Learning to Freelance during the Pandemic

Learning to Freelance during the Pandemic

MA Fashion Media Practice alumni Scarlett Baker shares her experience of life after graduating Condé Nast College, navigating an unexpected job market and learning to become a freelance journalist during the pandemic.

Six months prior to the seismic events that shook the world in March 2020, I was standing within the pristine white walls of the College. Along a Greek Street that was once bustling and thriving, I was sharing my final major project to mark the end of my MA degree. As a journalist student at the time, I had created a publication that longed to radically redefine the identity of a magazine through its physical configuration. I wanted to interrogate a conventional structure, little knowing that shortly the world would begin interrogating convention by its own hand. 

Flitting from family, friends, tutors, and industry professionals as I shared my passion project, the excitement of the unknown that lay ahead of me with an indeterminate job market full of nuanced pathways and variations that would bookend this chapter and open my next. The possibilities really did feel limitless and three days later, I joined the LOVE Magazine as a digital intern creating content for their website. Four weeks later, I became the Staff Writer. 


From Internship to Employment


Learning to Freelance during the Pandemic


A month after finishing my degree, the spontaneity and sprightly pace kicked in with the onset of fashion month, spanning New York, London, Milan and Paris. I began recounting and reviewing the tales from the catwalk, learning how to conduct interviews, understanding the unexplored world of SEO and copywriting and organising an editorial calendar. 

Visiting galleries and exhibitions, chatting to designers, scouting out undiscovered talent, by the time my second season came around for AW20, I’d toured a host of topics from music, film, art, television and politics. 


From Employment to Pandemic


Learning to Freelance during the Pandemic


After 7 months as a Staff Writer, I decided to peer my head over to the other side of the masthead, longing to understand the logistics behind how a publication is created both physically and financially. Set to join the Publishing department, the pandemic reared its ugly head and had an alternative decision for me.

Now the holy grail of freelancing is to prepare for the unexpected. And what better why to ease into the sporadic nature of self-employment than during a global health and financial crisis?


The Importance of Planning

Following the instruction of a national lockdown, the closing of all offices and a momentary existential career crisis, I left London to join my family not knowing which route to take. With the job market in such despair, I began frantically creating a spreadsheet of any editors emails I could find, scouring mastheads and contact pages across the internet for publications I wanted to write for.

Through learning to become a freelance journalist during the pandemic, creating a personal contact list has proved fundamental in making my pitching process more seamless over the past year and I cannot recommend this stage of researching enough.


Finding that Lightbulb Moment

Once compiling an in-depth list of people to contact, the next challenge begged the question: what do I write? The internet at this point was littered with think pieces on the coronavirus and listicles of how to overcome the claustrophobia of lockdown. Finding your angle or offering a statement that doesn’t reiterate what is already out there can prove challenging.

One of my main methods of sourcing interesting content is putting aside a couple of ours to go into an Instagram black hole, where you search endlessly and springboard from profile to profile, saving each profile of note in a folder. It’s also really helpful to introduce yourself to PR’s, who in turn will send you information about upcoming releases that you can then share with editors.


Learning to create an Effective Pitch


Learning to Freelance during the Pandemic


The first few months of the pandemic taught me a lot about my approach to pitching. For the most part, I was waffling and my ideas lacked clarity and specific examples that editors require to gauge the full picture. For the first 6 weeks, I was met with endless rejections. Don’t be afraid to chase your contact, and remember that feedback isn’t always an option given the sheer volume of pitches that editors receive, but don’t be scared to ask.

It’s important to be thorough with your pitch. Include pictures, links, references, quotations. Usually I aim for 4-6 ideas per email, of which you might only get 1 accepted. Take your time in articulating each idea also. It isn’t just a set of vague bullet points, you’re trying to narrate a story from your head and make someone else envision the exact same picture in their own head.

When pitching, it’s important to include a portfolio that really captures the variety and flexibility of your voice when starting out. Take the time to create a website that really captures your personal branding and showcases your work.


Establishing a Routine


Learning to Freelance during the Pandemic


Both a blessing and a curse, the nature of a self-employed lifestyle means it’s all on you. Learning to discipline yourself is a mean feat. Set yourself a structure; whether it’s allocating a portion of the day to research, another to draft your pitches, another period of time to write your first draft.

Keep in check with recruitment sites such as The Dots and Fashion Workie for any other potential projects you can pick up too. When you start to juggle several opportunities it’s really important to prioritise deadlines and allocate your time accordingly to the jobs that require more attention at that point. Be prepared to go out of your comfort zone too. Particularly for journalists, know that your authorial voice spans both editorial and commercial work. Try approaching brands who need written copy such as press releases and inventory copy as a way to further expand your CV and build up your client network.


Requirements after a successful pitch

Once you’ve written your successful pitch, be prepared for criticism and the back-and-forth of various drafts. It seems daunting at first and can feel personal. But try to view it as a compliment that a Senior Editor has taken the time to really read and understand what you’re saying and help shape your argument that they believe holds value.

Establish an invoice template and be sure to chase the employer for your payment. Invoices can take a long time to process, particularly when you aren’t on their payroll and top priority, so be prepared to chase up.

It’s no secret that the nature of freelancing is an irregular grind. While my venture into it was unexpected, it has granted me the opportunity to straddle my pre-established passions, while exploring other areas such as advertising and marketing. From learning to manage your time and meet deadlines, independently build your portfolio and chase your own leads, has meant that while the pandemic induced a great deal of job insecurity, in turn I have been able to become more secure in my own self and my work.


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