27 Mar 2015

(guest post) the freelance life: surviving the drought

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Earlier this week I tweeted that I was seeking advice from freelancers on enduring deal drought. Those who freelance know precisely what I mean, and pipeline is what keeps us up most nights–how and from where we’ll secure our next project, how we’ll endure the period from this to what’s next. My friend Daniel Doebrich, being the thoughtful and methodical person he is, sent such an exceptional and thorough list that I invited him to pen a guest post for this space.

I had the opportunity to briefly work with Daniel when I was a managing partner at my previous company, and found him smart, passionate, detail-oriented and creative. We’ve kept in touch in the two years since and it’s been incredible to see his trajectory, and more importantly, to share valuable information and leads with one another. I think you’ll find his advice pragmatic + helpful, and let me know if you dig this sort of thing–guest posts, that is.

About Daniel, in his own words: Daniel has worked in social media and digital marketing from its nascent days. He has positioned a number of startups and emerging companies, and helped large corporations to develop a digital mindset. At the core, he connects strong analytical skills with a storytelling approach to define result-driven strategies. Past clients include: Target, BMW, Audi, Unilever, Credit Suisse, Vodafone.

After years in the agency world, Daniel decided to work as a freelance digital strategist, advising a diverse set of clients, from emerging startups to large-scale companies across different industries. He is also partner at MISTER, a digital creative agency, where he develops striking websites and e-commerce for new generation brands such as Hood by Air, EN|NOIR and Alyx.

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Doebrich
Photo Courtesy of Daniel Doebrich
Freelance life can be fun, thrilling and filled with inspiring projects. You have more creative freedom, and clients will appreciate your unconventional ideas if you make them relatable to their corporate structure and mindset.

In between those dedicated times, where you are driven to deliver a strong creative proposal to the client, sometimes ecstatic about the opportunities, there come the periods when nothing happens. Your phone is still. Days without any new email in your inbox, other than those newsletters which you loathe. You marvel for a second about your recent success, but then you realize that you need to work hard, leave that comfort zone once again, and hustle to land your next gig. Those breaks can stretch, drive you crazy and get you to a point where you wish that you didn’t have two left hands when it comes to being a waiter.

In these moments you should remind yourself of a few things.

On surviving the drought, because it’s a struggle:

Always be humble and friendly with people, whether it’s your landlord, your personal assistant at the bank, or your friends. Do things without expecting anything in return. It will pay off when you are late with your rent, or need support to raise the credit line for a while.
Don’t overspend while you have a strong income. Keep being reasonable with your spendings instead. Do you really need to go out that night or get another drink, or go for dinner? Put that money aside, you will need it in bad times.
Don’t feel self conscious if a friend offers to treat you in bad times, but don’t get comfortable with it either. Sometimes it’s just great to be invited for dinner in a time where you couldn’t spare a dime.
Take time off even when it seems counterintuitive. While in the drought, you sometimes want to just keep working and contact everyone you possibly know, but your brain screams stop. Take some time off. Even if it seems to go against reason. You need that break and there is nothing more important than having a fresh mind and good energy.
Work out. The only way to prevent you from going crazy by the sheer thought of your open bills is a good, hard workout. Do it regularly, and push just a little more. In those moments, you will find the ideas that take you to the next stage.

On generating leads (always be closing):

Write it down. It’s the most important rule to success. Make plans and get them on paper or a Google doc. Only by outlining the immediate steps, and by defining specific actions you can make them reality.
Keep your network alive. Understand with whom you like to work and who is helpful in getting you leads. These people know your capabilities or might have a good network themselves. Keep them posted about your projects.
Create lists and keep them up to date. Sure, LinkedIn is great, but it’s so unstructured. Create a spreadsheet and divide it in a way that makes it easy for you to filter contacts according to how helpful they are in generating leads, how quick they respond, or which industries they serve.
Be precise. Create an initial email that sums up exactly what you are searching for. Describe the set of tasks you want to work on. Provide examples. The more precise you are the more likely the recruiter or contact at any company can match you to a job opportunity/project.
Be personal. Send an email blast to start with, but make every email personal. It will get you more responses than just writing an anonymous email. More importantly, it will keep you in people’s mind and lead to unsolicited leads later on.
Pitch your crazy ideas. If you have a good idea, let’s say to do a startup innovation workshop within a big company, prepare a short pitch deck, research the people who are responsible for innovation on LinkedIn, and make that cold call (i.e. write them an email). It works wonders. You will have few responses, but the people who answer might open a whole new opportunity for you.

I am pretty sure that you know most of the above and it might seem trivial, but remember them the next time you are in a period of slow business.

Connect with Daniel on Twitter // Instagram // LinkedIn // website (MISTER)

6 Comments

  1. Carly wrote:

    I’m just starting to flirt with the freelance life and it can be difficult to keep perspective on the big picture. The “generating leads” section of this post was especially helpful—thank you!

    Posted on 3.27.15 · Reply to comment
  2. I am a newbie in the freelance life! Looking forward to all such valuable advice from experienced hands!!! Thank you for sharing these tips!!

    Posted on 3.27.15 · Reply to comment
  3. Tony Held wrote:

    The freelance life sure loves to throw dry patches at you. The thing to remember is keep calm and follow sound advice like Daniel’s.

    Posted on 5.27.15 · Reply to comment

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  • We spend our time devoted to the periphery. If periphery was an altar trust that we’d all gather and worship. We cleave to the shiny objects that are social media, email, podcasting—we’re told we have to be diversified—at the expense of the one true thing you create. The thing by which you want to be known and remembered. We give equal (if not more) weight and devotion to that which surrounds our thing instead of getting laser-focused and refining our skills, being a student—all to keep getting better at the thing.
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Trust me, I want to do ALL THE THINGS. Now, I ask myself what portion of my day have I committed to being a better writer, a better storyteller and brand builder? Am I learning something new, regardless of how minor that something is? Or am I zeroing in on the things that are conduits and bridges to and from the work. You’ve created all these points of entry to a thing that isn’t as good as the vehicle that got them to the thing.
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Think about that. Prioritize. .
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  • So, I fell down in the middle of the street while walking to an important meeting. I scraped up my knee pretty bad, but kept it moving, because I have a long-term play to earn as much as I can to move somewhere super remote and quiet by the end of the year.
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It’s weird to think that I’ve lived in NY for the first 39 years of my life, Los Angeles for the past four, but I’m watching old episodes of Shetland and wondering how I can get myself to a remote farmhouse, cabin, outhouse, etc. All I need is good WIFI for work.
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But an island in Scotland isn’t realistic, so I’m setting my sights closer to home, California. And I’ve got time to research, thankfully. .
Until then, I’ll keep plugging, keep writing, keep up with newly-revisited healthy habits.
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  • New post up on medium. Link in bio.
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“If I had my way, I’d never leave my house. My home is small, and I know every inch of it. An 800-square foot box with two windows, walls, and a doorbell that plays instrumental Julio Iglesias. Half the rooms are cloaked in effulgent light and the other a cool charcoal black. I’ve become fluent at oscillating between the two. I don’t even love the space in which I live, but I’m hard-pressed to leave it.”
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It’s bizarre that I’ve always been a city girl and all I want now is small. Quiet. Remote. I feel like my dad.
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I cracked my tooth on Friday (it’s all good—I got Percocet and a $3K bill), and it made me think that there’s so much I want to do, work-wise and artistically, but I’m always thinking about money. Years ago, I heard Paul Jarvis talk about reducing your expenses to feel richer. I know, captain  obvious, but it resonated with me on Friday while on Percocet.
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I’m considering another move when my lease is up to a small AF town in California not too far from the Redwoods and the ocean. I LOVE California, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the US. And I love the idea of FEWER people. Quiet to write. Maybe I can get a dog friend for my Felix! .
So, we’ll see. Does anyone here live in a remote or super small town? If so, what do you love about it?
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  • My breaking point was over a hazelnut. A hazelnut that cracked my tooth at two-thirty this morning. Because I was stress-eating granola. But it was the three thousand dollar bill to fix said tooth that did me in. Only a few weeks before, a persistent ache in another tooth turned into a five-hour fiasco involving a dentist, an endodontist, a $5,000 bill and me texting a friend — while the fifth shot in my mouth was kicking in, and I was inhaling nitrous gas like a glass of water in the fucking Sahara — ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS BULLSHIT?
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My dentist tried to reassure me, after rejecting my pleas for a fifteen-year repayment plan, that this particular tooth had already booked a one-way ticket to a root canal, so I ended up saving $2,000! Oh, cool. So, instead of dropping ten grand on two teeth, I was only paying eight. Like I have eight thousand dollars just laying around, waiting to be flushed down the dental toilet. Apparently, the hazelnut was my salvation. I started laughing and continued laughing. For a while. To the point where everyone in the waiting room was uncomfortable.
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****I wrote about teeth, money, and debt in my latest medium post. Link in bio.*****
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Today, I wrote a tutorial about crafting plots. Instead of vivisecting plot arcs — because frankly, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch — I invite you to consider three simple questions: what story will sustain your interest for 70,000 words? Can you commit to your story and the sequence of events that unfold for months or years of your life? Does your novel have the weight to capture and hold your reader until the end?
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This year, I’m committed to sharing what I know for FREE. I’ve got no classes to sell after this (I actually hate the idea of teaching writing; I’d rather be doing it), but lots of people have asked for the goods and I believe if you’ve got the skill and privilege, you should be sharing it.
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  • Want to write a book? I'm sharing a six-part series in how to get the job done. The first two I'm previewing on Medium. Yesterday, I wrote about writing killer dialogue. Today, I'm sharing how to craft compelling characters. If you love what you read, consider sharing and clapping (more than once!). link in bio!
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Characters are delicious. When I was small, I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with books and my imagination. It’s a strange, magical thing to live your life inside your head, but this is what I did. Long, sultry summers formed a backdrop for one of the many worlds I’d created, complete with a cast of characters who felt so real you could touch them. This was more than inventing an imaginary friend or anthropomorphizing a stuffed bear; my characters were fully-formed people who had their own personalities, a particular way of talk, and facial features I’d cobbled together from television shows and magazines. They clasped pearls around their thin necks and wore sweaters and shoes made of silk and dyed blue. They were carriers of credit cards, plastic rectangular shapes I’d only seen on TV — a far cry from the crumpled bills and pennies we hoarded. My characters were breathing Frankensteins, only far less frightening. What made them real was they refused to follow a script — they rarely behaved the way I wanted them to.
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  • Want to write a book? I got you. Below is an excerpt from my latest medium piece—the first tutorial of six I’ll be sharing on writing mechanics. You’ll get the other 5 later this month if you’re on my email list. Link in profile!
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Denis Johnson once said that dialogue isn’t about what characters are saying, but what’s left unsaid. The leaner the dialogue, the bigger the bite. Darkness fell. The summer in 2005 was unseasonably chilly, and we wrapped ourselves in light jackets and thin cotton sweaters, watching the author of Jesus’ Sonchain-smoke and dole out advice with humor and humility. We were at a writer’s conference where we workshopped our stories during the day and mingled with boldfaced names in the evening. This would be the summer before I sold my first book and I was floored that my teacher at the time, Nick Flynn, found something honest and worthy in my essays that would become my memoir, The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here. Back then, I was painfully shy and prone to giving violently awkward first impressions, so instead of the cocktails and conversation, I chose to sit on the wet grass and listen to writers whom I admired. One evening, Denis Johnson gave a talk on dialogue.
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Dialogue is difficult. I often think of it as the power-lifter of novel writing because it has to operate successfully on several different levels. Not only does it have to move the story forward, convey information quickly, and grant narrative breathing space (because who wants to plow through pages without an exhale), but it also has to reveal core character truths. Dialogue delivers what narrative can’t — a voyeuristic, in-depth look into the minds of characters through what they say, and more importantly, what they chose not to disclose. Characters come to life when they speak. We visualize them as living, breathing people who have a particular way of talk, a specific view of the world and their place in it. While the author has dominion over the narrative, serving as your tour guide through the story, the dialogue serves as the wild card, the wrench that could usurp everything you’ve just read and what you’re about to read.
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