March 14, 2023
A Month of Networking
by Matthew Beardmore
As a writer, one of my 2023 goals is to reach out to as many writers and editors here in Chicago (and even a few outside the city) as I can, to get a better view of the writing and editing landscape. Where are people finding work? How much should I be charging? How important is social media to your business success? What professional organizations are worth joining? What certifications should I be pursuing? Etcera.
Here’s some of what I’ve learned from these meetings:
- You can’t replace face-to-face contact. Thanks to COVID, nearly all my working hours during these last three years have been spent at home, and just recently the occasional coffeeshop, as I’ve started to feel more comfortable being out in public without a mask. Stepping away from my laptop and the comfort of my home for a meeting that didn’t involve logging into Zoom, WebEx, or Teams was a bit unnerving at first but getting out there and meeting other professionals for coffee has reminded me of how disconnected I had become by only working from home. Sitting across from someone and interacting with them in person can’t be replicated by even the best headset and online collaboration technology.
- Freelance writers and editors love their flexible work schedules. There are still deadlines to be met and there are definitely times when you have to hunker down and get the job done but what I’ve learned is that there is a great relief felt by those who have escaped the corporate grind and can now, for the most part, decide when they want to work.
- People actually want to help. This one has been a pleasant surprise. When I freelanced several years ago I never took the time to try to develop relationships with other freelance writers and editors. I always viewed them as my competition (and I guess they still are to some extent), so I didn’t spend time or energy engaging with them. Looking back, that was a big mistake. My new approach has been to share my resources and experiences as well as being open about the struggles and concerns I have about starting a writing and editing business. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve found many people can relate to my situation and they’ve been open to answering my questions, sharing their resources, expertise, and even contacts, for which I am very appreciative.
- You need to follow up and follow up. Then follow up again. Over the last few months I’ve been reminded that receiving a timely response, or just a response for that matter, from a magazine or newspaper editor is a rare occurrence. I understand editors are likely inundated with pitches and other day-to-day responsibilities that prevent them from responding to everyone. Still, it would be nice to at least receive a We’re not interested instead of no response at all. That being said, I’ve been reminded that following up with an editor isn’t a bad thing – in fact, it’s very necessary to give them a gentle nudge (or two or three) to check out your pitch because there’s a good chance, especially if you don’t know the editor, that you’re not getting a response on first send.
- I’m not the only one who gets anxious posting to social media. I’ve been fortunate to have my work published in some well-known publications such as The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and ESPN The Magazine, so I don’t think twice when there could potentially be a large number of people reading my work. But with social media I have never felt so uncomfortable writing – and I’m not alone based on some of the conversations I’ve had with other writers. I’m lucky to post once a week on LinkedIn (I refuse to do Facebook and my Twitter account is dormant). It’s not because I don’t have updates on my business or news/thoughts I’d like to share, but it’s awkward for me to talk about myself (I know, that’s probably not helpful when you’re running a business), and trying to say something that’s going to gain any type of traction. There’s a nauseating amount of bragging/look at me!, and people fishing for compliments and Likes on social media that it makes it anxiety provoking for me when I know what I want to say isn’t super witty or doesn’t meet the standards of what’s considered a good social media post.
- Writers and editors speak openly about finances and want to get paid what they’re worth. Something else that surprised me – and it’s been quite refreshing – is how some writers and editors have no concern about divulging their hourly rate or even their annual earnings. Discussing salary details with anyone who isn’t my wife has always been taboo for me, but as I’m learning, being open about finances can actually help set the market rate for writer and editors at an appropriate level. Because, contrary to what some believe, good writing and editing are not easy. These are skills built up over many years. It’s easy to find a slew of inexperienced writers willing to work for pennies per word at one of these content mills, but the way I see it you get what you pay for.
Which leads me to the question I’ve posed during my networking meetings – how do you know what to charge when you have years of good experience and the ability to consistently deliver quality work? The responses I’ve received have been everything from, “I don’t think I charge enough,” to, “I struggle setting my rate because I don’t want to overcharge myself out of an opportunity, but I still want to be fairly compensated for my time, effort, and the quality of work I’m producing.” Figuring out what to charge is something I’m still working through, but hearing different viewpoints has been helpful as I navigate this part of running a business.
Sure, it can be disappointing when a writer or editor doesn’t respond to a meeting request, tells me they don’t have time to meet, or they don’t quite understand why I’d even want to meet, but I’m going to continue reaching out to build a network. There are just too many positives I’ve already experienced during the last couple months of networking to stop now.
Matt Beardmore, owner of MB Writing and Editorial Services in Chicago, has 20+ years' writing and editing experience. His focus is helping universities, individuals, and businesses of all sizes create their best content. Matt's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and ESPN The Magazine, and he's contributed to the last two Fodor's Chicago Travel Guides.
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