Surviving as a freelance journalist

With plenty of doom and gloom in the Western world, and even sometimes in large media houses, how can you survive as a freelance journalist without a secure income? Well, firstly, as Martin at HotelIvory has pointed out a few times, how secure are you really on a fixed salary and how adaptable to radical change (redundancy, ‘black swans’)? Secondly, I think a key part of the job is to diversify as much as possible. This is also one of the advantages of this job – you can work for numerous employees, and/or in numerous styles. I’d recommend journalists try and develop interests in fields like sport and skills like video and photography to cover as many bases as possible. That way, there’s usually some work you can be doing for someone at any particular time, and it’s also a great way to get the most from trips.

But you can still worry about income from one month to the next. I think I’ve hit on the solution, though it’s only perhaps workable when you’ve been in this for a while and can get a decent income going. I’m experimenting with paying myself six months’ ‘salary’ in advance. It’s there in my Ivorian bank account and I have a fixed sum I withdraw every month. I think it should work as a way to even out the highs and lows of the freelance life and reduce month-to-month stress (e.g. the work I do this month, will put food on the table next month). Who knows, this system might even give me the courage to take a holiday sometime, something that can feel very painful as a freelancer when you’re calculating lost work.

Ideal, I think, would be to have some healthy non-journalism income in ten or so years time (farming, rental properties, web business, video production, teaching) to have a more solid base and the room to enjoy the freedoms of freelancing and the creative life, without the pressure of uncertain income. But keeping living costs low (something which tends to be a fairly relative concept anyway) down, is one of the best ways of keeping cool with no fixed income.

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