Articles - 6th November 2020

What podcasting taught us about freelancing

Our podcast Freelancing for Journalists came to fruition as a result of spending more than two years writing a book of the same name. As we submitted our final proofs at the end of 2019, we began thinking about how we could use the research and expertise we had gathered along the way and a podcast seemed like a natural fit.

In March this year, just a few days before lockdown we released our first episode. To date we have more than 6,500 downloads from 38 countries across 17 episodes. What started as an extension of the book has taken on a life of its own as our listeners grew and began to suggest ideas for future episodes.

We have had to adapt quickly, moving from a plush radio studio to recording via Zoom when the pandemic struck. And whilst we naively thought we probably knew all there was to know about working for yourself, it’s been a steep learning curve. As we plan our third series, we reflect upon what the podcast has taught us about freelancing.

 

Earnings can be indirect

The first series of the podcast was funded via a teaching grant from Sheffield Hallam University, where we both work part-time.  The second series happened during the height of lockdown and we received no funding but we wanted to keep the momentum going because we were getting lots of great feedback.

We were aware that working for free was not a sustainable option but quite quickly found the podcast earnt us money in different ways. We were asked to deliver a regular four-week online training course for journalism.co.uk and then decided to launch our own series of summer webinars. Having the podcast (and the book) behind us was a great marketing tool and strengthened our position in the busy lockdown marketplace.

We have also received paid writing gigs (such as this one) and guest lecturing work at several other universities.

As with all freelancing you never quite know which direction a new project is going to take you but we have definitely built up a profitable tranche of training work off the back of the podcast.

 

Branding is key

When launching the series, we knew we needed a strong image to appear on our podcast cover art. We paid a graphic designer to come up with some ideas and he created a profile picture, individual episode art and a header.

Before we knew it, we were using these images across our podcast platform Captivate and on our new Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Each time we were interviewed by anyone for an article on freelancing and/or the podcast they asked for a photo of us. Instead we sent the podcast profile picture.

We soon realised we were not Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson – we were Freelancing for Journalists. We had become a brand. As a result, we tweaked our social media channels and built a website to incorporate everything that FFJ covered: the podcast, book, training and community. We no longer focused on the pod because we very quickly became a one stop shop for freelance journalism advice.

Since launching the podcast both of us have been approached by external bodies, individually, asking if we can provide bespoke freelance training. But instead of doing it as individuals we operate under the Freelancing for Journalists brand.

Having a strong image and a clear brand has really helped to raise our profile in a short amount of time. We have also learnt that the podcast is the beginning of our brand rather than the end point.

 

Networks are invaluable

Having networks of other freelancers to bounce ideas off and discuss problems with has always been helpful to both of us in our work, but it has truly proven to be invaluable since launching the podcast. As part of our brand extension we launched our own Facebook community which now has more than 1,300 members and is growing fast.

‘Community’ is the key word because we get ideas, feedback, knowledge and advice from the group. It is an incredibly diverse bunch of people and has been a great source of new guests who we may not have come across otherwise, including Lydia Wilkins and Gemma Stevenson who took part in our episode on disability. Some of our most popular episodes such as Demystifying LinkedIn and Mental Health and Wellbeing came from suggestions made in our networks.

These connections have also been invaluable for growing the brand and getting general support for our individual freelance work. It has allowed us to form partnerships with several existing journalism organisations including Journo Resources and Press Pad and has highlighted what a supportive and collaborative bunch freelance journalists are. Donna Ferguson a freelance journalist who came on the podcast to talk about imposter syndrome put Lily in touch with a new commissioning editor and shared the book and podcast on her social media. In return we helped to promote a webinar she was running.

 

Patience should be treasured

The podcast wasn’t a hit overnight. And it still has relatively low downloads compared to other media shows. But it has grown enormously since it began six months ago and is continuing to rise exponentially.

As a freelance you have to be patient and the podcast is a great reminder of that. It takes time to build an audience and to make people believe in your product or services. As freelance journalists we have not always had plenty of work. In the beginning we had to build relationships with editors and develop our portfolios.

We are currently seeking a sponsor for the third series of the podcast and have had a number of positive Zoom chats with potential partners. We have also launched a Kofi donation page. But we have to be patient. We cannot expect to immediately monetise the show, we must continue creating quality content and building our listener base.

Diversity is key to this. In the last month our Indian audience has grown from 2% to 25% because we submitted the show to Indian podcasting platforms Gaan and JioSaavn. We must continue to seek these new opportunities and have fingers in multiple pies in order to create a sustainable income from producing the show.

 

Passion projects are worth pursuing

We started the podcast because it was a way to talk about a topic we cared about. We expected to put out a few episodes and that would be the end of it. While it has taken a lot of work to get to this stage, it has been worth it for all the reasons we have outlined above. What we didn’t really see at the beginning but which is very apparent now, is that all these projects are interlinked and have worked to bolster all the other aspects of our freelance work.

It also provided us with a project that we were in total control of as the early stages of coronavirus meant other contracts were pulled from under us. Recording episodes about issues we know freelancers want to know more about, meeting our guests and getting such positive feedback has been incredibly rewarding. The future direction and content of the podcast is completely within our power and that is not something that can be said about a lot of freelance work.

Lily Canter is a freelance money, health and lifestyle journalist lilycanter.co.uk

Emma Wilkinson is a freelance journalist specialising in medicine and health emmawilkinson.net

To contact Freelancing for Journalists email: freelancingforjournalists@gmail.com

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