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Making a living as a freelancer

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by farmerjerome, Sep 17, 2007.

  1. farmerjerome

    farmerjerome Active Member

    So, I'm at a crossroads in my life. I'm getting sick of the retail gig, but I'm not quite sure I want to take the plunge and get back into journalism at our paper.

    So I'm wondering, is it possible to make a living as a freelancer?
  2. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    Possible, yes, but really difficult, especially in these days with shrinking space and budgets.
  3. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member

    Yeah, you can make a living freelancing. It won't be easy, particularly at first when you're working at building up a list of clients. It also is made infinitely easier if you are on someone else's insurance.

    My wife is a freelance writer. She started doing it so she could stay home when our first child was born. She now does quite well. She primarily writes for the local newspaper, but has also done local magazine work. She's also done some PR and catalog/newsletter writing.

    I'd hesitate to quit a job and try to jump into freelancing with nothing lined up unless you can afford to take a financial hit for a while, but you could definitely start fishing for assignments and see what the landscape looks like.

    I've thought hard about doing it myself -- the benefits are the really tricky part, since I'd have to make significantly more than I do now just to break even after paying for insurance. I still may give it a shot at some point, though.
  4. ColbertNation

    ColbertNation Member

    You can, but not at that paper. I echo PCLoadLetter (what does that mean?) -- the toughest thing (at any paper) is the lack of benefits. But you have to do what makes you happy. And if you can swing it financially, I say go for it. There are few things worse than becoming cemented in a career that makes you unhappy.
  5. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

  6. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member

    Actually, depending on the kind of writing you want to do, the current circumstances in the business may be creating more opportunities for some kinds of freelancers. Certain kinds of lifestyle magazines appear to be in a growth cycle, but to keep the belt tight they're probably not going to be hiring fulltimers.

    You mileage may vary, depending (again) on the kind of writing you want to do.
  7. HeinekenMan

    HeinekenMan Active Member

    The benefits thing definitely has been my biggest struggle. No 401K. No health insurance. It was going to cost me $400 a month for health insurance, so I am skipping it this year. It's like playing Russian roulette. But you can deduct that cost from your income, which helps.

    The rest of the deal is great. Work when you want and where you want and for whom you want. But that kind of selectivity takes time. At first, you work for whoever is willing to hire you and for whatever they're willing to pay. If you're only able to get $50 per story from the local newspaper, you have to write a story a day to make $1,500 a month.

    If you can gradually shift into higher-paying work or manage to knock out two stories each day, you'll be able to double that monthly income. But there is a limit to how much a person can do, and your time becomes a commodity.

    Probably the oddest part for me is that I tend to swing from one extreme to another. Either I overwork myself or slack off too much. It's important to find a balance by setting a monthly goal and then planning how to spread the work over the 30 days.

    Of course, there's also that weird feeling on the first of the month, when you suddenly realize that you're unemployed until the first assignment comes in. In truth, I usually have a handful of assignments to tackle when the first of the month comes, but it only takes a week or two of slacking before you suddenly run out of work.

    Probably the best piece of advice I can offer is to remember that freelancing is a business, one that requires you to negotiate your prices as the economy shifts and one which requires that you be a salesman.

    If you want more info, PM me.
  8. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    That presumes you have the expertise, talent and contacts to consistently draw assignments from one small niche that will presumably draw interest from writers nationally. Not the most solid foundation on which to stake the rent.

    There will always be an opportunity somewhere, and there will never be a guarantee that you'll get it. Better be pretty flexible if you're freelancing full-time.
  9. In Exile

    In Exile Member

    Can be done - and the economic climate was not great when I did it either. Helps to have a few more or less steady gigs lined up before you start, and a financial cushion - I cashed out my retirement plan when I went freelance, from a job that had nothing to do with this field - which gave me a year to get my act together - and I paid the health insurance a year in advance. Helps, of course, to have a partner with insurance.

    If you are a newspaper guy, don't confine yourself to newspapers. If you are a magazine guy, don't confine yourself to magazines. In short, at first, grab almost anything you can. Let your contacts know you are looking and consider taking what they turn down. Small assignments can turn into big ones. For me, a one-time magazine assignment turned into a ten year column, a small work for hire turned into an annual five figure gig. The small time guy you do work for today might be a big deal in another 5-10 years.

    And as a fall back, for a year or two, I even did the occasional painting, laboring job, just to bring in some income. Made me want it even more.
  10. Dan Hickling

    Dan Hickling Member

    FJ...To your initial question about making a living.....I don't know your situation, but my general answer is that any living you make will be on the spartan side...You have to be very flexible about what assignments you are willing to perform, yet find a way to swim toward what you really do like to do...But it's a challenge that you have to be very willing to embrace...this is not an endeavor to be half-hearted about...as with any business, you'd have to assess how many other freelancers are in your area...Some areas I have a hard time finding guys to dish gigs, to. Others, the field is pretty crowded. I was probably the only full time sports stringer in New England when I started out in 1994. Now there are a dozen capable writers vying for work. But again, not all of them are up for the challenge...But 4000 freelance assignments have taught me this, you have to live believing that you are only as good as your last one...Even after 4000 gigs, I remain thankful for every single one I get...hope this helps....!
  11. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Farmerjerome, check the archives here, lots of good threads on this topic.

    I've been full-time freelance for almost three years and it's been great. Of course I've been married the entire time and have had her benefits and salary to fall back on, so I can't vouch for truly doing it on your own. I have endless respect for those here who do this without a spouse's parachute.

    My best advice is to have (at least) one reliable client before you take the plunge. I left my last regular job on good terms, and knew my seat wasn't going to be filled. So the editor was happy to let me continue to do a lot of the work I used to do as a staffer. That was crucial, I had regular work and money to get me through while I chased bigger and better things. You said you're in retail so that's obviously different, but before you walk away from that regular check, get some gigs lined up first.
  12. mudduck

    mudduck New Member

    I'm very interested in this topic as I just quit my newspaper gig. (A pox on the idiots who got that thread locked.)

    I never thought about magazines as I've always been in newspapers. Any tips on getting in with magazines outside of submitting unsolicited copy?
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