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How to build a successful career as a freelance journalist

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How to build a successful career as a freelance journalist

Farahnaz Mohammed | August 25, 2016

Whether you’re working from your living room, from a co-working space in the city, or a digital nomad struggling to find wifi in cafes or hotels, freelancing comes with its own set of challenges. The perks are obvious: setting your own schedule, picking your own projects and the privilege of getting to write for a living.

The drawbacks, however, are just as real: the potential loneliness of working on your own, the insecurity of not having steady work and the frustration of having to write for a living.

HackPack canvassed freelancers to ask how they survive a freelancing career.

“Don’t take rejection personally.”

The golden rule of freelancing. Writers have notoriously sensitive egos, and we often pour energy, research and passion into an article.

Editors can receive hundreds of pitches a week, and only have so much print space. Sometimes it’s that they’re just focusing on another theme at the time of your pitch. Other times, it’s not quite a fit for the magazine. Rejection in writing is, more often than not, no reflection of a writer’s talent.

“Know fellow freelancers.”

The image of a freelancer is one of a carefree life, staying at home, typing away in pajamas. However, it can be a minefield of confusion. How much can you negotiate for prices? How long is reasonable to wait before payment? Where are the best places to pitch? If you’ve hit a rejection streak (which happens to all freelancers), it can be remarkably discouraging.

Knowing other freelancers who understand the challenges of the industry can offer essential psychological relief. If you’re better in person, meetups are an easy way to meet like-minded people. However, if it’s difficult for you to get to groups in person, freelance groups thrive on social media, and can be a treasure trove of advice, jobs and encouragement.

(Some ideas on Facebook are Freelance Writing, Careful Cents, Create Your Nomadtopia, Write On Online and Six Figure Freelancing.)

“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

The old adage applies to working from home as well. It seems simple, but dressing for a day job — jeans, a nice shirt, brushing your hair, even putting on makeup — can make a world of difference to your productivity.

“Always have something in the pipeline.”

As a freelancer, you’re bound to have dry spells. If possible, plan for it so it’s only a psychological burden, instead of a financial one as well. Always have a cushion, even if only to pay your taxes on time.

This may mean taking on work you’re not necessarily thrilled about. If you’re a journalist, you may need to take on PR work. If you’re a researcher, you may need to do some creative copy.

“Value your time.”

Some freelance assignments are paid based on the final result, but some payment depends on the amount of time spent working on a product. If your assignment is paid by hours worked, don’t only count the time you spend typing — researching, interviewing, (sometimes) travel costs — all are valid business expenses.

Additionally, working from home can give others the impression that you may not really be working. Set a schedule and let others know that when you’re on the job, you can’t simply nip out for a coffee or to go shopping. Your work hours are billable, and just as valuable as an office job.

“You’re not in competition with anybody.”

In work, as in life, we feel we’re competing with our peers. In freelancing, this can create a toxic negativity bubble.

It can be difficult when your peers or friends get a coveted byline or a sizable cheque, but remember that the tables turn with alarming frequency. In a difficult industry, solidarity can be key to success.

Forward opportunities when you can, or recommend friends for jobs if you’re too busy to accept them. Offer support. Actively work on good relationships with other freelancers. If you’re established, consider mentoring promising newcomers.

This post originally appeared on HackPack's Medium and is republished on IJNet with permission.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via jeanbaptisteparis.

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