In 2013, I had a lofty goal. I wanted to build a remote writing business that could replace my full-time job income so I could work from home when I decided to start a family.
By May of last year, I had checked “own a successful business” off my bucket list and we got pregnant with a baby girl. I was so excited to take some time off when she was born… but taking a break from work wasn’t as I thought.
You see, it had taken me years to build connections and grow my freelance income.
I spent many lonely nights and weekends behind the laptop coming up with ideas, pitching services, and writing for clients. During maternity leave, my freelance income would go down to zero, and the thought of not being able to bounce back terrified me.
I sat down at the kitchen table in March ready to get back to work. Jobs began rolling in at first, but things came to a screeching halt when COVID-19 started making its way to my city.
Regular clients pulled back on assignments, new clients put a pause on negotiations, and my pitch emails began to go unanswered. On top of stressing about work, I was so afraid of falling sick and, even worse, getting our baby sick.
Rebuilding after maternity leave happened a lot slower than I would have liked, but I’m making progress now thanks to these strategies:
Being open to new things
I’m usually a creature of habit, and this is not a good personality trait for a freelancer.
Trends change, businesses change, and depending on current events, the world can truly change at the drop of a hat. I had to adapt this time or I was going to get left behind. I started adapting by saying one simple word: yes.
I said yes to writing about topics outside of my comfort zone. I said yes when people asked me to offer new services like book editing and ghostwriting. I even experimented with PR-related services.
Instead of holding on to what once was, I now operate with the mindset that the old ways of doing business are behind us. Companies have new needs during a pandemic and possible recession, and my job is to figure out what they need; to pivot my business for their goals. As a personal finance writer, this often means reporting on new financial concepts, trends, and products.
Some of my pivoting efforts so far have worked and some haven’t. But the more I experiment, the more I learn where I should invest my time. This leads me to the next thing I’m doing…
Getting intentional with my time
Admittedly, I was a workaholic before having our baby girl. I believed that I had to work harder, longer for every dollar, so I over-worked. Unending hours behind my computer and work always on the brain. It took a toll on my mental health in ways that I nor my partner liked (irritability is real) and counseling worked wonders. If you’re dealing with stress, depression, or anxiety, therapy is an HSA-eligible expense, so get help if you need it!
We both came to the conclusion that my bad habit of working all of the time became unsustainable when a child came into the equation. Now, I’m fiercely selective about the work I take on. With a baby in tow and a career that’s faced a reset, I no longer have unlimited time and so I treat my time as a precious commodity.
I listen to my gut and stop wasting time courting work that isn’t the right fit. I also speak up whenever the work scope expands beyond what I initially agree to do. Turning down work and standing up for myself can be nerve-wracking because… bills.
Still, I have faith and it pays off. Each time I say no to a time suck I’m able to do client outreach to land a better contract.
Hanging out on LinkedIn and Twitter
LinkedIn and Twitter have both been game-changers. A few great leads found me after I updated my LinkedIn profile so I doubled-down on the platform.
LinkedIn offers a 30-day trial on the Premium account. I signed up to unlock the inMail direct message feature so I could directly pitch editors at publications and companies. Many pitches went unanswered but several turned into jobs. The folks at LinkedIn share some direct message pitching tips here.
On Twitter, it’s common for editors and project managers to tweet out calls for submissions and freelance opportunities. Sometimes they’ll even put the pay rate in the actual tweet so you can vet jobs before you apply for them. As a Black writer, leads shared on the @writersofcolor profile specifically have been invaluable to me.
Staying connected to other freelancers
Referrals from peers are one of the key ways that I get work so I’ve devoted more time to nurturing relationships.
Staying in touch with other freelancers also keeps me sane. Running a business is often lonely and uncertain financial times are scary. When I need encouragement or have questions about pricing or what to do in a situation, I can go to them for advice.
How can you find other freelancers to connect with? Niche and industry-specific Facebook groups and forums are a great place to start. I’ve made the best connections and gotten the best leads from smaller niche groups because it means fewer irrelevant threads clog up my Facebook feed.
Trust me — unproductive and spammy Facebook groups can quickly turn into nothing more than a distraction.
Although I am pushing myself to meet goals, I’m also cheering myself on with positive self-talk if I don’t achieve them. I’m a new mom and that comes with new challenges, especially financially.
My partner and I are working towards rebuilding our emergency savings since I was away from work for two months. To be frank, having a baby is expensive. If you’re eligible for an HSA, socking away money in it can help cover your out-of-pocket medical costs and other items like a baby monitor, breast pump, swaddles, wipes, and much more.
I’m making progress with my business and our family is making progress with establishing a new normal. Whenever I’m having an off day, I remind myself that there’s a lot of things that I can’t control. I can’t control the economy or a company’s freelancer budget during a pandemic.
I can, however, control the way I respond. I can choose not to take rejection personally. I can choose to look for glimmers of opportunity even when the situation looks bleak.
Thankfully, my days are more good than bad. And overall, the business I’m rebuilding now has the potential to be even better than before.