Starting out as a freelancer can be daunting. How do you stay motivated, manage your finances and navigate the complex world of section editors and publications?

In this webinar, award-winning journalist and Women in Journalism committee member Donna Ferguson attempted to demystify the world of freelancing.

When she started freelancing in 2013, Donna had no previous experience writing for a national newspaper, no social media presence and zero confidence. But by 2017 she had won eight major awards for her work and she hasn’t looked back since. She now writes regularly for The Mail on Sunday, The Observer and The Guardian.

Here we share some of her top tips:

  1. Be a good boss to yourself. Create a comfortable office environment. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to adjust to your new role.
  2. Make a list of the publications you want to write for (and make sure you read them!)
  3. Announce you are freelance to the world and start networking. Facebook groups are a great place to network. Donna recommends joining the following groups:
  1. Register as self-employed with HMRC once you start earning over £1,000 from freelance work.
  2. Keep track of your income. Use a colour-coded spreadsheet to keep a note of commissions you’re waiting to be paid for.
  3. Keep track of your expenses. Read the Authors and Freelance Journalists Tax Guide from HW Fisher.
  4. Join the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), which ensures that you will get paid if someone copies or uses your work.
  5. Start a pension for a self-employed person. Donna recommends using getpenfold.com which is a great online pension provider aimed at the self employed.

Donna also discussed how to find the emails of commissioning editors, how to write a pitch email, how to chase a pitch, how to ask about fees and negotiate with editors, how to respond to a commission, how to respond to a rejection, what to say when you file a piece to build a better relationship with an editor and what you do and don’t need to spend money on when you are starting out as a freelancer.

To hear Donna’s advice about these matters, you can purchase a recording of the webinar here: https://womeninjournalism.co.uk/watch-back-donna-ferguson-on-how-to-go-freelance-everything-you-need-to-know

Other resources Donna recommends to freelancers who are starting out:

  1. JournoResources has loads of helpful information for freelancers. Follow @jem_Collins and the @JournoResources team for threads and updates.
  2. PressPad – a wonderful community for young journalists. They host regular free masterclasses on Instagram.
  3. ‘Freelancing for Journalists’ by Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson is essential reading for anyone starting out in freelancing.
  4. Muse Flash has a two-week online course you can do that will really help you to learn how to pitch to specific audiences
  5. Join the NUJ. They do classes on pitching, negotiating as a freelancer and on taxes.
  6. TED is an excellent platform for advice on personal growth. There are two particularly good talks on confidence-building and resilience.
  7. Sign up for mentoring schemes. There is a helpful list on JournoResources but Donna particularly recommends Women in Journalism and Second Source. Try emailing or tweeting a writer you admire – the worst that could happen is they will say no, but they might be flattered and say yes!

For more talks & information on freelance journalism, sign up for Donna’s upcoming events here. The next one is on How to land your dream commission.