Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

A year of freelancing & the benefits of a portfolio career

Posted in Adam, Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 19, 2010

Photo credit: Theresa Thompson on Flickr

It’s a bit of a red-letter day for me.

This month marks exactly one year since I quit my full-time job in radio, moved down to the big city to make a break of it. In an attempt to measure success & failure, I’ve just been looking back through all the different things I’ve been paid to do in the last year, from making films to writing books.

The big question: has this whole thing been worthwhile, or did I make a massive mistake? Should I have just stayed where I was, kept my head down and hoped for a pay-rise?

The measure I gave myself when I quit was this: ‘just aim to make as much (or more) than you would have done if you’d kept your full time job’. The good news is I made more than I would have done staying put (phewf!)

A portfolio income

What looking back over the last year has really highlighted for me has been the benefits of having what some people are now calling a Portfolio Career:  several revenue streams all contributing to a net income. To make that point, and hopefully to encourage more journalists to think about this as a valid career option, I’ve decided to publish my first year finances to the world…

…well sort of.

Here’s a pie-chart showing the rough percentages of everything I’ve earned since going freelance. Naturally, I’m not going to tell you what the percentages financially add up too! ;)

As you can see teaching & academic research makes up the most significant chunk, but documentary work, broadcasting and print contribute roughly a third. This pie chart shows 9 of the different things I’ve been doing this year, although there have probably been around a dozen.

Sales of Next Generation Journalist and Newsgathering for Hyperlocal Websites have been healthy too, as have things like training, everywhere from Madrid to Glasgow.

Why have lots of jobs?

I guess the point is this: I love doing every single one of these things: the writing, the teaching, the filming, the directing, the radio…but none of them would I want to do every single day. I’ve learned that having this sort of portfolio income gives me a really exciting variety, and also protects me against the loss of a single revenue stream.

I really think more journalists, writers, presenters, and film makers should consider this way of doing work. And it’s more suited to the 21st century work environment too, with growing numbers becoming self-employed and working from home. The internet is slowly making the office (and maybe even the dreaded commute) more and more redundant.

And even though it’s been a success, I still catch myself thinking, sometimes, even if it had failed - even if I had gone bust and had to go and live with my mum or something – I would still look back at this year and be glad I did it. I have had more adventures, opportunities and excitement than even a top reporter gig on a big radio station could give me, and that’s what matters.

So here’s to year two!

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25 Responses

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  1. Sheryl Garratt said, on October 19, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I’m an old-school print journalist. Yet over half my income now comes from other sources, and I’m pushing to extend that. I find your site really interesting and inspiring Adam. Congratulations on your first successful year out of the office – hope there’s loads more to come.

  2. [...] A year of freelancing & the benefits of a portfolio career « Adam Westbrook (tags: freelance journalism) [...]

  3. JoLynne Lyon said, on October 19, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Thanks for sharing! This is especially interesting in an age where bloggers often set themselves up as experts–even if they’re not making any money. Congratulations for taking the leap and making it work.

  4. Pauline Sargent said, on October 19, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Hi Adam

    Congratulations & interesting read. Like Sheryl says I find your posts very insightful & wish you all the best in next year.

    Pauline

  5. Adam Westbrook said, on October 19, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Hey everyone, thanks so much for the kind words and encouragement, I genuinely wasn’t expecting it!

    I’ll do my best to share as much of the journey ahead as possible, and hope you find it as insightful as everything so far :)

  6. Sharon said, on October 19, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Fantastic post Adam. I’m also generating income as a journalist from a variety of sources and have enjoyed this new experience and the opportunity to work on different projects. It’s funny, you always know the exact moment to give us freelancers some encouraging and inspiring news/advice about the world of freelancing. Thanks for sharing and best of luck with your second year into it! I have no doubt that you will continue to be successful.

  7. Mirko Lorenz said, on October 19, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Congrats! Keep it on. What you do, how you do it and how you communicate is important, me think. Good luck for year 2. Hint: If you are good, the really big jobs come 2-3 years after making the leap. You are good.

  8. Adam Westbrook said, on October 19, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Mirko & Sharon thanks for the encouragement – and Sharon, I’m glad you’re finding the portfolio lifestyle a good one! :)

  9. [...] A year of freelancing & the benefits of a portfolio career « Adam Westbrook Adam Westbrook is a very young journalist who is building a very successful career. This article explains why and how. (tags: freelance entrepreneurialjournalism career job advice howto) [...]

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  11. Karli Drinkwater said, on October 20, 2010 at 10:15 am

    You have got me majorly hyped up after reading that. I have been following your blog for a while and thought you had been doing this for much longer than a year due to how much you have achieved already.

    I’m working full-time in the industry but reading about ‘portfolio careers’ has really encouraged me to go for it. My personality seems to be like yours, in so much as I need variety and new challenges all the time.

    I’m inspired to make the leap. Wish me luck that I know how to fly. ;-)

    • Adam Westbrook said, on October 20, 2010 at 10:39 am

      Hi Karli

      That’s awesome news, congratulations and good luck! The best advice I can give is you have to leap before the ground will appear; none of us have any idea whether these things work out, but aim big and don’t be afraid of failure.

      Apparently people like us are called Scanners – there’s a cool website on it here:
      http://www.scannercentral.co.uk/scanners-night/

  12. Karli Drinkwater said, on October 20, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Ha ha, well that is pretty darn bob on. My head literally aches at the end of the day because of all the ideas running through it. It’s encouraging to know that hyperactive minds can be channelled into something productive, as you demonstrate.

    I look forward to reading about more of your adventures.

  13. rosieniven said, on October 20, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Congratulations on a successful first year. I’ve just completed my first ten days as a full time freelancer. I didn’t start freelancing by choice, but freelance life has been very busy so far and should hopefully pay the bills this month.

    I’m not sure whether I will continue to freelance or return to life as a staffer. I’ve always wanted to have a portfolio career, or a job with lots of variety. I hope that freelancing will bring that.

    I’d also like to thank you for setting up the London Future of News Group and all the work you’ve done to highlight the latest developments in journalism to other journalists. I have to say that I have benefited from these initiatives personally over the past year and I am sure that your enthusiasm and optimism about the future of media has rubbed off on many others too.

    Looking forward to the next FONG.

    • Adam Westbrook said, on October 21, 2010 at 9:09 am

      Hi Rosie, thanks for the support and good luck with your own freelancing adventure!
      Sorry for letting the FONGs slip of late; work has really sucked all my time :)

  14. links for 2010-10-21 » Wha'Happened? said, on October 21, 2010 at 10:03 am

    [...] A year of freelancing & the benefits of a portfolio career « Adam Westbrook (tags: journalism freelancing) [...]

  15. annafaherty said, on October 21, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Adam, as a fellow portfolio person, this makes interesting reading. I might try your analysis myself next time I do my tax return – probably the only time I can ever find all my invoices at the same time ;)

    What would even more interesting is some kind of comparison chart for what you spend your time doing. I’m sure if I did that, I’d end up with a big slice of the time pie taken up by ‘writing’, corresponding (sadly) to a very small slice of the money pie.

    • Adam Westbrook said, on October 22, 2010 at 11:26 am

      That’s a really interesting point. I think, in terms of time spent, you want the bulk of your time to be spent doing the work you really love right, even if it might not be your bread and butter?

      There’s a guy called Hugh McLeod who’s come up with the sex vs cash theory – every creative-type person has to do a mixture of work: the stuff they love (the sex) and the stuff they do to pay the bills (the cash). Even top Hollywood actors aren’t immune – see the number of low-grade blockbusters that Robert Downey Jr does: they pay for his rich lifestyle, so he can take months off and do challenging films which don’t pay as much.

  16. rayduff said, on October 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Where’s the plot twists and the subtle sub-plots in this story? Where are the barriers for the main character to overcome in this tale of success and happy beginnings!? Where are the key emotional traits exposed which lead to the lead character’s eventual success? I’m sure the gripping elements of a good book have all been present over the last 12 months!?

    Ah!… But then this is a true story – making it even more inspirational!

    Keep up the good work, Adam ;-)

  17. [...] entrepreneurial and creating your own luck…in other words embracing it. The revolution is why I quit my conventional job 18 months ago – and it’s been a wild ride [...]

  18. [...] entrepreneurial and creating your own luck…in other words embracing it. The revolution is why I quit my conventional job 18 months ago– and it’s been a wild ride [...]

  19. [...] component of a portfolio career, with multiple, diverse streams of income. As Adam Westbrook has documented from his own experience, activities like consulting, speaking, teaching, and self-publishing can [...]

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