Don’t kid yourself: being a freelancer means running your own business
In journalism school, they teach you the “how tos” and “what-ifs” of entering the world of freelancing and don’t hold back on cautioning burgeoning writers about the perils that lie ahead. What they don’t teach you is how to become an entrepreneur, writes freelancer Adam Stanley.
By Adam Stanley
In journalism school, they teach you the “how tos” and the what ifs” of entering the world of freelancing and don’t hold back on cautioning burgeoning writers about the perils that lie ahead. What they don’t teach you is how to become an entrepreneur. You have to learn that for yourself.
If you become a freelance writer—or a communications consultant or any number of jobs that a journalism degree could prepare you for—that’s what you are. You’re a business owner. You have to market yourself and your product. You may not have a staff, but you have to deal with accounting, business development and project execution.
That sounds like running a business to me, and it’s what I’ve done for the past six months.
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You’re always learning in life, and a big part of that is learning about yourself and your passions. I found that mine lay in writing, communications and golf. I’m now a freelance writer for a variety of national and international publications, a communications specialist for the golf industry and the founder of Adam Stanley Communications.
From developing social media strategies to interviewing and meeting people, writing features and various columns and networking for, well, myself, I love the opportunities and challenges that this world of work brings me.
I worked in marketing and advertising for three years after graduating with a journalism degree from Carleton University. I was gaining valuable job and life experience, but after hours, I was writing about and building up a network of contacts in the golf industry—something I’ve always been passionate about.
There’s no class in journalism school that teaches you to follow your dream. Sometimes, you just have to do it.
I started my own business earlier this spring and I’ve had to go through the same struggles any entrepreneur would, especially one in the current media landscape. Everyone has heard the stories of writers who feel they put the “free” in freelance because a steady pay cheque isn’t there. Because of this, to excel on your own means you have to work hard and love what you do.
Making a change is not something you can take lightly. A plan is important. What are your business objectives? Why are you deciding to do this? Yes, you’re a writer (or a photographer or a communications consultant), but as an entrepreneur, you now are responsible for much more than just writing or taking photos. There’s a lot to think about.
I’ve found the most important thing is having good business development skills. You’re pitching a product—yourself—to editors. You need to think like a businessperson—and not like a writer— which was the toughest thing for me to do. You might be emailing or cold calling leads, but who knows where that might go? Believe in yourself and what you’re doing. If you don’t, how can you expect someone to want to spend his or her money on you?
You need to make sure that what you want to do as a freelancer is something you can sell and make you a profit. Otherwise, you don’t have a business; you have a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that either—but it’s not the same as earning your bread and butter as a freelancer. If you have a passion, follow it. Start a blog. Engage with people in that field on Twitter. Go to networking events. Get your name out there as someone who is knowledgeable, eager to learn more and has an open, enthusiastic attitude. Prove you care. Show, don’t tell. Isn’t that one of the first rules of journalism?
Also, find good mentors. I’m so thankful to have some great people who have helped me along the way. Seek out people whose work you admire and tell them so. They’ll be glad to hear from you and will be happy to help.
It’s unusual to go from advertising or public relations into journalism. Most people who go to “the dark side” go the opposite way. I was at a point in my career where I felt that I still could go out on my own, despite no formal training in entrepreneurship. But being an entrepreneur isn’t something you can learn in books, as the best in the business will tell you.
It’s more about going out there and finding for yourself what you really want.
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