How to be a freelance journalist: real advice from another young, unknown journalist on freelancing
I am not going back to freelancing.
Last month, I came on full-time with Technically Media, a company I helped launch and produces Technically Philly.
Still, going back on my own, in some form, has returned me to thinking about and combing through some of the advice I collected in 2009, during my year freelancing.
Too many of those perspectives and resources seemed valuable to not share.
A former Inquirer managing editor gave me this neat take:
“Imagine you have an agent with four hours a day to sell your work. You give that agent a list of people to call and a couple of set scripts or talking points. You also demand that the agent keep an active spreadsheet of calls made, messages left, follow up contacts, networking calls — of editorial management and customer service tasks. A portion of those calls will be cold calls to editors. Ah. The rub: you don’t have an agent. You are the writer and the sales force. Assign yourself those tasks. Devote time to plan and to organize this effort. Do the gritty day-to-day stuff to keep those contacts fresh. Oh yes — and still write 12 hours a day.”
Tips that came across from freelance contacts and banging my head against the wall long enough:
- Have a website, stupid. Have clips and links to others.
- Don’t list rates on your website because that’ll depend a lot on a lot of things. (The friend who first schooled me on this noted that hourly rates lie a lot, as they don’t show the hidden costs to a freelancer. So , say, a $40 rate might leave you with $16,000 for the year.)
- Do put an email address and a phone number.
- Think of having two projects per week, which would be really good, offering two days a week on each project and a day of office and administrative work (like invoicing, organization and outreach). That’s 100 jobs a year and two weeks off, in a dream, but, of course, that gets way more complicated and blurred, particularly when you’re stick a couple years in.
- Having regular work is key — I liked a worse-paying gig because it offered a regular stream of income that allowed for some stability.
Basic business tips –Freelancing was a first introduction to a lot of business basics that have helped me navigate our incorporation and development of Technically Media
Your Employee Identification Number (EIN) is to your Social Security Number, as a business is to a human. If you are freelancing full time, you ought to get one, so you can get a bank account and sequester those business assets and expenses from your personal ones.
- Get a business credit card for business expenses, I was instructed to do, though I didn’t follow through. The idea is that it’ll further help you to keep business expenses separate.
- Make business expenses — Travel costs, software, office supplies, office space and the like because, as a freelance photographer friend told me, “it’s much better to invest in your self than to pay more taxes than you have to.”
- Flat rates tend to be the most agreeable, so per-word and hourly rates are good for internal math, a signed, sealed and deliverable flat-rate with expectations make for the best relationships.
- For cold email pitches, you’re lucky to get a 15 percent open rate — That’s not conversion or click, that’s an open rate, and that figure came from a friend who used a paid newsletter service to track click rates.
- Lots of services exist to get you contacts, but the relationships matter most. Still, information like this, sure helps.
If you’re young, and they know it, people will try to pay you less because of it
Reading that helped:
- Figure out what hourly rate you need — Freelance Switch
- For the Self-Employed, a Year-Round System Will Smooth Tax Time — New York Times
- How to be a freelance journalist — Bad Language
- Recession Writing Tips, Part One — Media Bistro
- Four Steps to a great pitch and sell your writing — Freelance Switch
- Top 10 distraction stoppers — Lifehacker
- Get your brand out there by freelance writing — Personal Branding
- When to work for free — Shifting Careers
- A Freelancer’s Taste Of Anger — Philadelphia Will Do
- Works Made For Hire — Keep Your Copyrights
- Three reasons why freelancers are safer during a recession — Freelance Advisor
Yes, I’ve written plenty about other freelancing advice. Three more notable ones: