By Grace Szucs

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Sandra Phinney speaks at the info session. Photo by Don Genova

With legacy media crumbling and a scarcity of full-time writing jobs, keeping a freelance lifestyle means looking in the nooks and crannies of your own backyard.

Sandra Phinney, freelance writer and photographer based in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, is a travel writer at heart, but has had to get creative to survive.

“I do a lot of it, but I could never earn my living as a travel writer,” she said at an info session hosted by CMG Freelance and CWA Canada at the Dalhousie University Club in Halifax last week.

Diversify

In her past life as a farmer, Phinney learned that the more diversified her crops were, the more she was able to sell. The same applies to writing, she says.

In her early years, she teamed up with videographer, Don Parnell, to create a “one-stop-shop” called Parnell-Phinney Productions. Made up of a team of local on-call skilled media workers including voiceover artists, designers, photographers, translators, and an editor, the company was able to provide everything from newsletters to ad placements. They worked on:

  • Videos
  • Brochures, pamphlets, promo material
  • Backgrounders and profiles
  • Web content
  • Interpretive and historical signage
  • Books and booklets
  • Posters
  • Advertisements
  • Trade articles
  • Fact sheets
  • Logos
  • Guides: Parks, restaurants, etc.

Parnell-Phinney Productions chased NGOs, private agencies, provincial and federal departments, local businesses and large corporations in need of communications material in their area—and succeeded.

This kind of work is admittedly not the same as writing about your adventures in Africa. “If I’m writing a magazine story, I write for the reader,” says Phinney. “This kind of work, you’re for hire and you are writing, you are performing, you are doing what your client wants you to do and it’s quite, quite different.”

Connect

Finding the work is the hard part, Phinney says. She started out spending 80 percent of her time looking for work and only 20 percent working. Today, those numbers have reversed, and networking and making connections has been the key.

Have a business card and an elevator pitch ready, she says. Go to trade shows and meet as many people as you can, especially speakers and heads of committees. Let them know who you are and what services you can provide for them. You want them to think of you if they or someone they know needs a writer for a job.

“I think the potential is limitless, I really do,” says Phinney. “There’s a lot of work out there, but we have to create it; we are the entrepreneurs.”

Say yes to any opportunity, she advises. Join your chamber of commerce or other professional organizations. Volunteer on committees and with groups, and serve on boards like PWAC and TMAC. The time you invest pays dividends in connections and job opportunities.

More hidden markets

Another huge market is in trade publications, Phinney says. These are widely distributed, specialized magazines for industry. You can be certain there is one for every one of your interests. There are trade magazines for doctors, nurses, hairdressers, baristas, gardeners, lawyers, and more.

Also, consider teaching. Phinney teaches workshops on memoir, corporate writing and travel writing. At $150 per person, workshops are one of the most lucrative parts of her business.

“If you leave with nothing else today,” she says, “it’s set yourself some goals. What do I want to do? And how will I do it?”

 

Grace Szucs is a writer and editor living in Halifax, NS. Find her portfolio at graceszucs.com.

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