Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The value of “finishability” in your journalism

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 7, 2011

If you create a news product, say an online magazine, here’s a question for you: is your product finishable?

I recently saw Tom Standage, digital editor at The Economist speak at The Media Briefing’s Mobile Media event in central London. He was quite clear that what the Economist sells is ‘finishability‘: that moment of catharthis when you put down the magazine having completed it.

In a world where the stream of information coming into our minds is non-stop (I never seem to keep my Google Reader empty!), providing a product that is ‘finishable’ could be a simple way to make sure people enjoy it – and therefore come back for more.

Lots of products, such as The Huffington Post’s new UK edition, which launched yesterday, provide you with almost stupid amounts of content everyday – an unending barrage of choice.

But few seem brave enough to offer less: instead making it really remarkable.

Finishability is also a valuable asset among the freelancers, starters and entrepreneurs of the journalism world. Coming up with ideas is not good enough. Starting projects is no good either: none of it means anything unless you finish.

And as a tribute to the value of finishability, I am making this post decidedly…finishable.

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The “Pr” approach to being a freelance journalist

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on October 21, 2010

Image credit: jm3 on Flickr

What are the qualities of a successful freelance journalist in the 21st century?

Of course, there are all the obvious ones (curiosity, good writing skills, tech knowledge etc) which have been laid out many times by far more experienced and talented hacks than me. But I want to introduce four new qualities, perhaps four you would never have thought of before.

And in this brave new world where the opportunities for the enterprising young journalist are limitless, it’s important to approach it in the right way. So I’ve come up with this ‘Pr’ list of qualities which every journalist should aim for – and they’re one’s every journalist can.

Four ‘Pr’ qualities for freelance journalists

.01 Prolific

First of all, to be good at any form of journalism (writing, blogging, filming, podcasting, info-graphics) you must be prolific. You must create content at a rate of knots, and share it with the world. There’s only one way you get good at something: and that’s practice. Practice = proliferation.

Mark McGuinness (a must read if you want to make money doing something creative) makes this point very eloquently. He points out how one of the great creative geniuses of history, Bach, was prolific beyond belief. We only associate a few extraordinary pieces of work to his name, and assume he was of such unrepeatable talent that the rare tunes he touched turned to gold. But it was not so.

Bach spent his career as an employee, composing music to order on a punishing schedule. One such appointment was as Cantor of St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, a prestigious but demanding role, where he produced a cantata (a musical setting for sacred texts) every week of the year and extra ones for holidays — a total of 60 every year. He held that position for five years.

Most of Bach’s music was mediocre and disappeared into history. But the very fact his was prolific meant he got so extraordinarily good at his craft he became an unforgettable name in history.

Image: Marxchivist on Flickr

When I read Mark’s article I looked elsewhere in history for a pattern. It didn’t take me long. Let’s take perhaps the most exalted band of the 20th Century, The Beatles. A quick check at their discography proves their success could be down to sheer proliferation: between 1963 and 1969 they produced two albums every yeara total of 307 songs before they split.

Coldplay, by comparison have produced four albums in 13 years, and just a third of the songs. Sure, who can name all 307 Beatles tracks? And sure, many of them are mediocre – but they needed to produce all the mediocre in order to get good.

So if you’re set on being a kick-ass video journalist, you won’t get good sitting around reading video journalism blogs and polishing the lens of your DSLR. Get off your arse, and make a film. Every week. Week in, week out.

. 02 Productive

Being productive is vital for your success as a freelance journalist. In some cases, when you’re being paid a day-rate, that is literally so. But even if not, your time is money, so you have to start using it properly.

This goes beyond just opening the laptop at 9 and closing it at 5pm sharp. It’s about elimating the stuff in your day that doesn’t contribute to your income. It’s also about understanding your own personal productivity: what time of the day are you most productive? What’s the point of starting work at 9, when you’re at your best between 6pm and midnight?

A lot of people use the 80/20 rule too, so it’s worth thinking about. It goes like this: 20% of your time spent, generates 80% of your revenue and visa versa. So you need to identify the 20% of work that actually brings in the cash (that includes sales/pitching) and make sure you do it without fail. And know what the 80% of non-revenue generating stuff is (tweaking your website, filing tax returns, coming up with ideas) and don’t let it overrun your schedule.

If you’re going to be prolific and profitable you need to be productive with your time. So ring fence certain times of your day, compartmentalise and use something like Google Calendar to control it all.

. 03 Profound

Thing is, there are plenty of other voices out there in the digital landscape – maybe too many. And there are plenty more journalists vying for attention. How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you make your blog more clickable than the next?

Seth Godin

The answer lies in being profound: having something to say that matters to other people. A lot of blogs – hell, a lot of journalists – rely on rehashing other people’s content, aggregating it, just blindly reporting what is being said or done.

But in the fragmented, digital, niche world, that is not enough. If you want to stand out within your area of specialty then you need to be profound. We turn to the most popular bloggers in journalism, for example, because they say profound things. Jeff Jarvis tells us the business models are all wrong and suggests alternatives; Mark Luckie shows us how to use awesome technology in new ways; Tracy Boyer shows us how great multimedia can be; and almost everything Seth Godin says is profound…and they are all leaders.

In this scary new world, people don’t just want consumers, aggregators or reporters, they want leaders. Are you willing to step up to the plate? By being profound, you almost instantly place yourself at a higher level above the rest of the pack.

. 04 Provocative

And finally be provactive too. Stir things up. Cause an argument.

Someone who does that very well are British multimedia producers Duckrabbit, who, if you read their blog (and you should)* it appears they’re always getting into arguments with the photojournalism establishment (for example, this spat with the organiser of an international photography festival).

But Duckrabbit aren’t being argumentative for the sake of it. They have established a strong, authentic, moral, position – on the side of exploited people in developing countries, and photographers exploited by the industry they work for. This forms Duckrabbit’s story, and we, as the audience (and their potential customers) understand where they’re coming from.

And because they stand up for exploited photographers wherever they can, the audience respect them for it. It makes their presence go beyond that of another multimedia company.

It’s a risky strategy perhaps, but there are a lot of multimedia production companies out there now – what will make yours stand out? Stand up for something, believe it it, and mean something. If you’re authentic then it’s all good.

*disclaimer: I occasionally write for Duckrabbit

So – prolific, productive, profound and provocative: four easy to remember words, which if you use them as a guide, they’ll help elevate you beyond all the others in this ever crowded field. Have I missed any off? I could add ‘profitable’ but that’s for another time…

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!

10 new ways to make money in journalism

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 7, 2010

The problem: there aren’t enough jobs for journalists

4,000 journalism jobs were lost in the UK last year; 20,000+ in the US. Meanwhile the number of young people applying for journalism courses went up, in the UK by nearly 16%.

The solution: journalists need to think differently about their career and come up with new ways to make a living

I’m very happy to announce details of a project I’ve been working on for several months now, which is almost ready to go live.

In all the blog posts I have written, Future of News meetups I have hosted, lectures and training sessions I have given since quitting my full-time job seven months ago one thing has become clear: journalists in the future need to think differently if they’re going to survive.

The maths just don’t add up for a start.

There are too many journalists and not enough jobs. How do we navigate that?

Emerging from this is the Next Generation Journalist: someone who isn’t threatened by talk of the supposed declining value of news, the slashing of budgets or lack of jobs. Instead of threats or problems, they see opportunities.

It might seem we live in the toughest of times as journalists, but in fact we are hugely privileged to live when we do. The internet has shaken journalism to the core, but it has also created three fantastic opportunities we can’t ignore:

  • the opportunity to create high quality content at a fraction of the price
  • the opportunity to publish that content for free
  • the opportunity to create new audiences, communities for that content, and then monetise it

The Next Generation Journalist seizes on these opportunities and does journalism in new and exciting ways – and makes money.

10 new ways to make money in journalism

I want more people to seize these opportunities and exploit the digital economy. It’s not easy though, and requires not just creativity, and a bit of business know-how…but guts and persistence, the drive to swim against the tide and do epic shit no-one has done before.

So I’ve spent the last few months working on a new e-book which I hope will help people along the way. It’s called the Next Generation Journalist and will be available to download on May 20th.

In the book I’ve compiled 10 new business ideas for journalists to pursue. It shows you what they are, but also how it’s done; and features interviews with people who’ve actually done it.

It’s got its own website and everything, and there’ll be discounts for anyone who signs up early – just click here to do that.

What are the 10 new ways?

The good news is you don’t have to buy the book to find out what the 10 new ways to make money are!

Every day from Monday I’ll be revealing a new career opportunity contained within the book, so you can see whether it fits you before parting with any cash.

You’ll get more info too, including exclusive video and audio interviews, if you get yourself on the mailing list…click here!

Online ad revenue: what journalists are getting wrong

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 9, 2010

Image credit: DavidDMuir (cc)

How much money has your website made you recently?

For all but the lucky ones, the figure is rarely enough to buy a latte, let alone support a family. And for all but the smart ones, the figure is usually from Google Adwords revenue.

Here’s the crunch: journalists running their own websites, whether they’re hyperlocal blogs,  online magazines or video sites are getting it wrong. They think there’s only one way to make money from a website – advertising. It’s how newspapers do it, so why should they think any different?

Actually, running a website for profit isn’t about building an audience of millions and raking in the ad revenue. For most of us, even the top niche bloggers, your audience will be in the thousands, not the millions. And that just doesn’t pay.

Doing it right

I was kindly invited to speak London’s prestigious Frontline Club this week, on how to make it as a freelancer in the modern age. Speaking alongside me was the inspiring Deborah Bonello, a journalist who actually has made money from her website, without using ad revenue at all.

In 2007, realising she wasn’t doing the journalism she dreamed of, she packed her bags and moved to Mexico, to carry out what she called “an experiment in digital journalism”. She set up MexicoReporter.com, a website which would be the foundation of her business. Starting life as a free wordpress blog (like this one) Deborah spent months filling it with content, covering stories all over the country.

It became hugely popular with the English speaking expats in Mexico, of which Deborah estimated there are more than a million from the USA alone.

If you ask Deborah how much she made from ad revenue, chances are the amount would be small. But if you ask her how much her website has made her: she’d answer ‘a lot’. By putting loads of free content online she had a strong portfolio to show editors when she approached them with stories. Before long she was getting commissions, and shortly after a retainer from the LA Times.

Now based in London, she’s landed a great gig with the Financial Times. In other words, her website has made her thousands.

And it’s likely she wouldn’t have had the same luck without MexicoReporter.com.

How to really make money from your website

The secret is this: your website is a vehicle for making money elsewhere, not an automatic money making machine on its own.

01. promotion: keep your website regularly updated with examples of your work. And keep producing content, even if it’s without a commission. It pays dividends when you’re offered work or a job off the back of your portfolio. Deborah’s work came because she updated MexicoReporter.com even though she had no-one to pitch to.

02. expertise: maintain a targeted, well promoted, blog which establishes you as an expert in your field. The money comes when you’re offered work because you can prove you know what you’re talking about. I have become both a lecturer and a trainer because of this blog, for example.

03. affiliate: be clever with your links. Affiliate links are dedicated hyperlinks to a product which give you a cut of the money if that product is sold. Reviewing a book, CD or anything else available on Amazon.com? Use an affiliate link to share the revenue. Many companies offer affiliate deals to bloggers.

04. sell: use your website as a vehicle to sell products, targeted around your niche. If you specialise in a certain type of journalism, or Google Analytics tells you your audience are a certain type of person, can you create an online store so they buy direct from you? Tracey Boyer has opened a store on her blog Innovative Interactivity with just that in mind, and Media Storm run a store too.

05. and yes, adverts: but you can be clever with adverts too. The UK based service Addiply created by Rick Waghorn solves some of the problems with Google Ads by offering locally targeted adverts for local based websites. Local bloggers say it’s bringing in results.

A combination of two or more of these things could bring in more money than the Google Ads cheque could. If more journalists looked beyond advertising as their sole business model, we’d move so much faster towards a financial base for the future of journalism.

Can you tell it’s conference season?

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 30, 2010

Image credit: Poulomi Basu/Digital Storytelling '10

Some card said on Twitter recently that they feared the Future of Journalism was ‘endless conferences on the Future of Journalism’.

They’re probably right, although if we can help it, the future of news will be defined with action rather than words.

Having said that I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to take part a whole host of interesting events and conferences so far this year including News Rewired in January and Digital Storytelling ’10 in March. There are some particularly good ones coming up too:

Frontline Club :: 6th April

I’ll be joining John Brazier and Anne Wollenberg at London’s Frontline Club to share my experiences of going freelance in the new digital age. It’s an event tailored just for freelancers so if you’re lucky enough to work for yourself or are thinking of giving it a go, then you’ll find it  really interesting. Click here to get tickets.

International Journalism Festival :: 19th – 25th April

I’m really excited about this one: 20,000 journalists from around the world, converging on the beautiful Italian town of Perugia. You’ll find me alongside the team from Media140 for a week of future of news chat, audio booing, qiks, slideshows and possibly even some pizza. I’ll be speaking on the Friday about the power and potential of audio slideshows, and throughout the week Claire Wardle, Ande Gregson, Christian Payne, Kate Pickering and I will be trying all sorts of multimedia nonsense to show off real time web.

Local Heroes 2010 :: 14th May

A one day conference to sort out the future for local news in the UK. It’s being held by The Press Gazette, at Kingston University, London, where I am currently Journalist-in-Residence. I’ll be speaking to news editors from across the country about “why video could be the answer for local news” and the rest of the line up looks excellent. Local journos sign up here!

If you’re going to any of these events drop me a line – it would be great to meet face-to-face!

6×6: making things happen

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 28, 2009

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

The sixth in a series of 6 blogs, each with 6 tips for the next generation of freelance multimedia journalists.

making things happen

When 900 years old you reach, pithy phrases will you come up with.

OK, so a bit of hammy self-help from Master Yoda there, but he makes a good point. We’ve looked at branding and business, and the craft skills like audio and video, but they all mean nothing in the scary and ever shifting new world of journalism if you’re not prepared to do something with it.

If you’re trying to get your first job particularly, or going freelance especially, you have to be able to make things happen for yourself. This final post has little to do with journalism, but might be the difference between getting your vital first commission and spending your day in the company of Jeremy Kyle crying into your supernoodles.

01. have goals – big ones

We’ve all got goals, right? Clear that debt, get that promotion, get that payrise.

But what about dreams? They’re the goals which set your sex on fire. They get your heart racing with excitement and have you muttering to yourself ‘that would be awesome…but I could never do that’. It’s the novel you’ve had in the back of your mind to write one day, the photo essay you’d love to go and make in Chad, the media start-up you’d love to get going…

Point is, dismiss them as you may, big goals are what really get us going; once we’re on the track to doing them, they get us out of bed in the morning.

Life Coach Jeff Archer says choosing big goals is vital: “Creating a future that excites you is of vital importance. If your future doesn’t excite you, then why go to all the time and trouble of making things happen?”

And Lindsey Agness at the Change Corporation agrees the goals must be “compelling”. She also says they must be all of the following:

  • Specific: “clearly define what you are going to do
  • Measurable: “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”
  • Achievable: “they should be within the bounds of possibility for you”
  • Realistic: “set the bar high enough to find out what you are capable of, but not so high you get frustrated”
  • Timed: “set a clear time frame for the goal”

So in practice this means avoiding goals like: “I will get a couple of articles published before Christmas” and instead going with “I will pitch 2 written articles and one photo-essay every month”.

02. write things down

Things start happening when you write them down. Apparently this has been proved by researchers at Harvard, who split a graduate class into those that had written down their plans for the future and those that hadn’t. And revisiting them 10 years later, the ones who had achieved what they wanted were those who put a pen to paper.

Mechanically, writing down ideas, dreams, plans on paper gets your mental juices flowing. You start to visualise what it might look and feel like to achieve them. And then you start doodling how to get there. The next thing you know you’ve got a list of steps to take to get you on your way.

And other people recommend keeping a journal, if you don’t already. Back to Jeff Archer: “Once you make yourself consciously aware of the highs and lows of each day you decide specifically what changes you’d like to make to make sure you can increase the positive and decrease the negative.”

On a practical level it means a quick post-mortem of your day or week and it keeps you focused on why you set out to do this all anyway.

03. visualise the process – and the result

Rehearse doing things and rehearse them going well.

The first part is as simple as going through the things you need to do (not plan) the next day: the phone calls you need to make, the film you need to edit, the blog you need to write; picture yourself in your head, sitting down at your desk making those things happen. Alternatively you can write down the steps and describe what it’s like to carry them out. Rehearsing those steps makes them easier to do the next day.

The second part is all about visualising success. Athlete’s vividly visualise winning the 100m sprint until they can almost taste the sweat and feel the flag in their hands. Career coach Jonathan Fields, who’s written Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love says this part is very important in overcoming any self-doubt:

Repeatedly visualising a deeply sought after goal, seeing, feeling, hearing yourself accomplish this goal, over and over, has a profound effect. It conditions you slowly away from self-doubt and disbelief and moves you increasingly towards belief.

04. the Dr Pepper test

This is asking yourself the question: what’s the worst that can happen? Taking the plunge, quitting your job, starting a company, even cold-calling some editors they’re all scary obstacles. If you’ve thought about going freelance, or retraining, no-doubt you’ve thought quite hard about failing:

  • running out of money
  • not getting a job interview
  • not getting any commissions
  • getting kicked out of your flat
  • defaulting on your mortage
  • giving up

These are the classic scenarios played out by a part of our mentality the NLP lot call the “limiting mind”. It’s the voice in your head which says “naahh, that’s too difficult“, “it’ll never work” “you? a novelist? give over“. Sadly for many people the limiting mind wins and we talk ourselves out of doing something risky.

How to overcome it? The answer, suggests Jonathan Fields, is to visualise and quantify failure – but only once. Sit down and write out exactly how failure would happen – if the worst came to the worst how long would you keep going? What would happen when you ran out of money? Where would you go?

You should (hopefully) realise that in fact you will always have a place to stay, you can always get another job, and failure isn’t that bad at all. When you stop being afraid of failing, you are unstoppable.

And accept: you will fail. So fail fast, and learn from it.

05. get messy

Right to business. If there’s one thing I’ve learned the best thing you can do to get started is…to get started. Sounds stupid I know, but my idea of ‘getting started’ was writing lots of to-do lists, creating a financial spreadsheet, reading books on freelancing. Surprise, surprise, nothing happened.

Then I realised I needed to start doing stuff. Ready or not, start contacting editors, start filming, start editing, start writing. Go out there, and do it now! The sooner you start doing things the sooner you get results. And the sooner you fail, so you can get over it.

Too many of us spend time being the proverbial think-tank, when we should be a do-tank.

06. don’t give up

And for the love of God don’t give up. This is going to be really hard, but as Corey Tennis pointed out it is supposed to be. Being hard done by is what makes us great writers. Pursuing this new world of multimedia journalism – which is right in its infant stages – means an uncertain future.

But any more uncertain than full time jobs and pensions? The recession has dispelled that myth.

When times get tough, read this inspirational piece of gold by freelance writer Tumblenoose:

Do not give up. Don’t you dare. You’re going to want to. You’re going to think that the security of a paycheck every two weeks is really worth the trade off for working for someone else. Don’t do it, you hear?

Remember your dream. Remember your bright-eyed, take the world by storm vision that sent you down the path. Yes, the journey is hard. Yes, you will be discouraged when you feel like nothing is happening, like you aren’t moving forward.  Hold your nose and stick through those tough times. Keep working your plan. Keep putting yourself out there. Keep making the connections. Keep building your community.  Do      not     give     up.

The final word

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our  faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.

Helen Keller

The full 6×6 series is available here!

6×6: business

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 24, 2009

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

The fourth in a series of 6 blogs, each with 6 tips for the next generation of freelance multimedia journalists.

business

While the news industry is still in an uncertain and uncomfortable state of flux, one certainty has already emerged: journalists can no-longer just be journalists – they must be entrepreneurs too. It’s the difference between the ‘passive’ freelancer who writes to a few editors and waits for the work to come to them, and the ‘active’ freelancer who run themselves as a mini-business.

Until J-schools start adding business skills to the curriculum this will be something we’re all going to have to teach ourselves.

01. diversify

If you went into journalism to become a TV news reporter, and just a TV news reporter, the sad news is those days are over. As are the days of being paid to stay in nice hotels in foreign lands drinking cocktails.

In order to maximise your income, you will need to diversify your skills base. That means selling a range of skills and service, and not just journalism related ones. I know radio journalists who have a nice sideline designing websites, video journalists who run training courses, and photojournalists who work for non-profits.

Training can often be the most lucrative of these – but only consider this if you really know what you’re doing!

Diversify too in your client base. Pity the news-snob who just pitches to the New York Times and The Guardian! The digital revolution means there are more online-only news outfits, but they can be easier to pitch to.

Freelance science journalist Angela Saini offered me this advice recently: “I think it’s almost impossible to survive right now unless you freelance in more than one medium – so as well as doing VJ work, you may have to do radio and print too.”

If you’re a radio journalist you won’t survive as a just a radio journalist. Pitch for video, online, print…everything! Profiling multimedia journalist Jason Motlagh, David Westphal notes:

Motlagh doesn’t just write stories. He shoots still photos. He shoots and edits video. He does audio. He blogs. He narrates slide shows. And because he does all of those things, he says, he has a huge advantage over free-lance foreign correspondents working in a single medium.

Having multiple media skills is “still unusual,” he said. “There aren’t a whole lot of people yet who have gotten up to speed. If you are, you can make clients an offer they can’t refuse.”

02. find new markets

The entrepreneur, although a business profession, requires a lot of creativity. Just ask Richard Branson. From what I’ve gauged you have to be constantly brainstorming new markets and potential clients. And thinking outside the box reaps rewards.

Career evangelist and author of the popular new book Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love Jonathan Fields explores how to sidestep traditional career paths to forge your own unique way. He talks about “moving beyond the mainstream” and finding new markets in 6 different places:

  1. finding a hungrier market
  2. finding the most lucrative micro-markets
  3. exploiting gaps in information
  4. exploiting gaps in education
  5. exploiting gaps in gear or merchandise
  6. exploiting gaps in community

The first two are about digging deeper into the industry and possibly connecting two unrelated ones. A great example comes from a friend of mine, film maker Oliver Harrison. He loves cooking, and loves making films but couldn’t find a way to make any money out of either. After a lot of searching, he and business partner Simon Horniblow started talking to universities – and combined the two. They now run studentcooking.tv a very successful online cookery website for students. Would you think to do that? Think outside the box!

To Jonathan Fields:

“In thinking about potential alternative markets, or trying to find smaller, more lucrative submarkets, think about fields, careers, jobs, or paths where the elements of what you love to do are valued, but in short supply. You are looking for a market where your passion leads to: differentiation, hunger [and] price availability.”

Be practical and realistic though: is there really a demand for your new idea?

Here’s 3 examples of journalists who digged a bit deeper to find new markets:

Weyo found a new market in non-profits looking for quality storytelling

Weyo found a new market in non-profits looking for quality storytelling

Journalist Martin Lewis exploited a gap in the market for impartial financial advice

Journalist Martin Lewis exploited a gap in the market for impartial financial advice

Duckrabbit ex[ploited a gap in education and produce training courses in photography and audio design

Duckrabbit exploited a gap in education and produce training courses in photography and audio design

03. bootstrapping

Bootstrapping means starting your freelance business with little or no cash. It means learning how to get things done for free – and most valuable of all – learning to be careful with money.

The great news is you don’t need any money to start out and market yourself. A website domain name will cost you a small amount. But social media means you can market your talents absolutely free (see the previous 6×6 on branding).

Josh Quittner, writing in Time Magazine uses the term LILO – to mean ‘a little in, a lot out’: “At no other time in recent history has it been easier or cheaper to start a new kind of company. Possibly a very profitable company” he says. “[bootstrapping] means your start-up is self-sustaining and can eke out enough profit to keep you alive on instant noodles while your business gains traction.”

If this recession has taught us anything, it’s that the best business is built from the bottom up, on the funds available (not borrowed).

04. dealing with inflexible income

The biggest fear of starting a freelance career is money. Oh, and failure. ‘What if I don’t get any business?’ ‘How will I be sure I’ll always pay the rent?’ Truth is you won’t ever be sure, but that’s part of the thrill, right?

Still there are some things you can do to make the ebb and flow of freelance income a little more stable.

A good tip is to open up a separate bank account for your business earnings. Get Rich Slowly offers this advice: “Every month as you earn income, receive it (and leave it) in your business account. This is where you accumulate your cash. Because it’s in a high-yield account, it earns interest as it waits for you to use it.”

They recommend paying yourself a monthly salary from that business accountand leaving the rest for tax and other investments. The worst thing is to use the profits from a bumper month to pay for a bumper holiday, only to return to slim pickings.

But the best advice for living on an irregular income? Learn to live lite. Cut back on unnecessary spending wherever you can. Back to David Westphal profiling Jason Motlagh: “He lives modestly and accepts that there may be periods in his work where he’ll have to do something besides journalism to pay the bills.”

05. find your creative time

Sure, for some freelancers the appeal of being your own boss is getting up at 10, watching some TV, doing some work, heading out on a night out without the guilt…and that might work for some. But the creative entrepreneur’s life is most likely to be a different one.

Just ask Mark McGuinness. He coaches creative freelancers and says for the successful ones, it ain’t no bohemian life:

After scanning my diary and surveying the tasks in hand, I was faced with a depressing conclusion. I was going to have to get up early.

He’s up at 6 in the morning, every morning, getting the crap out the way, like emails and the like.  He then says he has several hours free to work solidly on creative tasks, before the rest of the world gets up and the phone starts ringing. Know when you are at your creative best and ring fence it, so you can’t get disturbed. It might be 6am, it might be midnight. Whatever, just make sure it’s protected.

…when I look back over the last couple of years, the time when I’ve created most value, for myself and my clients, has been those first hours of the day I’ve spent writing blog posts, essays, seminars and poems. It’s the creative wellspring that feeds into all the coaching, training, presenting and consulting I do when I’m face-to-face with clients.

Treat it like a full time job too. If you can, work somewhere where you can commute to, or have some ringfenced office space at home. I recommend Mark’s excellent (and free) ebook “Time Management for Creative People“.

06. be lean, but don’t be mean

If you’re dreaming of going freelance, you might be thinking about holding off until after the recession. No need, says Leo Babauta 0f Zenhabits fame:

This is the best time to start. This is a time when job security is low, so risks are actually lower. This is a time to be lean, which is the best idea for starting a business. This is the time when others are quitting — so you’ll have more room to succeed.

And with social media and networking taking off, this is the easiest time to start a business, the easiest time to spread the word, the easiest time to distribute information and products and services.

Starting now though won’t be easy – and you’ll need to be lean. But that is such an important skill to keep things afloat later on. Be sensible with your money, don’t overspend. It’s the thing the big companies can’t do, and the reason they lose money hand over fist. And don’t be mean: journalism is a small village – make friends and keep ’em!

The final word:

Journalism.co.uk offer some great practical advice for freelancers, which cover things like registering as self-employed, pitching for new work and managing finances. And if you’re still unsure of taking the entrepreneurial route, just watch this:

Next: audio for multimedia journalist!