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"Don’t confuse “sticking to your principles” with being a moron" and other sage entrepreneurial advice from Kristen King

by Steve Fisher on January 16, 2009

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In Part 1 of this interview, we discussed how you can make a good living as a freelance writer. In this segment, Part 2, we delve deeper into Kristen King‘s experiences as an entrepreneur and what people need to have done to be prepared for a tough year ahead. Now, back to our interview….

Steve: I would like to switch gears a bit and talk about entrepreneurship and your journey from “freelance wannabe to real, live freelance writer.” In your professional bio, you described yourself as “an optimistic Jersey girl straight out of college” when you jumped right into freelance work. What motivated you to skip the grind of corporate journalism or writing for the man to go right into freelance writing?
Kristen:
In all honestly, I think part of it was just not knowing any better. It didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t do it, so I just did it. When I was finishing up school, I thought to myself, “Wow, I really wish I could just start my own business and work for myself doing things I love all the time. Oh, wait – I can.”

Steve: One question I get from people thinking about starting a business is “do I need a business plan”? I tell them that if they are a freelancer and selling their skills, they don’t, but… if they are planning to grow a business that they can’t run without one. What is your philosophy on this type of thing?
Kristen:
Um, I would say that everyone running any kind of business needs a business plan. But do I have one? No. It’s at the top of my list of things to do, I swear. And I wish I had done it from the outset, because once you get into the habit of going through the day to day, it’s hard to change gears and do that big-picture organization.

The thing is, if you want to go somewhere, you can certainly just hop in the car and start heading in the right direction. But chances are good that if you take some time at the outset to plot your trip, figure out what you want to see along the way and whether you have a timeline, you’ll enjoy it a lot more and probably save a lot of time. The risk of not planning the trip is getting lost and not realizing it, getting lost and realizing it and not knowing what to do, getting sidetracked, running out of gas along the way… Some people are okay with that and that’s fine. But most freelancers I know often feel frustrated because they’re not where they want to be, and planning it out really helps to relieve that frustration. It’s easier to plan before you get started (and, like so many people, develop bad habits), but it’s never too late.

Steve: I would like to get a “Top 5” from you. Since we are facing some tough economic times ahead for possibly the next 12-18 months. However, in a downturn it actually is the best time to start a business. As an experienced freelancer, what are the Top 5 things you would recommend those new to the freelance game do to weather the storm?
Kristen:
Write a business plan. Write a business plan, write a business plan, write a business plan. Write a business plan. And then follow it. Was that six? Okay, seriously though, one of the most important things any businessperson can do, possibly the most important, is to define their goals and figure out what they need to do to meet those goals, and that’s a big part of what a business plan does for you. What are you going to do? Why should a client hire you instead of someone else? How will you determine whether you’re successful? How are you going to grow your business? And, something that’s especially relevant now, how will you weather the tough times?

With that in mind, these are the top 5 tips I would offer:
1.    Take some time to figure out your goals, and reevaluate them regularly. Do you want to make $100K in a year? Do you want to break into the Wall Street Journal? Do you want to work 4 hours a day and be able to spend time with your kids? In other words, why are you doing this in the first place?
2.    Figure out what you can do to make progress toward those goals and do a little of it every day. For instance, if you want to break into WSJ, READ it. Research the market. Talk to other people who write for them. If you want to want to work 4 hours a day instead of 8, think of ways you can become more efficient, and implement them.
3.    Market constantly. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made as a freelancer is getting complacent with my workload. When I’m swamped, I have a tendency to put off marketing because, hey, I already have all the work I can handle. But if you don’t market yourself constantly, you’ll be in trouble when the workload fizzles because there won’t be anything waiting in the wings for you.
4.    Don’t confuse “sticking to your principles” with being a moron. Of course I like working for myself, and you probably do, too. But at the end of the day, you need to pay the bills and if your writing isn’t doing it and you don’t have a cushion to fall back on (such as a gainfully employed spouse), it’s okay to suck it up and take a part-time job or even go work full time somewhere else and just write on the side for a while. It doesn’t make you a failure. I worked as many as 4 other part time jobs at once when I was getting my business off the ground. I don’t particularly recommend it, but I did what I needed to do and it paid off in the end. And if I have to do it again, I will. Because at the end of the day, I’m still a writer, even if I’m also waiting tables. But I refuse to be a starving writer.
5.    Have a little project that’s just yours. I write three blogs for myself (http://sass-pants.com, http://meowbarkblog.com, http://inkthinkerblog.com), and I think it keeps me sane. If all I did was write for other people all the time, I would just totally burn out. Do I harbor fantasies that my blogs will take off and make me a bajillionaire? You betcha. But I do those projects because I love them and they’re fun, and it gives me something to look forward to every day that is all mine, where I have complete editorial control. Whether it’s reading a book you keep meaning to pick up or working on your novel or just writing a letter to a friend, do something that’s yours daily.

Next Time: We we learn why she has so many pets and why she is called “Ms. Sass Pants”.

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