I was recently asked to speak at Wired Sussex breakfast session on ‘How to be a successful freelancer’. The invite couldn’t have come at a better time, as after 15 years or so as a freelance journalist I have had to rethink my job in order to stay successful.
I’ve built up good contacts over the years and established a reputation as a reliable writer, working for the likes of The Guardian, Independent, Men’s Health and Marie Claire. But things started to change. Newspapers were shutting down, magazine budgets were being slashed – and freelance writers are always the first to go.
The truth was, work was drying up. In fact, I’d never been so quiet. I realised I needed to change what I was doing, or find a new job. I realised I needed to move into content.
So what’s the difference between a freelance journalist and a freelance content writer? Not much, as I’ve discovered, but I was very resistant to making the change at first. I thought content wasn’t ‘proper’ journalism, and that online was throw away and superficial.
However, I knew if I didn’t move with the times I’d end up as a grumpy old woman talking about the good old days… and being left behind.
Match your skills to the market
So, I took at a look at my experience and skills and that was when it dawned on me I was already much more than just a journalist. I was a:
- News reporter
- Investigative writer
- Copywriter – I worked on marketing campaigns for big brands including American Express, Samsung, Virgin and TDK
- Editor – I have edited a number of inflight magazines and also subbed on various titles
I realised I could use this broad range of skills to plan and produce quality content. It meant I didn’t have to give up my ideals as a journalist, or lose the skills I’ve crafted over the past 20 years. I could use them to my benefit by applying the same principles to writing a blog, as I do a piece for the Guardian.
So I changed my job title. I am now a freelance content producer. Or writer. Or creator. I haven’t quite worked out the title yet…
What’s in a name?
Changing your job title in order to stay successful is about much more than randomly picking a new career. You have to have the skills to back it up.
I did consider becoming a pig farmer for a while (no, seriously, I really did. I love pigs). But I realised that:
- I live in Brighton.
- I could probably make more in a day writing content, than I could in a month farming pigs.
- I know nothing about pigs. Or farming.
I was already an experienced writer and editor, but there were gaps in my CV. To fill those gaps I needed to learn more about creating and marketing good content, so I’ve read blogs, watched videos and spoken to experts to ensure I can to do the best job possible.
Changing my job title has helped:
- Broaden my mind – I no longer consider online content as a step down in my career. I realise being a ‘proper’ journalist is what makes my content valuable.
- Broaden my skills – I am now confident to offering marketing and strategy services, as well as writing content.
- Broaden my opportunities as a freelancer – I’ve been in touch with all the businesses I worked with over the years to offer my new services, which has lead to more work.
Despite the change in name and new skills to my bow, the day to day of my job hasn’t really changed. I still come up with ideas and I’m still writing. I have also kept certain key values, which worked for me as a journalist.
When you think of sports presenting, who do you think of? Clare balding. You need to be the Clare Balding of your industry.
Having a specialist area and knowing that industry inside out it, will make you indispensable.
It also makes your job much easier when writing, as you understand your audience and your client.
That’s how I became a successful journalist. My first job was on Stuff magazine and I soon became labelled as a ‘gadget girl’. To be honest, I hate that expression, but it’s better than widget woman.
I am now using my knowledge and experience to carve out a niche in content.
I did a lot of socialising in my early career. A lot of socialising. I was in my 20s, I didn’t have kids and social media didn’t exist back then, so I went on every press trip.
As well as having a lot of fun I got myself known in the industry and pitched a lot of ideas. It’s so much easier to get work when you are face-to-face with someone, especially when they’re very drunk.
Socialising is much harder now with social media, but you have to get out there whenever possible. Attend events run by Wired Sussex and other organisations relevant to your industry, and arrange meetings yourself.
Even if you’re a specialist in your industry and an established name, you need to back it up. You’re only ever as good as your last piece of work.
- Read the brief
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions
- Do your research
- Know your audience
- Know your client
- Say something new
- Always hit your deadlines and if you know you can’t, email to warn them
It’s amazing how many writers don’t do some of the above – let alone all of them. Be the best you can be, and the work should follow.
What I’m doing now
Since embracing the change, but keeping the same ethos I’ve gone from content provider, to content marketer and now content strategist.
I am also getting more work. In fact, I’ve never been busier.
What I’ve learnt
- Play to your strengths, but don’t be afraid to give new challenges a go
- Never say no! Say yes to work, and then worry about out how you can deliver it later
- Take pride in everything you do
- Work hard
What I’m planning for the future
I’m totally rebranding, with a change of company name and a new web site. I hope to launch Agnes next month.
I’m not specialising at the moment as it’s still early days, although there are a couple of themes emerging – mainly around the letter ‘E’. Not sure how strong this is for a business plan…
Education and employment – I provide content for Madgex and the Study Group. Equestrian – I have just landed a contract as the content strategist for Horse & Country. Yes I ride horses. It’s not quite pig farming, but it gets me out in the fresh air.
The key thing is I’m open to change. And I’m excited about it.
Do you want to read more on the subject?
Wired Sussex Breakfast Workshops are fortnightly events taking place on Thursdays from 9.00am – 11.00am at The FuseBox. These events are designed to be very practical and to give you access to expertise and knowledge that will help you and your business. Our next session will be: Protecting Your Idea (12th January), Winning and Retaining the Right Clients (9th and 23rd February).