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Staying afloat in your new freelancing career

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BY COLLEEN MINIUK-SPERRY
This article is the final installment of a three-part series about leaving an office job for a freelance career. In case you missed the first two articles, refer to the June and July issues of Outdoors Unlimited.
Dozens of well-wishing emails clutter your inbox.
You have recovered from the going-away parties.
Your old company badge rests in a cardboard box full of memories.
Congratulations! Your glorious Independence Day has finally arrived. And now you sit at your kitchen table stroking your coffee cup, glowing as brightly as the sunlight trickling in through the blinds. Before you start to think, “Oh no, what have I done?!” consider these points to ensure you enjoy much success in your new life as a freelancing outdoor communicator:
Sell your work without selling your soul. As a new entrepreneur, you are now responsible for gaining income for your business. After all, mortgages, car payments and utility bills do not disappear when you become a freelancer. As you find yourself taking on new jobs and assignments, make sure making money isn’t the sole reason for pursuing the work. Look for work that gets you out of bed in the morning. Your passion will show not only in your products and services, but also in the relationships you build with clients. If your new career ever feels too much like work, keep your love of informing, educating, and inspiring alive by working on personally-defined side projects.
“Just say ‘No.’” It may sound illogical to turn down business opportunities as you kick off your new career, but heed these wise words from Nancy Reagan. Once you’ve defined a niche for yourself, be comfortable turning down endeavors potentially profitable in the short-term to instead build your brand and skills within your area of expertise.
By investing your limited time to find money-making outlets within your domain, your sales will be greater in the long run. For example, if your focus is wildlife photography, build your body of work by photographing elk or eagles on the weekend, not the wild life of weddings.
Freshen up your portfolio. No one likes visiting a website that appears as if someone has not updated it since 2007. As your work improves, so should your portfolio, which is only as good as your worst piece shown. Showcase your newest and best photography, writing samples, and audio-video clips on your website to attract new clients and keep your existing customers coming back for more.
Shut up and listen. Gaining business as an outdoor communicator is not like the movie “Field of Dreams” where, “If you build it, they will come.” Whether you talk with an editor, a producer, or a local fan, listen carefully to their comments, complaints and questions related to the communications industry, to gain ideas for content in your next assignment or upcoming show. Proactively create your own sales opportunities by delivering solutions to them based on their input.
Keep the “unity” in your community. Friends, supporters, experts, and other connections can turn into paying clients, so it’s important to keep building your relationships and awareness within your circles. Consistently deliver educational presentations throughout your local community, stay active in professional organizations such as OWAA, and engage with others in social media conversations. Because of the snowball effect exposure can have in increasing your sales, even the smallest opportunity could transform into your future signature work. Never underestimate the value of exposure.
Dare to fail. If you are blazing your own path and testing new ideas through a wide variety of experiences, inevitably you will have moments when things don’t go the way you hoped. No matter how much mud you feel is covering your face, hose yourself off and ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?”
As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Keep your eyes on the prize. Round up a trusted friend or two and schedule frequent “bored meetings” (also referred to as “board meetings” in the corporate circles).
Though it may sound like something dreadful you used to do at the company you left behind, regularly reviewing your business plan with outside advisors can help you gain a renewed perspective on your direction, celebrate your successes, and gauge your progress against the “S. M. A. R. T.” — specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and tangible — goals you defined to stay on track to meet short- and long-term goals.
Working 24/7 does not equal success. Though tempting, resist the urge to work day and night to keep your business moving forward. Take time to step away from the juggling act to avoid burn out and refresh your creative soul. As you would schedule vacation time in Corporate America, set aside time to relax and enjoy activities unrelated to your profession, leaving the camera, laptop and story ideas behind.♦
Residing in Chandler, Ariz., Colleen Miniuk-Sperry is an award-winning and internationally published outdoor photographer and writer. She hosts bi-annual Bored Meetings attended by her husband, her cat, and two glasses of wine. Contact her at cms@cms-photo.com.
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