"Hey, are you around here somewhere? Wanna meet for coffee?" was the first direct message on Twitter I received from Elisabeth back in 2014 when we were both attending the Pioneers Festival in Vienna. Since then, we have met up to discuss freelancing, past and upcoming projects as well as the current state of celebrities and their relationships regularly. I wouldn't miss our exchanges for the world, which is exactly why everyone should find out what this freelance tech and business journalist has to say.
How long have you been a freelancer and what exactly is it that you do?
Well, technically, I first started freelancing in 2006. After being officially employed in various positions, I decided to go back to freelance journalism in early 2013. So now, it’s officially been three years. But I’ve always done freelance work on the side so it didn’t feel like this whole new thing for me. Currently, I work as a freelance journalist for a handful of German tech publications and also an Austrian news site. I also run my own platform, Fillmore.
How does your typical work day look like, if there is one at all?
Luckily, there is! I have a daily piece at Gründerszene called “While you were sleeping” which already implies that it needs to be published early. When I lived in San Francisco, this was easy to do for a Germany based news site, but I’ve continued to do it back in Europe and now I get up at 5.30. I head into the bathroom, drink a glass of water, do some Yoga stretches (yes, really) and get right to it. I am a regular contributor to some other tech sites and basically do all my writing for them in the early morning or until noon. After the first big batch of work, I force myself to sneak in a quick workout (two words: Jillian Michaels, thank me later) and eat lunch. Afternoons are pretty unpredictable. When there’s a breaking story, I’ll work on that. Afternoons are also for research if I have any bigger magazine assignments or work on Fillmore.
What activities and duties does your freelancing work entail?
As a freelance journalist, my work consists mostly of staying on top of things, reading lots of stuff, doing research, pitching stories and eventually writing them.
What has been your biggest highlight so far as a freelancer?
In 2005, while I was doing an internship in San Francisco, I picked up a copy of Wired magazine and thought, “One day I want to write for them”. Funny enough, I never actively tried to get assigned, but in late 2014 I was asked to write for their German edition. That definitely was a “Wow” moment for me and made me realize how far I’d come. Also, I’ve always admired the Conde Nast empire so it was rewarding to send them my first invoice.
How does your previous education & experience tie in with your current freelancer work?
I’ve worked in an online newsroom for three years, which taught me the basics of digital journalism and more importantly to work really, REALLY fast (it’s called breaking news for a reason). I later worked for a publisher that also published print magazines. So it was nice to see both worlds and understand the characteristics of each media channel. Having been a deputy editor-in-chief, I know how much editors appreciate keeping deadlines and good communication. So all this experience definitely was meaningful for my self-employment. I highly recommend anyone who wants to be a freelance journalist to first work at a publication or at least do an internship to understand how newsrooms work.
Do you sometimes have motivational lows, and if so, what do you do to get out of your low?
All. The. Time. Since the news business is such a fast-paced environment, you rarely get any feedback and if, it’s mostly negative. So I do find myself in a funk on a pretty regular basis. To be honest, it’s hard for me to get out of my low. What really helped me is talk to other self-employed people. Even if they’re in a different industry, a lot of freelancers go through the same stuff.
What do you love about being a freelancer? What do you hate?
Besides being independent and learning the business and entrepreneurial side, I really love having control over my own income. I don’t have to depend on an employer to tell me what I’m worth on a monthly basis. I can sleep better knowing that I am responsible for my fate, I don’t mind the risk at all. What I really hate is all the admin work that is not billable and that is quite a lot. I also very much hate the pitching part of being a freelance journalist. It’s hard to take being turned down not personally when really your person is the company.
How do you structure your day?
I do all the heavy work in the morning, then take a break to check my email and social media and get breakfast. After the first break, I’ll continue writing, then hopefully do a workout and have lunch. My afternoon routine is much more open which is why I’m probably most productive in the morning. Since I get up early, I’m not one to work late. I’m one of the lucky pals who get to live in two places. So when I’m in the countryside I take a walk to clear my mind. When I’m staying at my apartment in Vienna, I enjoy going to coffeeshops to get some work done or do lots of meetings.
Which are your favorite 3 websites or apps you’re using on a regular basis regarding your freelance work?
I screen a lot of tech sites and use Pocket to bookmark articles and Evernote to take notes. Most of the newsrooms I work with also use Slack, so I use the app regularly, too. I really can’t pin down my favorite websites because there are so many I visit daily. Google News is a very important one for me and when I need to reset my brain after finishing an article, I go to YouTube to watch some videos before starting the next one.
Tell us about an exciting project you have worked on which made you proud.
I’m very proud of Fillmore, an online magazine about tech, innovation and lifestyle that I launched two years ago after being frustrated that publishers wouldn’t pay acceptable rates for my work. I now run the site with fellow freelancer Teresa Hammerl and while we’re still small, we’re very relevant in our space and reach an international audience. I’m also working on a Fillmore spinoff that is a book series called “Let’s do this! A Guide for female entrepeneurs and other awesome people who want to do business in the US”. Currently Melinda and I are working on the New York Guide, the Silicon Valley Guide will be released shortly after. I’m hoping that we’ll cover a lot more US cities in the future.
If you want to keep in touch with Elisabeth and her work, make sure to follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. If you want to make sure you won't miss the next edition of #AFreelancersLife, subscribe to my newsletter here. What about you - are you toying with the idea of going freelance as a journalist? If so, I'd be happy to help you get started! I recently launched two workshops for freelancers which can help you find your niche, your position and your strategy. Get in touch with me now so we can change things up in 2016!