by John Burfitt
01 May 2015
You’re seeing all the signs with one of your regular editors – phone calls are no longer returned, emails barely rate a reply and all those pitch ideas come to nothing. Something has changed. It could be many factors – the company is closing down, the editor is moving on and hasn’t told you or you are suddenly out of favour – but the only thing you’re sure of is the work is no longer coming your way.
This happened to me recently when a favourite editor started avoiding my messages, before one day announcing she had to slash my freelance rates of 12 years by two-thirds. Finally, she admitted she had been avoiding me, too humiliated by the management decision to break the news.
So, rather than waste one more minute pitching 10 new stories ideas or leaving yet another phone message, listen to your instincts. If you sense something’s up, start weighing up options and laying down a future path. It’s time to get busy.
1. Do a current work evaluation
Take a tough look at where your work is coming from. If you have only a couple of clients, so effectively all your eggs are in just a few baskets, what would happen if one day that changed? How would you cope without those core clients?
Action: Time to take care of the Business Development side of your career. Follow up new clients, pitch ideas to those people you have been meaning to and pick up the phone and cold call two new editors a week. All your eggs in one or two baskets is too precarious a way to exist.
2. Start networking
How many people actually know you do what you do? Outside your circle of colleagues and clients, who else is there? It’s time to let the world know what you bring to the table, and the best way is to get out there and start networking.
Action: Dust off your contact book and start catching up with all your connections – former colleagues, past clients and industry mates. Who knows what they might need right now. And sign up for those MEAA events, and see who you bump into. At one industry drinks, I caught up with a former editor I hadn’t seen in years. By the next week, I had five new commissions.
3. Exploit your online presence
If someone wanted to find you, how would they do it? And if they did find an online profile, what would it tell them? LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have the power to spread the word about what you are doing, but what is your online presence telling the world?
Action: Update your website with new copy and pics, paying close attention to search engine optimisation. Also, refresh your profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, positioning yourself as an authority in your field of journalism. Now’s the time to become your own best PR person.
4. Pitch, Don’t Bitch
Yes, yes, it is awful you lost that client and they slashed your rates and the editor is a nightmare. Now you’ve had a whine, get busy working up a range of great ideas and concepts to pitch to new editors and clients. Look forward, not back.
Action: When approaching new editors, dazzle them with at least five pitch ideas. If they hate all of them, offer another five. Editors like people with ideas, not the ones who announce – “Here I am, give me the work.” Amazing that there are so many journos still taking that tack!
5. Trim the budget and dig into the emergency fund
Check your bank balance and the accounts – what have you got, what’s coming in and what has to be paid. This is not the time to bury your head – be aware of what your financial situation is today to plan for the months ahead.
Action: Look at the balance sheets and call your accountant for advice. That trip to the Maldives may have to go on the backburner as the mortgage and groceries are the top priority. And if you have wisely built up an Emergency Fund, now is the time to use it. This is indeed the rainy season you were planning for.
Have you been in the situation of watching an income stream trickle to nothing? What did you do? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments.