Five tips for journalists who want to go freelance

byNicole Martinelli
Oct 7, 2011 in Journalism Basics

Whether you are longing to ditch daily deadlines or have just been made redundant, there are a number of reasons to go freelance as a journalist.

Here are IJNet's main takeaways from a recent webchat hosted by The Guardian career section.

Start where you are

"There are a hundred million ways to get experience," says freelance writer and editor Jon Norris. Norris recommends working for free if necessary, starting a blog and pitching people. "I have a copywriter friend who finds websites with horrible copy and emails to offer his services, pointing out where they're going wrong - they take him up on it more often than you'd think."

If you're already a staff journalist, Norris says consider moonlighting before going full-time with freelancing. "Pick up some clients while you're still employed and work in the evenings - you'll be super busy for a few months but it'll make it that much less jarring when you finally make the leap."

Get some basic gear, skills

The more skills and equipment you have, the more you can become a "one-man army," says multimedia journalist Sherwin Coelho. "If you can write fluent copy but can't take a decent photograph, it's no good. Similarly, if you can shoot but can't edit, your work might as well be given to someone else..."

Prove to clients you can do the work

Potential clients need to see real proof that you're up to the job, says web designer and filmmaker Danny Fontaine. That means constantly updating your portfolio and creating work better than your competitors - even if (in the beginning, at least) you have to work a little cheaper - he adds.

Find a niche, or two

"[Successful freelancing] is all about having a niche to exploit," says freelance communications consultant Sebastian Clarke, who works mainly for insurance and financial services companies.

"That said, there's no reason why you can't develop other niche areas at the same time. For many, including me, it is important to keep up the enthusiasm. Freelancing is, to all but the most devout, another job and like any job, challenging yourself to do other things is really important."

Get away from your computer

Too much time spent at the home office can damage your freelance career. The two main reasons: personal sanity and vital networking.

"Networking is the best way to get work. You don't have to be a super salesman, just get yourself out and about," notes Clarke.

"One of the hardest skills to learn is when to switch off and step away from your PC - the old corporate habits of sitting at your desk all day die hard. As a freelancer, if you've done your work for the day, give yourself permission to take time off. After all, it is that work/life balance many people freelance for," he adds.

You can read the entire webchat transcript here.