Back, and then forward

I suppose now is the time of year when I should look back at what I have accomplished and determine what worked, what didn’t, and what I could do differently next year. Unfortunately, I tend to over think everything, so I do this constantly (and obsessively), rather than limiting it to the end of the year. But I’ll go ahead and list some things I have learned…

Things that didn’t work:

Cash flow. This has got to be the most nerve-wracking part of being a freelancer. I just cannot seem get the hang of it. I thought I gave up my need to control things once I had kids, but this is a lack of control even beyond that. I am hoping that I can just learn to go with it next year, rather than harass the mailman daily about whether I got any checks. This is a tough lesson that I’m just going to have to learn if I want to continue with my freelance business.

Going after jobs with low hourly rates just to keep busy. I really don’t need any help in the “busy” department, and so I found that when I took these jobs, my attitude ended up in the toilet because I felt (rightly) that I wasn’t getting paid for the effort I put in. I had to let go of the notion that if I wasn’t actually working on a project I must be wasting time, when in reality, I was catching up on the business side, prospecting, replying to ads, researching, professional development, etc. I’m a much saner person for having realized this and for no longer taking on jobs with unacceptably low rates.

Time management and scheduling. My skills in this department are definitely lacking, and this is somewhat related to the previous issues. Scheduling is yet another thing I can’t completely control as a freelancer, but there are a few things I can do to spread projects out more evenly. Saying no to the low paying clients–or not going after those jobs in the first place–helped a lot. Another thing is setting reasonable deadlines and letting clients know that there is actually a queue – and that I’m not able to work on a job immediately. There’s no harm in asking for a later deadline, but there IS harm in having to extend deadlines. Best to acknowledge how busy I am up front and set deadlines I can actually make, rather than having to sheepishly call a client to ask for more time.

Things that worked:

Getting involved with AMWA. I went to my first national conference this year, as well as a chapter meeting and a freelance group meeting. All were incredibly rewarding experiences that validated my aspirations to become a freelance medical writer. I’m well on my way to the essential skills certificate, and the advanced workshops I took at the national meeting were fantastic; the grantwriting workshop in particular lit a fire under me to expand that side of my business. Above all, I met some great people who succeeded in drawing me out of my shell to talk shop. The most important lesson I learned from my colleagues: each of us has a unique background and training, and finding and promoting my niche within the medical writing field is going to be crucial. One day, I hope that I will be able to give back to AMWA – maybe even become a workshop leader – but right now, my capacity to volunteer is limited. In any case, I recommend to anyone thinking of a career in medical writing: get involved with AMWA. Period.

Taking the BELS exam. This was the first thing I did in the category of professional development this year. I wrote a post about it, and how it really served as another form of validation that a career in medical writing and editing was for me.

Plugging in. I launched my company Web site late last year, but really hadn’t done much to promote myself otherwise. I work part-time in healthcare advertising, and I started thinking about how to advertise my services. But because what I do requires a level of trust on the part of my clients–they are giving me their hard-earned data, manuscripts, and grants and asking for my help–word-of-mouth and networking are really the only two pathways to new clients. Any potential clients visiting my Web site would understand what I offer, but they really wouldn’t know me from any other writing service. Further, there is no metric to measure my effectiveness as a medical writer/editor, and so testimonials are key.

So, I started a blog as an extension of my company Web site so that potential clients could read my writing and see where I am coming from, what’s important to me, and my personal approach to what I do. I also set up a Twitter account (@thetobintouch) so that I could tap into the professional narrative and learn about the issues out there (open-access publishing, ghostwriting, science blogging vs journalism, and credentialing were pretty hot this year) and then share those issues–and my thoughts on them–through my blog. Keeping up the blog and scanning Twitter are time-intensive, but I feel it’s a worthy investment, not only for promoting my business and attracting new clients, but also for keeping up with my own professional development through interaction with peers and thought-leaders within the larger science and medical communications field.

Another plus for the blog: it gives me an outlet for all that constant self-assessment and business analysis – gets it out of my head and onto the page. Very therapeutic.

Things to do in 2011:

Update the company Web site. I’ve been looking at other writing and editing companies’ Web sites and gathering ideas for updating mine. In particular, I want to put some client testimonials up and maybe develop a flowchart showing the administrative and process steps for writing and editing projects. Also, a different head shot. I don’t look so tired these days!

Get my grantsmanship on. This is a big one for me. I’ve been helping out on more and more grants lately–NIH, NSF, NEH, and private–and I want to add grantwriting as an official part of my skill set. I’ve really focused on this part of my professional development in the last couple months, attending Web seminars and the AMWA workshop, and doing a lot of recommended reading.

Finish my AMWA essential skills certificate. Thanks to the self-study modules, I’ve been able to finish 4 of the 8 credits (medical terminology, statistics, sentence structure, and punctuation) – and I am working on 2 more now (grammar). I’ll be buying the next self-study module on ethics in 2011, and I’ll then I’ll have just one more credit to go. I’ve only been asked by one potential client if I have an AMWA certificate, but based on what I have been seeing on Twitter and LinkedIn, recognition of the AMWA educational program is growing. It certainly can’t hurt to have a certificate, in my opinion, and although the workshops have been humbling, they’ve been an excellent review of the basics.

So that’s it for 2010, I think. I hope everyone has a great holiday and great things happen for all of you in 2011! See you on the other side.

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One response to “Back, and then forward

  1. If you’re looking for a website designer for your update, I’m available!

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