A couple of days ago, a journo friend of mine dropped by for a coffee during the mid-afternoon lull. I could see she was really stressed and it didn't take long to find out why. She works really hard on our local paper and we all know that salaries on British regional papers are a joke. My friend has real talent for writing but is struggling to raise her family on her pitiful income. Unsurprisingly, she's looking to freelance on the side until she can make the leap and do it full-time. Time for a brain-pick.
My top tips?
1. Get a blog. Build it in Wordpress or Typepad so you can have static pages as well for showing clippings, adding a biog and a contact page. And the blog is not only ongoing proof you can write, it's a chance to specialise in niche areas you are passionate about. Result - instant website at minimal cost.
2. Join a good freelancing forum. I always recommend Journobiz as it is supportive - members are very generous with advice and contacts, and it's a good watercooler when you feel alone. I wouldn't survive the working day, stuck at home as I am, without dropping in regularly.
3. Get an accountant. When you're still on a contract and PAYE, freelance earnings are easy to declare on the tax return. But once you make the leap, the time you'd spend struggling to fill in the form is time better spent earning money. My accountant takes a day maximum to verify my accounts and file my tax return. If I did it myself, it would take a week. I save money by paying the accountant to do it for me. And she's a tax-deductible expense. The same theory applies to other situations. It would take me half a day to clean the house (which I do actually do right now) - hiring a cleaner would be cheaper. Ok, the char is not an allowable expense but the convenience frees up my time to earn.
4. Pick your listings. I pay for listings in several professional directories. None are massively expensive (each averages at £55 pa) but they have to earn their keep. I only need one really well-paid gig from each to justify renewing the listing when it's time. Anything else is a bonus. I choose my listings with care - any that don't pay their way get discarded. Well, you wouldn't run an ad in a magazine that didn't bring in business, would you?
5. Join your union. It's no secret that I have deep misgivings about the NUJ, which I recently rejoined purely for practical reasons. When you're staff, you get the press card automatically. When you're flying solo, if you want accreditation, you need to join something. It's not just about the press card. The union does offer other benefits too, like free legal advice and cheap professional indemnity insurance. And it's funny how when redundancies loom at a workplace, the NUJ sees a spike in membership applications... But seriously, it's better to be in the tent pissing out when you work for yourself, and have at least something behind you.
The bonuses? No boss, no commute, no office politics and complete freedom to work for whomever you choose...