Pitching for work
Whatever job you do, the work's not going to come in if nobody knows you're out there.
Even if you've chosen the freelance lifestyle because you can't stand working with others, at some point you're going to have to grit your teeth and integrate with the real world.
First impressions count, so don't let a spelling mistake or daft email address ruin yours.
Here's how to be ready to do battle in business:
- Your CV: This is effectively your shop front, so think Habitat not bric-a-brac. A clear, concise CV can either set you up as a freelancer for life or leave you looking for regular employment. First impressions count, so don't let a spelling mistake or daft email address ruin yours.
- Business Cards: There's no need to get tooled up with those spangly affairs, or drum up some jumped-up job title or slogan ('will work for food!'). At the same time don't skimp. Go for the middle ground; use a clear format and a sensible typeface. Your name, profession and contact details are all that's required.
- Websites: An online presence can be a good way to showcase your work, even if it's just a free blog. Keep it professional - explosion in a glitter factory is never a good look. Start by checking out other freelancers in your field to see how they've done theirs.
- Networking: Even if you're not invited to all the right parties, you never know when opportunities may arise. A chance meeting in a bar or club, or a friend of a friend of a friend, could give you the break you need. "I got work from one company because a friend working in their IT department recommended me," says Lucy, a designer. Travel writer Will says you should network with fellow freelancers. "I've landed loads of work through friends or acquaintances putting my name forward." Plus, if they change jobs, "suddenly your mates may be in a position to give out work."
Into the battlefield
- Target the pitch: A little research into your chosen market will go a lot further than spending ages finishing off a piece of work and hoping someone might buy it. Identify the companies who produce stuff that appeals to you, and find out the most appropriate contact. If it's a magazine or newspaper, you'll find the details in the masthead. Phone up and speak to the switchboard operator to check the name of the person you have to deal with.
- Write a query letter: This is a one-page letter, briefly outlining your interest in contributing work to company X, the skills/experience you have to offer and examples of any previous work of relevance. Attach your CV and enclose a stamped addressed envelope. If you're tempted to fire off your query letter as an email instead, call the switchboard just to check they accept that kind of thing - some people won't open unexpected email attachments, so consider linking to an online CV or website instead. Whatever method you choose, follow it up with a polite phone call a week to 10 days later, but don't push for a response. If they're interested, they'll be in touch. Website copywriter Sarah has got some of her best work by sending speculative emails. "I try to send around five a week. Often you don't hear anything for ages but then, even months later, you'll get something back, so I'd really recommend it."
- Market your ideas: If you're asked to submit ideas for future work - particularly by newspapers, websites and magazines - be prepared to see some of them ripped off. It's a sad reality, but sometimes a commissioning editor may think your proposal for a feature on Ostrich Farming in Luton is so good that, well, they'll write it up themselves, or farm it out to an established hack. Not nice. But it happens, so don't give away too many of your finest proposals, and be philosophical, too. At least it means you're on the right track, and next time they may give you the big break you deserve.
- Nurture existing contacts: If someone's hired you, chances are they'll put more work your way or recommend you to others. "Doing the best job you can when you score a first assignment can be the key to finding more work," says Heidi, who works in PR. So check in with your clients to see if they need anything else and remind them you're available for work - staying on their radar may just pay off.
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