Lessons Learned


Casper (Photo credit: Jessicamulley)

Today we’re not necessarily talking about blogs. Many of you, though, are freelancers and as a freelancer I’ve recently had an interesting experience. The assignment wasn’t for a blog, but for an article. When I was invited to look at the job (on Elance), I was so excited! It looked interesting, fun, right up my alley and the proceeds were coming at just the right time to fund a little upgrade I’ve been contemplating, and then some. I was so excited I overlooked the most important fact: the timeline was insane and would require completely re-arranging my home AND work schedules for the next week. The lessons I learned (and some were from previous experiences and road tested well) apply to life as a writer, no matter what you’re format.

  1. Don’t go changing your plan and re-arranging your perfectly awesome life (or blog) just for something shiny.
  2. If someone seems like they’re lying, they are.
  3. Ghost writing should be more like Casper and less like a character in a Stephen King novel.
  4. Freelancing is a lot about taking chances and having boundaries.

If you execute perfectly on that  last one, you won’t do the first one. But balancing intelligent chance taking with boundaries requires a lot of experience, zero flexibility in a few right places and tremendous flexibility in all the others. (Much like yoga – you can read about that here, at my yoga blog. Back to the writing thing.)

As a freelancer you become used to odd, last-minute requests and persnickety clients. Par for the course. You learn to set boundaries. You learn to say “No,” compassionately, but clearly. (Or you don’t last very long). Sometimes a job comes in that is so intriguing you forget the first rule about not re-arranging your perfectly spectacular life. This can go really well – really, really well. However, One reason to avoid it is that it doesn’t allow time for the usual back and forth that’s part of vetting your clients. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes… well, let’s just say there are some crazy people out there. And they don’t come with tags.

So when you break one of the rules, or flex where in retrospect you should have stood ground, or become rigid when you wish had flexed, you lose time. You put yourself behind perhaps. You lose money. These are all reasons to have reserve, even a little, in both time and money. Give yourself the ability to come to screeching halt when the investigative nose you were hired for ends up tracking the stinky smell in your client’s er… direction.

When possible, and especially with new clients, go through a reputable third party. I like Elance. They hold payment in escrow, so you know it’s there and you won’t get a runaround. They can mediate if there are problems. They’re like the nosey neighbor who you wish would stop watching your house, but you’re incredibly thankful for when some creep follows you home and you need a witness.

Don’t take payment up front, and don’t work hourly. There are a ton of good reasons not to work hourly . By fronting any supply fees and arranging for payment after client satisfaction you are essentially guaranteeing the client their money back if they’re not satisfied or if the arrangement falls through. This is good, clean boundaries. You’re working for yourself until you turn in the copy drizzled with awesome-sauce that only you can create.

Ghost writing is writing in someone else’s voice for pay, either because they don’t have the confidence, access, talent or time. It isn’t a creepy, sneaky relationship. If it ever starts to feel like that, that’s one of those signals to stop cold. Put the pen down and the notes in the “experience bin.” It’s not trash… it’s a really good lesson. Be a fast learner.