1. Customer Service. Guess what? Editors are customers. Sources are customers. And like any customer, they expect you to provide great service. And there’s more to great service than simply being courteous. The best customer service training class I ever took focused on the fact that customers expect you to take some crap from them without losing your cool. Editors expect the very same thing. (This doesn’t mean you should roll over for an editor trying to get you to do more work than you agreed to, but you do need to suck it up and do any contractual rewrites without whining.)
2. Great turn around time. You know from your day job that nothing makes a bosses happier than getting faster service than they expect. The same goes for your clients and editors. Responding to emails and phone calls as quickly as possible and making — or beating — deadlines is sure to win you repeat gigs.
3. Adaptability. In this economy, those of us with traditional jobs know it’s adapt or meet with the door. Companies need flexible employees who can learn new tasks and new ways of doing things quickly and without giving management any guff. This is a critical skill in freelancing, where you need to say yes to new opportunities, even if it’s stretching your current skill set. White paper? Yeah, I can do that. Video script? Sure, no problem.
4. Fake multi-tasking. Let me tell you a secret about multi-tasking: it’s a sham. Nobody really does it. You can’t troubleshoot and issue over the phone while simultaneously responding to an email about taking on a new client. The real trick is to be able to concentrate on a task and know when it’s in your best interest to break that concentration for a new task (or when it isn’t). It’s really about judgment and being able to refocus attention as quickly as possible to make the best use of your time.
5. Going above and beyond. You know that look on your bosses face when you deliver something she didn’t ask for, but can truly use? Editors and freelance clients love it just as much. When you’re trying to win over a new client, throw in a little extra — a sidebar, another story idea, the name of a great graphic designer you happen to know. They’ll be forever grateful, and willing to repay you with more work.
6. Quality assurance. In your real job, whether your making widgets, flipping burgers or crunching numbers, you’re expected to turn out a quality product that they won’t have to pay someone else to fix. Never turn in sloppy copy, no matter what. If this means finishing an assignment early enough so you can look at it with fresh eyes time to catch errors before your deadline, or bribing your hyper-literate brother-in-law to copy edit for you, do it. You never want to make an editor’s job harder.
7. Great listening skills. In today’s team centered work environments, those who have good listening skills will build relationships faster, and be more innovative in coming up with solutions. Being an attentive listener will serve you as a freelancer whether it’s at networking events, where all too often everyone is simply waiting for their chance to talk again, or getting a source to keep spilling good quotes. Keeping your ear to the ground also helps you figure out what other needs a client may have that you can fill.
8. Discipline. If you’re still employed in today’s economy, you’re either very lucky or you have a great work ethic and discipline (or both). The ability to keep yourself on task and deliver what and when you say you will is going to make all the difference as you build your client base as a freelancer. There’s no boss to come around and keep you on task and no editor is going to hire a flake twice. The discipline you cultivate today will be your best friend when it comes to completing your assignments and carrying out your marketing plans tomorrow.