Categorized | Job Hunting

Survival of the Freelancer

Posted on 06 May 2009

Two experts share their solo success tips.

Before starting his own public relations company, Dmitri Vietze managed publicity for an independent record distributor. He saw it as a stepping stone toward his current career: independent publicist for world music clients. Timing played a critical role. “My wife and I had recently had a baby,” Vietze says. “So I wanted to be close to home. Also, there was a lot of in-fighting at work.”

Vietze’s success with his company, rock paper scissors, is due to pluck and luck. “I just started sending out the message to the world that this was my chosen field, and the job fell into my lap.” Cosmic propriety aside, Vietze is knowledgeable of–and continues to educate himself about–things ethno-musicological.

“Know” News Is Good News
Having worked for 11 years as a network television reporter in northeastern Florida, Al Rothstein decided it was time to start his own media services firm. While he’s the sole proprietor, if necessary, Rothstein sometimes brings in additional PR personnel or photographers for a given project.

Discipline is never an end in itself, only a means to an end.

“My background is media,” Rothstein unequivocally states. “When I was in news, I learned how reporters go about their business–their decisions and what they seek in a story; what makes news, what doesn’t.” Freelancer Axiom #1: Know your field, and stay abreast of it.

Promotion Is Paramount
In addition to promoting their own clients, Vietze and Rothstein consistently market themselves. To succeed, promotion is paramount–hence, Axiom #2. A current resume or curriculum vitae is essential. While he hasn’t had to use them, Vietze admits that having a brochure or a dedicated Web site may be beneficial. Of course, there’s the ubiquitous business card. Always have one handy; you never know whom you’ll meet, or where.

Consider, as Rothstein has done, placing a listing under “Public Relations” in the Yellow Pages. Advertise in local newspapers or magazines. While sometimes expensive, these costs are usually tax-deductible. Remember Freelance Axiom #3: Always keep (and appropriately file) your receipts.

Act With Tact
You don’t want to be construed as an egotist; however, it’s important that freelancers regularly broadcast their own success (Axiom #4). Like Vietze and Rothstein, continue to hone your self-marketing techniques. Always seek (tactfully) for opportunities. Learn the art of effective networking, and practice it–frequently. Vietze feels attending important industry trade conventions is helpful. He also monitors relevant e-mail discussion groups, occasionally contacting appropriate people.

Get Involved
Axiom #5: Seek to do more. Rothstein recommends joining local chapters of national organizations such as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). “But don’t just sit back and expect things to happen. You have to get involved,” he emphasizes. Attend functions frequently, volunteer for committees and projects, and serve in a leadership capacity. Remember: While you’re volunteering in your community-at-large, many movers and shakers are as well.

A Dream Job…
Vietze cites several advantages of going solo. For one thing, he can choose projects of his own liking. “Most workplaces have inherent political problems and divisions, a context that hinders progress and thwarts employee success,” said Vietze, who studied management practices in college. “There’s something about a contractual relationship–as opposed to an employee/employer one–that tends to work more smoothly.”

…Or a Nightmare?
As a freelancer, you must be virtually unstoppable. “You have to do everything,” cautions Vietze, “bookkeeping, secretarial tasks, travel, billing, emotional support, etc., in addition to ‘the actual work’ you’re paid to do.” Gone are corporate accoutrements. “Everything comes out of your pocket; suddenly you’ve got a new sense of expenses.”

Everything rests on your shoulders, he continues. You receive no regular paycheck, no automatic health insurance or retirement fund, no paid holidays or sick days. As Vietze emphasizes: “When I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Period.” This leads to Axiom #6, which states (to quote the rock band King Crimson), “discipline is never an end in itself, only a means to an end.” But if you’ve got perseverance and the right mix of moxie and talent, self-employment could bring you plenty of rewards.

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