It’s been a weird year. I don’t know any other year like it. Even 2016 with its celebrity deaths, Brexit vote, and Trump’s shock election doesn’t even come close to the worst Australian wildfires ever, the biggest social justice marches ever, and a pandemic that led to many countries shutting right down.
Naturally, it has affected businesses of all sizes. Small businesses have been hit the hardest as work filters down to us from the big boys. While work is stable, I’m relying on just three clients when a year ago, I had a list of about ten clients. All this has given me space to rethink what I do and whether it is viable. As things stand, I’m expecting that by 2023 my work pattern and services will look different from how they looked in early 2018.
How Did I Get Here?
Some of you know how and why I became a freelance writer and some of you don’t. In 2011, my marriage broke down. Later that year when it became apparent we were destined to go our separate ways, I knew I needed a new start away from the southeast. My heart has always been in the southwest and here it will remain.
I spent several years applying for heritage jobs all over the country and anything evenly vaguely related to my skills and qualifications. I looked in places as far apart as conservation work in Devon to fossil fuel prospecting GIS technician jobs in Aberdeen(!). Rejection after rejection, my mental health suffered and I decided to walk away. I resigned from my job, returned to Wiltshire and built a freelance writing career from nothing.
2015-2018 were great years. I earnt more than I ever thought I would earn as a writer and I was inundated with work at times. But there was always Brexit looming and the inevitable economic damage that was going to have, has had so far, and will still have.
The Last Two Years
Around spring 2018, I started to lose work. Around that time I took up photography although that was always going to be a monetised hobby and remains as such to this day. I don’t want to do events, working with people stresses me out. There isn’t a lot of money in the two areas I enjoy – stock photography and photographic art, but I do enjoy taking photos for photography’s sake.
I also started learning some web design skills. I wasn’t bad back then, but I recognise I am far better at it now with some designs looking quite professional with still some way to go. Similar with Photoshop. This was part conscious effort to diversify, and part unconscious fear of falling behind and having too narrow a skill set. I thought upskilling would be the best antidote to the evolving needs of small businesses.
I was no longer inundated with writing work and some long term clients slipped away so I had the time to learn new skills too. Although Brexit has impacted my workload (some clients I’ve lost have told me that this is precisely why they were ending our working arrangement), it isn’t the only factor. The rise and rise of social media and the changes they continue to implement meant that I’ve been asked to write truncated versions or summaries for social media and email marketing.
Professional blogs and long-form articles still form the bulk of my work, but I suspect that will change in the next three years.
And then 2020 Happened
Most of my work loss came in the winter when other countries were already in the grip of the pandemic and going through shutdown. As we headed into the spring, things startled to trickle down further with some work coming my way for a while. Since then it’s been coasting and I’m now in a period that is generally quiet in any given year anyway. Still, in this year, it feels that little bit more concerning. I’m not expecting the October boost I have come to expect.
I have four personal positives from this year though.
In truth, this has seen a steady increase since 2018 but in 2020 it’s skyrocketed. I finished Phobetor’s Children draft 1 in January, sent it out to betas in Feb, and then worked on A Salmonweird Sleighing from March until the end of May when my focus returned to Phobetor’s Children edits. Add to that a plan to write more short stories for the Salmonweird website, and I’m definitely engaging with my fiction more.
July was my best ever month for book sales; August was good too. It isn’t enough to live on, but I feel encouraged by how well Salmonweird is doing. To date, it has outsold all my other works combined and many of these are to new friends I’ve made on Twitter and Instagram both directly and through their recommendations to friends and family.
I’ve used social media much more effectively this year. I had a nasty habit of getting into arguments with trolls and racists on Facebook. I’ve now unfollowed most of those pages and spending less time on Facebook. But I’m spending more time on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. I’m learning the importance of social selling and have made genuine connections. I would say I’ve made more acquaintances and friends this year on Twitter and Instagram than most other previous years, and *met* more new people than I have since the days of AOL. It’s important not see everyone you talk to online as potential book buyers, see them as friends and acquaintances who might buy your book and recommend it to others.
It’s something I’ve gradually picked up since 2018 but the pandemic has given me more time to learn design using stock images, and editing my photographs. I also recently invested in some Udemy courses for Photoshop. I don’t think I’m a great photographer or photo editor, but this year I’ve improved a lot over last year and expect to improve more into next year. It may be something I only use for my own visual promotions on social media.
I haven’t blogged a great deal since about 2018, with about 1-2 posts a month which is a huge drop since the heyday of 2013 when I was posting 3-4 times per week. But I’ve been slowly reviving that since the spring when I added a blog to my SmugMug photography page. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, and as a pro writer it’s likely a USP to help promote my photography.
I’m also using the Salmonweird website for extra material to support the books. The character interviews and short story has had great feedback and some people told me they bought the book on the strength of the short story alone. So, that’s a real bonus and something I want to do more of.
In the year 2023…
Everything feels fluid for me right now. I’m not entirely sure that purely writing website content and blogs is sustainable. My niche is education and recruitment and although these areas will always need content and will always have a market to appeal to, I suspect sands are shifting to new types of content and more diverse engagement for businesses in those (and most other) industries.
I would dearly love to sell enough Salmonweird books to live on, but that’s unlikely. I potentially see a monetised website at some point, either this one of the Salmonweird site. I would have to justify charging people for content though through regular high quality posts. That’s a while away and probably something I won’t visit properly until autumn next year when A Salmonweird Sleighing and Afterlife PLC are released.
Photography? I hope to have made some sales, both stock images and photographic art as I improve my editing skills. I would love to get regular photo art print sales, but it’s a big competitive market and people don’t buy a lot of unique photo art anyway. I do need to be better at marketing this though, along with photographic products at Red Bubble.
I’m no graphic designer and have little to no artistic bone in my body. I used stock images for Phobetor’s Children and Salmonweird book covers and I think that’s my limit. I am unlikely to ever sell these skills, but you never know. Everyone seems to be offering training courses and I have considered offering such training and education to other writers who really struggle with marketing.
In short, I am currently a blog content writer specialising in education and recruitment. I expect this will only be a part of what I do some 3-5 years from now. I still have a lot of thinking to do about the future of my freelancing work, especially as so much of what I was doing just two years ago now feels it could be non-viable going forward. As you can tell, I’m still doing a lot of thinking. The one thing I am certain of right now is that my freelancing career will look quite different in 2023 compared to how it looked in 2018 when things started to drop off.
Has this year changed your business? Are you considering other opportunities?