Archive for November, 2011

The problem-solving nature of freelancing

Look around. No matter where our eyes land, we see words.

It may be just one small word, such as “off” or “on,” but the process that led to printing the word required someone to come along and write it. Decisions were made, assignments were given and the words we see around us were formed.

If prospective and novice freelancers keep that in mind, the emotional challenge of finding writing and editing assignments will become little easier to take. Understand that the world needs writers of all kinds, and that one of those particular needs is bound to fit a freelancer’s special talent.

Of course, nobody will know that until it’s made obvious to everyone. Thus, self-promotion and marketing are as important as the actual creative actions of writing and editing.

This is tough for most freelancers just starting out. The very notion of having to sell themselves and do it daily takes them out of their writing and editing comfort zones and plops them in front of risk, challenge, uncertainty, frustration — things certain to make even average people squirm and sweat. Worse still, shopping for clients takes time away from the writing and editing processes.

Thus, marketing is where a freelancer’s ego runs up against reality. And repeatedly banging into reality this way can be bruising.
There is, however, one element of reality working in a freelancer’s favor that can cushion the psychological blow and act similarly as a sales tool.

You see, people who know how to use words effectively are, above all else, problem-solvers. They bring to bear talent and wisdom nobody else has or can use in precise ways, and that precision helps answer questions, surmount obstacles and open doors for other people.

Whereas managers organize a given situation and technicians wrestle with the fine details of it, writers and editors are responsible for communicating initial needs, communicating the problem-solving processes, communicating the analysis and conclusions of the final result. And let’s face it, nothing gets accomplished without strong, effective communication at multiple levels.

Thus, freelancers are instrumental. They find and write the words that help address important issues. They are, in essence, problem-solvers. And if prospective freelancers think carefully about this before tackling the onerous task of self-promotion, that task may start to seem less onerous. By pitching themselves as problem-solvers, freelancers expand the definitions of who they are and what they can accomplish. Clients will see them as more than just communicators, too.

It’s a psychological game, certainly, but it’s one all freelancers can win. And once they start to play, it can become much easier to switch their careers from “off” to “on.”

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.



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How Much Should You Charge?

There seems to be a little “rift” between the “my work is valuable” crowd and the “help! I need money!” crowd. Established freelancers say — rightfully — that you should get paid what you’re worth, but some beginners argue that desperate times call for desperate measures.

Last week I received an email from Briana, a 21-year-old beginner freelancer who says she is desperate for work — ANY work. She is deeply in debt and can’t pay her bills.

Briana said:

Since being laid off in January, I’ve been pursuing a career as a freelance writer, and while things are steadily looking up, the fact of the matter is I’m still not making enough for a full time income. 11 months later and the stress of getting a “real job” is even greater than before.

Briana lives in ultra-expensive Southern California. Although she wants to stay in that area to be close to her family, she’s willing to move to Nevada — where the cost of living is cheaper — while she establishes her freelance career. (That’s dedication!)

The problem is, her husband would need to find a new job if they moved to a cheaper area. Right now his job provides their main source of income, and they can’t risk upsetting that income stream.

As you can see, Briana has some big financial challenges that relate to being a beginner freelancer.

I wrote Briana an epic, 2,000-word response to help her figure out how she should price her freelance work. You can read it here, in a post I call: Give Me Money!

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How to Get a Press Pass

I am frequently asked how freelancers get a press pass, so I reached out to the committee to get their input. Here is their feedback:

Eric Francis: “I’m an individual member of the Arkansas Press Association and they send me an membership card every year. That’s as close to a press pass or press ID that I have. If I’m on an assignment and have to gain entry to an event or activity that isn’t open to the public (and, for that matter, those that are), I always make sure my editor has either paved the way for me or I have the contact info for the organizers and make arrangements in advance. I’ve found that, in general, a membership card to your state/regional press association, a professional-looking business card, and a good word from the editor who assigned you the story will open any doors you need opened.”

Carol Cole-Frowe: “I’ve never had a problem if I’ve had an assignment.”

Ruth Thaler-Carter: “Members of Washington Independent Writers used to be able to get press passes based on their membership cards. I’ve gotten them when I could present an assignment letter.”

Crai S. Bower: “I think there a couple of memberships that issue a credential, but I don’t know what they are. I usually contact the media director for the event and explain my assignment.”

Have you had a different experience with press passes, freelancers? If so, please share your thoughts in the Comments field below!



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Business Freelancers: Are You Using the Reynolds Center?

If you’re a business freelancer, then you’ll want to be sure to check out the Reynolds Center. It offers some great online resources as well as classes, some paid and some free. In addition, the Reynolds Center offers grants to apply for some its other programs. Here are a few items I found interesting during a recent visit:

Tumbler:  One of the Best Journalist Tools You’re NOT Using

Fellowship Opportunity:  Strictly Financials, Jan. 2 – 5, 2012

Journalism Job Listings

Self-Guided Training


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How to make more money freelancing

Ask, says David Volk in the most recent issue of Quill. He tells when to say “Is that rate negotiable?”

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Journalists Doubling as Grant Writers

Submitted by Theresa Sullivan Barger

Do you supplement your journalism income by writing grants? A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors is moderating a panel on grant writing for journalists at the writers’ association annual conference in New York April 28, 2012 and is looking for panelists.

If you work as a journalist and a grant writer and are willing to talk to other writers about how you got started in grant writing and how you make it work, please contact Theresa Sullivan Barger, an SPJ and ASJA member who is moderating the panel. Email Theresa



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LinkedIn for Freelance Journalists

I just spent 30 minutes on a conference call learning about the various ways journalists can use LinkedIn. The walkthrough included:

Synching your Twitter account with your LinkedIn profile (and advice on what kind of posts are appropriate);
how to use Advanced Search features to find the most appropriate sources for stories;
how to find editors in your zip code, or in hot publishing zip codes like New York or Washington;
how to use the Reference search tab;
how reporters use the Companies tab to get stories and scoops;
how to add skills to your profile, which can help editors find you;
how to post questions on LinkedIn, without giving away your story topics;
How to use the Answers button.

It was a great guided tour, run by LinkedIn’s Krista Canfield (PR people can be our friends). She gave us a bonus at the end: a way to get an Upgraded account on LinkedIn, without paying (see?).
Here’s a tipsheet for press.

Go to LinkedIn’s journalism group for details on the next conference call.

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