In the spring of 2015, Eve Barlow packed her life into suitcases.
She’d had enough of working for someone else. From that day forward, she was going to stand on her own two feet, and focus on projects she was genuinely passionate about. So, she left her job at one of the UK’s most respected music magazines and boarded a one-way flight to LA.
It was a huge step – but having visited the city several times before, she knew there was only one place she wanted be to start her new life.
“The idea of being a freelance music journalist in the City of Angels just seemed like a no-brainer,” she explains. “So a one-way ticket was purchased. I flew by the seat of my pants, and it’s worked out nicely so far.”
She adds: “Working in the NME office was one of the best rollercoaster rides of my 20s and I wouldn’t change the experience for anything. But it’s a challenge to be Deputy Editor of a weekly magazine and also have time to write.”
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Since she moved to LA, Eve has the freedom to choose exactly which projects she wants to work on. So we reached out to her to ask what advice she had for aspiring freelancers thinking about going it alone.
“You are your name, and only you can hold yourself up to the quality you’re aspiring to maintain,” she explains. “You’re only as good as the last piece you wrote. That’s a good and bad thing.”
When asked what advice she’d give a young writer trying to get their first paid freelance gig, she says: “Know what you’re good and passionate about covering, make sure you know more than anyone else about that thing, and pitch at the relevant title in a manner that’s going to excite them.”
“Whether it’s unparalleled access, a unique argument or something yet-to-be-discovered, make sure there’s something about your pitch that nobody else could offer,” she adds. “Also, put the time into forging relationships with your editors and people who are going to be able to help you get the stories you need in your field.”
She recalls a recent interview she conducted with a band in the public eye who’d been caught up in an international news story. After it was published, one of the world’s biggest news outlets wanted her to reveal further details she had ‘off the record’ – an offer she ultimately refused.
“You must always remember that your intellectual property is what you’re selling to people and have ownership over,” she explains. “It can be incredibly valuable if it could further a story that’s currently got heat, and if you’re working with the right editorial team they will understand and respect the part you have to play in that.”
Eve’s Los Feliz apartment complex is the sort of setup many young writers can only dream of. But the beauty of working for yourself is that you can put down roots wherever you choose – whether that’s a sprawling American metropolis, or out in the depths of the Myanmar jungle.
“I’ve just come back from a visit to one of the remotest regions of Burma,” says Joshua Carroll, a freelance writer living in Southeast Asia. “A freelance friend and I went with no commission, figuring we’d find stories while there and make a profit on the trip. We were right and it was an amazing experience.”
Travelling by motorbike along precarious mountain ridges, Josh stayed the night at a remote village which gets its water from a brook that trickles into peoples’ homes via a system of elevated pipes made from carved tree trunks.
“The houses cling to the mountainside on stilts, and there is a football pitch on a plateau ringed by distant blue mountain ridges,” he says. “We went there to interview two hunters who were returning their gun licenses in a gesture of solidarity with the depleted wild animal population. I got paid to do that!”
Although Josh has no formal journalistic training, his natural flare for spotting a good story has proved to be all he needed to succeed as a freelancer. He purchased a one-way ticket to Myanmar in 2014, and he’s never looked back.
“For me, not having a boss and motivating myself is the biggest challenge,” he says. “If I don’t pitch, I don’t work and I run low on money pretty quickly. It can be tough to get out of a dry spell.”
“If you haven’t done something you’re proud of for a while, your confidence starts to flag, and that means it’s less likely there’ll be ideas bouncing around in your head – so it can be a bit cyclical at times,” he adds. “Thinking financially helps. If you set a goal of making £X every month, it helps you work in a more disciplined way.”
Speaking about the best way to land your first paid work when you’re just starting out as a freelancer Josh says, for him, the key was simply to enter as many competitions as possible.
“The student journalism award I won led to a string of paid work,” he explains. “Winning stuff is also good for self-esteem, which is vital for keeping motivated – especially in the early stages when you’re likely to face a lot of rejection.”
Josh stressed that to make it as a freelancer, you need to learn to respond to rejection the right way – a sentiment echoed by UK-based investigative journalist Joe Sandler Clarke.
“Research the publication and editor you’re pitching to, before getting in contact. Treat a story pitch like a job interview,” he says. “The most important thing, more important than writing ability and story getting, is to meet your deadlines, be professional and work hard.
“Editors will respect you and ask for you to do more if you’re reliable and capable, more than they will if you’re flakey and brilliant.”
Securing regular commissions is one of the toughest problems all freelancers face, whether you’re a writer living in a remote Asian jungle, or a plumber working in South London.
That’s where Bark comes in. If you’re a skilled professional working in the UK, we’ll find you customers in your area who need your services – whatever industry you work in.
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