I’m going to assume that my last entry motivated you to quit your 9-5 job and start being the freelance journalist you’ve always dreamed of being. Here are 7 basic initial steps that I hope can lead to success. I’ll be using them as I start my self-employed journey, that you can follow on this blog. Please admire my figurine pen drawings (which I photographed with the BlackBerry I will relinquish to my boss tomorrow).
Without further ado:
1. Move to a developing country. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned this rule up top, because I consider this step optional. But paying cheap rent and living in an area full of rich material will make freelancing a million times easier. However, you can make it work anywhere so long as you keep your spending under control. That means no more shopping sprees at Sephora or H&M, and yes, you should even cut down on your daily Starbucks habit, or at least stop binge drinking on weekends.
2) Do look at the corporate cliff you just jumped off of. Do not avoid looking at it out of fear. Revel in the glory of your bravery verging on madness, and know that you can be just as strong as that colossal giant. You can reach just as many consumers with your journalism. No, more! Perhaps your voice is not as booming as Fox News’s, but you can say things in a more interesting way, in a more youthful and modern and authentic way, and you can create a new journalism movement with which to conquer Goliath. Facing your competition with a grin on your face will help you discover a clearly defined purpose within you, and there is no more efficient key to success than that.
3) Train yourself to become a multimedia machine. It hurts to admit that I have only 67 followers on Twitter. That will soon change (follow me?). I’ve already taught myself to film, script and edit video using Final Cut Pro, as well as to produce high-quality photo essays. When they said journalism was dying in J-School, they meant print journalists. Becoming a versatile new media journalist is vital for success nowadays. Goliaths all over the news industry are attempting to adopt this strategy, but in vain. There is too much bureaucracy and too many old-timers with no idea how to use a touch-screen entrenched in their system. Only David can use a slingshot effectively.
4) Create a simple, professional website showcasing your best work, or fine-tune the one you already have. Less is more. Avoid putting up every single article you’ve ever written and steer clear of unprofessional photos. For those of you who don’t know how to make a website: sign up for WordPress, find a decent-looking template and purchase a domain with your first and last name (WordPress will do this for you, just input your credit card info, it’s only about $18 a year). If you want it to look really impressive, teach yourself CSS and HTML — this should be part of your completing step #3 anyway.
5) Contact editors. Send them a clean email pitching a story idea relevant to their publication and send them a link to your personal website, informing them they can find some of your best clips there. Spend days on end just sending out these kinds of emails. If you can’t think of a story to pitch, even after religiously reading the local news, you’re out of luck. If you don’t know who to pitch to, check out the places other freelance journalists in your city are getting published. If you don’t know any other freelance journalists, you’re also out of luck.
6) Get physically organized. I am one of the least organized people in the world, with the embarrassing mess of my room generally reflecting my untidy state of mind. I lose notebooks, business cards, keys, phones, wads of cash, credit cards, phones, everything. Go to the nearest Office Depot or equivalent and purchase folders, filing cabinets and post-it notes. Yesterday I went on a shopping spree but couldn’t fit everything on my motorcycle and will be returning today with some elastic ropes. Getting organized is the hardest part of becoming a successful freelancer. It helps if you, like me, live with an Argentine boyfriend who finds it maddening when you do not wash your own dishes or leave crumpled receipts all over the house or don’t make the bed or leave rotting food in the fridge for weeks. If you aren’t lucky enough to live with a Latin man or woman who drills order and cleanliness into your head, try finding one.
7.) Start a side business. Think of all the things you’ve thought you might be good at — fashion designing, crafts-making, copy-editing, translating, babysitting, etc. Go for it. I, for example, have started to dabble in street-vending (a popular pursuit in Mexico City), and spent my whole Sunday sitting on a sidewalk with a suitcase filled with old clothes I don’t use in an attempt to fulfill step #5. I made $50 in four hours, selling everything for between MXN20 ($1.50) and MXN80. My marketing strategy was so effective that even a homeless man came over to purchase some red hipster glasses for $1.50 and walked away wearing them, looking amazing. This street-vending was made significantly easier to do without a legal permit thanks to step #1. I’ve also just co-founded a film company. Starting a side business will give you much-needed momentum and confidence. It will also improve your credentials significantly and keep you afloat when freelancing is slow.
In sum, you can do this. You probably won’t believe me until I myself have applied the rules and succeeded. But that’s why this blog exists. So you can see for yourself what happens when someone decides to become a self-employed journalist in a competitive freelance market in the midst of a global economic meltdown.
What better time to wage a war on a journalism largely dictated by corporate interests than now, in this storm, where it is the giants who are most exposed?