We often think of journalism conferences only as places to network and learn. But with a long list of such events lined up for the rest of the year, now is a great time for freelancers to think beyond journalism conferences and consider using conferences of all types to actually make money.
Over the course of just a few days, enterprising freelancers can earn up to a few thousand dollars, especially if they live in a conference mecca like Las Vegas or Miami.
In fact, Las Vegas-based freelance writer JoAnna Haugen includes her work as a “conference correspondent” on her website and LinkedIn profile so editors or contacts at trade organizations who need a local contributor can easily find her.
“I’m in a lucky place because we have conventions and meetings all the time,” she said. And several editors who initially hired her for conference coverage later offered her other writing and editing opportunities.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at several ways for freelancers to cash in on conferences they want to attend.
1. Writing about panels
Trade magazine editors who want conference coverage but can’t attend themselves often turn to freelancers. Several years ago, freelance writer Marcia Layton Turner contributed regularly to a trade magazine, Specialty Retail Report, that needed coverage of SPREE, the industry conference it sponsored in Boston, and the magazine paid her travel expenses so she could write about it. After attending several sessions and roaming the floor talking to attendees, she wrote a how-to piece based on one of the classes she attended, profiled a company, and penned an overview of the conference experience for readers who couldn’t attend themselves.
2. Selling multimedia
Depending on the client’s needs, Haugen sometimes negotiates additional rates for photography that runs alongside her articles as part of her conference coverage. Attending conferences with press credentials means she’s never been questioned about toting around her camera or snapping photos of speakers or trade show booths. While she hasn’t yet taken audio or video at a conference, those formats—particularly video—hold plenty of appeal for digital editors.
3. Posting social media updates
For clients who want social media feeds to contain frequent updates from the conference, Haugen negotiates a set number of tweets per day (as many as 10, in one case) as part of her fee. In one case, rather than tweeting directly on behalf of the publication, Haugen texted the copy to her editor at ConventionSouth so she could review the tweets first, tweak the copy, and add appropriate hashtags before posting.
4. Pitching stories inspired by speakers or topics
In addition to the usual panel recaps, conferences or trade shows can be a treasure trove of new ideas, so always keep an eye out for interesting businesses to profile or broader trends to analyze. Attending the specialty retailer conference in Boston inspired Turner to pitch an article to Entrepreneur about alternatives to the traditional storefront such as carts and kiosks, which turned out to be the first of many more articles she wrote for the magazine.
5. Setting up other meetings
If you’re traveling to another city for a conference, try to schedule additional meetings during your stay. While in Boston for the specialty retailer conference, Turner met with a book agent and wound up landing a book contract. “I probably wouldn’t have gone to Boston just to meet with the agent, but since I was already going and all my expenses were paid, I thought about how to maximize that trip,” she explained.
And in the three years I’ve attended conferences for the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) in New York City, I’ve always tried to meet face to face with my editors, which often this leads to additional assignments. I like to meet with editors attending ASJA conferences, but since they’re often inundated with pitches, reaching out to others not in attendance can be more fruitful.
Haugen recommends pitching yourself as a conference correspondent to editors you’re already working with or hope to work with. Some may have a travel budget, but it’s even easier to get work if they’re only paying your fees for writing or multimedia.
As many journalists know, conferences are good for learning and networking, but if you take a proactive approach, there’s no reason you can’t make some money off of them as well.