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Who are your clients?

Who are your clients?
Photo: Nader Elgadi

Building a good client database is important no matter what kind of freelance journalist you are.

Keeping a thorough and up to date list with information on current and potential commissioners means that you will be in the best possible position to get a story published.

It  doesn’t matter what kind of what medium or field you work in - or if you think you may already have good relationships with one or two major clients - it’s still important to know who else is out there. Remember, as a freelancer life isn’t always that stable.

If you’re new to the freelance business, it’s absolutely essential that you get to know your potential clients so you’re immediately on the front foot when it comes to pitching. So, how do you go about creating a good database?

How do I find new potential clients?

Sites, newspapers, and channels that you frequently visit are always a good place to start - you already know their current output, their focus and what kind of stories they publish. If you think you could fit in there, these are the clients that should be at the top of the list.

Freelance travel journalist and lecturer Tristan Rutherford has some suggestions. “A famous journalist once told me to go out and buy a copy of every single publication that could possibly feature my work. In the front of every magazine, I found the relevant editor’s name, and their email address. These are the basic details that should go straight in your database.”       

Of course, as many of your prospective clients move online, you can’t just go out and buy those contact details - but the email address of an editor may well be on their website. Otherwise, you might have to do some digging - ask fellow freelancers, friends and colleagues if they can help you with contacts. 

Remember, include absolutely anyone who might publish your work. Having more prospective clients than you might need right now can never hurt.

What information should I include in my database?

Tristan again. “You need to know what kind of stories the prospective client publishes, when, and in what format.” If, for example, you know that an online news outlet particularly likes receiving pitches that make good use of data journalism, make a note of it. Of course, the information can be more general than this. Does the client take unedited rushes? Do they focus on breaking news or in-depth economic analysis?

If you have good information on your client, it will show in your pitch, and you won't waste time pitching to clients who don't want your work. Editors love to see that you know who they are, and why they might be interested in your story - and if you’ve got this information in your database, your pitching is bound to improve.

You should keep adding information to your database - it should be a living document. What areas is a client currently interested in? What other commissions have you had from them? Once you know if a client prefers a pitch by email or phone, make sure to write this down. If you realise one client is particularly prompt in replying to breaking stories, highlight this in your database. Make it do the work for you!

What should my database actually look like?

It’s really quite easy to set up a database. Open an Excel spreadsheet and create six columns. The first should be the client’s name. in the second column, put the name and contact details of the relevant editor that you want to contact. The next three should tell you all you need to know about the client - what, where, when, and how.

Once you’ve built your client database, you can move on to perfecting your pitch!

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