While freelancing is traditionally viewed as a steppingstone to landing a full-time gig, there is somewhat of a secret society made up of savvy staffers who do extra magazine work on the side. Whether it’s to try on new hats in the industry or to cushion a meager salary, freelancing can prove to be very beneficial to your career.
But how do you land a fruitful part-time gig without putting your full-time job on the line? Ed, along with a room of 30 whippersnappers, grilled the five experts on his “How to Freelance When You Have a Full-Time Job” panel earlier this month and walked away with these must-know tips.
What to Pitch
Sometimes, the most daunting freelance task can be fostering an original idea in a world where it seems like everything has been done—sometimes more than once. “You need to start thinking of everything as a story,“ says Lisa Freedman, editor at Food Network Magazine and a regular contributor to MensFitness.com.
“Local newspapers and magazines are great for getting fresh and unique ideas. Also, watch the news,” says Meredith Bodgas, senior associate editor at WhatToExpect.com and wedding blogger for Glamour.com. “Even the way a magazine packages a story can spark new ideas.”
After you’ve nurtured this amazing, fresh, new idea comes the tricky part: Figuring out who’s willing to pay you for it.
Where to Pitch
When looking for a publication to pitch to, never underestimate the power of networking. Many of the panelists began pitching at the intern level, and then got their breaks after graduating college. “Keep good relationships with your former editors so they can vouch for you,” says Celia Shatzman, associate editor at Family Circle and contributor to Glamour, Marie Claire, and Teen Vogue. “I get a lot of blind pitches, and it’s hard to know which writers will hand in their work on time, so it really helps to have another editor back you up.”
“If you have any sort of connection or relationship to the publication you’re pitching, use it,” says Melissa Walker, co-editor at iheartdaily.com and contributor to Glamour, Family Circle and Prevention. “Keep in mind that if you don’t have a relationship or a foot in the door, the weight falls even more heavily on your idea.”
If you’re pitching cold turkey, the panelists recommend approaching MensFitness.com or TheDailyBeast.com, two sites where many of them have had success. On that note, you might approach a magazine’s website as opposed to the actual magazine, since there’s more real estate on the Web. Another option is to head over to Mediabistro’s How To Pitch section, which not only has the potential to earn you a clip, but can help you build relationships while discovering exactly what magazines are looking for.
How to Pitch
Once you know what you’re pitching and where, you’re ready to alert the media. “If you know someone at that mag, there’s nothing wrong with name dropping in the subject line of your email pitch,” says Shatzman.
If you don’t know the editor, and they don’t know you, Bodgas suggests including some clips or links to your work. “Scan in your pieces at lo-resolution so they don’t crash the editor’s inbox, but they’re still legible,” she says.
When it doubt, the experts suggest filling the subject line with something specific like, “Idea for Goodie Section,” which speaks to your knowledge of the magazine and its different parts.
“It’s always important to know which section you’re pitching to and how you foresee the story being packaged,” says Laura Hahn, who has formerly contributed to People while maintaining staff jobs at Good Housekeeping and Jane. Just knowing this puts you on the “please pitch again” list.
“Your pitch should be written in the magazine’s voice, says Bodgas. “But if you’re in doubt, always sound a little more informed.” (In other words, talk “up” instead of “down”.)
And don’t always assume that if someone doesn’t get back to you, they’re not interested. Hey, editors are busy too.
How to Handle Your Full-Time Employer
Now that you’ve pitched and received the go-ahead, what do you do about the deal you made with the company paying your health insurance? “If the potential freelance gig is a steady thing, I would alert your full-time employer right away,” says Bodgas. “Also, if it’s a conflict of interest, which by rule of thumb, it shouldn’t be, talk to your boss,” she adds. That way, you avoid the risk of her finding out from someone else. (It’s a small industry!)
Two more must-follow rules that the experts suggest:
1) Look into your company’s policy before seeking compensation elsewhere.
2) Don’t handle your freelance work during full-time work hours. (This includes writing emails, printing, conducting phone interviews, etc.)
How to Manage Your Time
While many freelancers (whether rookie or pro, independent or staffer) have been guilty of taking on a bit more than they can chew, there are a few key ways to manage your workload so you don’t drown.
“Try to do everything for your freelance gig over email, because it’s hard to find time to conduct interviews over the phone,” says Bodgas. If you’re lucky, you’ll find experts who are even open to being interviewed on the weekends.
Freedman stresses the importance of separating freelance and full-time priorities and suggests dedicating at least one night a week (or more, depending on your workload) to freelance work only. “You’ll definitely have those moments where you freak out, but keep in mind that it always gets done!” she says.
But above all, if you find that your schedule doesn’t allow for both a full-time job and a freelance gig, remember that your full-time job comes first—at least for now.