‘Freelance Biz Journos Must Master the Skills They Write About’

As we mentioned earlier this week, it turns out that many freelance business journalists understand other peoples’ money much better than they get their own.

This caused a head-scratching moment for more than just MJD: writing coach Maya Smart wrote yesterday that “in theory, business journalists should be poised to forge a path toward profitable freelancing….But, as the low freelancer salaries suggest, reporting on businesses and managing one are different stories.”

What’s the deal?

Possibly the journos are still learning how to navigate a new world—one with much less newsroom camaraderie and watercooler chat. (40 percent of the survey respondents became freelance when they were laid off from staff positions.) On the other hand, 2/3 of the survey respondents have been in the business of freelancing for four years or more, which would hint that the adjustment period had passed.

Also, as usual, salesmanship is a skill that freelancers need and don’t often have: “Commerical considerations make many journalists squeamish because they are taught that their job is to inform the citizenry, tell compelling stories and bring truth to light,” says Smart. “News flash: all of these goals require money.”

Third, Smart suggests: find a niche. “We all know (or have been) the kind of freelance writer who balances a staggering array of unrelated projects to pay the bills—covering technology for websites, teaching continuing education courses, writing press releases and brochures for neighbors, and penning young adult vampire romances on weekends. That’s fine on a short-term basis, but it’s not an effective long-term strategy.” (Oops! Doin it wrong the whole time!)

Again, it’s no surprise that freelancers don’t necessarily come pre-equipped with the business skills they need to run a business, but it’s especially ironic when the freelancer is a business expert.