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Why One Of The Best Moments In a Freelancer’s Career Is Also The Most Dangerous

The most successful freelancers keep seeking out their own opportunities even when they don’t have to. Here’s why.

Why One Of The Best Moments In a Freelancer’s Career Is Also The Most Dangerous
[Photo: Flickr user David Mulder]

Finding new clients is a lot of work. So is pitching new projects to existing clients. You can invest many hours in the process with no guarantee that anything will come of it.

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That’s why it’s always an amazing moment when potential clients start coming to you. It’s an even more amazing moment when enough proposed projects cross your desk that you can meet your revenue goals without being out there hustling.

But that wonder moment is also dangerous. Tempting as it is to celebrate this newfound efficiency, your long-term career growth depends on your seeking out stuff you don’t have to seek out. Successful people keep pitching, even when they don’t need to.

They do this for several reasons. First, if you’ve been out in the real world more than a few years, you know that business is cyclical. Christine Hennebury, a writer and performer, says that she keeps pitching “to keep momentum going. If you aren’t taking action on your own behalf, eventually things will dry up.”

That client that’s keeping you busy now could go out of business, and you’ll be scrambling. Editor Deborah Ring says she keeps pitching “because it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have.”

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You Won’t Lose Control Of Your Career Goals

But that’s not the only reason to keep putting yourself out there Katherine Lewis, a freelance journalist (and my accountability partner) has enough work to stay busy. “But I keep pitching because I want to be in the driver’s seat of my career,” she says. “I have goals in terms of coverage area, story topics, and publications that I won’t achieve unless I keep stretching myself and trying for ambitious stories.”

She emails me every Friday to tell me if she’s suggested a story to a major magazine, or how progress is going on her book proposal. If these things come through, then she can “slowly phase out the clients that don’t pay as well or align as closely with my career goals.” 

Pitching new projects can be incredibly motivating for employees too. Just Fearless, a company founded by Kisha Mays, works in global business development, with a particular focus on women entrepreneurs. “Business has been booming,” Mays reports, but even so, she recently pitched an organization in Zambia that is working with the government to help entrepreneurs within that country. She went through the formal proposal process, received a yes, and is working out final contract details. “I have galvanized my entire team around the vision, and they are helping me make it happen,” she says.

Unexpected opportunities are great, but it’s unlikely that whatever comes over the transom is perfectly matched with your long-term goals. Whereas if you think it up, it probably is. You definitely want to celebrate the moment when adequate work comes to you. But getting too comfortable is dangerous. If you make time to keep pitching, you ultimately stay in charge.

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About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at www.lauravanderkam.com.

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