Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who Supports You as a Freelancer?

In this list of 10 "surprising but essential tips for freelancing", writer David Hochman suggests that freelancers "make an appointment to see one person who’s been really supportive of your work." That got me thinking: who in my life is "really supportive" of my editing, proofreading, and writing career?

I'm lucky to have a supportive spouse. He often tells people he meets that I'm a freelance editor and even hands out my business card, he tolerates my propensity to work bizarre hours, and he's (mostly) accepted the ups and downs in my income. He even knows quite a bit about managing a business.

But I can't say that I have my own freelancing cheerleader/mentor, the sort of person who's been where I have and who I can turn to with professional questions. I do have some wonderful clients--people who've referred me to others, encouraged me, and given me great tips on style issues--but I've long felt that a client is a client, not a career coach (and definitely not a therapist!). Where do I draw the line? Well, I think it's a good idea to ask clients for referrals, and it's fine to admit to a longtime client that you're going through a dry spell and will take whatever work he's able to give you. But I wouldn't tell a client that that dry spell is making me question whether I'm really cut out to be a freelancer, admit that her latest project is giving me nightmares, or ask her to describe the trajectory of her career in detail.

With clients, I think a certain level of professional detachment is necessary. With supporters, this is not so. In a mutually supportive relationship, you should be able to freely share the woes and triumphs of your career and rely on one another to give solid advice. A relationship like this would indeed be valuable, but I sense that such connections are hard to find. I suspect it's even harder to build such a relationship locally. As much as I'd like to meet up with an editing friend over lunch or tea, I don't necessarily think it's realistic to expect to find one.

Am I being too pessimistic? Do you have supporters or a mentor, and if so, how did you meet? How have your supporters guided you and helped shape your freelance career?