I’ve been fortunate, as writers go, in that most of my income down the years – and my single biggest repeat client too – have come directly from writing. Not my own original writing, so much as things written or developed for other clients, or feedback and training for other writers, but as I’ve said before, if you want to succeed in an industry, there’s no substitute for actually working in it. For over a decade now I’ve been happy to keep my own writing on the back burner, building my skills and my industry connections to the point where things reach critical mass – writing is a craft that needs many years of effort and it takes me a long time to build up enough conviction in even my best projects. And the first priority is of course to have a viable, sustainable lifestyle in the first place – which can then buy time for the writing which you hope to turn into your whole sustainable lifestyle.
Even with that, though, it’s worth pointing out that nearly all of the writing you can get paid for will come from delivering a particular brief for a particular client’s specifications. You may be able to successfully pitch something of your own to them, but the pitch and the consequent delivery of that writing are likely to be done to meet the specs (whether formal or informal) of other people – the ones actually paying you. I know I can deliver writing for clients in this way – but it’s still very hard to make a living from this, and in recent times I’ve opted for other routes to a better cash flow.
Since finishing my five-year stint writing for a BBC series, it’s taken over 4 years for my portfolio of clients and projects to settle back down to a steady form, but now I can start planning ahead. So the question is – where will my writing and productions fit this time? It’s very nice to be continually doing paid work for a good mix of clients, but if your personal priority is something else, you can have too much of a good thing!
Let’s break my new portfolio down a bit and see the patterns. (In brackets I’ve mentioned which services I’ve been providing as break-even or at a loss, due to the other benefits that they have brought my career.)
What’s dropping out altogether…
- For nearly three years I’ve managed the communications for regional filmmakers’ agency The Producers’ Forum, transforming their website and growing their following substantially – but now I’m going to be away from my desk for most of every week, I can’t continue providing the kind of prompt day-to-day communications that organisations need in the social media age. This recent article is a good summary of the work we’ve been doing at the Forum and why it matters in building a sustainable film and TV industry in the region. (This has been break-even for the last year, and loss before that, but put me at the heart of the regional filmmaking scene and engaged in national initiatives too.)
Writing development and practicing my craft…
- Running several courses in Creative Writing, and Getting Your Writing Published, across Birmingham – 4 courses already completed (10×2 hours each) in 2013-14 and several more to come. (Done at a loss, but great for my writing craft.)
- Freelancing as a script reader for WriteMovies – following on from last year’s virtual internship, in 2014 I’ve provided a large number of freelance readings and script development reports for this Hollywood script agency. (Done at a loss, but brilliant for my writing craft and connections.)
Creative services to build my networks and generate profit that I can reinvest in my writing and productions…
- The big new feature of my portfolio is my part-time role as the Digital Apprenticeships Manager for Creative Alliance, a social enterprise who specialise in creating apprenticeships in the creative sector. Covering such a wide sector including new streams in Interactive Media is great for my skills and versatility and connections, and nurturing new talent has always been a big feature of my work. (On the whole, break-even – but in a substantial and potentially ongoing contract, which should make a significant contribution to my overall cash flow.)
- Websites, video productions and other creative services, through my partnership Friendly Creatives – services which I can deliver to an ever-better quality in shorter and shorter timescales – with a rapidly growing body of clients, both for one-off commissions and now for ongoing hosting contracts too. (It’s taken several years for this to build up far enough, but this is definitely pushing from being a ‘loss leader’ and break-even to becoming both profitable and sustainable while still delivering excellent rates and service for clients.)
As an indication of how complex this portfolio can be, within the first three months of 2014 I’ve already delivered work for 13 different clients. But things have turned decisively from break-even to sustainability and stability, so the effort in recent years has been worth it. So the big question is… where do my writing and productions fit in?
Well, that’s the new challenge! In my decade in the industry, I’ve never been in a position before that had both steady work and strong turnover – which has been very energy-sapping for my own writing and productions anyway. So there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain!