How to earn six figures as an independent freelance journalist
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ANDREW DON, freelance journalist and author of The Bounty Writer: How to Earn Six Figures as an Independent Freelance Journalist, shared with July's London Freelance Branch meeting his secrets of how he "earned extraordinarily well as a freelance" over the years – writing and editing in the business-to-business (b2b) sector, a "lucrative area of steady work". Andrew emphasises that he's "really nothing special... if I can do it why can't you?"
Born premature, Andrew had "a life-long fight" with his hearing. As a child, learning to speak was delayed, and "I wrote my first poetry on mechanical adding machine rolls which Dad sold in his office equipment shop in Clerkenwell – before I could talk." He stuttered well into his twenties. A "highly stressful career", involving "interviewing on the phone" seemed "not what the doctor ordered. Except it was. I loved it."
Before he turned freelance, Andrew was at the b2b weekly Supermarketing, working through the ranks to deputy editor. There he built up a contacts book "second to none" It was "gold dust" when he went freelance in 1990. Not wanting people to typecast him as exclusively a specialist food industry journalist, when asked what field he specialised in, Andrew would reply, "I don't," he said, "although I do have areas where I get most work." The long list of these includes food, food retail, general retail, property, sewage, brewing, beauty and hairdressing.
On any given day, Andrew could be working on anything from chemical risks from hair straightening treatment for the Mail to "loads of GDPR" stories – case studies on how the General Data Protection Regulation would affect different sectors. These were often based on the same article but "topped and tailed" and "angled" with case studies to suit each industrial sector.
From 1996, morning news digests for the b2bs brought in the money – by then the first "interactive" online versions of these outlets were appearing. Andrew's news digests included Estates Gazette, Farmers' Weekly, Chemical News & Intelligence, Martin Information and others. News digest work was so successful that Andrew subcontracted others to do morning news digests during the night, from which he made "a reasonable margin on other people's work, but not in an exploitative way". His contractors "liked working for me, because I paid promptly".
Andrew "knew this wasn't a pace I could keep up until the official retirement age... I paid huge amounts into private pension during my peak earning years." He advises, "pay into a pension as much as you can – even if you have to forgo things."
Semi-retiring in 2019, Andrew moved to West Wales, two minutes from the beach. Andrew's advice? "Never, ever miss a deadline", otherwise "word soon gets around that you're not a professional." Also: "train your family to understand the need" for you to work anti-social hours. And "handle rejection" – Andrew has forgotten how often "I am told I am crap and will never make it... believe in your abilities... if you truly believe it there's a chance the commissioner will believe it."