Posts Tagged ‘freelancers’

Conference attendance brings many benefits for freelancers

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 ( 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 (, which presents an annual fall conference for freelance writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, etc.

SPJ Resources for Freelancers: Listen to, 12/9, 1 pm EST

Join host Sarah Bauer, SPJ membership committee chair, and Dana Neuts, SPJ freelance committee chair. this Thursday, December 9 at 1 p.m. (EST) on for a 30-minute podcast discussing the many SPJ benefits available to freelancers. Learn more about the freelance committee’s projects, resources and more. Got a question? Call in during the show to contribute to the conversation.

Can’t listen in live? No worries – we’ve got you covered! Listen to the show online at

Employee Benefits for Freelancers

The one thing I miss the most about the corporate life is a great employee benefit package provided by a generous employer:  health insurance, life insurance, sick days, vacation time, a retirement plan and more. As a freelancer, however, traditional employee benefits aren’t handed to us on a silver platter. Sure, we get to choose our own work wardrobe, have an incredibly short “commute” downstairs or down the hall and enjoy setting our own schedules, but that doesn’t pay the bills when we need to go to the doctor. Fortunately, freelancers have options for all of these benefits and more.

Health insurance:  When I started freelancing, I couldn’t afford health insurance, but I qualified – for a time – under my state’s health plan so I could get coverage for myself and my daughter until I was no longer eligible. When I earned enough to write full-time, I went online to get quotes for individual medical coverage. I went to, put in some basic info. and, in minutes, received about a dozen health care plan options. I opted for a plan with some first dollar basic benefits (the first six medical visits per year were covered, for example) as well as catastrophic coverage. In addition to this option, some professional associations like SPJ and the Freelancers Union offer group discounts to their members.

Life insurance: Life insurance can also be purchased fairly easily online at sites like Another option is to find a local agent who represents a single company (e.g., New York Life, MetLife) or multiple companies. Originally, I purchased life insurance on As my family’s needs changed, however, I chose to work with my Edward Jones investment rep who was able to offer quotes from several companies.

Retirement plan:  There are a variety of retirement planning options available to freelancers including individual retirement accounts (IRAs) – traditional & Roth; solo 401(k) plans; SEP plans; and more. Because retirement planning can be complex, it is best to work with a qualified advisor. I chose to work with a local Edward Jones rep who reviewed my financial situation, time line and goals and was able to create a SEP plan tailored to my needs and to fund that SEP with investments that were appropriate for my risk tolerance and financial goals.

Sick days:  I don’t know about you, but when I’m not working, I’m not getting paid…but that doesn’t mean I have to work 24/7. I plan my schedule around my assignments, sometimes working longer days than others and taking time off when my work load is lighter. There are other options, however. In terms of sick days, I try to stay ahead of the schedule in terms of assignments. That way I am planning for the inevitable – getting sick, caring for a sick child or parent, or dealing with unavoidable work delays. With a little cushion built in, I can take the occasional sick day when I need to.

Vacation time:   Freelance expert Michelle Goodman (“My So Called Freelance Life”) builds time off when calculating her current minimum hourly rate. She accounts for benefits and time off, so she is only working as much as she wants to reach her financial and lifestyle goals.

For more employee benefits advice, stay tuned for freelancer Paula Pant’s upcoming blog post on The Independent Journalist.

Dana Neuts is a full-time freelance writer, editor and marketing professional in the Seattle area. She is the owner/publisher of two hyperlocal community blogs, and, and she serves as the chair of SPJ’s freelance committee. For more information about Neuts, visit her website Virtually Yourz.


Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn

© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ