Tuesday, April 20, 2010...8:30 am

Top tips for media freelancers #2

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[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5]

Second in the series of tips for freelancers features writer, editor, trainer and Londoner Martin Cloake. Martin has more than 20 years’ experience in journalism and writes books about Tottenham Hotspur Football Club – the latest being The Pocket Book of Spurs.

Because it’s not hard enough keeping one web site going, Martin’s professional site is at martincloake.com and he blogs at martincloake.wordpress.com.

  1. Widen your focus
    Think of the skills you have rather than the jobs you’ve done, and then think of how they can be applied. I spent 20 years subbing magazines. In the two years since I went freelance I have spent less than 5% of my time subbing magazines. I’ve worked in communications, managed brochures, edited a series of books, advised organisations on web communication, designed and taught college courses, been an editorial consultant, built and run training courses and written more than I ever did, and for a wider range of publications. All this has meant I have had more fun working on a greater range of stimulating projects than I had done for years. And been paid better, too. We live in an age of sophisticated communication, and expertise in communicating is a key skill. It’s also worth trying to master a new skill every six months or so.
  2. Remember the collective
    – Freelancing can be an isolated experience, but the rates and conditions you accept do have a wider impact. Talk to other freelancers, get an idea of going rates and conditions and tips on how to negotiate. If you’ve applied point 1 you will know you are offering specific expertise rather than casual labour. So value it, and make sure those who employ you do. The more people who accept low rates and poor conditions such as conceding copyright or 90-day payment, the easier it is for rates and conditions to be driven down even more. Even as self-employed individuals, our interests are still collective. And yes, I am an NUJ member and as a freelance that is invaluable.
  3. Take a break
    – If your time is yours to organise, make sure you organise your time for you. Of course the work must be done when it is there, and to deadlines which often mean long days. But one advantage of not working set shifts is that you can often do the work when it suits you. I try to make sure I get away from my desk and go running regularly, and it’s very good for the brain as well as the body. If that means working a bit later but enjoying a run in the sun, that’s something I could never do on the 9-5 treadmill. If I want to take the kids to the park or take my wife out to lunch spontaneously, I can. And I’ve never missed a deadline yet. There will be downtime – trust me, there will – and it’s important to use it wisely rather than spend it stressing about where the next work is going to come from. And when I find out how to do this last thing, I will come back with point 4.

Some really useful advice is shaping up in this series. More to come tomorrow – and if any current or former freelancers have any tips to chip in, please do…

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5]

1 Comment

  • Syndicate, syndicate, syndicate.

    When I was a freelance writer, I discovered the key to riches (well, to survival anyway) was re-selling what I’d already done. Either as is, or rewritten, or re-angled, or otherwise sliced and diced for a different publication or a different market.

    You have to keep your copyright to be able to do this, of course, but even if you’ve had to sell it (pace Martin, this is often unavoidable nowadays), you can interview the same person in different ways or on different topics – for instance – so that you can produce two genuinely different features for more than one publication.

    By the end of my second stint as a freelancer, I was making more than half my income from syndication. It’s the way forward.

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