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Freelancing: How to thrive, not just survive

By on July 19, 2017

This is one in a series of blog posts from the MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 selected each year who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Applications for the 2017 MJ Bear Fellowship are now open – you can learn more here.

The prevailing tone for the world of freelancers can sometimes feel like gloom and doom, with funding and staff levels for news media organizations often shrinking. Resources still exist for freelance journalists, but the skills required to obtain those are evolving fast. Freelancers need capacity-building, dynamism and resourcefulness to adapt in this evolving world of journalism.

Build your arsenal

Competition for freelancing jobs grows more fierce each year. While age-old techniques for scoring print media gigs may help us survive, to truly thrive, journalists will need to build their marketable skills applicable to the digital world. A journalist who can write a story is good, but one who can also build a website, edit a video and analyze big data is indispensable.

Think like an entrepreneur

As much as you may love your writing craft, it alone might not suffice to keep you afloat. To thrive in this changing landscape, it is necessary to approach freelancing like a business, and diversify the products and services you offer. Depending on your particular skillsets, creating online courses, apps, content marketing, etc. can help create a robust stream of income.

Make a website

It is the age of personal branding, no matter how much some of us (myself included) dislike that phrase. With thousands of excellent journalists competing for a few coveted assignments, having a strong online presence can be the differentiating factor determining who lands the gig. A sleek website that highlights your best work and shows up on easily on searches is the modern day resume. It can boost the number of clients and stories commissioned.

Seek testimonials

The task of asking for compliments is mortifying for many of us, and that is essentially what asking for a testimonial may feel like. However, as much as you may sell yourself on your personal platforms, the words of others backing you up is what will add credibility to those claims. With the plethora of information the internet provides, everyone is looking for reviews before trying anything; consider the travel review site, TripAdvisor, or the movie review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes. Your freelancing service is no exception. If you have worked with/for someone in a position of authority or a client who is satisfied with your deliverables, do ask (politely) for a testimonial from them for your website/LinkedIn profile, and most of the time people are happy to provide it.

Network online and offline

Networking seems to be the buzzword of the decade, and amidst the online platforms galore, LinkedIn is one of the most effective. Just like job recruiters, editors of publications and clients who need freelancers often search on potential candidates who fit the bill on LinkedIn, so it is crucial to have an updated profile with marketable information.

As much as digital space takes precedence in our lives, face-to-face meetings never go out of vogue. It is worthwhile to try and meet editors in person. Going to journalism conferences such as ONA’s annual conference is also a great way to meet editors, innovators and media business leaders. Even if they do not transform into paid assignments, these meetings will often open doors and broaden your perspective. However, in the frenzy to connect, it is important to see people as more than mere connections, and to remember that helping others is ultimately the best form of networking.


Sohara Mehroze Shachi

Sohara Mehroze Shachi

Sohara is a 2016 MJ Bear Fellow. She and her team have developed an app called Newstant that allows users to download news content to a smartphone and then read or listen to it offline. She explained that this is important in Bangladesh because, while a large number of users have Android smartphones, wi-fi connectivity is sparse. Newstant categorizes news and allows users to customize it based on their preference and prior browsing habits. It also can convert text to speech so that users can listen to it hands free while driving or working, and it has an incident map to keep track of area specific information. In addition to her work as co-founder of Newstant, Sohara writes freelance for various national and international outlets including the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Dhaka Tribune where she previously worked as a sub editor and feature writer. She also works for the climate change team at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bangladesh. Sohara is serving as the Vice Curator of the Dhaka Hub of Global Shapers Community, a network of hubs developed and led by young people who are exceptional in their potential, their achievements and their drive to make a contribution to their communities. She also leads the South Asia hub of Climate Tracker, providing support to youth journalists and climate activists. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Yale University. While she was a student, she also studied Southeast Asian Urban Development at the National University of Singapore and Foreign Policy Analysis at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Sohara recently was awarded the South Asia Media Fellowship by the Asia Pacific Network (APN) to report on climate change and food security, and last year she was awarded the Climate Tracker Youth Fellowship to cover COP 21, the UN Climate Change conference.