From Editor to Freelancer: Tips From Both Sides of the Assigning Desk

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After serving for a year as editor of a start-up weekly newspaper/digital media company in northwestern New Jersey, I was informed in early May that the company would be shutting down. Over the years, I have held freelance writing positions at a number of publications, including newspapers, magazines, websites and business journals. Here are some tips I have taken away so far serving on the other side of the desk, and from experts in the freelance circuit.

1. Don’t Strike Out. One obvious difference between having a full-time writing job and turning to freelance is that articles are no longer assigned to you. It’s now up to you to pitch article ideas to publications. “When you freelance, you really have to grind hard. You have to constantly be coming up with ideas for different publications, formulating relationships with editors to stay on their radar so that eventually once you do get a good relationship with a publication, they will start passing you these assignments. I think that’s the whole difficult thing, and I think that’s the one thing many people who had a staff job overlook,” said Donya Blaze, managing editor of Mediabistro.com and a former freelancer herself.

She explained that you want to be proactive, constantly pitching ideas, and that too many writers sit back and wait to get assignments in their inbox. But it’s not enough to just make a pitch – it has to be a great one.

So, what makes a great pitch? According to Blaze, the pitch needs to show that you know the publication inside and out – know what was published this month, last month, even last year. “I think really knowing the publication, knowing the columns, knowing if there’s a distinct layout for a column, if the column always uses the same format, does the column always need a big picture, the word count of the column. You have to really know those things so that you can come up with the best ideas for them, and you’ll really make friends with the editor if you show that you can do that.”

In addition, Blaze said that your pitch is an example of your writing, so make sure the pitch is in the tone of the publication. “If the pitch isn’t written well, the editor will think you’re not going to write the piece well. So, you should write your pitch in the same style, like the voice you would use in a finished article, and that should also match up with the publication as well. If the publication has a light tone, then your pitch should have that tone. Conversely, if the publication is more hard-hitting or more investigative, then in your pitch, you should probably sprinkle in some things to show you can handle that type of work,” she said.

2. Remember Who’s in Charge. When switching from full-time writer or editor to freelance writer, get rid of your ego – if you have one – immediately. You are now at the mercy of the client. This is a whole new mindset that might take some adjusting, especially if you are used to holding management roles and often getting your way.

3. Market Yourself. Build a strong online presence by starting a website and blog, and update them daily. Also, use social media. Susan Gunelius, president and CEO of KeySplash Creative, recommends spending time daily on social media activities – whether it’s Facebook or LinkedIn. “Social media and content marketing don’t have to be overwhelming. You really can make a difference in building your freelance business by spending as few as 30 minutes per day on social media activities. Of course, the more time you spend, the better, but if you can only commit 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon, and 10 minutes in the evening, that’s OK,” she said. Gunelius also suggests when creating Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to lead off the pages with your strengths, so they’re easy to find, and to set the pages so your profiles are viewable – and searchable – by the public. In addition, make sure to take time to solicit recommendations on LinkedIn and answer questions on LinkedIn Answers.

4. Money Bags. OK, you may not be making tons of money at first, but when you were working full time, you didn’t have to worry about submitting invoices. When you are hired for freelance assignments by a client, make sure to ask if they want the invoice in a certain format, what information needs to be included and when it should be submitted. Most clients require: name, address, phone number, Social Security number, date submitted, client name, name of assignment(s) listed separately with amounts, date handed in, and total amount on the bottom.

5. Know the Sites. You don’t always have to create the pitch; sometimes the client advertises for help. Some useful sites to check out are www.freelancewritinggigs.com, the Blogging Jobs folder on the About.com Blogging site, www.aboutfreelancewriting.com, Mediabistro.com and Journalismjobs.com.

From Coffee Shop To Office: Professionalizing a Highly Caffeinated Environment

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One of the first thing you’ll realize as a freelancer is that home and work oftentimes don’t mix. Of course, you’ll try to make yourself a productive writer at the homestead — and for the rare few this is a doable — but oftentimes the amount of distraction inside your apartment can be overwhelming. This is where the coffee shop journalist is born, thanks to the plentiful caffeine available and quiet working environment. But even out of the house and away from your flat-screen TV and streaming Netflix set- up, there are ways working at the local java hut can still be an inefficient work zone. Here are a few suggestions on just what you’ll need to make a day at the local coffee shop a truly beneficial work environment and not just a way to surf the internet in public.

1. Find a coffee shop that has free or cheap wireless internet.
While this might sound sort of “duh,” there are still a surprising number of coffee shops, including the big mamma-jamma of them all, Starbucks, that charge for internet usage. And, in some cases, they want an astronomical amount for a day’s worth of use. This is usually avoidable as plenty of mom and pop coffee joints will usually let you use their wireless for a full day, provided you purchase at least a cup of coffee and/or something small to eat. Given how nice that is, it feels awfully fair to throw a few bucks their way and enjoy their free internet for the day.

2. Bring a nice pair of headphones along with all your supplies.
One of the hardest parts of working from a coffee shop is keeping yourself completely tuned into what you’re working on, even if that means transcribing a never-ending interview with the most monotone person alive. If you don’t already own a nice pair of headphones that can allow you to do this, it’s time to invest. While you can plop down hundreds of dollars, there are plenty of nice ones for under $100 that will allow you to be completely absorbed in what you’re listening to and drown out the clatter and chatter of the coffee shop. Pop it in your work bag along with a notepad, pens, dictaphone, and anything else you might need while out.

3. Face away from windows or any busy entry way.
Along the same lines as the headphones, the name of the game with working in public is staying focused on numero uno and your impending deadline, not what the two people across the coffee shop from you are catching up on. Being observant and interested in strangers is an inherent part of being a journalist, so don’t feel bad that you’re eavesdropping left and right, but do limit the distraction by isolating yourself as much as possible in the coffee shop. This means facing away from busy walkways, large social groups, and the entrance, where you’ll be tempted to peek at everyone coming and going throughout the day.

4. Don’t meet up with friends/work together.
While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, being a freelancer isn’t usually about teamwork. It’s tough enough to be a productive worker on your own and, while it can be a bundle of fun to work with fellow freelance writers or friends at the coffee shop, the distraction is usually more than you’d like to admit. Just like studying for exams back in college, it’s usually easiest to just hunker down and stay focused by yourself.

5. Make your work station feel as professional as an office desk would.
Just because you’re sitting at a cramped table in a coffee shop doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it as a professional work space. Keep the clutter to a minimum and avoid big, messy dishes of food just as you would at your cubicle. It can be helpful to replicate a work desk as much as possible, including having your supplies out in front of you and keeping anything distracting, like magazines or books, away from your sight.

6.  Reward yourself with “fun” computer time
The hardest part about a day of work at your computer for people that are interested in the world and pop culture is not becoming lost in a k-hole of web surfing and video watching. While checking news and entertainment sites throughout the day is absolutely reasonable, do yourself the favor of limiting the guilt by just acknowledging that you’ll probably lose a serious chunk of any work day to clicking around websites that are 100% not related to what you’re working on. But if 20 minutes of online shopping or watching videos of kittens falling asleep gets you back in the groove, don’t deny yourself. Just keep an eye on the clock and set a time when you’ll get back to meeting your deadline.

 

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