Abigail Edge is a full-time freelance journalist and editor. She is currently working on her first book and is also a visiting lecturer at City, University of London.
In the unpredictable business of freelance journalism, anchor clients can be the biggest decider in whether you sink or swim. An anchor client provides you with a steady flow of projects and income, preventing you from drifting into unchartered overdraft territories or getting grounded on the rocks of economic uncertainty.
When I first went freelance five years ago, I had yet to learn this. After 10 years as a staff journalist and editor, I thought I would sail into freelancing. Then reality hit: rates for freelance journalists have barely increased in decades. I realised all the successful freelancers I knew had steady side gigs in teaching or PR, or else a wealthy spouse who could keep them afloat a tidal wave of late payments.
Within six months, more than two-thirds of my income came from two regular clients whom I did journalism training, and content marketing. The extra income freed me up to work on the journalistic stories I cared about, without worrying how I would pay my bills.
This year I have returned to freelancing after a couple of years in staff jobs at BBC News and Google News Lab. Freelancing is a good fit for me, for now at least. I like the ease of working from home, and I can fit paid work around the book I am currently writing on coercive control.
I am going to show you how I got my first three anchor clients of 2020 and what marketing tactics brought us together. I have anonymised all but one, but you can apply these tactics to pretty much any freelancing client you pitch.
Client 1: Visiting lecturer at City University
Tactic: Public speaking and networking
I got my first anchor client on the final day of my Google News Lab teaching fellowship. At November's journalism conference Newsrewired, I gave a workshop on storytelling with Google Earth. After the workshop, James Morris, who runs the MA in Interactive Journalism at City, University of London, asked if I was interested in becoming a visiting lecturer. I now teach digital journalism to undergraduate and MA students two days a week, which I love.
Some of being in the right place at the right time is down to luck, but you also have to get yourself in the right place to start with. This means networking and attending conferences and other events where the people you want to work with hang out. Putting yourself forward to speak at these events will raise your visibility even further. Do not worry if you have never done public speaking before – it gets easier with practice.
Client 2: Consulting for a media and technology start-up
Tactic: Referral network
At the end of 2019, I contacted a bunch of my professional connections to let them know I was returning to freelancing and in the market for work.
Some people cringe at the idea of asking people they know to help them find work, but this makes no sense. Your former colleagues and associates already know your work and reputation, and so they are in the best position to refer you to people in their own networks.
Below is the exact email I sent to one of my contacts on LinkedIn, which led to him referring me to a startup developing a new podcasting platform. The startup has since hired me as a consultant to work with them on market analysis, multiplatform marketing and user experience.
It goes without saying that you should not copy the template below exactly. Pitches work best when you are creative and use your own voice.
Hope you're well! I've recently completed a 12-month fellowship with Google News Lab, teaching digital skills to more than 2,000 journalists across the UK and Europe. I wanted to let you know I'm returning to freelancing in the new year, doing a mix of journalism, training, consulting and content marketing.
I've enjoyed working with you in the past, so please keep me in mind if any projects emerge that might be a good fit for me – either within
Client 3: Digital content marketing for an online travel company
Tactic: Job board, cold pitch
Generally, I do not use job boards to find freelance work. If a freelance gig is posted on a board, it means you are one of many applying and often the positions are low pay. However, I do scan boards to find clients I might not have considering approaching.
I found Client 3 through a job listing for a full-time position, which did not interest me because it was in-house. I researched the name of the company, found its marketing director on LinkedIn, and sent them a letter of introduction (LOI).
An LOI is like a pitch, only instead of a story you are pitching yourself. As above, keep it simple and to the point. State your availability, what kind of work you want to do, and detail your skills and experience. And if you do not hear back within a week or two, always follow up!
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