Thinking BIGGER: Freelance Consulting

Think BigI am thinking about starting a consulting business. Consulting appeals to me because I love controlling my schedule, managing projects, and taking on work that I find interesting and fulfilling. It seems like consulting would allow me to be the historian, writer, and researcher I want to be. However, to start a consulting practice, I need to figure out what skills and expertise I possess that other people would pay for. This is the stage where I have been stuck. How do I translate my academic experience into marketable, real-world skills?

Reinventing You

reinventing-youLast Tuesday, my writing group attended a talk given by Dorie Clark, author of [amazon_link id="1422144135" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Reinventing You[/amazon_link]. The premise of her book: How can you get to where you want to go in your career?

Clark contextualized her book by telling the audience about her journey from laid-off political reporter to business expert. In between these two careers, Clark worked as a political campaign spokesperson, marketer, and filmmaker. After catching a break with the Harvard Business Review, Clark used her experience and reporting skills to generate a 3-step process for personal re-invention, a process that enables people to get from point A to point B (or even point C) in their careers.


Dorie Clark’s 3-Step Process

Step 1: Discover your personal brand. You need to know how your friends and coworkers perceive you. Clark suggested either working with a career counselor or asking half a dozen friends to describe you in 3 words.

Step 2: Discover your personal narrative. You need to find the thread that connects all of your different career and personal experiences. To find this thread, Clark advised the audience to write down their “war stories,” the stories that we often tell people. These stories form the cornerstones of how we perceive the world. If you can identify the thread that connects these cornerstones, you will understand why you have chosen to pursue the jobs and experiences you have, even if they seem unrelated.

Step 3: Manifest Your Brand. Don’t tell people about your brand, live it.


From Skeptic to Book Buyer

Think DifferentAlthough an inspiring speaker, Clark’s talk did not move me to buy her book. I have read a number of books on personal branding and I did not find her strategy for how to build a personal brand to be all that new and novel. Her strategy: be consistent with your message and promote it via social media, especially Twitter. However, the Q & A session changed my mind because the posed questions allowed Clark to discuss the contents of her book in more depth.

Clark urged the audience not to overlook and undervalue important attributes of their personality just because they can’t figure out how to connect their love of baking with their career interests. It occurred to me that my seemingly disparate interests, history, writing, marketing, organization, and technology (to name a few), all share a common theme: problem solving. (Perhaps problem solving constitutes a marketable skill set.)

Clark asserted that the economic crash of 2008 has affected the present and future job market in two profound ways:

First, potential employers no longer want to see how you conform. Instead, they want to know how potential employees (and consultants) are different and unique. They want to know about the valuable skills and special perspective you will bring to the table if they hire you.

Second, by 2020, 40% of Americans will be freelancers. People who set-up their freelance shops now are in the vanguard of this coming trend.

Clark counseled that freelancers need to mitigate risk for potential clients by creating a rock-solid brand that demonstrates a track record of reliability. Blogs present freelancers with a powerful tool for broadcasting their ideas to the world. They also demonstrate consistency if freelancers update them on a regular basis.


Imagining My Future

Yoga-DogI attended Clark’s talk more out of peer pressure than interest. However, I left her talk interested in her ideas and inspired to think more about what my “brand” can offer people. Appreciative, I purchased Reinventing You. I have not read it yet, but it is my next read.

Even without reading Clark’s book, her talk stimulated ideas and gave me hope that starting a consulting practice may not be a bad idea. Late last week, I sat down and listed the skills and knowledge I possess that others may be interested in making use of. It turned out to be an expansive list.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to think about how I can offer and market my various skills. I love the idea of offering my skills for hire, but I do not want to offer them haphazardly. I want to develop a clear business plan for how I would offer each skill, how each skill adds to the work I want to accomplish as a historian, and what I would charge for my services. Most of all, I want to create a plan that will enable me to expand my brand and still prioritize the project most important to me: writing my first book: America’s First Gateway: Albany, N.Y., 1615-1830.

As soon as I draft my plan of action, I will let you know.


What Do You Think?

Do you offer your historical, writing, academic or other skills for hire? If so, how are you going about it? Do you have a self-imposed guideline for the type of projects you take on? How many projects do you accept?

Are you thinking about offering your skills for hire? If so, what is your plan of action?


How to be a Freelancer: Freelance Writing Essentials

Sometimes my ruminations over how to turn my passion for history, research, & writing into a paying job lead me to think about pursuing work as a freelance writer. Naturally, my brain follows this idea with a question: "How do I become a freelance writer?" On Friday, I attempted to satisfy my brain with an answer by attending a daylong workshop called: Freelance Writing Essentials.

Throughout the day, Ethan Gilsdorf took me and the other participants on a whirlwind tour of the freelance writing world. We learned what resources we need, about the commitment we must make, how to find stories, identify markets, pitch our stories to those markets, and what we can expect to be paid (not much).

The following represents the quick and dirty version of what I learned from this class.

3 Must-Have Resources

1.     [amazon_link id="1599635933" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Writers’ Market[/amazon_link]: Ethan described this book as Writers Market“the Bible for freelance work.” He also noted the importance of having the most up-to-date edition because each year there are new markets and editors.

2. Avant Gild Membership: $55/year or $89 for 2 years. Membership has its privileges, which include great articles on how to pitch certain publications, a publication calendar, e-mail addresses for editors, opportunities to purchase health insurance, invitations to social events, and more. (Click here for full perk list)

3.     [amazon_link id="B0012SMGQA" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Get a Freelance Life [/amazon_link]by Billed as “the complete guide to all aspects of a freelance writing career.”

freelance lifeThe Commitment/Disclaimer

Ethan loves working as a freelancer and would like others to join him. However, he did not allow his enthusiasm to overshadow reality.

Aspiring freelancers will need to invest 2-7 years before they will find regular freelance work.

New freelancers will need to devote a good amount of time to ideas, research, writing, & pitching (20+ hours a week) for the first 3-6 months to get going.

Rejection will become a part of every new freelancer's life, especially in the beginning.

Freelancers do not get rich. (According to [amazon_link id="B0096823KM" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Get a Freelance Life[/amazon_link] freelancers in the Boston area make somewhere between $10,000-$50,000/year.)


Great Markets for Beginners

Beginners should look to publish at small publications before they move on to bigger ones. The more publication credits a freelancer gets under their belt the more work they will receive.

Great places to start: Alumni Magazines & Local publications and small newspapers.


Finding Ideas/Stories

Who do you know? All freelancers should take advantage of their connections to find subject matter. We often know interesting people who work at interesting places. IdeasFrequently, the people we know can point us towards other fascinating people.

Freelancers need to think about “Why Now?” “Why You?” & “Why the Topic or Story” as they mull over their ideas and flesh them out. They will need to answer all 3 questions when they pitch their ideas to editors.

Identifying Markets

Freelancers must research publications and what their needs are.

[amazon_link id="1599635941" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Writer’s Market[/amazon_link],, & physical copies of publications play a crucial role in market research because they allow freelancers to see what publications are out there, what kinds of stories periodicals publish, and the name and contact information of a person to pitch to.

These resources also help freelancers save time and energy as they inform freelancers which features and columns are available to them.

Honing Ideas for Specific Markets

Before freelancers pitch a story, they need to research whether or not a specific publication has already printed a similar story. Serious freelancers will obtain the last 2-3 issues of the publication that they want to pitch to and browse its website to see if a market exists for their story with a particular publication.

Writers who wish to pitch stories related to travel, food, or current events need to be timely. Their trip or take on a given topic must be current or they need to add updated pieces to make their dated experiences current.

baseballMaking the Pitch

Pitches have a life cycle. Freelancers should look at each rejection as an opportunity to tweak and hone their pitch and story idea.

All pitch letters should be tailored to a specific publication and must contain 4 pieces of information: 1.Hook 2. Idea 3.Details 4. Author Bio

All of the above should answer the “Why Now?” “Why You?” & “Why this Topic/Story?” questions.

Pitch letters should be no longer than 1 page. They should be written in the body of an e-mail. Most editors prefer to see pitches that take up no more space than their e-mail screen.



I really enjoyed Ethan's class and encourage anyone in the Boston area to go to Grub Street and take it (Ethan will offer the class again on August 23). You will learn more than I could ever post here and receive his 5 packets of notes, tips, and examples.

I came away from the class with a great deal of knowledge about freelancing and the confidence that I can make it as a freelance writer.

I view freelance writing as an opportunity to earn a bit of money by writing about my historical work and my other interests. I may not get rich, but it seems like I could create a career where my part-time freelance work helps support my full-time historical endeavors.

What Do You Think?

Do you have tips on how to be a freelancer? Please leave a comment for all to read or send me a tweet.