Deb Ng on Getting Started, Success, the Future, and More

deb-NgIf you’re involved with freelance writing at all, then you’ve probably heard of Deb Ng. Deb runs the very popular Freelance Writing Jobs blog network.

If you’re a freelance writer and you’re looking for work, Deb’s blog is definitely a site you want to explore. Deb’s also been a contributor at a number of other blogs (including this one) and has authored several eBooks.

It’s fun to look at a freelancing success story like Deb’s and admire her amazing accomplishments. But, how did Deb do it? What does it take to start with nothing and grow your own successful blog network?

In this post, Deb Ng has graciously agreed to share some of her tips and insights with us here at Freelance Folder. I’m sure that you’ll agree that freelancers of all kinds can learn from her story.

Five Insights From Deb Ng

I asked Deb five questions about freelancing, and here’s what she had to say:

1. First of all, can you share your story with our readers? How did you get started as a freelancer? What were some of the initial challenges that you faced?

Deb: Like most writers I always loved to write. I never considered writing for a living though, not at first. Working in publishing in the mid eighties put the idea in my head, but I never pursued writing because I didn’t think it would pay the bills. In the late 90’s I taught myself a little html and built an extremely primitive website where I posted my thoughts on everything from baggy pants to black lip liner. I didn’t know it then, but I was blogging. Writing every day was wonderful. I couldn’t wait to come home from work so I could update my website, which at first was only visited by family and friends but eventually I had a few “regulars”. After someone suggested I start submitting some of my humor pieces I began looking into freelance writing.

I landed a humor column with my first ever pitch. That isn’t to say every pitch was successful, but getting that first gig gave me the confidence to continue. As it didn’t pay too much I didn’t even consider freelancing full time. It was just a little extra shopping money. It wasn’t until 2002 when I was pregnant and we bought a house in another state that I decided to make an attempt at full time freelance writing. I was going to have to leave my job anyway, this would be as good a time as any.

I still had my humor column and I began to land bits and pieces here and there. My first sale was to The Dollar Stretcher, a frugal living website and newsletter. I landed what I call a “cocktail” of opportunities. I wrote for a few web content sites, maintained a newspaper column, submitted to online magazines and even took on some private clients. My goal was to earn enough to justify not having to return to an office job within one year, and I’m happy to say, I met that goal. Now I’m earning primarily from my own writing and don’t even have to take on client gigs if I don’t want to.

2. What one piece of advice would you give to the freelancer who is just starting out? What’s the most important thing for them to remember?

I think the most important thing to remember is not to get disheartened. Freelancing is an emotional roller coaster, especially when starting out. One client may love you while another sends rejection. Remember that it happens to everyone and it’s all part of the gig. Also remember that it takes time to build up a client base. You may not be able to find full time work after a week, or a month or even a year. We all have different experiences.

Finally, I’m learning from newer writers that they’re frustrated by the mixed messages. All the different freelance writing bloggers offer different advice and they don’t know whose advice to follow. I want to tell you that we all draw from our own experiences and none of us are right or wrong.

Take the assignments that make you feel most comfortable, at least at first. Don’t worry about whether or not one of the “gurus” agrees with you. As you gain experience you can break out of your comfort level. Follow your course for success, not someone else’s.

3. Most bloggers never turn a profit from their blogs, let alone build a blogging network. You’ve done both. What do you think was different for you?

Maybe it’s perseverance? I blogged every day for five years. On the days I can’t get content up, someone else did. Plus, I don’t only post news, or a rant or lists of links, in addition to the fun stuff, I write lots of useful evergreen content. I hope that in five years searchers will land on my pages and what I wrote will still be relevant.

I spent a lot of time researching the habits of my community. Once a year, I ask them to partake in a survey so I know what we’re doing right–and wrong. Plus, I thoroughly analyze all my stats. Knowing everything you can about your community helps you write the content they’re clamoring for and help you create traffic and monetization strategies.

I also think it’s doing so well right now because it’s a full time effort. I’m not handling client projects full time while blogging on the side. The blog is now the full time effort and I believe that’s the difference. I give my blog network my all, and it’s finally paying me back for my hard work.

3. With the explosive growth in the popularity of social media over the past year, do you think that blogging will continue to be as important to small business owners and freelancers? Or, do you think that a freelancer can market themselves with just a portfolio site and an active social media profile?

Deb: Personally, I feel face-to-face marketing trumps all. I’m not sure why this scares so many freelancers. My preference is for conferences and networking events where I can chat with potential clients and collaborators and build up more personal relationships. However, I think social media will probably become the most important marketing and networking tool for freelance writers in the years to come. I don’t know that blogging is as important to freelancers as it is for businesses that are trying to build up a community and buzz around their product or service. A website or online portfolio and Twitter and Facebook accounts are just as, if not more effective.

4. The web is constantly changing and freelancing is changing right along with it. If you could peek into the future, what do you think you would find? What skills do you think tomorrow’s freelancer will need?

Tomorrow’s freelancer will need combined skills, for example, web design and writing. Clients want one stop shopping, they don’t want to have to go to the mall. They want to be able to trust one person for a variety of projects.

5. Tell us about some of your current projects. What exciting things can we expect to see from Deb Ng in the next few months?

Deb: As you know, I’ve been working hard on my network of blogs at Freelance Writing Jobs. I’m proud to say I built a profitable blog network on my own with no backing or venture capital. I regularly contribute to the BlogWorld, New Media Expo Blog, and ProBlogger. I have two ebooks in the works, “The Freelance Writers Guide to Social Media” and “Niche Blogging for Fun and Profit.” Finally, David Peralty and I have started HireVine. A job board for social media types…oh and Chris Garrett and I are also discussing a collaboration–and it’s a good one. I guess you can say I’ve been keeping busy.

Your Turn?

What have you learned from Deb Ng’s story? If you could ask Deb one thing, what would it be?

Share your thoughts in the comments.