How to make the most of your freelance shift

Freelancing is often about freedom. The ability to pick and choose your clients, to move on when the mood takes you and to choose when you work. Freedom can also be about security and sometimes that means having a contract gig or regular shift work. I’ve been freelance for 12 years but when I’m happy somewhere, I actually like to get comfortable for as long as the arrangement suits. Sometimes that’s a couple of shifts a month, or a day a week. I once popped into a national newspaper for a couple of weeks while candidates were being interviewed for a role. I ended up staying for six months.

Not every freelance shift or contract will lead to a more solid position (and you may not always want it to) but I’ve learnt a few things about building on relationships in short periods of time so one-off clients turn into regulars. Here’s how to make the most out of your freelance shifts.

Do the job you’re hired to do

Shift work isn’t always exciting (although it certainly can be). Of course you want to be writing huge features and you have a head bubbling with cover story ideas, but you need to focus on the job you’re being paid to do. There’s little opportunity to do your own thing. What’s important during most editorial shifts is “speed, precision and fitting comfortably into the house style” says Josiah Mortimer, editor at Left Foot Forward. You need to be reliable and accurate. The more consistent you are, the more likely you are to get regular work. Sometimes it really is that simple.

Be a part of the team

Anya Meyerowitz’s role on the digital team at Red magazine was initially to cover a team reshuffle. She’s still on the team two years after she first started. “From my very first shift I approached the job as if it were my full-time gig. I attended all the meetings, contributed wherever I could and was active in offering to help. I made sure not to wait until I was asked to do something, if I overheard a conversation about a piece or a project I'd offer to get involved. I think by behaving as if I was part of the team I was accepted as part of the team in a way that is sometimes difficult when you're just 'popping in' for a bit of desk cover.”

Go to meetings


My first editor at The Times always made me go to the daily editorial meetings. I realised that it was partly so he didn’t have to go, but also because he knew that it was the easiest way to get to know other people in the office. It made me feel like I was part of the editorial team even though I only worked one day a week. I made connections in those meetings that really helped in the early stages of my career. Go to all of the meetings you can, especially the ones that make you nervous. And speak up.

Make the most of lunch


You might only have a couple of days as your window of opportunity, but you should always ask your editor for coffee or lunch before your stint finishes. Even standing in the sandwich queue at Pret can be an opportunity to sound someone out about potential opportunities. Don’t wait until your last day, you’ll miss your chance.

Pitch while you’re in the building


You should definitely focus on your role during your shift hours, but pitching other ideas to your editor while you’re still in the building is a really good way to build on your working relationship. It shows your potential and initiative, and you’re more likely to get feedback on your ideas.

Introduce yourself to other editors


It’s totally cool to email an editor four desks over if your beats will cross (and it’s one benefit to cc’ed emails). Say hello! Meet new people in the kitchen for a cup of tea! And make sure you pay attention when someone says “you should introduce yourself to…” and actually follow up with them.

Tell people you’re available


Editors will assume that you’re busy. Tell them if you’re keen to work past the end of your stint. “I was explicit about really enjoying the job and being keen for it to turn into something more long-term if there was the opportunity.” Says Anya. “Lots of employers think that freelancers want to 'be free' and so don't necessarily approach the arrangement thinking long-term, that doesn't mean that there isn't scope for it to be, though!'” If you want temporary work to turn into a more permanent arrangement, sometimes all you have to do is ask.

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