President's Letter: The Power of ASJA

Emily Paulsen
Two hands bringing together two interlocking puzzle pieces.
Photo by Vardan Papikyan on Unsplash

Our economy has been dancing on the edges of recession for a while now. One leading indicator drops while another rises, resulting in a two-step that stays just clear of fulfilling the official definition while still clearly affecting certain sectors of the economy—and the workforce. We could even been in a recession now and not know it yet.

What does this mean for professional freelance writing?

Some say that recession is good for freelancers because publications and organizations that have cut their workforce will hire freelancers to fill in essential gaps. On the other hand, recession also can force clients to cut freelance budgets and pull back on new projects. What happens to you and your business comes down in part to luck of the draw, for sure. But that’s not all there is to it.

Those of us who have been freelancing for a while have the choreography down. We learn to ride the waves and weather the droughts of this business. We do this by diversifying our services and our client lists, by keeping up with marketing efforts even when we’re busy, by staying involved in our professional organizations, and by learning from—and sharing— hard lessons along the way.

I remember back in 2008, I was riding fine as the recession started. I had two long-term contracts that were keeping me more than busy. I was working evenings and weekends to meet my deadlines. I put marketing efforts aside: Why try to drum up new work when I’m drowning in what I have?

Then, in one week, both contracts abruptly canceled. I went from full-tilt boogie to alone on the dance floor.

But not for long. As a seasoned freelancer and a long-time ASJA member, I knew my next moves. I alerted my network of colleagues, I attended the ASJA conference and signed up for Client Connections, and I contacted editors I hadn’t heard from in a while. Within a few months, I was back to a full dance card, with a more varied client list that included publications, government agencies, and nonprofits.

That’s the power of ASJA.

I was talking to Sandi Schwartz the other day. She’s an award-winning author who joined ASJA in 2019, just before the pandemic. She explained that when she was focused on writing about parenting, she joined the Parenting Journalists Society. Then, when she was writing and marketing her book, Finding Ecohappiness, about the mental health benefits of nature, she joined the Nonfiction Authors Association. Finally she learned about ASJA from long-time member Estelle Erasmus. As an ASJA member, Schwartz has access to resources that fulfill her needs, no matter what her current mix of projects.

“ASJA has filled the need for all the buckets of my writing business: being an author, content marketing [writer], and journalist. No other organization fills that need. Now that my book is launched, I primarily focus on journalism and content marketing tips and resources that ASJA offers,” she told me.

That sounds like the best preparation for whatever comes next, whether we dance into a recession or continue to skirt the edges.