Freelance Alliance Spotlight: Stephen Neale
What freelance services do you offer?
Feature and news writing, mostly for the finance and business sector.
How long have you been freelancing and what did you do before you became a freelancer?
I started up in the early 1990s. I'd spent some time backpacking and from time to time met freelance journalists who were working to fund their trip. It seemed like a lot of fun, and I liked the idea of getting involved with an industry that could accommodate a person on the move. That has become even more relevant today in the 21st Century.
What triggered your decision to go freelance?
It was an opportunity to break out of the routine of office work. Having said that it can be very comforting when times are hard, but I’ve been lucky in the last three or four year and have managed to keep busy. Sometimes too much so.
Did anyone influence your decision to start your own business?
I’d worked for myself shortly after leaving school so knew something of the challenges and rewards of self employment. After moving into the publishing industry I learnt a lot from working on local newspapers, not just about story telling, but how to make real money in the industry.
Being on your own, are there any difficult gaps to fill, knowledge or skills wise?
I couldn’t really work alone. Although I’m solely responsible for the business’s day to day running I make use of a network of professionals (photographers, writers, artists etc..).
What were your goals when you started your business? Have they changed?
To have some fun while making more money than is available via PAYE.
Were there any crisis points early on? Any moments when you wondered if the pressure of making your business a financial success outweighed the benefits of independence?
Yep, loads. I’ve only really considered myself a true freelance in the last seven or eight years because prior to that I didn’t really make proper money. Everything was supplemented by PAYE income. Learning who to avoid in the industry and where to build relationships takes some time.
What are the best mistakes you've made? (i.e. those you've learned valuable lessons from.)
Don’t ever try to compete with the big agencies. They have too much influence, too many contacts and too much money behind them.
What is your most triumphant moment so far?
Showing a profit.
Looking back on your freelancing career now, is there anything that you would do differently?
I should have moved into the finance sector sooner. I spent too much time chasing ambulances and pursuing stories that I though were ‘big’, only to discover I was just one hound in a huge pack. I thought it was the journalist that got the story back first that triumphed. In those early days there were many times when I got the story and pictures over, only to see one of my bigger rivals deliver later in the day and pick up the rewards.
What things do you find personally rewarding and satisfying as a freelancer?
I like talking to people, so I find interviews are incredibly rewarding , particularly with industry leaders who have something interesting to say about changes, innovation and the future of their profession. I love it when people get excited about something they are involved with. It’s so infectious and always makes good copy.
What have been the rewards, risks, and trade-offs?
The rewards have been on the financial side, but the trade-off has been time spent at home. Sometimes I’m up working until 3am or 4am on reports and features
What have you been working on recently?
A supplement for The Times on supply chain best practice. I know it sounds boring, but it’s actually quite interesting, particularly in view of the current economic climate.
Stephen Neale's profile is featured on Freelance Alliance.
24th October 2008