How to Get (or Lose) Freelance Creative Work

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by Laurie Riihimaki

I am a full-time freelance writer and editor and in my work, I communicate with a lot of different kinds of people. As a managing editor, I work with writers, mainly. But, I also conduct interviews with celebrities, entrepreneurs, and other creatives. It’s actually a pretty cool gig and I feel blessed to be able to make a living doing what I love. Not to brag, but my network is huge and always growing and that’s because I know the importance of making a good impression.

However, not everyone has this essential (if you want to go anywhere) skill down to a science. And that’s a problem if you’re looking to forward your career, make a difference, extend your network, or even just make a friend. Impressions, especially first impressions, matter. I cannot stress this enough. 

During my work in the creative field (I’ve also worked as an actor, director, and producer), I have seen far too many people totally blow it by behaving unprofessionally. And, more often than not, these people are doing so unconsciously. Some people just don’t understand professional etiquette. 

I’m about to lay down some Dos and Don’ts of the professional world. Hopefully, this will save someone from destroying their career. Let me tell you, talent is important, but good people skills will take you much farther. 

Don’t: Write Terrible Emails

Ok, so asking someone not to write a terrible email is pretty vague, so let me break it down for you: A terrible email would be considered one that is short or vague, has grammatical or spelling errors, has a rude and unprofessional tone, has no introduction to the topic or of yourself, or all of the above. Basically, there are a lot of ways to fuck up an email. 

As a managing editor, I have received so many emails from new writers (who are essentially asking to work for me) who do not even introduce themselves. I have gotten countless emails with samples attached, but seriously, if I don’t know who you are and you don’t even have the time to introduce yourself to me, then I don’t have the time to give your samples a look. Sorry, not sorry. The name of the game is respect. 

And, it’s not just writers. Recently, I received an email on a Sunday, a WEEKEND day, from a model I was set to interview that upcoming week. Since it wasn’t a workday, I had planned to email her first thing Monday morning. But, then I was bombarded with two more emails from her asking, “When are you going to answer me?” 

Like, ok, this is wrong on so many levels. First of all, it’s the weekend, second, this is NOT an urgent matter, at ALL, and third, double and triple emailing is worse than double-texting. I am not your friend, we have a professional collaboration and you are making me NOT want to work with you. 

Do you see how a bad email can really kill your chances of making it anywhere?

Do: Form Collaborations And Network

Networking does not come easy for everyone, but it’s a necessary skill if you want to reach success in your career. The biggest issue that I see when people try their hand at networking is that they focus on the ‘take.’ They want to know how the professional relationship will benefit them. But that is the exact opposite way to go about making professional connections.

Networking should always be mutually beneficial. When you meet someone, you should be asking how you can help them. This creates a huge opportunity for collaboration which can lead you down roads you never knew were there. It opens doors and usually leads to even more network building. It’s essentially a domino effect. 

I personally see it all the time in my life. I have clients that I work with that often offer me further opportunities with them, want to collaborate on something totally different together, or introduce me to people who could use my services. And, I do the same for others. It’s amazing meeting creatives every week who want to collaborate and build together. When you make a good impression, then you are invited into this lively community of creative collaboration — seriously, it’s that easy. 

Don’t: Come On Too Strong

A lot of creatives are eager to jump into the world of creative collaboration and who could blame them? But, there is a line that must NOT be crossed right away. And, that’s the line between professionalism and friendliness. 

Naturally, I am a very friendly person, but you can’t assume everyone is your friend at the beginning. Being kind is important, but going overboard can really hurt your chances of getting any work. 

For example, I got a recent email from a male model I was interviewing for a magazine. Right away, this man was calling me ‘Sweetheart.’ Um, not ok. I don’t need to be degraded. Like, do I have to give you the speech about workplace harassment, gender equality, and professional etiquette? This guy quickly killed his chances of me ever wanting to work with him again. 

I also received another email from a woman, a writer that I just started working with,  randomly spilling her heart out to me about traumas that have shaped her as a person. This was not a total killer for me, as I am a very empathetic person, but this could have easily cost her a job. It’s important to think about that fine line before hitting send. 

Do: Ask Questions

When we were children, we were taught to be curious and ask questions. But, once we got to a certain age, we became self-conscious about appearing ignorant or dumb when trying to learn and process information. However, asking questions is one of the best things you can do for your career. 

If you already have a network established, utilize it. Many people in your network can essentially become mentors. When you ask questions and discuss with people who know more than you, or perhaps just different things than you, you expand your own knowledge, which leads to personal and professional growth. Asking questions is magical. And people are naturally drawn to individuals who are curious and show the desire to learn. 

Don’t: Forget About Communication

Communication is key in every relationship in your life whether it’s a romantic relationship, a friendship, or a professional relationship. If you are not communicating, then the relationship will die, no doubt about it. 

I often have writers that legit just won’t email me back after they have missed a deadline. I should NOT have to track you down to ask you why you didn’t turn in your assignment. I am not your mother. You should communicate to me that you will be late. Honestly, I don’t really mind when writers turn in their work late (ONCE IN A WHILE) as long as they tell me what’s going on. Like, hey, I get life happens. I’m human too. Just fucking tell me when it is so that I can plan accordingly. 

Do: Be Positive And Kind

This is my favorite ‘Do.’ And, I think it should be practiced throughout your work life, your home life, your social life, all the lives! Be kind. It’s that simple. There is no reason for a professional relationship to be rude or harsh. 

I currently work for a client, we will call her Miranda, who constantly sends me harsh, rude, short, and downright mean emails at like 2 AM a few nights a week. I swear this bitch is wine drunk on her couch reading my work and tearing it apart every night. I, to be professional, respond politely in the morning asking how I can make proper adjustments to fix these concerns she has. But, she never responds. Then I get a new thread a few nights later with a contradictory complaint. 

This poor communication which I have brought to her attention through a beautifully professional written email that did not blame or accuse (her response: “Yes communication is bad.”), is killing our working relationship. And, it’s too bad for her because she relies on me for a lot and I am at my wit’s end.  

If you put positivity and kindness into practice, the people you are working with will inevitably trust you more, which helps aid productivity, develop innovative ideas, and boosts creative problem-solving. Basically positivity and kindness are the magic beans that will help your professional network grow, your career excel, and your personal and professional development soar. Try it out, I dare you. 

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