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Productivity / Professional development

How long will it take to get my freelance career off the ground?

It's easier to get a freelance career off the ground if you have a superb website that's succinctly written, crammed with examples of your work and what you can do, and is full of ways to contact you. But here's what to do if you don't...

I get quite a few emails asking for advice about freelancing. Many are from entry level journos, but more and more I’m finding former in-house staffers in my inbox, telling me they’ve decided to go freelance (or have been pushed into it by mass redundancies).

Accomplished as these journos often are, there are always several unspoken questions simmering beneath the surface: How do I get my freelance career off the ground and growing fast? Will my pitches start getting picked up soon? When can I relax knowing I’ll be making a nice round figure every month?

These are hard questions, because the real answer is: probably years.

I was forced into freelancing by two consecutive redundancies and it took at least 1-2 years before I started earning okay money, landed some weekly gigs and was being commissioned regularly by a few editors. Those were lean years. I pitched and cold-called my ass off. I ate a lot of noodles.

Of course, it’s far easier to get a freelance career off the ground if a) you have a bulging book of contacts; b) you aren’t afraid to sell yourself by email, phone, Twitter, blogging, snail mail etc and c) you have some regular gigs. Let’s not also forget d): You have a superb website that’s succinctly written, crammed with examples of your work and what you can do, and is full of ways to contact you.

Here’s where I go all tough love on you: if you have c), you can stay afloat while you sort out a),  b) and d). But if you don’t have a), b), c) or d) your foray into freelancing is likely to be a pretty hairy time.

Your first few months freelancing should be all about setting yourself up. Get a website or at the very least, a decent online portfolio. Order some business cards. And put yourself out there, networking and meeting people and taking editors and potential clients for coffee. Pitch, pitch and pitch some more – seriously, rack up 10-20 pitches a week to all kinds of magazines, websites, etc – and it’s far more likely that something will get picked up. Use a slow patch or quiet time while you’re starting up to your advantage.

The most proactive, successful freelancers I know work it like pros. They are pros. They know it’s a different pace, a different mindset, and ALL about selling yourself and what you can do. They reinvent themselves constantly. They look for opportunity everywhere. They don’t baulk at asking editors what they can do for them or if there are any sections of their publication they need extra help with. They have no fear in handing business cards over to a potential client. They know that finding alternate income streams is an ongoing part of the job.

Sure, it takes time to get into that groove, but get into it you must – if you want to get your freelance business off to a flying start.

This post was written by Rachel Smith for Rachel’s List and is republished here with permission.

Rachel’s List is running three winter masterclasses to help freelancers work smarter, not harder. We’ll help you tap new income streams, get more story pitches over the line and market yourself so effectively that clients come to you. We still have a few tickets left for our Beyond Journalism masterclass on Saturday, July 6 – it’s designed for journalists and writers looking to transfer their skills into other areas such as copywriting, corporate writing, content marketing, PR and training / coaching. Buy tickets here or register for more info on all our masterclasses here.

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