Seasonal survival

HOW TO SURVIVE the festive season? Humphrey Evans came to the December meeting with some timely pointers. Of course we'd never be reduced to accepting any old rate. Humphrey concluded with a rôle-play of a negotiation over rates, and the meeting ended on a cheer for the member who, after much struggle, managed to get out those vital words "I want more money".

ALL FREELANCES dread that après-Christmas drought when journalism just about shuts down. Editorial shrinks in on itself as advertising almost vanishes and freelances feel the amplified effect in a lack of commissions. Since you know it's going to happen, you might as well try to do something about it.

1First, think ahead financially. Hold back on the Christmas and New Year spending to ensure you can get through January, with that whacking great big tax bill at the end of the month. Having a bit of money behind you makes everything else easier. And in any dead days after Christmas, you could do a bit of financial planning, bring your accounts up to date, and send out reminders to clients who owe you money.

2Make absolutely certain you remind all your regular clients that you are out there and willing to work. You want your name right at the fore-front of their minds when that emergency (or cock-up) means they actually do need someone at five milliseconds' notice. I was once sent to research the beaches of North Wales between the dates of 28 December and 2 January, because someone had forgotten to hire a writer when they commissioned the photography the previous summer.

3Seek outlets that react less directly than the mainstream print media to the immediate flow of advertising. Have a go at websites, for example, or part-works, or contract publishers, or trade union journals, or government publications, or anything subscription-based.

4Look abroad. Can you think of outlets overseas, perhaps in parts of the world that operate on a different commercial rhythm to Christmas-fixated Britain? You could always check out sites like www.writingworld.org where people list jobs they want done and invite you to bid for the privilege of taking them on.

5Crank up some re-use of material you've already got. Can you re-work it? Or can you offer it elsewhere? A syndication agency like www.planetsyndication.com will actively sell your work around the world if they take you on. Website www.wireplug.com lets you offer second and subsequent rights to anyone who might want them. You could even find out how to set up your own website.

6Think long-term. You could cover some events now, off your own bat, which may not make for immediate reportage but could provide you with preview pieces you could place in 50 weeks' time. You may not be able to report the Orthodox Christmases - but wouldn't last month have been the perfect time to file a preview feature?

7Link up with a fellow freelance or two for a thought-bombing session. It's always easier to tell other people what to do, so there's every chance they'll throw up an idea you could run with.

8Roam around aimlessly. Until you go looking you don't know what's out there. I'm sitting on an interview I carried out one actual Christmas Day, for example. It's with a travelling physiotherapist I ran across in Hyde Park - who claimed to have treated George Bush senior. The framed certificate he'd been given worked wonders in helping him deal with border guards and the like. I'm sure it'll make it into print one day. Well, fairly sure.

9Offer to do some journalistic work for the kind of outlets that don't have any money - websites you like, campaigns you support, whatever. Doing some journalism is always better than doing none, and putting yourself in motion means you're in there with a chance. Who knows, you might run into a commissioning editor at a press conference you otherwise wouldn't have gone to.

And tenthly: Get some extra training. For instance, the National Union of Journalists offers a day course for freelances called Pitch and Deal aimed at helping you develop your skills in, er, pitching and dealing - for dates and details see www.nujtraining.org.uk

  • NUJ freelance Humphrey Evans teaches on the NUJ freelancing courses Getting Started as a Freelance and Pitch and Deal.

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