Paul Lima on freelance success: it’s all about flexibility

May 9, 2011

While some say the recession seems to be over, many freelancers are still struggling to pick up the pieces. Can the economy recover? Will budgets ever return to what they were?

We asked Paul Lima, veteran freelance writer, trainer, and consultant, for his take on things. With 20 years of experience writing business case studies, white papers and a number of books (check out the Six-Figure Freelancer blog) – Lima has inspired many scribes to venture out and prosper independently. In a one-on-one interview, he gave us his strategies on how freelance writers can succeed in this post-recession market.

Q: The traditional media market isn’t what it used to be. Where do you see the opportunities today?

A: Some people are making money through their blogs or tweeting for corporate clients or writing LinkedIn content for clients. The traditional print market still exists but it’s not growing and rates aren’t going up. There’s the online content that’s making some people a little bit of money. For freelancers who don’t mind doing corporate work, many of them are shifting to doing business or online writing.

Q: You used to write for big Canadian newspapers like the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. What factored into your decision to become a corporate writer?

A: Quite some time ago a company asked me if I would ghostwrite an article for one of their senior executives for a trade magazine. They asked me what I would charge and there’s this Holy Grail for most writers of a buck a word. So I decided, hey, this is a company, I’ll ask for a buck a word and see what happens. They didn’t blink. I thought, “How do I get more of this?”

Q: How did your business do in the recession?

A: The first six months people were running around like the sky is falling, and I was going, “What recession?” I was having the best six months of my career. Things did slow down for me. I noticed some companies stopped hiring me as a freelancer. They took everything in-house to cut costs. Other companies cut staff, and they were hiring me as a freelancer because they still needed words produced.

Q: Folks are saying we’re out of the recession now. So the companies that turned to freelancers due to smaller in-house budgets, will they now trim back on freelancers as their budgets grow again?

A: You can’t generalize for all companies. Some that hired freelancers will continue to do that. Others have a management mentality that says the more people I manage the more important I am. They’ll try to take people on as employees. So some freelancers will actually end up getting full-time jobs.

Q: Are there any opportunities left in the traditional print media world?

A: If your business was declining you would cut back, and the traditional print media is in decline. Having said that, there are publications targeting niche markets that are probably doing OK and maybe even doing well. As a freelancer you have to step back and say, “What sectors are rising? Can I catch the wave?” I rode the tech wave for a good 10 years. My slogan used to be “Paul Lima: the dot-com freelancer.” I’m not saying that anymore. Waves come and go, they ebb and flow.

Q: What’s your advice for freelancers in this post-recession market?

A: You have to determine who you are and who you can do it for. If you can be flexible, there’s greater opportunity to survive and thrive…. How do you become flexible? Maybe you take courses, read books, develop your skills and develop interests in new topics. If you’re sitting still in a market that’s declining you’re not going to do that well. You need to be aware and you need to take action based on that awareness. I know that sounds really general but a couple of years ago if you wanted to do really well in automotive; you’d be hard pressed. Now things are coming back. During the dot-com boom if you wanted to write about dot-com companies you did really well. If that were still your focus, you’d be struggling. You have to be flexible and adaptable.

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