How journalists can get a better bang for their buck

Caroline Harrap
Jun 16, 2020 · 4 min read
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Managing money is something that many journalists tend to ignore (Photo: Pixabay, Pexels)

As well as offering moral support for our 500-strong community, the Society of Freelance Journalists (SFJ) aims to provide practical, useful advice that makes our members’ lives just that little bit easier. With this in mind, we were delighted to host our inaugural event recently — a live Q&A about personal finance for our sector.

Crunching numbers, sorting spreadsheets and managing money is a can that many journalists kick down the road. However, in these challenging times for publishing, it has perhaps never been more important. Suffice to say, we were blown away by the engagement and response of our community, who were keen to pick up some pro tips and advice.

Breaking the bank

Now, we all know that freelance journalists are often the subject of low, slow and no pay, so how can we make sure we are paid what we are worth? What can we do to manage our finances better — and what support is available during the pandemic and beyond? To answer these questions, and many more from our community, we were delighted to welcome two leading experts on the subject.

A freelance journalist herself, Annie Thorpe has a specialism in personal finance and is also head of content for leading finance website, MoneyMagpie.com. Joining her was chartered accountant Nicola Deverson who started her career over 30 years ago. Also the founder of the Envision Partnership, Nicola works with ambitious business owners and entrepreneurs who want to make an impact.

During the one-hour session, which was hosted on our Slack channel by one of our founding members, Abigail Edge, the pair answered some 20 questions from our community. These covered everything from chasing up late payment to the pros and cons of being a sole trader to where to get the best bang for your bucks in terms of savings accounts.

Right on the money

“We would like to say a huge thank you to both our experts,” says John Crowley, another of our co-founders, who helped to organise the event. “They provided such helpful, comprehensive advice and I think everyone found the session very useful.”

Following the success of this event, we are now planning to host further live sessions going forward. So, if you have any requests for particular topics, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  • To read the full set of questions and answers, we suggest visiting our Slack Channel. However, here we provide a small taster…

Q: If you are doing work of different complexity for the same client, or a project changes in scope as you go, how do you bill for it — especially if meetings cover multiple projects? (i.e. writing a newsletter, writing a blog post and contributing to their upcoming overall content strategy).

A: “I use Clockify to track my time and projects. If I’m on a call with a client, I’ve got it on in the background and will restart the timer when it moves to another project for discussion. This helps break down the time clearly and shows how much time you’ve spent on each project!” Annie Thorpe

Q: Where can I find a comprehensive list of tax deductible expenses for freelance journalists in the UK?

A: HMRC now provides a lot of easily accessible guidance on their website at https://www.gov.uk/expenses-if-youre-self-employed. It is not specific for journalists but covers the expenditure that a journalist is likely to incur. If you incur a cost and are unsure whether you can claim relief, the question you have to ask yourself is: ‘Is this wholly and exclusively incurred for the purpose of the business?’ If the answer is yes then it is likely to be an allowable expense for tax, with the exception of entertaining.” Nicola Deverson

Q: Do you have any advice on negotiating retainers or assurances from ongoing or semi-regular clients?

A: “I always work a 30-day notice period into retainers at a minimum (two months if I can). This keeps the income stable if they stop using your services, as it gives you a month or two to find a replacement income stream. Be honest, blunt, and make sure you remind the client of the advantages they’ll get on a retainer. They’ll receive value for money, dedicated time from you each week, won’t have to manage the overheads or admin of an in-house staff member, and there’s flexibility to extend or alter the agreement if either side wants to do so. Tell them how you’ll communicate, the tools you can/will use for project management, and address any concerns they have about hiring someone out of payroll (such as time management, agreeing meeting costs/time per month etc).” Annie Thorpe

Q: What’s your view on operating as a limited company? Is it best to take payments as dividends and only salary up to the NIC allowance or will that impact state pension entitlements? Also, do you think the government will target this way of operating?

A: “Operating as a limited company can be very tax efficient and taking a low salary and a dividend is how many small companies operate. The salary does need to be at a level that is sufficient for the year to be qualifying for state pension purposes. However, if you are not already operating as a company, I suggest you delay making any changes until we know what is going to happen in relation to increased taxes to pay for the Covid19 support that has been made available.” Nicola Deverson

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