I Hereby Resolve…

Contributed by freelance writer Eric Francis

Okay, we all know this one. It’s a gimmick, right? This is The Dead Week – no news but space to fill, so hey! I know! Let’s just rehash last year’s list of New Year’s Resolutions then head for the watering hole….

Fine. Be that way. But before you relegate this one to the (virtual) circular file, let’s go over a few things that every freelancer needs to be keeping in mind as they practice writing 2012 instead of 2011.

First off, how many full-time journalists do you know who lost their job last year? Close friends, former colleagues, bare acquaintances. A handful? Maybe a dozen? Now think about all the layoffs you heard about, not just in your market but your entire state, even your region. Scores? Hundreds?

Ladies and gentlemen, what are the odds that most of those folks are going to become freelancers, whether it’s for the long haul or only until they land another full-time gig? Pretty darn good, I can tell you from experience.

As freshly minted unemployed journalists, they have something you might be missing right now: Motivation. There’s nothing like losing a paycheck to make one desperate to find its replacement. Which means they’re going to be calling every potential client in your stomping grounds to see what assignments are available.

And every assignment they get is one you won’t.

That’s a conundrum. You don’t want to wish ill upon your unfortunate fellow journo, naturally, but you also don’t want anyone taking bread from your children’s mouths.  And that is why you need to be making some resolutions for this year.

For starters, forget your current definition of what your market is. If you’ve got a cell phone and an internet connection, the world is your beat. Check your current client list and see how far away, in miles, you are from the most distant publication you’ve written for. Then either take that number and double it and find a new client to pitch at the far end of the ruler, or (if you’re already selling stories coast to coast) orient your compass in a direction you haven’t looked before. Someone in one of those locales needs your work, and it behooves you to find them.

Here’s a variation on that theme: What’s the circulation of your largest client? Double it and find a new client in that range.  Pick one located in a place you used to live, or where you’ve visited, so you can demonstrate more than Wikipedia-level knowledge about the locale.  You might be surprised that new client is right in your backyard, or your favorite family vacation spot.

You can also go small. This country is full of little publications – local weekly papers, small-city websites, special-interest magazines. And yes, most of them won’t pay much. But if you own the rights to your past work and have a diverse collection of evergreen or easily updated stories,  you might be able to pick up some small checks with little or no new effort required on your part. Plus, you could earn the gratitude of an editor or publisher who will pass your name around their circle of friends, or up the command structure if they’re owned by a chain, which could lead to more lucrative work later on.

Finally, go for the Hail Mary pass. You know there’s a publication out there you’ve always wanted to see your byline in, yet you’ve never tested those waters. Make this the year you go all out to get in their pages. True, it might mean devoting a lot of time and effort to a project that may not see print if you can’t convince your dream date to take you to the prom, but odds are you’ll still be able to shop it around – or put it on your website to show what you can do.

Actually, there’s one more thing – track down one of the journalists you know who was laid off and offer to buy them lunch. Tell them what it takes to be a freelancer these days. Offer to help them shore up a weak spot in their skill set, or to pay their SPJ membership fee. Because this profession is going to be in turmoil for some years yet, and if we haven’t been in their shoes yet we might find ourselves there down the road. They may be in a position to return the favor one day, so there’s no harm in building a little good karma today.

After all, they may technically be a competitor, but they’re always going to be another journalist. And journalists look after their own.

Eric Francis is a freelance writer based in North Little Rock, Ark. His resolutions for this year include learning to build and manage a website, finding new clients in at least two other states, and teaching the cat not to sit in front of the keyboard.

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