Good Business Tactics Means Success for Freelance Writers

After a year or two of scattered bookkeeping and irregular work habits as a freelance writer, I realized I was making a big mistake – and losing money.

And so for the past 15 years or so, I’ve developed efficient business practices – savvy marketing, detailed bookkeeping, timely correspondence, and a wealth of contacts and resources. Without utilizing these skills, I believe it’s nearly impossible for a freelancer to monetarily survive.

In short, anyone considering an independent writing career should quickly understand one paramount concept: Maintaining an organized business is as important, if not more important, than writing.

As any veteran freelancer knows, the delivery of the mail is the most anticipated part of the day. Bills come in the mail, of course. But most importantly, so do the checks and other fringe benefits of our careers.

But unlike our less fortunate brethren who are employees and receive only one check at regular intervals, our compensation rarely fits any set pattern.

During my freelance tenure, I’ve gone nearly a month without receiving one check. But I’ve also received a half-dozen checks, totaling several thousand dollars, a few unsolicited books and videos, and the offer to travel on an all-expenses paid trip – all in the same day.

It’s the trip offers, which have been increasing in recent years because of the assertive nature of public relations firms, visitor and convention bureaus and various organizations, that freelancers should consider the “bonuses” of our occupation.

While writers employed full-time by publications are often forbidden to accept complimentary offers because of the possibility of breaching some editor’s idea of objective journalism, freelancers set their own rules.

So, it’s a simple decision. If you believe it’s not ethical to accept free travel offers, often called “junkets,” don’t. If you trust you can remain objective despite being “wined and dined,” I suggest you seek out opportunities to see the world on someone else’s dime and earn a living at the same time.

As a former staff writer for daily newspapers with policies against complimentary travel and accommodations, it took me awhile to realize accepting such offers is OK. And certainly by accepting numerous trips, my freelance career has blossomed.

During my freelance career, I’ve traveled to Morocco (golf tournament), Hawaii (several times for travel and sporting event trips), Arizona (senior lifestyle articles), Montreal and France (cycling events), Carmel (golf tournament and health and fitness articles), Aspen (World Cup skiing coverage), Lake Placid (cross country skiing coverage), Minnesota (cross country skiing coverage), Utah (bicycle race coverage), New Mexico (health and fitness articles) and Pennsylvania (bicycle race).

And on every occasion, I’ve generated income from the trips as well as expanded my horizons.

While the trips provide fodder for articles, it’s not my writing ability that has prompted my invitations, rather developing good contacts and perseverance.

Therefore, if you like the idea of traveling to write articles, here are a few guidelines:

* Send a letter to as many chambers of commerce or visitors and convention bureaus as you wish. Succinctly (one page) explain you’re a freelance writer (give credits and send a writing sample) and state you may soon be visiting the area. Request any literature available, and ask if the organization has any business relationships with area hotels, airlines and restaurants for visiting journalists.

If you receive an assignment from a publication about the area, send a copy of the letter to the tourist organization as proof of an assignment. Many times, complimentary or reduced-rate accommodations will be offered. Sometimes, accommodations will be offered without a letter of assignment, too. Many assertive tourist organizations also regularly schedule “familiarization” trips for journalists. If you’re on the mailing list, it’s likely you’ll get invited.

* Subscribe to at least one of the several writers’ market newsletters that list trips and accommodations offered by various organizations, hotel chains, etc. Writing for Money is a good source. On other occasions, I’ve also been invited on trips after responding to offers in various freelance newsletters, some free, some available via Internet subscriptions.

* Write to several major public relations firms in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York and tell them you’re a journalist seeking information about travel, business, sports, health & fitness or whatever your chosen writing specialty The public library is a good source for out-of-state telephone directories that list public relations firms.

* Attend a local writers’ club meeting. If there’s one thing writers can do well besides write, it’s network. I’ve shared dozens of tips, phone numbers and contact names with writers from around the country.

* If you’re traveling to a specific destination without the assistance of the visitors and convention bureau or chamber of commerce, ask any area hotels if they offer journalists’ rates. Most often, it’s the hotel sales manager who determines if a deal can be offered.

* Some editors who accept freelance work won’t accept the piece if it has been produced from information gathered on a “junket.” If the editor states this in the publication’s guidelines, you’re stuck. If the editor doesn’t ask, don’t push the point.

*A good article rests on its own, and so does fluff. Once you’re invited on a familiarization trip, consider the following:

* A professional public relations person will not ask you to mention any hotel sponsor in your story or make any other journalistic demands. An industry professional knows what his/her job is and should respect what your job is, too.

* If you’re asked to “give a plug,” I’d suggest not doing any business with the organization. A PR firm may, however, ask you to send them clips of your trip. I believe this is a professional courtesy journalists should never forget.

* Whether you call a complimentary trip a junket, a familiarization trip or a sponsored trek, keep in mind such travel is never really free. By going on the trip, you are traveling on time you could be using to generate other income. Additionally, there are always expenses (tax deductible) that you will incur on journalistic trips.

From my perspective and experience, however, all freelancers should travel on at least two writers’ trips and then make an individual decision if the experiences were positive, financially beneficial and worthy of repeating.

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