The Born Freelancer on Nurturing Your Inner Terrier

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.


bornfreel2I was clearing and sorting through my archives this week: so many hard copy reports, stories and scripts. I’m not being unduly immodest when I tell you I’ve written – and sold – a lot of good words over the years. Some very good indeed.

I’ve never been rich nor famous but I’ve always made a living as a freelancer throughout many ups and downs of the economy by reinventing myself and energetically throwing myself into different media and various genres. It was refreshing to be reminded of all the scripts and stories I’d written; I’d probably forgotten 80 per cent of them.

But looking back over my accumulated work, I was reminded again and again of lots of early lost opportunities – awesome scripts that almost sold but didn’t; pitches that seemed so promising but never took off. Early on in my career I could never understand why. It took me many years to realize the answer. I’d like to share it with you today.

It came to me while watching a small dog at play.

How can I put it? I was born without an inner terrier. (The terrier – a feisty dog best known for their persistence, tenacity and reluctance to ever willingly let go of anything.)

As a result, I would posit that I have only infrequently achieved the level of continuing and ongoing success to which I had always aspired.

I’m not complaining. Over the years I’ve been involved in fantastic projects with amazing people and I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed the process. I’ve made enough income out of it to keep at it. I’ve always felt I was doing what I was meant to be doing in the way I was meant to be doing it. But looking back I slowly came to realize that something had been missing especially in my earlier days. Something that was never quite right to fully optimize the outcome of all my efforts. Something I wish I had recognized and actively compensated for much earlier.

I hope my story will help those of you who may suffer a similar fate. You do not need to be born with an inner terrier to survive as a freelancer (I’m proof of that) but you really must work on adopting as many of their admirable attributes as soon as possible.

My back story

I was brought up to believe that undue boasting was not only a sure sign of lack of confidence (by way of overcompensation) but also counter-productive to success. I therefore later came to believe that one’s work should speak for itself with little or no further intervention required.

Over the years, many insightful producers and editors have thankfully agreed with me and have bought my work based predominantly upon its own merit.

So for a very long time I never even noticed the lack of my inner terrier.

But, one day, as I looked around me, I saw fellow freelancers with talent no more equal to mine relentlessly surging ahead in the freelancing sweepstakes while I struggled to bring my work to the attention of yet another TV producer or print editor.

What was I doing wrong? Checklist:

* I was always obsessed by my work. I believed you needed to be driven almost to the point of obsession in order to stay in the game. So that was good

* I had some natural talent, which evolved and matured as I worked more, learned more, and actively applied those lessons. So, that too was OK.

* I always gave each pitch my very best shot. But I let it speak for itself. If I received a response equivalent to less than a sale, or no response at all, I generally moved on. I got too easily discouraged if I focused too long on a sale that didn’t seem surefire.

Uh oh. Red flag time. No inner terrier!

Herein lay the basis of my formidable miscalculation: I had early on naively assumed professionals receiving any pitch or script or story would actually read it, digest it, take time to reflect upon its merits and give me their considered response. And that would be enough to get a “fair hearing”.

But a lot of them – even the best – had and still have work realities to deal with which precluded any work ever getting a fair chance to “speak for itself” without further intervention from its creator.

Belatedly I realized I needed to up my game.

So what can a freelancer born without an inner terrier do?

* The scatter-gun approach.

Send out so much material to so many people that sooner or later something has to sell. This was my philosophy for more years than I care to remember. It worked well by sheer brute force of the numbers of pitches and words I cast out there. It is perhaps the newbie’s only way into the game. Today, however, I realize it is not the most time nor energy efficient strategy.

* Get an agent.

When I finally got an agent my television income shot way, way up. This can be as hard as getting a gig and I’ll talk more fully about it in a future post. The best have fully developed inner terriers themselves. Having a reputable agent represent you gives any unsolicited pitch much greater weight (at least in television and film). They are putting their reputations on the line with the producers they submit your work to so the producers know it has to be pretty good. It’s a kind of filtering mechanism that many producers require otherwise they will not accept unsolicited material.

But most importantly…

* Nurture your own inner terrier as early in your career as possible.

In my mind, having an inner terrier for freelancing means developing an absolutely tenacious laser-like focus above all else. Focus without allowing distractions of any kind or rejection in any form to ever sway you from your goal, vision or direction. Focus on consistently and constantly putting yourself out there, front and centre.

(A further confession: I was and am still far too easily bored, deflected and distracted; the sure signs of someone born without an inner terrier. So I must continue to work hard at nurturing my inner terrier every single day).

To be more specific, to fully nurture your inner terrier will require:

* Talent (of course!)

Your work still has to be excellent. Keep working. Keep learning. Keep experimenting. Keep flexing your creative muscles.

* Self-promotion

Go on social media (if you aren’t already). Create your brand. Exploit it. Get yourself known as an expert (something important I will return to in a future post). Get as widely known as possible period.

* Follow up and follow through on all responses

Someone liked your initial half dozen pitches but couldn’t bring themselves to buy one? Shower them with a dozen more. Find out what worked and what didn’t work. What they liked and didn’t like. Then shower them with two dozen more and then…

* Follow up and follow through more

Attend TV rehearsals, auditions, production meetings – anything that will get you known and your face recognized. And never ever take no for a definitive response. Smile, be cordial, be polite but always, always…

* Follow up and follow through even more

Create any kind of interpersonal relationship with your TV producer or editor if at all possible. Let them get to know you as a person. Hang with them if you can. Take them out for a beer. Talk with them outside of your work if at all possible. Your continuing work for them may well rest upon it. Assuming your work is as good as the next freelancer’s and your producer knows you/likes you better, guess who will most likely get the gig? And then…

* Follow up and follow through yet again

You are marketing yourself first and foremost every single day of your career. Never ever willingly let go of that thought.

The takeaway

I have never regretted being who I am nor my approach to my work. It has given me a living and on occasion great satisfaction. However, while any work today must still be excellent I no longer believe that it is enough to allow it to “speak for itself” if you want to fully optimize your potential sales.

If I were starting out again today I think that very early on I would want to precisely determine my strengths and weaknesses. For sure I would then spend the necessary time, energy and focus nurturing my own inner terrier as I would any other essential freelancer’s skill set.

In the end, it’s all about better knowing who you are, what you want and how that knowledge will help or hinder your advancement in this freelancing life.

And sometimes it’s about learning from a small dog who never ever willingly lets go.

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: ,

Leave a Reply