One day three years ago, I received a LinkedIn message from the alumni magazine editor of the graduate school I attended and had graduated from just the previous year. She had stumbled upon an article I had written for the National Journal (now The Atlantic) and wanted to know two things: if she could republish the article in the revamped alumni magazine and if I’d be interested in writing for the new interactive digital alumni magazine.
Completely elated about and interested in this opportunity, I promptly accepted the invitation. In this case study, I will discuss how writing for publications distributed by your alma mater may prove as a viable method of earning freelance income, the importance of contracts and maintaining a decent, ongoing relationship with the editor.
Viable Source of Income Writing About Compelling Topics
Writing for your former college or university alumni magazine can be a worthwhile opportunity in building your freelance portfolio and making extra income because as a graduate of the institution, you are already connected to it in ways that non-graduates are not. Therefore, you can capitalize on the chance to not only write for the publication(s), but also to pitch feasible story ideas so you can write on the topics you most care about and will enjoy.
After years of trying to break into the freelance industry often doing pro bono work or work for meager pay, I was delighted at the prospect of working from home, interviewing accomplished fellow alumni, and then composing interesting feature stories for the magazine, all while getting featly compensated for it. My writing dreams were finally manifesting in profitable ways!
I have interviewed professors, students, and alumni- people all connected to the university- on themes related to human trafficking, the TV industry, national and international volunteerism and worldwide campus growth. So far I have earned $2000 from such gigs [with no plans of stopping], working anywhere in the world, hence the beauty of freelancing.
Never Underestimate the Power of a Contract
When I agreed to work as an independent contractor for the university magazine, a contract was never established between the editor and me. Unfortunately, the thought never entered my mind. I accepted her word at face value that I would be paid $500 per article equaling $1000 for the first gig because I agreed to write two articles. Things became problematic compensation-wise once I had completed the work on deadline and submitted the invoice for payment. Weeks and months elapsed, the magazine was published, and I still hadn’t received my payment.
Upon asking about the delay in receiving payment, the editor explained something to the effect that the payroll department was undergoing a system overhaul and that it would take longer than usual. At this point, I was incredulous of this explanation and wondered if my freelance colleagues had gotten their payment but did not attempt to ask them. Long story short, after two months of waiting patiently for the check with no results, I contacted the University President via LinkedIn about the issue. Once notified, she took immediate action on my behalf and then assured me of the resolved issue. Thanks to her efforts, I obtained payment within 7-14 days.
As a freelance writer, it is essential to know the terms and conditions of the project for which you’ve been hired by the client. A verbal agreement usually does not suffice for this, especially if you’ve never worked for the client before, let alone met him or her. Make sure you have a contract drafted stating the stipulations of the work involved, including compensation, deadlines and any other pertinent information. Then sign and date it only after the client has done so first.
Maintain Professionalism to Sustain Continuous Work
Now that a new editor has been employed (for reasons I know nothing about), we have been in contact. She quickly displayed her professionalism by sending me a complete contract with the details of the writing project. I could not wait to build a working relationship together, glad to connect with another professional. Once I completed the assignment and e-mailed the invoice, I promptly received payment within a month via direct deposit. This was success!
Forward thinking about the next issue, I decided to pitch a story idea to the editor based on my fond journey as a US Peace Corps volunteer, and that initial pitch looks something like this:
Dear (Editor’s Name),
Thinking ahead to the next issue, I wanted to propose a story idea related to volunteerism and service. We could locate and interview alumni who have served or are serving in the Peace Corps with a broader theme of paying it forward, gathering information on their unique service experiences, career paths following service and how they were led to serve in the first place. Do you think this would be a workable article?
Fortunately, my idea was approved and expanded to include AmeriCorps volunteers, all connected to the thread of national/global service and volunteerism. Having a direct link to the topic inspired me to pitch a story idea that turned into a feature story for the magazine. Use your own personal/professional life experiences as fodder for potential writing material that will assuage the editor’s workload because, as we all know, editors are really busy people.
To sum up, I look forward to sustaining this gig for as long as possible and would like to encourage readers to consider this option. You have nothing to lose and lucrative income, exposure and intrinsic fulfillment to gain!
P.S. Ensure your LinkedIn profile is thoroughly completed, active, and visible to potential clients as you never know what leads it may generate for your freelancing business.
Charles McKinney is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Macedonia teaching English in a rural village school. He writes for various online/offline publications and is working on an e-book about his Peace Corps adventure while preparing for a new stint in Eastern Africa. He can be reached via LinkedIn.