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Want to Freelance? Here’s What You Need to Know

SPJ Freelance Journalism Panelists. PC: Brandon Taylor

Freelance journalism sounds like something a parent would call unrealistic: You can make your own hours and get paid to write what you want. I never honestly considered it as something I could actually do with my life until I went to the Oregon Territory Society of Professional Journalists’ Build a Better Journalist conference.

A woman who asked a question of the keynote speaker introduced herself as a freelance scientific and environmental journalist. Instantly my ears perked up. When there was a break between panels, I talked to her and the three other freelance scientific and environmental journalists, all from Washington, who were with her. The conversation left me intrigued to learn more about the freelancing lifestyle.

Luckily, the conference also featured a panel about freelancing.

Here’s what I learned from Courtney Sherwood, editor and chief of The Lund Report; Ethan Chung, senior editor for custom media, SagaCity Media; and Shannon Beutel, a small business lawyer:

1. Figure out how you will be taxed.

Because you are not employed by a corporation or organization, you are your own company. Therefore, you must apply to either file as an LLC or S-corporation. Many of the panelists said having an LLC is easier if you want to work by yourself. If you plan to hire employees, they recommended filing as a S-corp.

2. Get your money management under control.

The panelists recommended setting aside 30 percent of your income for tax purposes to stay on the safe side. If money is not your strong suit, they recommended taking an intro to accounting class.

3. Get comfortable with marketing yourself.

The panel advised talking about your business to 15-35 people a day. This might be difficult, but it’s necessary if you want your career to take off.

4. Learn how to manage your own project timelines.

You are your own boss, so there’s no one to keep you on task but yourself. Some do this by finding other freelancers to keep each other accountable. Others create an hour-by-hour schedule for each day. And keep in mind that if you don’t do your work and turn your story in on time, you will not get paid and you’ll ruin your reputation with that publication. No pressure.

5. Learn how to pitch ideas to publications.

You want to be detailed but brief. Once you create a relationship with a publication, it will get a bit easier, as you’ll know what the client wants to hear.

This blog post was written for UO's School of Journalism and Communication.

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