Accidental freelancing

What is a recently laid off journalist to do? You need to make a living but you’ve lost your job.  Freelancing is one option but the transition isn’t easy, says Michelle Goodman, who’s been a full time freelancer since 1992.

She’s posted some terrific advice on how to survive your first year as a freelancer. Among my favorite “get started” pointers:

Your bed is not an office.  Set up a desk that’s yours and yours alone and isn’t visible from your bed or couch. Use a curtain if you have to. The point is to establish a bit of separation between work and play.

Your alarm clock is your friend. When you work from home, the temptation to sleep until noon can be overwhelming at first. Don’t give in. Adopt a regular work schedule (at the desk by 9 a.m. is my vote), preferably one that meshes with the clients you work for.

Finding clients is a little tougher, Goodman admits. You can’t just sign up for a freelance job site, sit back and wait for the work to roll in.  Most gigs come through referrals, many of which come from other freelancers, so it makes sense to get to know the “competition.” And you absolutely must cast your net as widely as possible.

If you haven’t yet e-mailed a note to everyone you’ve met since the day you were born, saying that you’re now accepting freelance projects, get cracking. Be sure to include a link to your Web site (mandatory).

Finally, these two bits of very good advice. Don’t work without a contract if you want to get paid, and limit your pro-bono and barter work. If you give too much time away for free, Goodman says, you’re not freelancing, you’re volunteering.