Monday, 2 November 2009

Back after a 3-month absence... and how things have changed!

Oh my God, is it November already???? And did I really last post on this blog in July????

I really can't believe I've been away from the blogosphere for so long - I've not even logged into my Blogger account since August. Again, many many apologies, and perhaps it's just better for me to say I'm only going to post sporadically from now on... sorry guys... but I will take the time to check all your blogs and catch up with what I've missed from the last couple of months - starting from after I finish this blog post.

So many things have happened since I last posted here that this is going to be one long blog post I'm afraid! I turned 28 just over a month ago, and the days in the run-up to any birthday are always a time for reflection on what you've achieved in the year. At least, they are for me, anyway.

In my final days - well, final months, really - of being 27 years of age, I actually started to feel a little depressed. That was partly the reason why I didn't post on this blog during August and September - I just kind of felt that I was fast approaching 30 with not much to show for my life career-wise, and I'd always imagined that in my late 20s I'd be hugely successful and fast climbing the professional ladder in a high-powered career.

The reality, of course, was completely different. I still hadn't got a job, and it didn't look like I had any hope of getting one - despite hating accountancy, I was still applying for those jobs just so that I'd have an income to pay off the mortgage and bills. It sounds crazy, doesn't it - why the hell would I still be applying for jobs in a profession I was so desperate to leave to begin with? To my great shame, the only answer I can give you is that it was what was familiar, and the habits in my brain were telling me to go back to what was familiar rather than risk trying something new and unknown. I think most of us do that to some extent, even when we're consciously in the process of changing things for the better!

Thanks to the ongoing credit crunch, I still couldn't get an accountancy job. Ever more accountants were being made redundant, yet I still foolishly kept trying to get an accountancy job. What made it even worse was that I'd already been commissioned for a two-day reporting stint at a magazine in late July. I think I mentioned a little bit in my last blog post. So it's not as if I was totally failing at the freelance journalism thing at that point. There was another reason too, for why I felt a bit down, which I shall go into later in this post.

But it's not all doom and gloom. The other reason I didn't post in August was simply because I was out of the country (on a dead-cheap European holiday) for some of it, which was pretty nice.

And getting my first commission was a pretty pleasing result. As mentioned, I used the four articles from my work experience stint on a national newspaper for my portfolio, bought a copy of The Writers' Handbook 2010 (it was on sale at half the price, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered) and worked my way through it. I decided to target magazines specialising in accountancy and finance to start with, on the grounds that I used to be an accountant and therefore would be able to draw on my knowledge and training in writing about it.

I cold-called a few of the editors, and most of them simply asked me to send them my CV and a sample of clips from my portfolio. However, one of them, on hearing I used to actually be an accountant - qualified and everything - asked me to come into their offices in London for coffee and a chat. I dragged my portfolio along with me and he gave me the most gruelling "chat" ever. It turned out he was being so tough simply because he was treating it as a job interview - unbeknownst to me, he was thinking of hiring me for a reporter role and just wanted to see how I interviewed under a pressured situation! I saw the funny side though, and he did apologise for putting me on the spot like that!

As a result of our interview "chat" he decided to give me a two-day trial at the end of July to see how I got on, knowing that I had very little journalism experience and even less news-reporting experience. He offered to pay me the usual daily rate for reporters.

So that's where I left off from my last post. I was so proud to send my very first invoice, for quite a nice amount too. However, it turned out I had to sign their Freelancer Terms & Conditions.

I was very unhappy with some of the clauses - especially the ones where the freelancer had to agree to take all responsibility for any legal action brought against the publication - and tried to suggest an alternative contract, which I don't think the editor was too happy about, especially as it had to be sent through their legal team. As the weeks wore on, the contract remained unagreed, and I still hadn't been paid, I began to feel very very unhappy. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), who usually advise freelancers not to sign contracts like this, refused to help me as I wasn't an NUJ member but I couldn't become an NUJ member until I'd been paid. As a result I didn't blog or even do anything to further my budding freelance journalism career during August or September, that's how unhappy it made me.

By mid-September, it was clear that the contract was never going to be changed, and until I signed it, I wouldn't get paid. I still had no other clients, so I decided to just swallow my pride and sign it. After all, as a brand-new freelancer without a name for herself, it was hardly likely I'd have much negotiating clout in these matters anyway. I decided that if I signed it, I'd simply have to be careful what I wrote about (to minimise any chance of court action) and look into getting professional indemnity insurance. Funnily enough, even though I wasn't totally happy about signing such a contract, once I had signed it the depression lifted and I was soon buzzing with writing ideas.

The moral of the tale here is: agree on a contract first before agreeing to do any work for anyone - it really was my own fault for blindly going into something without first making sure I knew exactly what I was getting into!

So I rang up the editor at the end of September, told them I was signing and sending back the contract (so that I could actually be paid for July's work) and while I was at it, pitched a new idea to them. The editor agreed to commission the article from me, and gave me a week to do a 1,000-word article which they featured as a three-page spread in the centre of the magazine. Nice!

Due to a hiring freeze, I didn't get the reporter role that he initially wanted to hire me for (even after making me do a screen test to see how I coped on TV - they have their own web TV channel for topical interviews), but fortunately that editor was so happy with the work I've done for them so far they've agreed to commission me as a freelancer anyway. I've signed off Job-Seeker's Allowance as a result - which is great, because fortnightly trips to the Jobcentre were really doing my head in!

So to conclude my story, I spent a total of seven days in October covering on the newsdesk in their offices whenever any of the reporters were away, and contributing a lot of articles to both their website and their printed paper publication. My portfolio is now considerably larger and I actually feel like I've established myself as a freelance journalist - even though I currently only have one client!

About a week ago - yes, near the end of October - I finally received payment for July's outstanding invoice (really need to do better at credit control and cashflow in future) and have sent two more invoices to that publication, establishing a 30-day term for payment so that I don't have to wait so long for payment again (though I admit I had a lot to do with the hold-up for not agreeing the contract). I registered myself with the tax authorities as self-employed - a scary but necessary step - and am now looking for my next client and next article commission.

Funnily enough I am STILL registered with recruitment agencies for accountancy jobs and have had my CV forwarded to employers even now, but the lack of success and/or response is no longer bothering me. I'm hoping that my freelance journalism career will soon be so well-established, and paying me so well, that I'll never need to be bothered about accountancy jobs ever again.
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  1. Wow, that's amazing! It sounds like the world of journalism is where you should be. I'm so glad things are starting to roll for you. Are you going to specialize in accounting journalism? or is that just a place to start?

  2. Welcome back, good to see you again. It sounds like a lot has happened but it's working out for the best. Hang in there, it will work out.

  3. Awesome! I'd be leery to sign that contract too. But your foot's in the door! It's a tough time for all. Good luck.

  4. good luck - i hope this turns into something good for you!

  5. Hi guys, thanks for all your comments - good to hear from you all again!

    Thanks ever so much! I really hope this is the start of a proper journalism/writing career for me too! Hopefully I'll be able to branch out into writing about other subjects, but right now, it's easier to pitch myself as an accountancy journalist (seeing as I used to work as an accountant an' all) to get my foot in the door.

    Thanks, and it's good to hear from you as well. I see you're still just as dedicated to your blog as ever - love the new title picture by the way.

    Thanks - I'm glad it's not just me who thought that contract was a bit harsh on freelancers! But as you say, it's a foot in the door, and hopefully that clause won't ever be exercised! How's the book going?

    Thanks and welcome back from sunny Spain! Hope you're well. Did you manage to enjoy Bonfire Night yesterday - I was down in Crystal Palace watching the fireworks last night :-) Plenty more at the weekend if you missed it anyway!

  6. I'm so happy for you, that things finally worked out, you're working at something you enjoy. Don't forget to pat yourself on the back!

  7. I'm quite impressed at your progress and you should be too. Nicely done.

  8. Hi Dreams-Teller and Ava,

    Hope you're both doing well. Thanks for your comments and support! Not sure yet how things are going to work out from here on but so far I have been pleased at my progress. Will update more when I get the chance (can't promise when that will be though). Will be along to check out both your blogs now x

  9. Well done. It seems like you are in the right track right now. It is hard out there right now but you just show how dedication can actually start paying off. Good luck for what lies ahead.

  10. Thanks Ana. And yes you're right it IS hard out there. We'll see what happens next!

  11. Really an another great post. Well done. Thanks.

  12. Thanks ever so much Kris - I was worried it might be a little bit long though!