I cannot say it enough times: Fully half of a freelancer’s work is finding work. At least before one has enough work to be self-sufficient or, at least, satisfied with the activity level. If you’re me, the next question would be, So when are you satisfied enough that you stop looking for work, stop marketing yourself?
The answer, only coincidentally cribbed from an old New Yorker cartoon, is: “How about never?”
Originally, going back seventeen years now, I did not have an Internet connection. I pursued freelance work by poring through the classified ads in the Sunday newspapers—in my case that meant the New York Times and Newsday. Any ad that remotely mentioned graphic design and publishing, not advertising, I answered, making sure to mention that I was looking to freelance from my own studio. I got only the tiniest number of responses from this method, and an even tinier percentage resulted in interviews. In retrospect, I suppose the project of trekking into Manhattan from home on Long Island was more than an inconvenience, so it was a thrill to take my job search online.
As I have mentioned in this blog before, once I found the Internet my marketing efforts took the form of twice-yearly, cold emails to every publisher in the current year’s Writer’s Market. I alternated between attaching a compressed archive of work samples. I still go thru this process. It sometimes takes years before I get a response and the offer of a project. Parenthetically, that is the reason I periodically repeat this whole message recounting my history of promotion.
The last two years, I have also sent out postcards. After noticing that some people swear by direct mail, and with my own preference for email, I elect to do both. In fact, I just began sending the latest postcard out about three or four weeks ago, before taking a vacation trip. So far 125 postcards have been mailed. Two have been returned for bad addresses—out of 2009’s Writer’s Market.
Now, back from my trip, I’ll continue sending postcards out to the publishers on my list. And wait for the offers to pour in. (Here’s the point where a winking emoticon would be appropriate.)
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Looking over what I wrote above, I have o smile at the quaintness of it. Thinking back to a 30-years-younger me, newly-married, getting up early every Sunday to go buy those newspapers and then going thru them with such high hopes. Needless to say the pickings were slim. But it just just took getting my first projects to get my career rolling. First one was a trifold brochure—a flyer, really, as it was a single sheet—for a medical device); and then after that, my second project, a math textbook, my very first book.
Two long-term clients came next, lasting about three years each. One was a publisher of science journals, the other a book packager right in my own backyard. But by then using printed newspapers was history. Online jobs boards and online versions of newspapers’ help wanted sections had come along.