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Marketing yourself
Networking: the key to staying happy and fed

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

Journalists need to network to get stories and keep in touch with sources. Freelance journalists have an additional reason: to find and cultivate clients.

Networking is best done in person through coffee meetings, lunches, dinners and at events where you’ll have the person’s attention and can make a positive impression. There simply isn’t any substitute for being present. It’s amazing what people will mention when in person that they don’t say by e-mail or phone.

There are different kinds of networking, and this chapter will help you create a plan that works for you.

The short version: set goals for yourself to get out and meet people by the week or month, and stick to it, no matter how busy you are. Your favorite publication that you’ve worked with steadily for 20 years can go under tomorrow, leaving you without solid income. If you’re well-networked, that will be a momentary glitch, and you can call a business contact or editor you know to fill that gap with more work.

Whenever you meet people, ask them who else you should meet. You’re looking for both work, as a freelance professional, and connections to great stories as a journalist. These meetings can provide both.

Networking in local groups

There are lots of opportunities to meet people locally and expand your circle of friends and business associates. While networking events can be intimidating, they’re the best shot you’ve got at finding new people to help you build your book of freelance business. The places to find these meetings are numerous and seem to be growing.

Some freelancers advocate joining groups at which the same people meet every week or month — groups like Business Networking International, Rotary, Kiwanis and Sertoma. Others look for larger groups or programs where they will be more likely to increase their circle of connections. In most areas, the local Chamber of Commerce has breakfast or evening events. There is a fee involved, but prospective members usually can attend for free. Say you’re thinking about joining!

Look for other opportunities to get together with people you share interests with — hobbies, recreation, arts and culture, for example. Take business cards, and don’t be shy about explaining what you do for a living and what kind of work you want.

Another fruitful source is alumni groups. People love to give work to someone else who knows all the words to their obscure fight song, or understands their decade-old reference to that special rock on the Quad. Check your college or university’s web site to see if they have any upcoming events.

Networking through SPJ and other journalism organizations

If you want to connect with people who can give you journalism work, there’s no better organization than SPJ. If you live in a community with an active chapter, consider yourself lucky and go to as many activities and meetings as possible.

Journalists are very easy to network with. Most are extroverts and will gladly talk to you if you approach them. Come prepared with your best 30-second summary of what you do and your ideal assignment. Big bonus points will be tallied in your favor if you’re an avid consumer of local news and can discuss particular reporters’ work intelligently. Take business cards, too, and hand those out liberally. Make notes on the back about special connections, both on the cards you give and those you receive.

Some professional chapters, including those in Georgia and D.C., sponsor activities geared to freelancers. If your chapter doesn’t already offer those programs, consider starting a freelance group in your area.

Most regions have a conference each spring, and that’s a wonderful way to network. An opening reception usually kicks off the conference, and that’s your best opportunity to talk to potential clients and fellow journalists.

Attend the SPJ national conference, Excellence in Journalism, every year. Budget for it and make it part of your regular schedule. If you’re looking to land national-level work, this is a great place to find people who can help you make that happen.

Also make liberal use of SPJ’s Freelance Community. The community’s Facebook group is the best place to ask questions and get feedback from a broad cross-section of freelancers. Recent discussions have included how to respond when someone you cover asks for your notes or data, what kind of recording device to use for interviews, how to plan for a reporting trip to India and how to archive online work for your portfolio. The community sponsors online chats every month or so and makes other resources available to members, including a job board where editors looking for professional journalists post freelance gigs.

Many freelancers also belong to other journalists’ organizations where they network with colleagues. The most active niche groups appear to be the Society of Environmental Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors and Association of Health Care Journalists. Others are specialized by media or cultural background. Some organizations have job boards where freelance gigs are posted along with staff postings.

Following up

If you really want to get a potential client’s attention, send a hand-written thank-you note following your meeting. It’s a lovely and unexpected gesture. Throw in another business card.

Reminding someone that you would like to work for them but not being a pest is a fine art. Use quick, touch-base e-mails to do this. Wait a few weeks after a meeting. If you hear nothing, you can call, but that may be passing over into the pest category.

The goal of networking is to make a lot of good contacts with people who may be able to give you business, but most people will not. You need to meet lots of people to increase your odds.

Using social networking. Your use of social media should reinforce who you present yourself as to potential clients and associates, but it doesn’t replace in-person networking. Don’t expect to follow someone on Twitter and then message them to ask for work.

Build that relationship up over time. Tweet editors and reporters, and engage with them on what they’ve written/posted/shared, with the goal of meeting in person.

While social media doesn’t replace real-life networking, it can be a reminder that you are available. Engage with people, even clients, and hope to reinforce a positive impression of youself and your work.

In short: the world is small. Networking is one way to tap into that and build your business. After all, that’s what you’re doing: building a book of business that can pay the bills and keep you fulfilled and happy as a professional.

Contributor: Robyn Davis Sekula


Last updated: July 2017

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

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


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