10 Top Tips for Freelances

By Tira Shubart

‘I’m going freelance!’ is something we hear more and more from friends and colleagues in the media.

It’s not only because of the restructuring or cuts in print and broadcast. There’s an element of freedom and adventure in striking out on the freelance life, going free range — and a tiny bit of apprehension. Being a freelance is a whole new lifestyle and being organised will help you be pro active to sell those articles & documentaries and get those contracts.

1) Ideas are money

Your original ideas for stories are as valuable as all the contacts you have built up. So keep an ideas files for stories which grab your attention, even if there is no immediate outlet. These can be clippings, notes from something you hear or see on broadcast or more usually now, website addresses on your laptop. And have a look through them every now & then. And keep a seasonal diary on your computer too—stories that can run around Christmas, for example, need to pitched in early autumn.

2) Cast your net wide — market yourself and network

Learn to market yourself and to network—these skills are key to being freelance. Think of yourself as a business, because you are. Set up your personalised email & website & matching business cards. Get in touch with all your professional contacts and figure out ways to meet more of them, attending lectures or events or requesting introductions. The majority of contracts, jobs and assignments in the UK happen through contacts rather than advertisements.

3) Social media is your friend

Social Media is free & the way to connect with potential clients, especially Twitter. Get to know and love Twitter and use it as part of your ‘brand’. Your profile on all social media is an extension of your CV and often the first thing that a commissioning editor will check out. Twitter is also a great way of looking for contracts & keeping up with all aspects of the media.

4) Targeted CVs

For each different contract, re-jig & write targeted CVs. Your CV pitching for a column on gardening will be different from one about a travel piece on Iceland. A CV must present your skills and qualifications at a glance — CVs are usually read in less than a minute. Presentation is critical so use clear formats. Keep it short & concise & punchy. Road test your CV on a trusted—and critical– friend.

5) Sell your expertise

Look for gaps in the market and things you know about. You can write about or film your own experiences. Pitch in a short and well written email. If you don’t hear back, send a second email a week later. And then follow up your approach with a call. Try to get a short meeting where you can sell yourself — ask for 10 minutes.

6) Talking money: Get paid properly

When you’ve sold that article or agreed on that freelance contract, discuss a fee which properly reflects your knowledge and experience. Be polite but firm. Be clear about copyright issues. You can always pitch high, and then agree to a lesser amount. But remember that it’s 40% cheaper for a company to use freelances as they aren’t responsible for providing sick pay, holiday pay, maternity leave or national insurance.  Look at the payment guidance on the NUJ website and find out from other journalists what the going rate is for that article or documentary.

7) Time management and time off

You might have to work 24/7 sometimes. Other times it will be very quiet so use that period to chase for the future or simply kick back and enjoy yourself. Discipline discipline discipline! Worrying about an irregular income can dent your confidence in going freelance.

8) Be smart with your money: Save and be savvy

Being freelance means being smart about your money and accounts. Reduce your outgoings and keep 3 months of living money in the bank. Learn about what expenses you can claim and keep all your receipts. Use an accountant who knows about freelances in the media or learn how to do your own tax returns online — it’s easier than you think. And consider taking one of  NUJ Training Wales’ courses on finances & freelancing.

9) Support system

Create a support system for difficult times—positive thinking friends! And talk to other freelances.

10) Avoid what you really don’t need!

There are things you don’t necessarily need to launch your freelance career: The latest whizzy computer, iPhone, iPad or camera gear. Or those five new outfits to impress editors you haven’t yet met.

And remember:

All projects start with a single step—moving from a company structured life to self structured life takes planning, discipline and will power.

Good luck!


NUJ Training Cymru Wales