In My Opinion: Francis Shennan: Becoming an effective freelancer

SITCOM writer, John Sullivan, was spot on. When his creation, Del Boy, was asked his occupation, he said: “Self-Unemployed”. That is now the fate of large numbers of freelances.

Advertising Age columnist, Bob Garfield, has warned of the collapse of our 400 year-old media infrastructure. More than 60 regional newspapers closed in the UK last year and media analyst, Clare Endersm predicts hundreds more will follow in the next five years. Redundancies mean more journalists flooding on to the freelance market.

What about ‘new media’, the brave world of infinite markets? Its readers believe not only information, but our work, should be free while ‘citizen journalists’, some cushioned by jobs in other sectors, write for free downloads, concert tickets or vanity.

What can a freelance do? The same as any other business: find an unique selling point, grow your market, diversify, add value.

That is why the NUJ is launching a new, two-day course called The Effective Freelancer. And the first series, to be held in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, is free for union members, having been financed by the Scottish Union Learning Fund.

The series is part of the NUJ’s New Media Channels programme, which includes courses in digital convergence, advanced digital convergence, Dreamweaver web development and Training the Trainer.

The courses will be held in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, with places limited to 12 on each course. They are aimed at freelance journalists at every level of experience and staff journalists faced with redundancy. However, large parts of the course would benefit freelances in other sectors such as PR, the visual and performing arts, etc.

Freelances now must have more than journalistic skills: they must have business, technological, marketing and financial skills to adapt to the changing marketplace. Traditional freelance training has focused almost entirely on the journalism, treating the freelance as a home-based version of a staff journalist.

The Effective Freelancer will provide the knowledge to understand the dramatically-changed business and technological environments in which we must work. The courses are based on my own 20 years’ experience not only of freelancing but also of covering the business, financial and technology worlds, and meeting many of the exponents of the new freelancing.

After working as a sub-editor at the Mirror and Daily Record, and Scottish business editor at the Sunday Times, I went freelance to write for The Times, Guardian, Herald, Daily Mail, Sunday Express, The Scotsman, Independent on Sunday, and UK and international magazines, winning four Press awards.

I’m also an experienced teacher, currently Visiting Lecturer in Media Law on both the Journalism and Investigative Journalism Masters at Strathclyde University, and the Financial Journalism Masters at Stirling. I have lectured at Napier and Glasgow Caledonian Universities, Edinburgh’s Telford College and Glasgow’s Cardonald and Metropolitan Colleges.

My short law courses have been used by Johnston Press in Scotland and England, Associated Newspapers, Shetland Times Group, NUJ, Fife Council and Pearl Assurance. I also developed courses on freelancing for Telford College and the NUJ.

The Effective Freelancer takes the freelance course to a new level. As with the one-day NUJ course, Day One will include breaking into new markets, negotiating payment, establishing terms, chasing payment, improving returns, specialist journalism, handling money, record keeping, tax and deductible expenses and copyright.

It is designed to cover not only the essentials of working as a freelance but also living as a freelance, including personal finance.

Day Two will cover the Internet, blogging, online publication, print-on-demand, developing business plans and markets, editorial services and consultancy. It will look at both the US and UK experience, including the Huffington Post and TheBusinessDesk.com, Liverpool Confidential and Guido Fawkes.

It is designed to equip the journalist to take control of production and distribution.

The objective is to enable freelances to become not only effective but entrepreneurial, able to target new markets and manage their marketing.

“Journalists must become entrepreneurs,” said New York City University Professor Jeff Jarvis. “They need to make smart business decisions when they decide where to put their effort. They need to sense and serve the market. They need to work with innovators…. The future of news is entrepreneurial.”

Francis Shennan is an award-winning freelance journalist and Visiting Lecturer in Media Law at Strathclyde University. His one-day law courses for journalists and PRs have been used by national newspaper groups and public and private-sector PRs in Scotland and England.

The Effective Freelancer will take place on Fridays and Saturdays: in Glasgow on July 16 and 17, Edinburgh on August 6 and 7, and Aberdeen on August 27 and 28. Contact the NUJ on 0141 248 6648.