Student guest post: Getting into freelance editing

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the fourth of those posts. Rebecca Collins is a senior from Winston-Salem majoring in editing and graphic design at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is editor-in-chief of the student arts magazine Uncharted.

For me, and other second-semester seniors, the real world is quickly approaching.

I’m not planning on going to graduate school (at least not at this point). So, for me, the real world means trying to start a career — preferably one related to the degree I’ll be paying off student loans for.

But as we’ve been told again and again, full-time jobs can be hard to come by. The advice we’re given is to freelance to gain experience and build our resumes until a position opens up. But that’s usually where the advice ends.

And when I recently started looking into freelancing, I realized there was a lot I didn’t know. Although my classes have taught me skills such as the intricacies of AP style, how to write SEO headlines and the difference between compose and comprise, they’ve taught me little about marketing myself as a freelancer (which, as a note to whoever is in charge of things like this, would make a great topic for senior seminar course).

But luckily for any UNC-Chapel Hill undergrads who read this post, I’ve done some research and found some answers to my questions about freelancing, and I’ve compiled them here. I focused on freelance editing, because I found that it’s slightly different than freelance writing. Freelance writers can just write a piece ahead of time and then submit it for publication. Editors, on the other hand, can’t edit something they haven’t been given yet.

Where do I find freelancing jobs?

This is the most basic, and probably most important, thing to know about freelancing. You can’t get a freelancing job if you don’t know where to look for it.

The short answer to finding any job, be it freelance or full-time, is networking. I learned this through my involvement with the Carolina Association of Future Magazine Editors, which invites professional journalists to come to meetings and share their wisdom. Every guest speaker says that networking and getting your name out there is the best way to get hired. And to start networking, you pretty much just have to introduce yourself to the people that could hire you, which usually entails sending unsolicited emails – but tactful unsolicited emails.

The journalism school’s career services office just happens to have an online directory of networking contacts called J-link. I’m not going to go into details about networking techniques, but if you have questions, Jay Eubank, the journalism school’s career counselor, would be happy to tell you more.

Another way to find jobs are on job posting websites like Elance, Freelance Switch and Mediabistro, to just name a few. There are drawbacks to trying to find work on these websites, however.

Both Elance and Freelance Switch are free, but that means that hundreds, if not thousands, of other freelancers are competing with you for the same job. And the jobs posted on those websites aren’t always that great in the first place. Also, Elance requires that you receive payment for any job you find on Elance through its payment service. Many high quality publications and websites use Mediabistro to list job openings, but if you want to search or apply for freelance jobs, you have to pay a fee. These are all things to consider when using these websites.

OK, now that I’ve found some jobs I’m interested in, how do I get my foot in the door and stand out against the competition?

The first step is to have a good resume. Most employers specifically ask for freelancers with some experience.

Writing and editing for campus publications or interning will help you build your resume and portfolio of writing samples. Getting back to the difference between freelance writers and editors, it’s important for both to have strong writing samples. Show employers your skills by making sure your own work is well-edited.

The next step is to have your own website. It’s easier for employers to look at your resume and samples if all they have to do is click a link you’ve emailed to them with your cover letter. And by making the process easier and less time consuming, you’re making it more likely that an employer will look at your resume.

Of course, just having a website is not enough. You need to make sure it’s professional, easy to navigate and easy to remember. This should seem obvious, but make sure that your entire website is well edited, not just your writing samples. It just takes one misspelled word for you to look like a bad editor.

As portfolio websites become the norm, you need to make sure yours stands out, in a good way. Making a clean and simple website is fairly easy with a content editor like WordPress. But if you don’t want to try to figure it out on your own, you can take the introduction to multimedia class, in which making a portfolio website is one of the projects.

How much do I charge?

This is the question I had the most trouble figuring out. There are some jobs that are advertised at a certain rate, but there are others that ask for a cost estimate in your proposal for the job.

I found this handy list of editorial price rates from the Editorial Freelancers Association. But as the introduction to the list states, it’s only a guideline.

In general, when figuring out how much to charge, you need to consider three things: how much you want to make, how much your competition is charging and how much the employer is willing to pay. A good thing to remember is that by setting low rates when you’re starting out, you’re more likely to get hired and get your foot in the door, ideally leading to more jobs. And later you can raise your rates according to your experience.

Freelance Switch also has a free billing calculator to help you determine your pricing based on your costs and the work required for the project. Because while you may want to set low rates to get hired, you want to make sure that you cover your costs (and don’t starve).

How do I make sure I get paid?

I haven’t had any experience with this problem first-hand, but I’ve heard enough stories to know that getting payment for freelance services isn’t always easy. This article provided some helpful tips. You can read the full article for details, but it basically says to always enter into a written contract that clearly states the terms of the agreement, including pricing, with anyone you freelance for, send the person or company an official invoice for your services and don’t give up.

If it gets to the point that legal action is the only way to get payment, then you just have to ask yourself if it’s really worth it. It’s unfair that there are some people who get away with not paying, but that’s one of the risks of freelancing.

These tips are the product of just a few hours of online research, and, as evidenced by the large number of websites devoted to issues related to freelancing, there’s a lot more to consider if you want to become a serious freelancer. But I hope that this can help get you started.

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