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Marketing yourself
Making a home for your business on the web

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

Freelancers’ websites serve a very important purpose: to tell prospective clients they are legitimate, professional practitioners with a serious intent to operate as a business.

Though search engines can drive clients to freelancers via social media pages, journalists with their own websites keep both their hands on the steering wheel, controlling the image and user experience. Having a website serves three main purposes for freelancers:

Before deciding whether to create a new website, update your old one or rely on social media links to manage your web presence, start your research by keying your name into the title bar or search box of a browser and seeing what comes up. Then, try other search engines — Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask, Safari and maybe one or two oddballs like DuckDuckGo or Dogpile. Seeing what a prospective client would find in a simple web search may guide your choices about whether and how to upgrade your web presence.

Next, think about what story you want the internet to tell prospective clients about you. If your LinkedIn profile, Facebook page or Twitter feed came up first in search results, and if you like the story that tells, you may decide you don’t need a separate website — or you may look for ways to tweak what’s already there to tell your story your way.

Once you know what image you want to put forward, look at other freelancers’ websites. Researching journalists on the web reveals that some successful freelancers use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media sites effectively as their business homes on the web. Others have profiles on portfolio and directory websites that they use to provide clips to prospective clients.

Journalists’ websites aren’t necessarily as easy to find as one might expect. Search for freelancers whose work you admire or whose path you want to follow. If you have trouble finding sites to look at, go to the SPJ Freelancer Directory and click through to some profiles. Find a few that tell those journalists’ personal stories in a similar way to how you want people to find out about you.

A website of your own

If you decide to create your own website, make the home page your business home and use it to link to other places people find you on the internet. In particular, include links to your social media (if you use any) — i.e., a Facebook page, Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile, Google+ account.

The most important thing about your business home on the web is that it should be clean, uncluttered and light on words. Make every word count, and make sure prospective clients can find what they are looking for easily. If you answer their immediate question right away — Is he a real person? What can she do for me? How do I get in touch? — they are more likely to follow up than if they have to go digging for the information.

Website design has forged a new path in the last few years, taking a minimalist approach and following graphic designers’ advice that “less is more.” More traditional web designers believe that words are an important part of telling the story. Follow your instinct — but don’t expect visitors to read a lot of material on your home page. Icons, images and bold headings can make the message easy to grasp.

If you specialize in one niche, your home page could be very simple — a “splash” page with an “enter here” link. If that’s too minimalist for you, keep the home page visual by adding links to your online resumé (an “about me” page), clips (an online portfolio) and contact information. If you offer more than one service — i.e., edit, write, tell stories with images as well as words — you might divide the home page of your site into areas for each niche, or use a visible menu to show viewers what you can do for them.

Make sure your contact information is easy to find on your home page. Some advisers say your email address and/or phone number belong near the top or bottom of the page. If you decide that the home page will simply say “Contact Me,” then make those words a link that opens in the viewer’s email program.

Having your name be the URL of your website makes it easy for search engines to find you. If you have a common name (i.e., Mary Smith) you probably won’t be able to register it as your domain name. You might try a variation by adding an initial, or a leading or trailing descriptive word — for example: mffitzgerald.com, chrisjonesink.com, readwriterachel.com.

Most important is to make your website a living, changing place by updating it regularly. Search engines look for sites and pages with changing content. Add clips to recently published and aired stories. If you provide other kinds of services, write descriptions of new projects you have worked on. Unless confidentiality agreements dictate otherwise, keep an updated client list. Provide fresh references from time to time.

If you have the discipline and time, consider adding a blog. Some freelance journalists use niche blogs to provide fresh content on their sites, sometimes as short items that can’t be fleshed out enough to sell. A warning, though: blogs can be time-suckers. On the flip side, some prospective clients may be put off if you don’t find the time to update your blog from time to time.

Contributor: Hazel Becker


Last updated: August 2016

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


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