It’s all about being flexible! Freelancer Nicole Kidder used her years of journalism experience to expand and grow her writing business in Spokane, building up a clientele that appeals to her heart, and her wallet.
We got to ask her a few questions about why writing is important, how she built a sustainable freelance business from scratch, how to rock a website portfolio, and where to find the sweet spot between passion projects and gigs that pay the rent.
There are two things I enjoy most about writing. First, it is the most authentic expression of myself. While anyone may be able to cover the same story, no one can tell it the same way that I can. When I read an article that I have written, I always know that it is mine based on the sentence structure, word choice and cadence. This is what is known as a writer’s voice, and it is the most important thing you can work on developing.
I tell my students that I can teach you how to put stories together and create cadence by varying sentence structure, but I can’t teach you voice. That comes from inside you, and it is developed only through practice. Continue to study your craft every day. Focus on conquering commas, creating cadence and expanding your vocabulary to replace lazy adverbs with vivid verbs.
The second thing I love about writing is that I get to share others’ stories with the world. I believe every single person has a story worth telling, and even if one person learns something from it or is inspired by it, then I feel like I have contributed something worthwhile to making this world a little better.
I was fortunate to have my first client the day that I launched my freelance writing business. When my full-time marketing position was phased out, some of the projects I had been working on filtered to me on a freelancing basis. Leveraging your connections is the most successful way to land clients. In the beginning, I wasted many unsuccessful hours scouring job boards and competing against dozens of other writers to bid on gigs. While this strategy did net a handful of good connections, some of whom still reach out to me years later, it was not time well spent.
Once I switched my focus to targeted pitching, networking within my niche and reaching out to people who already trusted my work, the project load became steadier and the pay rates increased. Beginners should look into joining online forums or networking groups that focus on your specialty topics.
Your website has a great variety of projects that represent a wide range of skills, from copywriting to journalism, teaching, and non-profit work. How do you pick and choose what to put in your portfolio, and what should a good portfolio include?
When I graduated college with my journalism degree, the news industry was rapidly changing from a print to an online world. I quickly had to adapt and learn new skills, bridging my writing talents into many worlds. Publications, ranging from newspapers to magazines to trade journals, are just one place to find paying gigs. You can also write website pages, press releases, white papers, brochures, newsletters, email campaigns, training manuals, webinars, grants and technical documents.
Being willing to branch out of your comfort zone may land you writing jobs in areas that you never dreamed about. Teaching wasn’t in my plans, but because I was willing to try something new, it led to a whole new passion.
My portfolio does not include every project that I have completed. Instead, I have created a high-view picture of my experience. A good portfolio should showcase your strongest pieces that highlight your range of skills. Aim to include 10 to 20 samples along with a strong biography, contact information, links to social media accounts and a call to action.
To create continuity between your accounts, use the same biography on your website, portfolio and social media profiles. Be careful of posting only website links as these will go away if the publication folds or the URL changes. I prefer to save and upload my articles as .pdf files instead. Pick a portfolio-hosting website that allows you to send specific URLs for a clipping or category so that the receiver doesn’t have to scroll through your diverse portfolio looking for the relevant content.
Contracts are an important part of protecting yourself as a writer. There have been a few times that I have walked away from a client meeting knowing with absolute certainty what they want only to have them completely disappointed in the final project. In most cases, the client didn’t have a clear vision themselves. In other cases, I learned that sometimes a writer and a client just aren’t a good match, and I don’t take that personally. However, having a contract in place goes a long way in minimizing these issues as well as protecting the interests of the writer and client.
It doesn’t have to be a complex legal document. At a minimum, the agreement should outline the scope of work, including the topic, word count, due dates, revisions agreements and payment details. With new clients, I ask for half up front and the remainder upon completion.
The contract should also outline who will retain the rights to the content. It is common for the recipient to want exclusive rights, which is understandable because unique content is what makes a publication or client stand out.
However, you should include a clause that allows you to display the finished article on your portfolio and promote it on social media. Finally, be very careful about signing any contract that includes a non-compete clause. Your bread and butter comes from leveraging the knowledge you have about specific topics. Allowing a company to limit your ability to write for competitors can have long-term financial consequences.
Throughout my career, some projects are taken to pay the bills while others are true passion projects that feed my soul. For some nonprofit projects, I have agreed to a lower rate and volunteered a portion of my time. However, I carefully explain that accepting a reduced rate means that I have to turn down higher-paying jobs, so clients in this situation are typically willing to meet in an agreeable middle on the pay scale.
I’ve also learned that creating space for projects that my heart and mind are fully invested in is what keeps the burn out at bay. Last year, I began writing for my community newspaper. Getting to write positive feature stories about my neighbors, the people and businesses I care about, sends a surge of creative energy through me. When I have random people come up to me at the local craft market or hamburger shop to tell me, “That article is now in my hope chest to pass on to my children,” my heart beams with pride, and that feeling carries me through.
It is important that you find a balance between generating the income you need and creating the work you desire. At times, I have taken a step back from my profession and dove into other areas, part-time, that have nothing to do with writing to provide financial stability. Expanding my possibilities opened up a whole new world for new interests and my creativity to flow and shine.
Raising your rates should coincide with gaining experience and knowing your worth. If it is driven by anything else, then you will feel the need to apologize and that lack of confidence will show through. When reaching out, make sure you explain how the higher rate will benefit them. For example, “I value our partnership, and by raising my rates, I will be able to scale back my client load, allowing me to focus my time on giving your projects the consideration they deserve.”
It is important that you give clients a fair amount of notice, typically 60 to 90 days. You will be most successful if this coincides with their new budget year. I always let clients know that I am mindful that they are working within a budget, but we may have to adjust some of the output expectations. For example, you can lower the word count, reducing your normal 1,000-word article to 750 words. If rising costs are related to tangible expenses, such as website hosting rates or printing prices, then explain the increase is to cover those expenses.
Personally, getting outside is the best way to restore my creative energy. I love being on the water whether it is time spent taking a boat ride, paddle boarding alone, kayaking with friends or lounging on the beach.
In the colder months, hiking with my dog, relaxing with a book or working on an art project can clear my mind. When I’m feeling stuck in the middle of a project, changing my location where I’m working makes a huge difference in my mood and ability to focus. I pack up my laptop from my desk and may sit out on the deck or go to a local coffee shop or relax at the beach, and soon I’m typing away.
I’ve also recently been giving myself permission to rest, to nap and not feel lazy about it. More than anything, it is important to give yourself compassion when you aren’t feeling particularly creative. It is a cycle, like everything else, and your artistic side needs downtime to regenerate.