There are plenty of reasons why you might be working part-time in another job while you try to break into journalism. And you may well despise the reality of it all.
Maybe you’ve come to journalism later in life, maybe you’re outside London and there aren’t a wealth of gigs for you to chase down, or maybe you just have to put up with your soul slipping away each day just to pay your bills.
I spent a year and a half slowly dislodging myself from a full-time job in retail to full-time freelancing, and learnt some useful tips and tricks the hard way. So, here are a few things you should bear in mind if you too are trying to juggle a part-time job and potential long-term career.
Consider Your Financial Relationship With Your Part-Time Job
Let’s get this out of the way first, you need money. Whether it’s for rent, bills, or occasional pints, life is going to be pretty miserable without it.
If you’re just starting out, you might be weighing up the benefits of working at a news outlet for free to get your foot in the door, but, wherever you fall on that debate, it isn’t going to pay the bills. And, what’s more, as a freelancer, money is always going to be problematic.
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In short, payments can be irregular, need a lot of chasing, and low. And it might sound obvious, but a part-time job outside journalism means you’re guaranteed some regular cash. Sure, it might not be your dream gig, but think about your part-time job as a way of buying time to spend on journalism.
If there’s overtime going, take it when you can. Staying behind an extra two hours might make you want to pull your teeth out, but it’s two hours you’ve bought yourself to work on journalism without feeling guilty that you’re not yet making money.
And, at the risk of sounding like a nagging parent, think about ways of tightening your belt and squeezing every last penny out of your wages. Quite simply, the smaller your outgoings are, the more time you spend on journalism.
You’d be surprised how much you can save in a month just from small things like cutting out meal deals or after work drinks, but take the time to think about what works for you. It can suck, especially if, like me, you have very little self-control, but tweaking the right things will make a massive difference.
It’s worth saying here that you shouldn’t try to cut everything out – you’ll be miserable and loose motivation. But finding a few easy tweaks will certainly help to ease the strain and financial pressure of moving into journalism.
For me, I opted out of my workplace pension. It saved me £30 a month and it psychologically broke me off the company I was working with. I can’t in good faith suggest you do the same (you are stealing from your future self, after all), but I would urge to think carefully about your money, where it comes from, and how you can get the most out of it.
Think Of Work Relationships As A Training Ground
Money aside, if your heart isn’t in a job, it can be tough to be friendly when you’re not happy – and it’s hard to be happy if you have to do something you hate. But the worst thing you can do is take it out on the people you’re working with.
Your situation isn’t their fault, and they’ll all have their own reasons for working there too. Some of them may love it, some of them may also hate it, but either way, you’re all here for now.
Even putting aside decency, getting on with your colleagues and bosses is important in other ways. If people get on with you, they’re much more like to help and support you. You might, for example, be able to arrange cover because you want to write a piece with a quick turnaround, or you might just need someone to moan about your unpaid invoices too.
Freelancing can be lonely and having real world people to talk to on a regular basis is healthy, and heaven forbid, you might even start finding your job fun. Even when you’re working with people you genuinely don’t like, it’s good training. As a journalist you’ll often be talking to people you may well disagree with.
And finally, it may sound obvious, but you don’t want to get fired. I would even be as bold to suggest trying to be good at your job. Be invaluable. You’re going to want to be in good standings if you want to make a change.
At the last customer service role I had before jumping into the darkness of full-time freelancing, I was able to drop from my 37.5 hours a week to 30, then to 22.5 – simply because I was liked by my managers and co-workers.
I was even able to ask for a small raise by pointing out the additional work I was already doing – something which would never have happened had I not put genuine effort into the role and helped to carve out more time for journalism.
Conversations about money and time aren’t easy, but if you’re a good employee you stand a much better chance. When your heart isn’t in it, it’s tough, but remember that you’re doing this for the money, and anything that gets you more money is worth the effort.
And, remember that you can’t do two jobs at once. You might be eager to hear back from editors, but separate your time so you can do both things well. Check your emails before work, at lunchtime, and when you finish. And that’s it. I mean it.
The People You Work With Are Contacts And Sources
Spotting opportunities is part and parcel of journalism. You’ve got to see a potential story or contact and hustle. I promise no one else will do this for you. Even if you hit the jackpot with one article, it isn’t going to keep you in journalistic stardom if you’re not grafting for it. And your part-time colleagues can help.
The people you work with are contacts and sources. Once you’re publishing regularly you might be able to dig stories out of strangers, but journalism is often about who you know. And I don’t mean being part of the upper class boys club, more using your contact with real people to see the stories that actually matter.
Struggling to get the stories because you feel like you have no contacts? Aubrey Allegretti of Sky News explains how you can land all the stories, even if you’re new to your patch.
Don’t mistake this to mean that you can just ask your mates what they think about any old rubbish – they still need to have some connection to the story you want to write. A while back I did a piece about a collectible card game and spoke to a colleague who officiated tournaments. Yes, I knew them personally, but that doesn’t devalue his opinions.
See the people around you as experts and ask yourself what they have to say that would be interesting. Let’s say you work in a shop. Ask your manager about the effect of Brexit on trade, crime in the local area, or the four-day week proposal. Even if you know what they’re going to say, their position validates it.
The chances are your shifts will be unusual as you move further into part-time, with days off in the middle of the week or picking up the night shift. You might feel like you’re keeping different hours from the rest of the society but that’s OK – and it gives you the chance to connect with people whose stories aren’t often told.
It might feel like you’re missing out when you’re behind the bar on Friday night have Wednesday morning off, but use the distraction-free time to work and write. Try to imagine it as an isolated time where you’re shutting off the outside world. It’ll make you feel more productive and help develop a schedule and routine.
Talk To The People Who Matter About Your Plans
This may seem obvious, but if you’re in a relationship which involves any type of financial dependence, talk to that person. As I was making my transition to freelancing full-time, it became clear that my regular income was going to drop for a while.
Even after saving and picking up some infrequent work, I was still going to be out of pocket by something like £120 a month. That’s a lot when you don’t have much, and it was crucial to chat to my wife about it.
She understood that to progress I was making sacrifices and supported my decision. She thought of that shortfall as 60 quid each, which was only 15 quid a week each, which is just a couple of glasses of wine when you break it down like that.
There were a few difficult decisions leading up to that point, and I’m lucky, but what I’m trying to say is know the limits of the pressure you put on others, and be honest and open about your plans in advance.
Your family and friends will be your biggest support network. Heck, they’ll probably call you a journalist before you even realise you are. You should listen to them, even if you still think of yourself as a bartender or shop assistant. Learn how to accept their praise and start thinking of yourself that way.
It is always stressful trying to do two jobs and once, and you can easily fall into a trap of hating the part-time gig while thinking you’re not good enough for the job you want. Be kind to yourself and make sure you take breaks too or you’ll lose the bigger picture. If you need a day of just watching telly to de-stress, just watch telly.
More than anything remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. You need time to develop your skills and contacts as well as making the small changes which will get you where you want to be. Value your progress, but don’t covet it.
And remember, you are a journalist with a side job just to cover the bills. And there is no shame in that.