For most of my career, I’ve written for not-for-profit sectors. The public sector, arts, and charities have all been my bread and butter. In fact, I’ve been so proud of it, I’ve even started talks by saying “there’s a reason I don’t market baked beans.”
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against beans per se – what would us parents do without them?! – but I’ve been steadfast in my belief that work should be fulfilling and worthwhile, otherwise what’s the point, right?
I’ve been fortunate enough to take this moral high-ground for lots of reasons, primarily my upbringing, social stability, and, in some respects, luck. It’s easy to espouse ethics when you’re in a position to do so.
The moral conundrum
So, what happens when you transfer this to the world of freelancing? What if you’re faced with generating enough income to pay all your monthly expenses, but you’re approached by a brand you find jarring. Where do your ethics stand then?
Being the lefty-liberal that I am, I’ve always been quite right-on about sticking to your guns and sticking it to “the man.” Generally, being a sticky stickler. I would never debase myself and take a job in a company with business objectives I didn’t agree with – heavens, no!
Yet, freelancing is a funny old thing.
Every so often, something akin to the above scenario happens. You’re approached by a firm which has actively chosen you over competitors (trust), they bring a brief you can work with (clarity), you know you can deliver on it (successful outcomes), and the pay is good (woo hoo!).
Brilliant. However, then you realise, as you start to investigate, there’s just the small matter of hating everything for which the organisation stands!
Money Vs. morals
This is when it gets tricky. It’s easy to find yourself justifying a decision…
“Well, I don’t TECHNICALLY work for them.”
“I’m not ACTUALLY part of their company.”
“I don’t use their email address, so it’s not like I REALLY work for them.”
Even though your copy is feeding the greater machine, it somehow feels more removed, clinical, and justified.
I’ve been blessed with working with some fantastic people over the years. Individuals who have managed to retain a positive outlook in spite of their background, not because of it like me.
I’ve helped artists who are giving their all, in spite of only just scraping by, and produced PR for small charities run by volunteers bringing communities together. I also spent years promoting the transformational outcomes delivered by tutors working ridiculous hours at educational organisations dealt funding cut after funding cut. Money, for most, was not a primary objective.
Staying true to yourself
Since freelancing, I’ve only once accepted a few days of work from a company I felt uneasy about, and I have to say, felt very guilty afterwards. I’ve learnt that working with businesses that are diametrically opposed to my values actually makes writing slower, more arduous, and ironically take more time.
Thankfully, I’m in a position not to have to do this again, but it’s far easier said than done turning down potential repeat work when you run your own small business. Trust me though – if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right. Follow your instincts as they’re usually on the nose.
So, who are the right clients? How do you know if there’s a good match between you and a potential client?
Finding the right freelance clients
1. Think about specialising
When I first started freelancing, I opted for the tact of being non-specialised for fear of cutting off potential work from other sectors. However, I was given some useful advice early on. Specialising can actually make you more memorable as you become the go-to person for a particular area.
Promoting yourself as a specialist in specific sectors doesn’t cut off other clients. In fact, conversely, it can bring more your way as people get to know about your services. Businesses are reassured by someone who knows their industry, and for me, that’s public sector and not-for-profit. These are the clients I want and enjoy.
2. Be who you want to work with
Trying to understand a new field quickly while worrying that you’re not quite hitting the mark with your writing, can make you question why you ever took work on that you didn’t really agree with in the first place.
Conversely, you’ll naturally attract clients with an outlook akin to your own if you focus your skills and promote your core values. The clients with an affinity to you will be the clients you feel happiest and most comfortable working alongside.
3. Know your values
It’s a weird thing for a freelancer to think of themselves as a brand. Even after working in Marketing all of my career, I find it a bit cringy to big-up myself as “Brand Me.” What’s easier to do is think about what matters most to me – Integrity? Dependability? Honesty? Professionalism?
Spend time thinking about what your own values are to support your brand, and this will, in turn, bring in clients that share your vision and result in the project briefs you most enjoy.
So, what have the last two years of freelancing taught me? That it’s easy to stand on a soapbox… when that soapbox doesn’t have a mortgage payment due!
Let me know your own experiences and tips.