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The freelance side of life

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

Since the SPJ Freelance Committee launched the first edition of its freelance resource guide in 2012, the journalism industry has seen a lot of changes. While newsroom layoffs are still painful, they are now expected. To fill the gaps and to keep up with the 24-7 news cycle, new media organizations and journalism hybrids are launching every day.

As our industry morphs and changes, so does its need for freelancers — talented, experienced journalists including everyone from reporters, editors and data analysts to researchers, broadcasters and photographers. Freelancers of all types are needed to keep the journalism engine running.

For those who are used to a well-lit newsroom with bad coffee and a steady paycheck, the freelance life can be a daunting place. But it doesn’t have to be. Freelancing is an appealing, viable career option for journalists, whether they choose to freelance right out of college or later in their careers. Some of us have even freelanced after working in another industry.

My freelance life began by accident in 2004 when I was laid off from my day job as an office manager and marketing consultant for an investment advisor. I had spent 18 years in the financial services industry and had a degree in business administration, but thanks to some freelance reporting on the side, I realized finance was not my first love. I was much better suited to be a writer and journalist, and after the unexpected layoff, I wanted to control my own destiny. I wanted to experience the freelance side of life.

That was 11 years ago, and I’ve never looked back.

Based in the Seattle area, I freelance full-time, writing for regional and national news outlets, and I publish a hyperlocal blog, among other writing and communications-related duties. I make more money now than I did in the corporate world, and I am much happier. Freelancing is my day job.

I’ve heard similar stories from the hundreds of freelance journalists I’ve met since joining SPJ 10 years ago. People contemplating the freelance life, or wanting to grow their block of business, often ask me how I did it. The short answer — hard work, determination, perseverance and resources like SPJ.

As the national president of SPJ, you’d expect me to say SPJ was instrumental to my success but it’s true. I met my first three editors at an SPJ press club event in Bellingham, Wash., in 2004, and I continue to get work through freelance friends I’ve made in SPJ. My first national writing gig and my most lucrative one — AARP Bulletin — both came from being listed in the SPJ Freelancer Directory.

In addition, SPJ offers exclusive benefits to freelancers through SPJ Solutions. The organization also offers advice, tools and resources through the Independent Journalist blog, the SPJ Freelance Community and this new edition of the SPJ freelance guide. While the journalism industry continues to evolve, the market for freelancers grows alongside it, and I am comforted to know that I can turn to SPJ to give me the latest information to be a good journalist as well as a good business person.

In the online edition of the freelance guide, at launch we share some basic information about freelance journalism, discuss business matters and offer advice on how to make a living as a freelance journalist. We’ll add new topics and update the information as needed. Coupled with SPJ’s other training and educational tools and the Freelance Community, we’ll make sure you have the resources and knowledge you need to be a successful freelancer.

Come take a walk on the freelance side of life. We think you’ll like it!

— Dana Neuts, SPJ national president, 2014-15

Copyright © 2012-2018 by Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved.

Questions or comments? Please post them in the Freelance Guide Comments forum of the Freelance Community Board or email fcguide@spj.org. We'll answer as soon as we can!


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