Change or die. That became my mantra during a career transition from corporate middle manager to freelance writer.
My move was driven by challenging circumstances during the economic downturn of 2008.
Seven years ago my boss called me into his office. The look on his face told me the conversation wasn’t going to be pleasant for either of us.
As a human resources professional for more than 25 years, I’d been on the delivering end of more layoff discussions than I care to count. At age 50, it was my turn. With a handshake and a generous severance package, my position was eliminated.
I decided re-entry into an increasingly competitive and younger workforce was not for me. I decided to pursue a path that fed my soul and nourished my mind, one that I’d always dreamed about.
I became a freelance feature writer.
Freelance workforce growing
I didn’t know it at the time, but with my decision I joined a fast-shifting labor demographic in America: the growing self-employed freelance workforce.
Nearly 53 million American workers, or 34 percent of the U.S. labor force, are employed in some type of freelance or contingent employment agreement, according to a 2014 report by the Freelancers Union as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
“Many mid-career professionals get to a transition point where the pain of the status quo is greater than the fear of making a change,” said Holly Bretschneider, founder and chief inspiration officer for Charlotte-based Blue Sky Business Academy.
Bretschneider, 50, works with entrepreneurs and small-business owners sharing systems and approaches to support success in business and life. She’s navigated two career transitions herself, with 12 years as a corporate attorney and another dozen years owning and operating two boutique stationery stores.
“Most people I work with haven’t reflected upon what they want out of their career,” said Bretschneider. “Upon recognizing things aren’t working, people can make choices leading to greater satisfaction and fulfillment. I encourage people to draw inspiration from times in their life when there was great uncertainty and accompanying fear, yet ultimately things worked out.”
One trick I learned early: Seek advice from others who’ve been there.
Attending CPCC’s annual Sensoria, a celebration of the arts, I heard a local freelance writer speak about her experience. This helped me frame my approach to writing as a business.
Many who ask about my work are surprised to learn that only about 25 percent of what I do is actually writing. I spend the majority of my time looking through publications for opportunities and editorial contacts, researching and pitching ideas, identifying and interviewing sources, and promoting my work through social media.
Another tip I share with those transitioning is to start with a small platform and build upon your success.
My first break came with an opportunity to regularly contribute to the Observer as a neighborhood correspondent. I honed many new skills, including coming up with story ideas, working for multiple bosses, writing on deadline, and finding people to share their knowledge or experiences in my stories.
With my confidence emboldened and a fresh set of clips, I began soliciting work from other publications. Through trial and error I learned how to craft pitches that piqued editors’ interest and how to deliver work in a format that worked best for them.
I created a website to market my services (http://michaeljwrites.com/), and social media became my friend. I learned LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter (I’m @mjsolender) are effective marketing tools and great sources for following industry personnel and trends.
My freelance career has unfolded in a way I could have never predicted eight years ago. I’m incredibly grateful to the many editors, colleagues and friends who have supported me.
Seeing my byline is always a thrill. Seeing my name on the checks that come as a result of my work is even better.