Modern Journalist Toolkit 15: For freelancers who are worth the money
When I started freelancing, I was 100% DIY.
Pitching, researching, writing, editing–that was me. Tech support, print cartridge buyer, office cleaner–that was me too. One of the tricky things about making a good living as a freelance writer is getting a feel for what to do yourself and where to spend–or invest–time and money. Some choices wind up costing you in the long run.
After a dozen years of freelancing full-time, I’ve got a better handle on where to invest my time and money. Here are five areas that are worth it:
Outsourcing transcription and other tasks
It takes me several minutes to accurately transcribe a minute of a recorded interview. Those are low-quality-of-life minutes for me; I find it a tedious process. Not every interview or article requires a perfectly accurate transcript, but when necessary, I send off a digital file to somebody who will get every word down for me.
Outsourcing those hours allows me to instead spend my time on things that require my unique skills and that ultimately bring in more money at the end of the week.
If you’d like to have more work hours available to do higher level work, take a look at what other people can do for you that isn’t a great use of your time. This might include freeing up your time in other areas, such as hiring a cleaning service.
Professional writers groups or associations
I’m active in some online writer groups where the investment is time rather than money. I also belong to a few paid organizations that offer different kinds of support, such as a press card, private message boards, and events.
For example, this year I’ll be attending the members-only day at the American Association of Journalists and Authors conference in New York City. This includes some great panels, as well as a number of one-on-one appointments with editors who are looking for new freelancers. I’ll also be attending on Saturday, which is open to the public.
Lifelong learners, listen up. One of the very cool things about freelancing is that I notice what is interesting to me, pitch it to an editor, and then get paid to research and answer my own questions while writing an article that will be of interest to others as well.
I have also benefited from coaching and classes to boost my skills and knowledge in specific areas. In turn, I offer a once-off strategy session for freelance writers to get clarity about what to do in the months to come. In less than an hour you can make a few decisions that will allow you to leverage your efforts, rather than hustling for hustling’s sake.
This is also a variation of outsourcing, but I put it in its own category because so many freelancers seem wary of this one. Whereas you might be able to type up your own notes at the same level as a professional transcriptionist, you are far less likely to be able to do your taxes like a trained professional.
If you’re just starting out and your freelance income is minimal, or if you’re in a country with a very simple filing system and you are confident that you know all you need to, this may not be necessary. But if you’ve got a lot of unease around how to file, or questions about what to take for deductions or refunds, this may be money very well spent.
Decent computer, phone, or other hardware
I use free software and apps where I can, and pay for quality hardware that can scale with me. My phone is an older model, and totally capable of doing everything I want and need. If I’d skimped on the memory when it was new, I’d be about ready for an upgrade.
What do you really need? I have a laptop that is great for certain things (such as portability–I’m typing this very post during a longhaul coach flight), but was really slowing down my ability to edit videos properly. I got a desktop for the first time in many years, and it is a powerhouse that supports the work that I’m doing. Spinning beachball, begone.
How do you land assignments that pay well enough to pay for all these supports? If you want my blueprint for writing queries that editors find irresistible, download a copy of the free eguide, “5 Proven Steps to Writing Queries that Sell.”