It is difficult when you are starting your career, desperate to be published or get a part, but want to avoid being exploited.

Young journalists, actors, writers, singers and a puppeteer came together as part of Young Workers' Month at a Federation of Entertainment Unions (FEU) event at Equity's offices, in London, to learn tips on how to sell ideas and then clinch the deal.

Frances Dredge, project manager of FEU training, has worked at senior levels in journalism, business and communications and now runs her own communications and training company Purple Pear. She said: "The creative industries are highly competitive, but if you value yourself and what you do, you must make sure that you are paid the rate you are happy with for the work you do."

Making contacts is vital, said Frances, and making personal contact is best. She advised the young creative workers to go along to industry events and introduce themselves to people who can offer them work. Make a list of "hot" contacts and make sure you email or call them on a regular basis.

Before making your pitch, Frances advised that you read up on the publication, organisation or production first. You have to think what it is that you can do for them. When making a pitch, be very precise about what you are offering, why you are offering it to them and why you are the best person to do the piece of work. Once the pitch is accepted it is time to talk about money.

Frances recommended working out what you need to earn per year, to pay the bills, tax and have something left over. Factor in time for holidays, possible sickness and training or marketing. It may be worth doing a piece of work which does not pay well, but will look good in your portfolio; but this needs to be offset by doing something perhaps less glamorous but better paid.

She said: "When you are negotiating, it is a relationship between equals. You have something that somebody else wants. Sounding desperate is not the best tactic. Ask your union, peers and friends for advice on the market rates for the work you are doing. If your client's rate is too low, you need to be able to explain why your rate is higher.

"Work out your ideal rate and your bottom line – the very least you are prepared to go. Once you have agreed the rate, make sure in writing that both parties are clear what the deal is. You also have to have a firm idea at what point you say no. Remember, if you do not charge the appropriate fee, you will undermine yourself and make it difficult to survive in the long term."

Alex MacDonald, a member of the National Union of Journalists national executive, joined the group to discuss how a trade union can help young people with the their careers, but also how young people can be active in their union and get the issues they feel important to the top of the agenda.

He said: "Times are tough for young people. Many of us leave university saddled with debt, but struggle to get work. Employers think they can get away with paying young people nothing at all or peanuts. But, by working collectively we can take action. As a freelance you can work collectively with your union to fight against employers who do not pay proper rates or offer unfair contracts."

More info

The FEU will be running courses on pitching and negotiating next year. For more information and the list of free workshops, training and online learning

The NUJ runs free courses for reps and discounted courses on professional training

Check the NUJ's Freelance fees guide

Business skills training
for creative freelances