The pandemic has been hard for freelancers. With budget cuts, travel bans and project cancellations, many gigs fell through and journalists found themselves with reduced work and income.
But this year, it looks like the situation is improving and there are exciting opportunities for those who can grasp them.
Freelance journalist David Nicholson believes that with covid restrictions slowly easing, 2022 will be a good year for commercial activities. This will give freelancers an opportunity to work from everywhere, "so if you want to work on a beach in the Caribbean, now is the time to do that," he says.
Flexibility and setting your own rules are the upsides of freelancing but there are disadvantages too, especially when it comes to finances. Journalists, said Nicholson, need to become good salespeople. This is important not only to negotiate your fees but also to be mindful and intentional about how you run your newsletter, YouTube channel or podcast if you have one or are planning to launch one this year.
He cautions freelancers not to become distracted by the hype and treat any side hustle as a focused editorial product, not as a hobby.
Although the industry is changing, basic journalistic skills never go out of fashion. This includes solid communication skills, writing, interviewing, reporting, ethics, paying attention to storytelling formats, great investigation skills and understanding data.
Emma Wilkinson, co-host of the award-winning podcast Freelancing for Journalists, said that freelancers just need a nose for a good story and be able to research and generate lots of ideas. Selling their stories in a succinct and clear pitch targeting the right publication is also important and so is a professional website and portfolio. Consistent branding - and this includes social media presence - is paramount so commissioning editors can find you easily.
"I would also recommend reading our recent newsletter by guest writer Rob Griffin. He sets out succinctly why you need to keep challenging yourself," she says, encouraging freelance journalists to try new things like copywriting, SEO, photography or podcasting.
Copywriting can be a much more valuable skill than you think, says freelancer and copywriter Jackie Barrie.
"It can be lucrative and it's absolutely a skill that you can cross over and develop. For example, copywriters have more power than journalists to set their price point. And this is where a lot of people find the most value because it boosts their confidence."
Barrie has 20 years of experience as a copywriter and she has been training freelance journalists for nearly as long. She shares her three top tips for those wishing to start a copywriting career.
First, collect testimonials from all the clients who were happy with your work:
"When you're trying to sell yourself, what other people say about you is more convincing than anything you say yourself."
Then, sharpen your marketing skills and develop healthy self-esteem. This will help you negotiate with your clients so you can earn what you deserve.
Finally, pay attention to numbers and make sure you know the difference between profit and turnover: cash flow of turnover will always be higher but your real earnings are what remains after taking your expenses out.
"You also need to be prudent with money because you’re not likely to make your fortune," he says, adding that cost-cutting in newsrooms may mean that the demand for good freelancers will go up this year. Seek out commissioning editors who pay a decent rate on time and be cautious with organisations who are slow payers.
Freelancing can be lonely, so keeping connected to your peers can help you find solutions to your problems and share your emotions. The Society of Freelance Journalists is a group of more than 2,000 members, offering advice, moral support, learning and job opportunities to freelance journalists. Why not join today?
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