Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Why 9/11 Set The Tempo For My Freelance Writing Business

September 11, 2001.

I was three months into my freelance writing business, having left a solid job as the Business Editor at The Fayetteville Observer in Fayetteville, NC. I had just netted my first three regular paying clients and was settling into a routine of reporting and writing stories from home.

And we all know what happened that day -- the Towers fell.

But this was the irony for me personally:

I also happened to be newly married to an Army sergeant who was on his way to Manhattan to help with rescue efforts. And as I was sorting through the chaos of my own personal life and trying to make sense of what that would mean to my new marriage, my phone rang.

It was one of my former colleagues from the Observer, and she wanted to let me know that people at the paper were talking about me. At first, I thought she might be calling because they were concerned about the welfare of my groom. But my stomach plunged as she revealed that, in fact, I had become the butt of a newsroom joke.

She named names. She gave specific words and listed the digs.

See, the fellow reporters (and editors) were feeling a little gleeful -- and smug -- that while I'd left them in the dust for a freelance lifestyle ... apparently my timing for starting a business was terrible. The Towers had fallen. The world as we knew it was in shambles. The economy would tank. And they were having a wonderful laugh at the idea that within a few months of my exit from the paper, I would fall flat on my face in my solo venture.

They weren't concerned about my Army husband's welfare at all. They were laughing at us.

I hung up the phone, and I could feel my face burning. And in that one moment, I made a decision:

No matter what was happening in the world, no matter what was happening around me, no matter who was affected in my personal life ... I would always generate stories. I would always look forward. I would never (never!) allow circumstance to dictate my work output, unless I was comatose in a hospital or six feet under.

That moment set the tone for my entire business ethic.

Let's fast forward.

I'm approaching my 15-year anniversary of leaving that newspaper, in June 2016.

Throughout the years, I've stuck to my pledge.

And this is how, and I'm going to share this secret with you:

Whatever is happening in your circle is NOT necessarily happening to a prospective or current client. They are moving through their business day, expecting you to make their deadline and turn in a quality writing project, regardless of what is happening in your neck of the woods.

Today is a perfect example.

I woke to a pea soup foggy morning -- 6 a.m. -- and icy roads -- and closed schools. My child is playing a Sonic the Hedgehog game as we speak, still clad in his Star Wars PJs. Normally, of course, he'd be in a classroom while I work on my stories.

I'm doing three interviews for a story due on Thursday, setting up interviews for three other stories for two other clients ... and I'm also working on some marketing for new clients.

One client is on the other side of the state, and although she has a child the same age as mine and similar weather, they're at the office today. One client is in New Jersey. One client is in Georgia. Obviously, they don't have the same weather that I do. And obviously, they're not single moms, balancing the entertainment of a kid home from school with a day of reporting and writing.

Work does not stop just because we have an icy morning and a school closing.

A few months ago, work didn't stop just because there were terrorist attacks in Paris. I remember that weekend well -- do you? That weekend, it seemed like the world stood still as people followed the events in France much the same way they did after 9/11. But I didn't stop. I was on deadline, writing a story that was due that Monday. I kept an ear to the newscasts, but all the while, I was writing my piece.

Work does not stop for holidays, either.

During New Year's Eve this year, I was calling sources for a story that was due shortly after the holiday. Most people were getting ready for parties, but I have a child to feed, clothe and shelter. When the work comes in, I take the work and do the work by the deadline.

Work does not stop for illness.

In September, I was down for 30 days with pneumonia. I worked on five stories, interviewing people propped up on my pillows and writing through fever and weakness.

Work does not stop for a freelancer, if you mean business. This business isn't for the faint of heart. You are making your salary on 100 percent commission. It's incumbent on you to make deadlines, regardless of what is going on.

When I look back on 9/11, of course I remember the tragedy. But I also remember the valuable business lesson. I remember the words that were parroted to me -- words of others that might have meant discouragement or that would have psychologically derailed anyone less determined. But for me, those words proved to be the catalyst that drove my work ethic for nearly 15 years.

Those words set the entire tempo for my freelance business.

If you mean business about freelancing, then conduct business.

Work does not stop for everyone, just because your world stopped spinning. As long as you remember that, you'll make it as a freelancer.

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