Raise Your Standards to Make Life Changes and Get More Awesome-r

I won't lie to you guys. Your friendly neighborhood Matt Willard has problems just like you. And some of these problems have proven to be tougher than expected:

  • I'm struggling to make a decent (or any kind of) income off of my comedy writing skills.
  • I'm working to get back into college and finish a degree despite financial debt and transportation issues.
  • I'm actually a werewolf.

Don't get me wrong. I've got a lot of advantages over all the less fortunate people on this planet, and I'm grateful for what I have. Still, these problems bug me a lot and I want to take care of them and move on to new challenges. Like figuring out why my TV still gets UPN.

As I've worked on these problems, I've run into countless obstacles and setbacks. Many times, I've felt discouraged and angry as a result. But then I shake it off and get back into action.

Why? What keeps me coming back to fight time and time again, no matter how often I fail?

Simple. I refuse to settle for low standards.

You see, when I first started this freelancing affair, I knew I wanted a fantastic career that made me excited to get up every morning. And without that degree I mentioned earlier, leaning on my comedy writing skills seemed like the best way I was going to make a living. Besides, I couldn't work fast food. Not after I was caught smuggling Happy Meal toys in cups of Sprite.

Of course, being a freelance comedy writer is no small feat. I knew how to write the stuff, but getting people to buy it was a different story. That's why I eventually found myself at Jenn's then-new blog, Query-Free Freelancer, to learn her query-free method of finding clients. (Remember, that blog got merged with this one a while back, so you can find all those articles on here.)

It sounded like a great idea. Attracting clients to come to you through clever marketing seemed perfect for an aspiring comedy writer. I got to work building my brand. I developed my website, networked with like-minded individuals, promoted the work I produced...the whole deal.

And after all that...

Dana (my sister): How much did you make this month?
Me: $1,000.
Dana: That's great!
Me: Good thing I had all those hotels on Boardwalk.

Yep. So far, no one has lined up to take my tantalizing comedy bait. Now, I'm not saying Jenn's method is faulty. It works, but you need time and patience. Time is something I can't spare anymore - I need results, so I have to change tactics. And I've got finances to worry about, too. I can't just keep writing on my bills, "Be patient. I've almost found the treasure."

Still, it was a discouraging blow. I felt like I didn't have the skills to make freelancing work. (A feeling I've experienced before.) And besides that, I had to get outside help for my debt so I could get back into school, which dealt a blow to my pride. I gotta say, I felt pretty crummy.

But I knew I would get back into the game. That vision of my ideal career keeps driving me no matter what. Soon I did some personal journalling to find the error of my ways. I came to realize that I have fears about pitching my work. I latched onto Jenn's query-free method as a result - I felt like I was making progress, but if I had just faced my fears in the first place, I might actually have some clients by now. After all, people don't NEED comedy. You have to convince them otherwise.

At least, that's my theory. I could be wrong. They used to think the earth was flat, after all. Only after trial and error did we realize it's just a waste of space.

But hey, it's something to work with. Every time I return to the drawing board and revise my plans based on the feedback I've gotten, I get closer to the solution. I've bombed tons of times, but I always keep coming back. I want to meet those standards I've set for myself.

And that's what you need to do as well, readers. Not just us newbies striving to build a successful business. Even established freelancers can step on the plate. If there's something you want - bigger rates, bigger clients, whatever - let me tell you now that you CAN get that. It's just a matter of refusing to accept what's "good enough".

Developing higher standards is a vital part of positive change. It triggers that initial drive to clean up parts of your life. And even though I may not be a successful freelancer yet, raising my standards has helped me make changes in other parts of my life, like creating productivity habits and quitting soda. (Still working on some other habits, but hey. Smacking toasters that don't work isn't abuse, it's taking "correctional steps.")

If you don't like your current results, admit it. Then raise your standards. What would you rather have? Be honest, and realize that you deserve what you want. What has to be done to acquire it? Get everything you need, form a basic plan of attack, and take action. Your plan won't be perfect, but that's fine - after a while, lay out your thoughts and experiences in a journal, determine what you did wrong, and revise the plan accordingly. Then get back into the game.

Every time you work and fail and revise and work again, you develop tenacity. And hey, you're a freelance writer. Tenacity is vital to making it in this business. But that's fine. If you really want the lifestyle, or if you really want to improve the lifestyle - if you can't settle for "good enough" - then it's a handy virtue to have.

Refuse what you don't want and go for that gold. Keep showing up to the game, and you'll win. It's only a matter of time.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to figure out how to fix another dilemma that's popped up. I'm having a hard time staying focused lately. People keep interrupting me and saying weird things like "it was poisoned."

Profile image for Matt Willard
Matt Willard's bio begins with witty phrasing that succinctly illustrates his stance as a humorist. It is then followed with a clever sentence that illustrates what he does in his spare time. The bio concludes with a shameless link to his Twitter profile, paired with an off-hand comment that alludes to his success with women. Laughter.

15 thoughts on “Raise Your Standards to Make Life Changes and Get More Awesome-r”

  1. Okay. I warned you it was coming since you had to drag the QFF name into it. 😉 You’re going to get some unsolicited constructive criticism about why I think the QFF method hasn’t worked for you (yet).

    Your site is the biggest issue. Remember, it’s a platform piece. It should scream “I’m a humor writer!” and it doesn’t do that. When I visit Giant Robot Invasion, I might expect a quirky blog, but it doesn’t drive home the service-provider front.

    It’s also rarely updated, which means you’re really not using it to its potential to drive targeted traffic. I think I saw just 3 updates for all of March, and only 2 in April. In your defense, you did ask your Twitter followers today what they’d like to see on the site. But that doesn’t help you over the last few months.

    Right now the site comes across as a niche site you’re pursuing for fun more than a living, breathing portfolio in its own right, designed to attract clients. You need more than a services page to do that. It needs to be glaringly obvious to any passersby, and you need to be optimizing the site to be found by your client base in search engines.

    You have a facebook fan page. That’s fine. But again, very few updates there.

    Twitter’s a little bit better, but there’s still some room for improvement as a platform piece. You need to brand it. Get a custom background image on there that gives a sales pitch or better idea of what you do.

    To make the query-free freelancing way of life work, you have to build visibility, but you also have to stay visible. That means staying on top of things like your blog, and not spreading yourself too thin where you can’t keep up with all updates (why I personally focus primarily on the blogs and Twitter). If the primary type of content you want to create is too labor-intensive (like our freelance theater shows here are), then break it up with other shorter pieces — I’m sure there are a lot of funny things you could come up with to showcase comedy-writing skills.

    To give it a fair shake, I’d say to review the post linked below and ask yourself not only how many of those 30 things you’re doing, but how many you’re doing consistently and well right now. Then see what you could still add or improve upon to create a well-rounded platform that really works for you.

    • Well, you did warn me it was coming, so here’s my feeble defense :V (With some admissions where I was wrong, mind you.)

      The slowness in updates is…kinda not-normal. I say “kinda” since I usually do big updates, like an in-depth review or a video, and those take longer than normal. I did it that way because I believed (and still partially do) that a super-high quality product is more important than lots of stuff which could easily turn out to be forgettable. There’s a comedic reviewer I follow called the Nostalgia Critic. He does an update every week. The result, I find, is that he works himself too hard and ends up producing a lot of material that is pretty forgettable. He’s got performing skills, no doubt, but that doesn’t save lame material.

      But even so, beforehand I’ve managed to be fairly consistent with my updates. March and April have been odd months – normally it’s not THAT slow. But, as mentioned above, priorities had to be shifted. I do realize that small number of updates is bad, though. That’s why I asked on Twitter and Facebook what I could do for smaller projects. I’ve got a few ideas milling around – things like improvisational commentaries on issues or podcasts or things like that. As much as I like those big reviews, some quicker projects would be much more helpful in staying visible and helping my other efforts.

      I’m a bit surprised that Giant Robot Invasion doesn’t come off like a portfolio, though. I thought I was doing fine there :V But hey, you’re the expert. Again, I’ll admit that as a pure, direct “I am a portfolio” kind of site, it doesn’t fit the bill. I’ll have to muse over how to fix it. Maybe find some examples of good portfolio sites or a solid tutorial.

      (I’ll also say right now that my networking build sucked, too, and with some tips from Yo, I’m renovating that for more effectiveness and connecting with people who might actually want my work :V )

      All in all, I am not very good at this. 😉 But I will definitely act on your advice and change things around. Even so, I still think pitching is going to be a big part of this comedy writing business. I need to keep up with it and see it through.

      • I’m so busy telling other people about how great Jenn is for us freelancers and constantly reviewing her work and her stuff for freelance writers, she probably has an imprint of my lips on her ass. Hope that works out well with the new workout program 😉

        Anyhow, Matt, I can say that I’ve been working on really following Jenn’s advice for a while. I’ve read all of her ebooks, I’ve read the entire contents of all of her blogs several times, I’ve combed through her portfolio website and her search engine results like nobody’s business to learn from her. I’ve been far too slow at implementing these things, but now I’ve really gotten there.

        With my recent rebranding, I created a very professional website / blogfolio, and I am asking for higher rates and working toward them. Query-free freelancing is a great idea and something which I will implement further on down the road, but right now I’m looking at building print publication credits for further credibility and queries and general pitches (letters of introduction) are definitely a good way to go there. I’ve got “messy” networking profiles (I need to get rid of Facebook-I hate it and Jenn brings up an excellent point about privacy issues, my LinkedIn is outdated, and I haven’t done some follower vetting and greeting in a while and kept up in general) but with a bigger plate than ever, I gotta say I’m doing okay.

        My also unsolicited advice:
        1. Keep listening to Jenn. Take all of that advice and right a real, long-form marketing plan that includes a platform building plan, a social media plan, and a PR plan.
        2. Find a career model: someone that really, really is where you want to be. For me that is Julie Morgenstern. She is a multi-published author, a regular magazine contributor, a consultant owner of a large organizing company, extremely well-networked, and focused in my time management niche. Sure I want to do web work as well, but I want to publish two books traditionally and get the kind of recognition she has-such as having her own line of organizers on Franklin Covey. Huuuge deal in this industry. Do you know a comedy writer that has the career you want?
        3. Set realistic goals. I mean it when I say realistic. I like to work in three month intervals at moving up, so my financial and my production goals all step up in three month intervals towards meeting the goals in my marketing plan.
        4. Think future, but think now, too. My website has some pretty nice rates on it. Rates that I’m working at without a doubt justifying now with my marketing plan, but the thing is that I need more clips. My husband and I would be hemorrhaging if not for the fact that I’ve taken on some work, some not so much within my specialty, through other avenues to gain more clips and to make some money to pump into my business. I need magazine credits and a budget for more than one website to really get myself out there. I want to upgrade my LinkedIn membership to utilize it to the fullest extent. So I’m doing something that may be frowned upon by Jenn, but I’m using Textbroker to gather clients. I write one crappy pay “text” for them and then I follow-up, asking for direct order work. This allows me to ask for a higher per-word rate, which I have set at a low $0.04 per word for non-rush work. For the kind of work I do on Textbroker, that is often a lot to ask for. It is giving me the funds to purchase magazines, to get office supplies, and to get some blogs up, and to work on that LinkedIn subscription. So regular work on Textbroker is funding me to implement my marketing plan. Once I reach the income goals I have now, I’ll be able to use that money to piece by piece replace that work with higher paying work. Some of these clients may be willing to pay higher rates, and that’s great, but I’m making money now to build toward a sustainable future. So think about what you can do.
        5. Stay really positive, but practical. It isn’t easy, but it takes commitment.
        Okay, enough from me! Best wishes, and keep us updated.

        • See, you’re proof that tenacity and sticking to your guns works 🙂 As for your question, the guy whose career I want is, ironically enough, the Nostalgia Critic. I know just earlier I said he has weak material sometimes, but the man was able to quit his job to live off of his reviews, so obviously he’s doing SOMETHING right :V

      • Quality is absolutely more important than quantity. But it’s never an excuse for inconsistency. I used to be very guilty of inconsistent blogging myself — here. My solution was to hire a team to help me keep things moving. We’ve seen up to a 70% increase in traffic since then (actually a bit more than that last month compared to the month prior to hiring). I’ve had more time to take on more work too. You don’t have to follow that path. You can do it yourself. And it doesn’t have to be daily. A weekly update could be enough — depends on your audience.

        Keep in mind that not all posts have to follow the same format. You might do one big video post per month, and then post a few short links to news pieces along with a quick paragraph of satirical commentary for example. You wouldn’t push yourself to burn out. People would still get the videos they look forward to. But most importantly, you give people a reason to keep coming back without giving them enough time sans update where they could forget all about you. 😉

        • Honey, I had enough problems doing weekly article updates, dailies would just murder me :V But you’re right about changing up the kind of updates I do. I know I didn’t want to do short article reviews, but naturally I forgot that not every update has to be a big article or video. I like your idea about doing mini-commentary on news pieces – I’ve raged at several things in the news before, but felt like commentary about them didn’t belong on my Facebook. I’ll keep the idea in mind as I think of more ways to keep content flowing into the website.

  2. I completely agree with your argument. I have no idea what you’re doing wrong with your own freelancing, but I think that I often fall into the trap that doing any work is better than no work. But recently, I decided that I want a little more for myself. I know I can make a living and pay my bills, but the truth is that I want more. I know I need to raise my standards and stop kinda resting on “good enough.” I haven’t got it all figured out, but I see some stuff in my freelance life that needs an overhaul. I’ve decided that I’m going to attack it like I would a juicy steak: with two hands, bared teeth and steak sauce all over my face.

  3. You have the Can-Do attitude, which is great fuel for keeping your drive going. You’re not alone with not having an effective online presence. I’m in the process of revamping my blog to become more of a business focus instead of the hodgepodge of personal nonsense it currently has. I’ve read many tips here and other blogs to help me get re-branded in the Motivational/Inspirational field.

    It’s been one headache of a ride for me as well, but I learned to keep going. I keep some motivational quotes tucked away for times I feel down and they help me get back up. One of my favorites comes from Vincent Van Gough: “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

    We all have dreams of one sort or another, but how many of us are actually doing something about it? You’ve taken the biggest step there is- leaving the dock and sailing for new opportunities. Yes, the waters can be rough, but sailing has never been smooth.

    Take Jenn’s advice (and others) to build an even better business. Don’t let yourself get down; or if you do- figure out how to build yourself back up.

    I look forward to reading more of your work.

    • Seems quite a few of you are into personal development topics. Glad this is resonating with all of you 🙂

  4. I really like the post Matt. You bring up a simple yet profound point: I choose. It’s important to keep in mind that the choice is for each of us to either accept where we are, or make changes to go for what we want.

    Your post sparked some very helpful comments, too. It came up recently that I need to make some important changes, shaking myself out of my not-so-comfortable comfort zone. So it’s nice to see here that I’m not the only person to experience this state of flux too now and again. Thanks for that!


    • We are responsible for everything that occurs in our reality. Handling that responsibility can be tough sometimes, but we are far more powerful and in-control than we realize. Nothing clinches that more than making successful changes.

  5. Matt, I feel like I just found my internet freelancer soul mate. I’ve been having the exact same problems-the not making enough money, the not being able to go back to school yet due to debt, the turning into a werewolf-I hear you.

    I found changing your mindset DOES help. As does raising your standards. I was starting to get down about everything, but after starting some side projects, I felt much better.

    I also recommend a shampoo for dogs for showers on those full-mooned nights. My coat has never looked so shiny!

    • Well, my pack is also the kind of werewolves that walk around without our shirts on, so at least we have that going for us. Only problem is that my pack is comprised entirely of Dungeons and Dragons nerds.


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