Ask a Freelancer

Ask a Freelancer: How Do You Balance Writing With Running a Business?

By Nicole Dieker October 21st, 2014

You described how you write a great deal each week. But that schedule doesn’t allow for any marketing time. Unless you’re including cold-calling, querying, and other marketing tasks as writing? What about bookkeeping? The usual tasks of running a home business? When you run to Staples for more ink, is that included in the 40-hour week? Or do you do that after you “write”?

—Marketing Plan

One of the hardest parts of managing the freelance life is combining billable work with time spent managing your career, which in my case includes pitching, bookkeeping, making and maintaining connections, and staying active on social media.

(It doesn’t include running to Staples for ink, thank goodness—I don’t own a printer, and don’t need one to write and submit articles and copy.)

I wrote a recent piece for Scratch titled “How Freelancers (Actually) Get Paid” that explains the bookkeeping in more depth. The short version: Part of every workday includes updating my organizational spreadsheet, scheduling when to send new invoices, and reminding people I haven’t received payment for outstanding invoices. I also have a CPA to help me with the taxes, which has been a tremendous asset.

Each day, it takes me an hour or two to work on the spreadsheet and send important emails. Luckily, I don’t have to deal with the entire two-hour workload all at once.

The secret to managing a workday with a large amount of writing and a substantial amount of administrative work is to use the smaller tasks as palette cleansers. I don’t know about you, but I find it very difficult to finish a big project and jump immediately into another article or writing project. (It might have to do with the ultradian rhythm, which suggests the brain can only concentrate on something for about 90 minutes without a break.)

So after I complete a task that requires a lot of focus, I need to do something different for 20 minutes. Sometimes answering emails is just the thing. Sometimes I use those 20 minutes to send off a pitch or follow up with someone who might become a future client. (I don’t ever cold-call; it’s not my style.)

Or sometimes I like to use those 20 minutes to catch up on Twitter or Tumblr or to jump into the comment section of one of my articles and contribute to the discussion. That’s where my “marketing” work comes in.

I have my online portfolio for people who want to view my work, but I don’t actively work to market myself. Instead, I focus on making connections with people and establishing my credibility through sharing and conversation.

Austin Kleon, author of Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered, backs up this idea in an interview you can read in the most recent issue of Scratch: “[W]hat I try to do… is to get people to quit thinking about self-promotion and start thinking about sharing. How do you share yourself and your passions in a way that’s interesting or helpful to other people? And I just try to drive that home, over and over.”

This isn’t to say I don’t promote my own work. Every time one of my pieces gets published, I immediately share it on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. But when you look at my feeds, you don’t see an endless stream of self-promotion.

Of my past 100 tweets, only 26 directly promoted my own work. That ratio applies to Tumblr as well; I link to everything I publish, but I also share interesting work from other people.

Why is this important? Because it turns you from a marketing machine into a real person. Readers, editors, and clients all like connecting with people, and the more genuine you are online, the more credibility you can bring to your career. This type of social sharing is also important because it takes the chore of self-promotion and turns it into something fun—a conversation.

For some freelancers, you may spend even more time sharing work. I’m fortunate enough to have a busy schedule, but if you’re just starting out, you may be able to spend 90 minutes researching, pitching, and sharing on social for every 20 minutes writing, not the other way around. What you shouldn’t stop doing is sharing your ideas and connecting with people. It’s an important way to reach out to those who could help you get work in the future, and unlike traditional forms of marketing, it’s free.

The best advice I can give you on this front is: Instead of framing it as marketing, focus on making and maintaining relationships with people. These people might become readers, they might hire you, and they might become friends. All three options sound fine to me.

Nicole Dieker is going to take a 20-minute writing break now. While she’s doing that, you can send your Ask a Freelancer questions to

Image by Gregory Bull
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