I’ve been a business journalist for more years than I care to think about and I’ve certainly seen the ebb and flow in demand for freelance work, but none more significant than what we’ve experienced over the past couple of years.
Still, through my own experience and that of others I interact with on a regular basis, I’ve found that even in tough times, good journalists can—and do—consistently find work.
- Existing relationships matter. Journalists who have had ongoing relationships with editors even in tight markets can still benefit from those relationships and should stay in touch even when budgets are tight and if rates may be declining.
- “Not now,” doesn’t mean “not ever.” Patience matters and can make a difference. I’ve probably learned this over time, and others have said it, but it’s amazing how many projects come to light even years after the initial contact.
- Professionalism is critical. Editors can tell – and are supremely offended – when you don’t take the time to read their guidelines or their publications. They don’t like it when the material you turn in doesn’t reflect the original assignment, was hastily pulled together and isn’t on target with their audiences’ needs. And speaking of audience…
- Regardless of who you’re writing for, you need to focus on the end user audience needs and “what’s in it for them.” Might be my advertising roots, but I always try to be firmly focused on what the reader might be interested in, what questions they might have, what additional information they might need, what value I might provide, etc.
- Consider non-traditional writing options. Over the past couple of years I’ve written blog posts, e-letters, grants and applications, news releases, etc. For business journalists, in particular, there are a wide range of corporate projects available (and even moreso as organizations are downsizing or freezing their staff and harried communication departments turn outside for assistance).
- Be thorough and accurate. Editors tell me that it is far too common for them to receive queries from writer-wannabes that contain errors ranging from misspelled words to grammar problems to – ugh! – incorrect publication or editors’ names.
- Use your network! Editors or clients you’ve worked with in the past may know of other editors or contacts who are in need of someone with your writing skills. Contacts you build through social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter can also lead to new opportunities and new connections.
- Don’t give up. Editors are busy these days. Chances are if you don’t hear back immediately, it’s more because these editors are swamped than because they’re not interested. It pays to follow up.
- Don’t burn bridges. It can be tempting sometimes to close the door on a relationship with an editor whose assignments are few and far between, whose heavy-handed editing seems entirely irrational, or whose snarky feedback makes you want to respond in kind–but don’t do it. You just never know where either you or that editor may land in the future and, trust me, your paths may someday cross again!