a one-specific-thing level, I’d recommend what I called
creating a team of “Super Friends” in a post last fall. I learned early in my magazine career that I could derive
major benefits from relationships with skilled graphic designers, production
staff, and salespeople. If you tried to operate in a silo, as if the words were
the only things that mattered, you were limiting your understanding of the
business and your career opportunities. It’s good to have a network of other
writers and editors, but my business wouldn’t exist without complementary
creatives.

 

Writers, have you tried creating your own Super Friends team?
Who would you want on such a team?
Any questions for Jake?

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Comments

  • Joy Drohan May 23, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    Hi Jake,
    I just requested The Well-Fed Writer from my library. I'd heard of it, but haven't read it.

    I have a few graphic designers, a scientific illustrator, and a children's illustrator I work with pretty regularly. I would like to hook up with a couple of writers/editors in environmental and ag science. I know several, but they don't do exactly what I do, although they probably could. It would be great to have someone on standby in case I or a family member was ever incapacitated, etc. I looked into setting that up a bit this summer, but no luck so far.

    Joy

    Reply
  • Cathy Miller May 23, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    I have both of Peter's Well-Fed books (the first and the follow-up). He seems to inspire all of us. ☺

    I also don't recall where I first "met" you, Jake. Just glad I did. I loved the freelance cartoon videos you used to do. ☺ I always know I can get good, sound advice from you and I've enjoyed watching your career move into your books on freelancing. I love the idea of "complementary creatives."

    Reply
  • Yolander Prinzel May 23, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Your "Super Friends" comment really resonates. I partner with an editor/proofreader but I really should put more effort into creating a network of designers, etc. Thanks for the nudge in the right direction, Doctor!

    Reply
  • Paula Hendrickson May 23, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    I have three amazingly talented graphic designers in the family – all were afraid to show my dad their work, but he always marveled at how good they are. And I have a few sales people in the family who always have good ideas, whether I want them or not. But I don't have any go-to production people, not directly, but sort of third-party via one of those graphic designers. (Just as I'm her editorial Super Friend.)

    When reading about your first few years and your biggest challenge, Jake, something jumped out: So many of us who Lori interviewed used those tough times as motivators, not reasons to give up. Like you said, the pressure of being the only income in the household can generate tremendous focus. At least in people too stubborn to give up.

    I haven't (yet) read the Well-Fed Writer, but I have read Jake's book, "The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid" and am still trying to implement many of his suggestions…which could be why this year's been going pretty well for me so far. But there's always room for improvement.

    One question though, Jake: How does one pronounce your last name? I'm leaning toward the French "Pwan-ee-ay" but can think of a few other pronunciations.

    Reply
  • Jake Poinier May 23, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    @Joy, I'm confident you'll find WFW to be helpful. Sounds like you're on the right track as far as building a network.

    @Cathy, those feelings are mutual, of course! For the record, I've searched but haven't found a replacement for Xtranormal, the program I used to make those silly videos. Unfortunately, the DIY animation programs all seem to be pretty expensive, and I can't justify the ROI. If anyone has any suggestions for a FREE animation program, let me know!

    @Yo, if you think about it, it's a step in alignment with your post on worth/customer value. 😉

    @Paula, your Super Friends will also evolve over time, but to me, it's really a more=merrier situation. I was very bummed last fall when one of my go-to designers decided to take an in-house gig.

    As it happens, I learned something about our last name the other day: Sometime in the '20s, when my granddad was in grade school, they forced him to use the French pronunciation. I imagine it was being pronounced "Poynyer" at the time, but we now say "Poynyay"–sorta half-Frenchified. (They also forced him to write right-handed.) Thank you for the kind words on Science, Art and Voodoo, and hope 2016 continues on a positive trajectory!

    Reply
  • Ashley Festa May 23, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Jake — I think we connected a while back on Twitter, but I haven't gotten to know more about your story until now. Like everyone else here, I love the Super Friends advice. I have a few complementary-service friends, but not enough to be a real asset to my clients. Perhaps I need to do some networking in that area!

    Reply
  • Sara May 23, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Love this post! I see you on Twitter, Jake, but it's great to learn more about you. I have one go-to designer that i've worked with on a few projects for a volunteer organization and we've worked out a mutual referral agreement that has yet to be used, unfortunately. I love the idea of utilizing other creatives and would love to see if it could actually work for me.

    Reply
  • Jake Poinier May 23, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    Thanks, @Ashley, glad to see you here! For me, people on the art side make the work more fun *and* more profitable. They also help with my own brand image, because my artistic skills are stuck where they were in 4th grade…

    @Sara, great that you've taken an active step toward making it happen. As with many aspects of business, it's really about volume: Not every relationship is going to result in referrals (or GOOD referrals), so the more diversity you have, the better the odds.

    Reply
  • Lori Widmer May 24, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    The Well-Fed Writer is one I own and recommend, too.

    Thanks, Jake! Great to have you here. You are always welcome, my friend!

    Reply
  • Jake Poinier May 24, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Thanks for inviting me to be part of Writers Worth Month — you've done a fantastic job, as always!

    Reply
  • Devon Ellington May 26, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    Good to virtually "see" you again, Jake! Terrific advice.

    Reply