I am often asked by many of my peers, “Chasity, how did you start freelancing? What do I need to do in order to write for Publication XYZ?” And while I wish I had a specific formula to help get you a byline on your favorite website, I must say that breaking into freelannce journalism is different for everyone.
Since I started freelancing in 2014, I’ve learned that media outlets only really want one thing from journalists: for us to demonstrate that we are thoughtful and intentional about the subject(s) we wish to write about. It’s critical to set yourself apart from the rest as knowledgeable, creative and personable, but you also want to ensure that your writing is substantive and aligns with the mission and vision of the publication.
So without further delay, here are five tips that I have found helped me establish my career as a freelance journalist.
- Start your own sh*t. (Get to blogging, baby.) – When I started this blog back in September 2011, I had no goal in mind on how I wanted it to grow. All I knew was that I wanted to write about public relations, millennials and some of my life’s musings. Fast forward five years later, and I’m grateful to have created this space that keeps track of my growth and experiences both professionally and personally. Granted, I haven’t always been as consistent as I want to be (I’ll get to this in a bit) but having a place where my voice lives and breathes online has been incredibly essential to building my thought leadership as a writer. When approaching some of your favorite publications, it’s important to have a few receipts to show off your writing style, so that they can have an idea of how you can best provide value to their community of readers. If you’ve been considering starting a blog, be sure to ask yourself a few questions before jumping right in.
2. Put yourself on. (Pitching ain’t easy, but it sure is fun.) Putting yourself out there in any form or fashion can be nerve-wracking, but trust me when I say it is also very rewarding. When pitching to your favorite publications, you do want your personality to shine through your writing, but it’s important to keep in mind that there is specific information they want to impart on their readership. When I sent a cold email to the editor of Vinepair, a wine and spirits website, earlier this summer, I was slightly nervous because I had only written about wine on my blog. But once I put my fear aside and offered the editor a few ideas that I thought their audience would enjoy, I gained confidence. And surprisingly, I was able to bring forth two of my favorite things (Henny and red wine) and create sometime special for the Vinepair community. Moral of the story: give yourself space to be creative + shoot your shot. Also, you don’t have to have a “connect” to a publication in order to pitch them. Head to their website or check out their Twitter page and LOOK for the information you need.
3. Be consistent, yet patient. (The money will come, just wait on it.) Breaking news my friends: freelance writing isn’t going to bring forth a super huge coin in the beginning. You will have to put in the work (read: literally secure the bag) in order to build credibility. With your personal blog, there are a number of ways you can become consistent. Create a content calendar to track your posts. Schedule your posts with tools like CoPromote, Buffer and Hootsuite ahead of time. Keep tabs of the news with Google alerts that are related to the content that you are producing. While you’re waiting to hear from an editor, continue to work and look for opportunities that will help to improve your craft. And once you do get that byline of your dreams…
4. Promote, promote, promote! (Again, put yourself on!) My first post for Essence.com was one of the most exciting moments of my career thus far. I was standing in PG Plaza Mall and with my phone on one percent, I moved as quickly as I could to screenshot my byline and share it with the Interwebs. I text the link to both of my parents and shared it with the various Slack communities that I’m apart of. You’ve worked hard for this moment, so don’t be afraid to tell everybody what you’ve accomplished. Pro-tip: be sure to keep a Google doc of all of your clips and social media content to promote them on hand. Here are also three more ways you can promote your blog posts.
5. Tap into resources. (Help is everywhere, bro.) Now that you’ve dipped your toe into the freelance journalism pool, the next step is to connect with your peers who are hustling just like you. Below are a few resources and communities that I’ve grown to love as my freelance journalism career matriculates:
…and many more.
So, do you feel ready to start riding the freelance writing wave? Great! If you’re still a little hesitant, send me a note and I’ll be happy to answer any additional questions you may have.