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Finding work
Finding your way to work

On Your Own: A Guide to Freelance Journalism

> Home

> Introduction: The freelance side of life

Freelance journalism 101

> Vocabulary lesson

> Dollars and sense

> Contracts are essential

> Copyright 101

> Dressing for success as a freelancer

> Staying productive even when you’re not working

Business matters

> Five reasons to pay attention to business

> Contracts and copyright — beyond the basics

> Getting your business organized

> Separating yourself from your business

> Keeping track of business

> Taxing matters

> Insurance considerations for freelance journalists

Making a living

> Time and money

> Budgeting without a salary

> A simple way to boost your pay: Ask

> Retirement planning: Where to stash your cash?

Finding work

> Finding your way to work

> Trolling the web for work

> Inspiration for finding the story

> Brainstorming ideas you can sell

> Pitching your way to a full story calendar

> Tips on freelancing for newspapers

Marketing yourself

> Paying attention to business

> Making a home for your business on the web

> Networking: the key to staying happy and fed

> Business cards help make the best first impression

Tools of the trade

> Why journalism ethics matter

> Four tips for better self-editing

> Selected websites for finding freelance journalism assignments

> Journalism organizations

> Journalism reading list

For most new freelancers — whether beginning or mid-career journalists — the notion of gig-hunting is new. They don’t know who to contact or how to approach people for the first time. Here are some tips for starting out.

Think about who needs writers, photographers, designers, video producers (or whatever it is that you do). Look for the people who are producing that content. Whenever you find something with writing, pictures, audio or video, someone had to write or record it, and it might very well have been a freelancer.

If you’re looking for local work, keep your eyes and ears open for publications and stations that may use freelancers.

Check LinkedIn for people you’ve worked with previously who may now be working for a place you’d like to work. If you’ve done good work for them before, chances are they would hire you again.

Who to contact. It’s best to approach an editor or publisher by name, if you can find the right person to contact. Finding that person can be challenging.

First, search for the media outlet’s name on LinkedIn, and then check out the profiles of people in the search results. See anyone you know? Contact them first to find out who to approach. Even if no names show up, you may find a link to the outlet’s website.

Often the pertinent information appears on the Contact page of the media outlet’s website, or on a page linked from the “footer” at the very bottom of each page. For smaller publications and broadcast outlets, the only name may be the publisher’s, and that could be the correct person to contact.

If you’re looking to break into national publications, see if you can find someone locally who is writing for that publication, and try to find a connection to that person. Freelancers are often generous with their time and connections and may be willing to help you get in the door.

The approach. Once you’ve found potential markets for your work and identified a likely contact, write a short e-mail to introduce yourself and include a few links to samples of your work. See if the contact is an SPJ member (search the membership directory), and if so, briefly refer to SPJ in the email. If you know someone in common, mention that. It will help open the door.

Read up on the publication to be sure that you’re a good fit and knowledgeable about their work. Understand the market, in terms of geography, demographics and subject matter. This research will prepare you to ask and answer questions when you make contact.

Ask for a meeting if the contact is local or if you’re visiting their city. If it turns into coffee, yes, you’re buying. There’s simply no substitute for a one-on-one meeting.

During the meeting, the key is to stress that you’re a professional who will get work done on time, under budget and when needed. Be attentive and ask good questions. This meeting is very much like a job interview, but it’s a two-way street. They are thinking not only about whether you can do the work, but whether you are really interested in the publication’s audience. The ultimate question you’re seeking to answer is why they should choose you. Be prepared to demonstrate why during the meeting.

Plan on short introductory meetings, but be prepared to stay longer if your contacts show interest in having you work for them. You may show up at just the moment an assignment doesn’t have a writer or producer, or when an expected work isn’t submitted.

Contributors: Robyn Davis Sekula, Hazel Becker


Last updated: December 2018

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Questions or comments? Please email fcguide@spj.org. We’ll answer as soon as we can!


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