Taking the “free” out of freelancing

by  Suzanne Bowness

How many people here are thinking about going the freelance route at some point in your writing careers? My first question is met with a few raised hands, maybe a third of the room.

I’m speaking on a panel called “Taking the ‘free’ out of freelancing,” organized by CWA Canada and Canadian University Press (and hosted by The Eyeopener) for beginner freelancers. Along with fellow freelancer Bert Archer and Canadian Media Guild representative Keith Maskell, I’m at Ryerson University’s Oakham House (and apparently live-streamed on the web) sharing some of my freelance experiences. And I am thinking to myself that even more hands than just those raised will probably hold the freelance pen at some point in their careers, which is why this panel is a good idea. I didn’t really know anything about freelancing when I started.

My talk looks mostly at the business side of freelancing: setting up as a sole proprietor, getting an HST number, planning for what types of writing you will do for what types of clients, establishing daily routines, remembering to keep receipts, invoice regularly, and build a portfolio. I advise the importance of cultivating a professional appearance by getting business cards and a web site ASAP.

Bert talks about his route through the various beats he has taken up throughout freelance life: books, sex, urban affairs, and now travel. He provides a good distillation of the difference between a topic or idea and a story, as in, the difference between “I’d like to write a story about falafel” and “there’s this particular guy who owns a falafel shop and here’s why readers should know about him.” He also emphasizes the importance of networking and social media, noting he gets around a third of his ideas through sources like Twitter.

As someone who has been freelancing for a while, it is encouraging to listen to the CMG’s Keith Maskell rally new freelancers to stick up for themselves and make sure they get paid what they’re worth. “Don’t write for free” is something that Bert and I have already implored, but Keith concretizes the problem by telling us about calls he gets from freelancers who neglected to establish good contracts at the outset trying to figure out their options. He emphasizes the importance of knowing the scope of an assignment (are you being asked for an article or an article+blog+tweets?) and knowing what you want in terms of compensation and contract. Freelancers today need to be especially vigilant about indemnity clauses and re-use rights.

Although the Q&A afterwards sounds a bit worried, with questions about rejection rates, taxes, and the eternal concern over unpaid internships, there’s optimism over drinks at the bar later on. These students are already experienced journalists putting in long hours at their university papers, CUP, and on other media. They are still fully excited, if a little nervous, about this world they’re about to enter. And now they’re just that bit more savvy about freelancing.


Posted on November 30, 2012 at 1:21 pm by editor · · Tagged with: , , , , , ,

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