Posts Tagged ‘Freelance how-tos’

Dress for Success

Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg told me one of the best stories I’ve ever heard about being “ready-to-go.”

Shortly after 9 a.m. on the spring Wednesday morning of April 19, 1995, Bragg got a call from the New York Times, his employer at the time. How fast could he be on a plane to Oklahoma City, his editor asked, to cover the aftermath of the smoldering ruins of the Murrah Federal Building, which had been blown up a few minutes earlier?

Bragg dropped everything and drove to the Atlanta airport, where he caught a flight almost immediately — back when you could still buy a ticket and walk right onto a plane. He was in Oklahoma City for one of the biggest stories of his career, bringing his wondrous way with words to describe the terrible human tragedy.

The point is that Bragg had a plan to be able to do such a thing. He grabbed what he could in a couple of minutes and planned to buy anything he forgot after he got to Oklahoma City.

He wasn’t freelancing at that time, but his story brings up the point of being a full-time freelancer who is ready to go when needed.

I’m a firm believer that you can wear sweat pants and a T-shirt while you’re writing in your home office or writing spot. But you need to be able to drop what you’re doing, have clean, professional clothes you can change into at a moment’s notice and enough gas in your car to get you at least an hour’s drive away.

And I shouldn’t have to say this, but you need to be well enough groomed while wearing aforesaid sweat pants and T-shirt to not have to get in the shower and do everything, like wash hair, shave, do makeup — you get the picture.

Even better, you’re ahead on your current assignments, so you have the ability to drop everything for a rush job or a breaking news story.

It’s a frame of mind. You’re ready for that call, e-mail or text.

And I firmly believe readiness translates to being more businesslike on telephone interviews and treating yourself more like a business.

Probably my best example was about a year ago, when I got a call from an editor at Agence France Presse, an international wire service based in Paris.

How fast could I be at the federal court building in Oklahoma City to cover a hearing for AFP on a lawsuit regarding Sharia Law? And even though I live about 20 miles from that building, I was able to change quickly, get there in about 45 minutes and I got the AFP story moved to the wire minutes after a decision was announced. My work clothes were cleaned and pressed (so was I for that matter,) my car had gas in it and my laptop was charged. It helped that I already knew my way around the federal court building, but I would have been fine regardless. I have no problem getting help from anyone who looks remotely helpful, including the friendly guards up front, who usually know where the action is.

I subscribe to the FlyLady e-newsletter that focuses on how to have a clean, uncluttered house and that definitely translates to having a more focused mind. Here’s her Flying Lesson on why she wants her followers to get completely dressed in the morning including lace-up shoes:

“Since starting this group, I have continually harped on putting your shoes on your feet each morning. I want you to do this, and you are not the exception to the rule. Here is why.

“Several years ago, I worked for a direct sales cosmetics company. One main rule for that company was that you could not make a single phone call in the morning unless you were totally dressed, and I mean really dressed! All the way to dress shoes. The reason behind this duty was that you act differently when you have clothes and shoes on.You are more professional. The customer can tell when you don’t feel good about the way you look, even when you think you do. So if getting dressed makes that big of an impression on someone that can’t even see you, what is going to happen to those that can see you? Mainly yourself.

“Putting shoes on your feet that lace up are better than slip-ons or sandals, because they are harder to take off. Instead of kicking your shoes off for a quick snooze on the couch, you actually have to go through a bit more trouble to get them off. Maybe in that short instant you will realize that there is something more that you can do. With shoes on those feet of yours, your mind says, “OK, it’s time to go to work.” You have no excuse for not taking the trash out or putting that box of give-away stuff into the car. You are literally ready for anything. Believe me, when you get that call from school that your child needs you or that dear friend calls up and says that she needs to talk … you are ready! Including shoes.”

Her complete Flying Lesson on the subject is here. The other tip — if you need help excavating your office or workspace, check out the rest of the FlyLady site.

And when you get that call to cover breaking news or do a rush project … you’ll be ready to go.

Carol Cole-Frowe is a freelance journalist, who splits her time between Oklahoma and Texas. Her website is

7 tips on how to spot a freelancing scam

As print publications retrench and online publications expand, both are trying to figure out what to do about generating fresh content at minimal expense. And with staffing costs rising, it makes sense for both to hire freelancers.

But apart from the reputable publications vying for their services are numerous shady operators trying to take advantage of a freelancer’s eagerness and talent.

It used to be that the quality publications were easy to spot — they had highly regarded, established reputations and stately brick-and-mortar addresses to house them. Plus, they carefully mined the freelance market for only the best contributions and set the bar for newcomers trying to put their names in print.

These days, all it takes is a computer and a Web connection to feign legitimacy.

So, when shopping the market for possible publishers, be wary of potential charlatans preying on a freelancer’s good faith. Here are a few things to watch out for:

Too little detail in ads — Sales pitches that are devoid of information, or those that merely highlight links to job-bidding sites instead of company websites, probably are trying to lure freelancers into something other than a job. Do a little homework on a potential employer before entertaining ideas of becoming a prospective employee.

Payment in advance — Some sites promise long lists of job offers or professional contacts and preferential treatment for a freelancer’s work in exchange for a monthly or annual fee. Don’t bite. Nobody should have to pay just to be considered for employment.

Specific requests for original work — Legitimate publications may ask writers to contribute general samples of their writing to better judge a contributor’s style and readability. But those that get specific regarding subject, format, keywords and source links may be only mining the marketplace for free content. A way around this: Suggest writing two or three paragraphs, or just the lead, to demonstrate an approach to a story. If they back away, do the same.

Exaggerated promises — Sure, the job may be a great opportunity for budding writers, with the promise of big pay later. Or the ad is hiding a larger truth: that the job really means working long hours for nothing in return. Avoid writing for free; the promised payout of regular assignments later as sole compensation now rarely works to the contributor’s advantage. Freelancers never should sell themselves or their talent short, because promises don’t pay the bills. Furthermore, jobs that sound too good to be true probably are.

A flood of ads — Requests for content that turn up everywhere, and repeatedly, suggest the purveyor is desperate and prefers volume over quality work. Steer clear of anyone trying too hard to attract attention.

Website sign-ups — Sites that insist on registration just to be considered for a job could be doing that to drive up their number of original visitors, especially if they are sites that also have forums encouraging reader comments. Not all sites utilizing this approach are untrustworthy, but exercise caution if they place a premium on comments and lengthy profile information, as they may only do that to bombard visitors with spam.

Grammar and spelling errors — What publisher that promises great things in exchange for quality content lacks similar quality in its sales pitches? Probably not the kind of publisher that’s worth a self-respecting freelancer’s time.

David Sheets is a sports 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.

My Over-Networked Life

Every freelancer knows it’s important to use social media to stay connected with editors, sources and the general public.

But with so many networking sites out there –Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, Yammer, Orkut, Plaxo, Jaiku, Bebo, Ning, Hi5, Multiply,, FriendFeed, Friendster, Flixster – the savvy freelancer needs to be choosy. Time is precious, and it’s far too easy to spend so much time updating your Twitter feed that you might not get around to sending out that all-important story pitch.

So which should a freelancer choose? Three tips:

1)  Divide your time between “broad” sites – like Facebook, which has 500 million users – and “specialty” sites, like, which serves a very specific, narrow niche (in this case, people interested in genealogy). Aim for a 50-50 mix. But don’t overdo it! You might consider joining as few as two sites — one broad, one niche.

2)  When using that “broad” site, try to zone in on how it can help you connect with sources and ideas inside your reporting area. It might help more than your niche site does. For example, if you’re an entertainment writer, a “broad” site like MySpace might connect you with emerging musicians far better than a niche music site known only by industry insiders. Similarly, broad sites like Twitter can give you new ideas for entertainment stories.

3)   Think about WHY you’re on a social media site. Are you looking for a job? If so, groups that encourage face-to-face meetings – like Meetup, BigTent, or CouchSurfing – would be more beneficial than nationwide sites without local filters or groups. Are you busy juggling work and family, and you’ve joined social media only because your mentor said you should? Then join something quick and easy, like a micro-blogging site, which won’t impose the time demands of building an entire Facebook page complete with photos, or require the hours you’d need to build a LinkedIn page with your resume, detailed job history and references.

Taking the freelance plunge

It’s the start of a new year, and many journalists may have put ‘look into freelancing’ on their goals list. This post from Harvard Business Review, Is Freelancing Right for You?, asks many of the questions you need to answer before taking the plunge. Pay special attention to the part about asking what the market wants, rather than what you want.

Happy new year, and happy thinking.


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