If you’re an independent person who enjoys journalism but doesn’t want to be restricted to a single publication, freelancing may be the career for you. As a freelance journalist, you’ll have the freedom to work at your own pace and write about topics that interest you. However, being a freelance journalist is also hard work and requires dedication and follow through. If you follow the right steps and take a structured approach, you can land your first assignment and thrive as a freelance journalist.
Getting Your First Job
Sign up on freelance writing websites. If you don’t have any experience or samples, employers won’t be able to evaluate your skills. To get the initial experience that you may need, try signing up to freelancing websites such as Freelancer, Elance or oDesk. These websites have small one-time assignments offered by people who need writers. Create an account and start to bid on offers in their database.
Make sure the employers that you take jobs for are verified to ensure that you get paid for your work.
Build a network. Talk to family and friends and see if they know of any publications that are looking for journalists or if they can get you a job. If you know of any other freelancers, try to talk to them or invite them to lunch to talk about what kind of opportunities exist. Continue to talk to people in the industry so that they can keep you abreast of any jobs or assignments that might be available.
If you are in school, talk to the editor of the school newspaper and see if there are any opportunities to write for them.
Join an online community. Several online journalist communities can help you get work as a freelance journalist. Look for communities on LinkedIn and Facebook and become members of them. Start talking to other journalists to help build your network and gain more knowledge. These online communities can help you further your career and is a great knowledge base for new journalists.
Other online communities include JournoBiz Forum, Mumsnet, and The No1 Freelance Ladies’ Buddy Agency.
Research publications that you can write for. Read different publications and find ones that you’d like writing for. Get to know their writing style and what kind of topics they usually write about. This will give you clues on how to pitch to them. Try to find contact information for editors so that you can send them pitches for articles.
For instance, if you’re a movie buff, look at publications that review or evaluate new films that come out.
If you’re really into gaming, research gaming websites or magazines that talk about computer or video games.
Build a website. A website is a perfect way to show off past examples of your work. A website will give potential employers an idea of the type of content they can expect from you. You can either hire someone to build the site for you or build the website yourself. Remember to include your contact details so that people can connect to you.
Your website should contain contact info, a biography, examples of past work, and possibly a link to your personal blog.
Avoid cluttering your website with nonessential links or photos
Start pitching article ideas to editors. A pitch is a small summary of an idea that you have for an article. Typically freelance journalists will pitch article ideas to editors who will accept or reject your pitch. If you don’t have experience, you can pitch entire articles to editors so they have an understanding of how you write. Pitches contain a catchy headline and then a couple of sentences that explain what you want to write, and why people would want to read it. Start writing multiple pitches to different editors and see if you get any responses.
Pitching Article Ideas
Think of unique article topics. Make sure that you’re not pitching an article idea that they have already covered unless you can bring new information or a fresh perspective to the story. The best bet is to pitch article ideas on pieces that are missing. Look for niche stories that relate to the content that they usually publish, but a topic that’s been underreported.
For instance, if you’re pitching for a local newspaper, you can get ideas from local gossip or controversies that may not have been covered yet.
Reporting on smaller, marginalized communities may be something that other journalists have not done.
If a report came out recently, you can try to be the first person to write a synopsis of how it impacts people.
Pitch often. Many of your pitches are likely to get rejected, especially if you haven’t developed a relationship with the editor. Play the odds and pitch often. Pitching your ideas to more than one editor can increase your chances of getting your article picked up. Take the assignment that comes first.
Doublecheck your pitch for grammar and spelling. One of the biggest turnoffs for editors is a poorly formulated pitch. A pitch that’s riddled with spelling or grammatical errors shows the editor that you don’t care and gives them a negative impression. Make sure to double check your pitch and edit it so that there are no errors.
Create a catchy article title. The top line of your story will be the first thing that editors will see and you want to make sure that it grabs their attention. Use actionable verbs and try to make the title of your article as catchy and compelling as possible.
For instance, instead of writing “How to Eat Healthier” write “Eat Your Way to Great Health.”
Improving and Staying Productive
Learn other technical skills. Skills like photography, graphic design, and coding will lend themselves well to a career as a freelance journalist. These skills can translate to journalism and will increase your value to most editors. If you’re having issues finding work, let the editors know that you have these other skills and can incorporate them into your work.
Create and stick to a schedule. If you work with multiple publications it can be hard to get all of your work in by the deadline. Write down a schedule of your day-to-day operations and stick to it. This will help you finish your articles by deadline and will keep you on track while you’re working.
Wake up early and change your clothes every day. Even if you start working from home, it’s important that you wake up and get dressed as if you are going to an office. This will help keep you focused throughout your day and get you in the mindset to work efficiently.
Set a time to avoid distractions. When working from home, it can be hard to stay focused. Instead of getting distracted, set a timer for 45-50 minutes and focus solely on working on a single project. Do not respond to emails, answer the phone, or pay attention to any distractions. Once the timer is up, relax and take a break for 20-30 minutes.
Manage your workload and learn to say no. Sometimes when you’re lucky, assignments will come rolling in. It’s important that during these times that you manage your workload. If an editor assigns you an article, it’s best to be transparent about your workload. Consider if they are pay is high enough and whether you have the free time to complete it by the deadline. If you don’t feel like you can complete it by the deadline or it doesn’t pay enough, decline the assignment.
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