Overcoming the feast or famine cycle in ghostwriting

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Ghostwriting, like so many forms of freelance writing, has feast or famine work cycles. One month you’re bombarded with so many new projects and assignments that you wonder how you’ll ever get all the work done by the deadline. Then the deadline arrives, the work has magically been done, and you’re left wondering, “What’s next?” Because while you were working like crazy to complete your tasks, you were so focused on the project on your plate that you didn’t look ahead to make sure you had work for next month.

You’ve gone from feasting on income-generating assignments to starving for new work in the blink of an eye. That’s pretty typical for writers, and ghostwriters in particular. In fact, I think the cycles may be even more severe for ghostwriters.

So what can you do to even out the huge peaks and valleys that come with freelancing in general, and ghostwriting in particular? Here are some ideas:

  • Spread out payments on new projects. When considering larger projects, try and spread out the partial payments you’ll receive so that you at least even out your cash flow peaks and valleys. Some clients offer to pay 50% up front and 50% on completion of writing projects, but that doesn’t work for me. I try and split up big projects into 6-8 payments at set milestones. This helps even out my cash flow and reduces the amount of money I have at risk if the client suddenly disappears.
  • Fill in with short turnaround projects. Ghostwriting engagements such as books and speeches can last weeks or even months, during which you may not be able to bill for that work. Generate cash flow by pursuing shorter projects, such as magazine article writing, blog posts, and newsletter writing. Start by pitching article ideas to the respective editors.
  • Build other parts of your business during your down time. If you were on the Association of Ghostwriters‘ teleseminar for May, you heard all about private label rights (PLR) and how they work. PLR creation is perfect for filling free time with writing work that can pay dividends down the road. Essentially, you create packets of articles webmasters buy for a small fee, which you can then sell multiple times. (This approach is similar to seasonal businesses identifying complementary services they can provide during off-peak months.)
  • Invest time in marketing to target clients. Whether you’d like to be ghostwriting 24/7 or you’d like a mix of book, article, and web clients, use any free time to make contact with potential clients you’d like to work with. Send letters of introduction to editors and agents. Respond to online job postings that look appealing. Reconnect with past clients you’d like to do more work for. Refill that marketing funnel with prospects to reduce your downtime.
  • Become more social. Like it or not, social media is the starting point for a lot of new writing opportunities. From paid blogging gigs to project referrals, social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are the first place some professionals turn for guidance regarding ghostwriters. Make sure you have an account, have joined some groups, and that you’re fairly active, so that you come up in searches. You may even want to start blogging in your area of expertise if you don’t have a ton of clips to show prospects.
  • Scour online job boards. Want more work? Go see what’s currently available and apply for it. Sometimes it really is just that simple. FreelanceDaily.net is a subscription service that provides a daily Monday-Friday list via email of all the writing-related gigs that have been advertised online. But you can also check sites like MediaBistro, elance, and guru.
  • Network with fellow ghostwriters. I keep repeating this in the hopes that members will see the value in getting to know each other. We all know people – agents, editors, and prospects. I love referring colleagues to potential clients when they aren’t a good fit for me and I know I’m not alone. But the only way to be referred work is if you’ve established a rapport and a level of trust with others in the profession. Start to build that now.
  • Become a joiner. Granted, the best time to shell out money to join a professional association is when your bank account is full, but sometimes becoming a member will help to replenish said bank account. Ask friends and colleagues where some of their recent clients have come from and then consider joining the source of that work, whether it’s the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Editorial Freelancers Association, or an industry group outside of writing and editing, such as for finance professionals, Internet marketing gurus, or national speakers.

Of course, another approach you can take is to enjoy the down time while you have it. I’m not suggesting you do nothing, but invest time in reaching out to potential clients and then relax a little.  Enjoy a little break. Because as soon as your next feast is here, you’re going to be wishing you had taken a moment to breathe.

 

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