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Jon Card

Credit: Full Story Media

Jon Card is the author of How to Make Your Company Famous and has worked as a business journalist for the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and The Times. He is a public speaker and has delivered talks and workshops on business storytelling, media and press for entrepreneurial audiences at Innovate UK, University College London and The Supper Club.

The credit crunch helped me into self-employment. Before the global financial meltdown, I was a full time employee and the deputy editor of Growing Business magazine. My writing was well received and the magazine was popular. But then the banks fell over and the ad money dried up. In the summer of 2009, I was made redundant and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I have been self-employed for over a decade now, and have worked for dozens of different titles, publishers and broadcasters, plus many non-media clients, too. I will never be an employee again, I do not want to 'go to work'. Most of all, I do not want to depend on someone else for my income. For me, prospering as a journalist means being an entrepreneur. Here is what I have learned.

Find your number one skill


Journalists succeed for very different reasons; we have a range of different skills. I am not a great sub-editor, my shorthand is far from perfect and I cannot even type quickly. My best skill is that I am very good at finding stories.

I can find angles, conjure up headlines and I rarely miss a good quote. I can listen to techies, scientists and entrepreneurs and pick out the stories from their presentations - even if they are very well hidden. This is where I can add value, and this has been my key to success.

Everyone working in media should understand their own strengths and weaknesses and build their career or business on the former.   

Expand your job title

These days, most of us have 'slash job titles' like journalist/speaker/PR. Surviving as a freelance journalist, for example, typically means diversifying your skillset outside of journalism.

Other forms of writing and content are a common source of income. For me, contract publishing, advertorials and advertising copy have provided decent cashflow.

Most of all, I work as a speaker and consultant as these roles play to my strengths. Developing skills that fix other people's problems is key. A journalist/videographer/data expert would probably be in good stead in today's market.

Be a risk taker

Entrepreneurs take risks and succeed because of it. They launch new ventures, experiment with new ideas and regularly learn new skills, with no certainty of how they will pan out. 

A couple of years ago, I started my own event series: 'How to Make your Company Famous', and have now written a book of the same name. To get started with the events, I hired a room, sold tickets on Eventbrite and had no idea what the outcome would be.

Would anyone come? How would my talk be received? About 12 people came to my first event (hardly groundbreaking) but the feedback was really encouraging. I have held dozens more since and now public speaking and media training is what I spend most of my time doing. By taking a risk, I have met lots of brilliant people and transformed my career.  

Accept that journalism has changed

We do not just write; we also publish, distribute and promote the stories we write. There might well be some purists who dislike using the word 'promote', but it is exactly what we do.

Do you seriously think anyone would want to hire an employee, or even a freelancer, that had literally zero social media presence? Or who refused to share their stories online?

The work of journalists is now tracked in terms of page impressions and social media shares. Journalists have become marketers without even realising it.

Use social media wisely

Social media is still new and is constantly changing, so authoritative experts on the subject cannot really exist. An algorithm change or an update tomorrow can upend everything you know and do. We are all learning, and that goes for Mark Zuckerberg, too.

Social media is a major part of a journalist's role. It is a treasure trove of information, a super-fast way to find contacts and, of course, the #journorequest hashtag. But social media comes with many perils, not least its ability to suck us in and waste our time.

Those who use social media well know which platforms work for them. I am focused on entrepreneurs, so my main network is LinkedIn, while Twitter has limited value.

The future of the media is uncertain and no-one can remotely predict where we will be in 2030. My advice: adapt, change and be entrepreneurial if you want to survive or, better still, thrive.

Do you want to become a successful freelancer? Learn new skills and get a certificate in freelance feature writing, pitching, copywriting, sub-editing and more. Click here for more information

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