The end of the year is approaching, which means it’s time to start thinking about planning for the new one—including whether to attend conferences of SPJ and other organizations that can help our freelancing efforts, so we can budget for the time and money to participate in such events.
That raises the obvious question of why – why go to an SPJ regional or national conference? Why go to the conferences of other organizations?
That’s easy: Because it’s good business for a freelancer. It’s a smart use of your time and money.
As freelancers, we can often feel isolated and cut off from our colleagues. One way to reduce that lonely feeling is to get out of the house and … go to a conference. Attending a conference is a great way to get reconnected to colleagues.
Conferences are learning experiences almost by definition. They offer a consolidated, in-depth and often intense opportunity to plug into the current trends of our profession (or the professions and industries of the people we write about) and to pick up on tools, techniques and other topics important to those of us who practice and care about journalism, no matter what role we play in the profession. You never know what you might learn by attending a conference.
The SPJ’s national conference will include a number of sessions specifically for freelancers, as well as plenty of opportunities. Regional meetings are likely to include freelance topics as well. (If not – be the one to offer something about freelancing at your regional meeting!) Whether you’re thinking about freelancing, starting out or have been doing freelance journalism for years, you can always learn more from colleagues and presenters.
Conference attendance is also a great way to meet colleagues in person and interact on levels well beyond the impersonal one of e-mail. Why do that? Well, it’s always nice to make new friends, but it also helps to remember that we’re more likely to want to work with people we know. Meeting in person enhances your network of people who might refer or recommend you for projects or even hire/subcontract with you. You become more than an e-mail address; you become a real person, and that makes you stand out from all those other e-mail messages in someone’s inbox, especially when that someone needs to hand off work they don’t usually do or are too swamped to take on.
Conferences bring us together not just with our peers, but with people who might hire us. That’s an opportunity we shouldn’t miss. Again, meeting prospective clients in person makes us stand out from the throng when there’s a reason to get in touch later on.
Yes, conferences cost money, and freelancers don’t have the luxury of being sponsored or reimbursed by their employers to attend professional meetings. However, those expenses are tax-deductible – not just registration, but travel, accommodations, meals, supplies, resources, etc. If you put some money aside starting in January, you can build up a sizable conference budget for the year.
You can even make money from attending conferences. SPJ may not pay most of its conference speakers, but some organizations either pay honoraria or cover the costs of travel and accommodations for their speakers, along with giving speakers free conference registration. Think about what you might have to offer to colleagues or clients, and start looking for opportunities to be a speaker somewhere in the new year!
Even attending a conference can be a freelance assignment. I have clients that pay my travel, accommodation and meal expenses, plus a daily fee, for me to attend their annual conferences and write up daily events for an onsite newsletter or post-conference report. Being there also lets me mingle with other attendees whom I wouldn’t meet otherwise and who might have a use for my freelance services, or might be good story subjects for the future.
As I said in a recent assignment (for an organization that has nothing to do with journalism), conferences are for us – designed with our professional and personal needs in mind, and intended to serve those needs by giving us what we need to stay up to date in our profession, make our work better, and enhance the skills and service that we provide to our clients.
When you go to an SPJ conference, a conference for freelancers or one for members of an industry that you cover, you’re not just among colleagues; you’re among friends. So sit down with a calendar and your budget for the new year, and plan now to plug yourself into the adventure of at least an SPJ conference. See you there!
Long-time freelancer Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is a veteran of “too many conferences to count” in various aspects of communications, as well as on behalf of clients in several professions and industries. She is the owner of Communication Central (www.communication-central.com), which presents an annual fall conference for freelance writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, etc.