You might remember Shel Horowitz from an interview I did with him back in 2009. In that interview, he said something that stood out for me and has stayed with me ever since.
When asked about advice for writers new and old he said, “Write clearly and concisely, know your market and your marketing plan, be ethical and friendly in your dealings with others. And make sure it’s fun.”
Such great advice.
Well now I’m interviewing successful freelancers, and Shel has some wonderful advice for us on that front, also. I especially liked his tip on starting out in a niche. I did that when I started and he’s right, you can start in one niche and expand later as your career grows.
Enjoy this interview.
You’ve been freelancing since the mid-80s. How did you decide it’s what you wanted to do?
I moved to a new area in 1981 and couldn’t find a job. So I started freelancing for newspapers, and also building up my private freelance writing: resumes, press releases, marketing materials, and such. Within a few years, I realized I liked working with private clients more than I liked dealing with the craziness of newspaper and magazine freelancing. And by the mid-1980s, I’d pretty much stopped looking for jobs.
Your freelance life has taken you in the direction of consulting. Tell us more about that.
It really came from my clients. Starting in the early 2000s, people started asking me to help manage their publishing projects or to go much deeper in the marketing. At first I would turn them down and say I was just a copywriter, but around 2004, I decided my skills were up to the challenge. I’ve discovered that I really like the consulting. I get a great deal of satisfaction from project management: turning a badly written, madly conceived manuscript into a one that is a joy to read, and then overseeing the transformation into a well-published and well-marketed book.
And I also take pleasure in addressing the deep-seated issues about marketing to the deep green, lazy green, and nongreen markets in effective and affordable and ethical ways. And it’s also very nice because it takes the pressure off my own marketing. I no longer need to ensure a constant stream of tiny clients, if I have a few big projects that can fill much of my year’s calendar.
Have you noticed the “feast or famine” world that people think about when they picture freelancing?
That was true in the early days. Back then, I could pretty much count on a slow summer and also a month starting in mid-December. However, it’s evened out a lot since then, and I find I’m usually pretty busy all year round.
In your opinion, what’s the best way to get new clients as a freelancer?
Partner with others who already reach your key audience in win-win ways, and have them bring you into their market as a trusted partner (this is one of the areas I consult on, in fact).
Do you have a favorite book about writing or small business that has helped you?
I’m an addicted reader, and can’t give you just one. Among the top books that have influenced me:
The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, by Stephen M.R. Covey–amplifies my own work on strong ethics as a key business success strategy (and I was utterly thrilled when he agreed to write the Foreword to my own Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green)
Cash Copy, by Jeffrey Lant–still the most transformational book I’ve ever read on copywriting (maybe just because it got to me before I’d read a lot of others)
The Success Principles, by Jack Canfield and Janet Switzer–the only self-help book I recommend regularly
I’m writing those down to add to my list. How wonderful that Mr. Covey that he was able to write the forward to Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green!
Let’s switch gears to those who want to start a freelancing career today. What’s your best advice?
Get some samples published online (even if on your own website) so people can check you out. Figure out a niche either in type of writing (e.g., white papers, articles, press releases, web pages, ad copy) or sphere of interest (in my case green marketing, small business marketing, and book publishing/marketing) and become known for that; you can always expand into other niches later. If you’re choosing an interest-based niche, get involved in the online communities for that interest–they are a very powerful way to build your brand and become known for your expertise.
Anything you’d like to add?
Don’t be afraid to have many interests. In spite of my advice above, I always say I became a writer because I’m interested in everything. Certainly I have some places where my interest is stronger, but my vast curiosity is a real advantage when someone asks me to write a press release or book cover about something I know nothing about. My own pattern has been to brand myself serially in different industries and niches, in a pattern that may seem random from the outside, but actually feels logical to me.
Where can we find you online?
Twitter (best way to reach): https://twitter.com/
Facebook Profile: http://www.facebook.com/shel.
Facebook Green and Ethical Marketing Fanpage: http://www.facebook.com/
Google+ personal profile: https://plus.google.com/
Google+ Green and Profitable with Shel Horowitz: https://plus.google.com/