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Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson are both experienced freelance journalists and university lecturers. They are also the authors of Freelancing for Journalists and hosts of the podcast of the same name.

If you have ever doubted your worth as a freelance journalist, felt like you did not have the right experience or that you would be somehow found out as a 'fraud', you are most certainly not alone.

Imposter syndrome – where despite evidence of achievements, a person questions their abilities or believes they happened by luck rather talent – is a well-studied and common phenomenon affecting both men and women.

The response to our podcast episode on this topic seemed to strike a particular chord with listeners suggesting that freelancers may be particularly susceptible to these feelings of doubt.


If you are new to freelancing then you are more likely to experience the feeling that you are somehow a fraud. Until you have a regular stream of clients and have built up a strong relationship with commissioning editors it can be easy to slip into the belief that you are a hobbyist rather than a professional.

Some people begin freelancing without any training and this can reinforce the mindset that they are not a 'proper' journalist or are ill-equipped to present themselves as one.

This feeling of disconnection can be heightened if you work for a number of different media outlets and have no single sense of identity. One day you are interviewing a case study for the Guardian and the next you are quizzing an expert for the South China Morning Post (true story). And when you call a contact saying 'hi it's Sarah Smith from the Metro', this can sound hollow because you are not a staffer.

Imposter syndrome can also creep in when you are covering a topic you are not an expert in. This is especially true if you cover multiple beats or are a general news reporter. Asking an interviewee to explain blockchain to you as if they you were a toddler can be embarrassing when you are finance journalist because you think you really should understand cryptocurrency.

Similarly, talking to people in the public eye can be daunting especially if you are freelance and not associated with any particular news brand. You may feel you do not deserve to be speaking to them or are worried that you will ask the wrong questions.

All of this is not helped by endless pitch rejections and unanswered emails from editors. This can make even the most seasoned freelance feel they no longer have what it takes or are unable to connect with the current zeitgeist.

Imposter syndrome can also rear its ugly head when you try something new, which is out of your comfort zone. This might be pitching news stories rather than features, cold pitching to a new publication, running an event or launching a podcast series. Entertainment journalist Nick McGrath, who has interviewed hundreds of high profile figures, recently admitted he felt imposter syndrome when running a webinar on interviewing celebrities.


While many of us have these feelings from time to time, the danger is that they get in the way of you making a success of freelancing or spreading your wings. The good news is there are lots of things you can do to counteract those insecurities.

The first thing is to take a rational look at what you have done. This is where having a website or portfolio can come in handy as an easily accessible list of all the times you did get commissioned and delivered on time. You have those bylines because you put in the hard work, did a good pitch and were hired to write a piece. None of those things are easy and you have done it time and again.

At the start of your career even seemingly small achievements are worth celebrating and making a note of. It could be having a flurry of ideas and sending out 20 pitches and getting one positive response. Or making a connection with a new editor. It all counts as progress.

Remember it is okay to ask for feedback from editors you have done work for. You do not have to sit there not knowing if you did a good job, you can ask. Gathering testimonials from those you have worked with for your website is both good for your brand and for your confidence.

Being isolated and plugging away on your own does not help keep those feelings of self-doubt at bay. One of the most important things you can do is plug into networks of fellow freelance journalists. There are several Facebook groups including Freelancing for Journalists where you can get reassurance, advice and support from peers. 

If you feel you need some additional skills or want to learn more about freelancing then look for relevant training courses. This is not admitting defeat, it is taking steps to improve your confidence and knowledge which in turn will enable your freelance career to flourish.

Likewise getting a mentor can really help to boost your morale at the start of your freelance career. Having a more experienced journalist on hand to ask when you are not sure about the right thing to do can be incredibly helpful. Women in Journalism and the Freelance Journalism Assembly are among those who offer mentor programmes. A full list can be found on the Journo Resources website.

It needs to be said that fear is not a bad thing. If something feels daunting that often means you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Doing something that scares you is a good thing, says freelance journalist Donna Ferguson who admits she had serious imposter syndrome feelings when she first started out.

"That’s when you've got to go for it because that's when you know your job is really exciting. Every single time I've felt scared and then I've pushed myself to do it anyway it's always worked out really well," she says. 

Finally, you have to keep at the forefront of your mind that rejection is part of the process. We all have plenty of pitches that get ignored or a quick 'no thanks', it is part of the job. It does not mean it is not a good idea, it just means, for whatever reason, it does not suit that publication right now.

In a piece she wrote for the Guardian on how to use rejection to your advantage, Ferguson pointed out that it is okay not to get it right first time.

"You learn so much when you get rejected. It is always going to be a no if you don’t pitch so why not try," she says. 

So next time you sense that nagging feeling of doubt approaching, do not be afraid to face it head on and quash your inner imposter.

Beat the feeling of imposter syndrome and build your confidence in our How to Become a Successful Freelance Journalist training course, with Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson. Working as a freelance journalist is not just about generating great story ideas and writing the perfect pitch. Successful freelances also have to be able to negotiate rates, build up contacts and know how to brand themselves - click here for details and bookings

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