Listen: How a corporate aviation communications director built a freelance business

“This man was encouraging a 6-year-old black girl to be a pilot, which was ... unusual back then, but it never left me. I became an aviation geek that day, and then realized someone would actually pay me to write about my hobby.”

Benet Wilson is one of those veteran journalists who seems to know everyone in the industry. She’s the self-proclaimed Aviation Queen, freelance aviation journalist, board member of several journalism organizations including Online News Association and (recently) National Association of Black Journalists, and a mentor to scores of young journalists who affectionately refer to her as “Aunt Benet.”

Inspired by her father, who spent his career in the Air Force, Wilson began defining the aviation and travel focus of her career early on at trade magazines, became the face of corporate communications at Delta Airlines, and then left her full-time editing job to start her own freelance business. Poynter spoke to her about how to reach out to journalists for advice, the importance of a professional network to guide her career, and following a focus rather than a job.

Building (and maintaining) a strong professional network is so important to doing well at your career.

The last time Wilson applied to a job was in 1992. “Every job I’ve had since has been because people have networked or come to me and said ‘We’d like you to do this job,” Wilson said. From leaning on mentors she’s found at work or met elsewhere in life, she’s been able to weather several layoffs in both the airline and journalism industries by reaching out to people whom she’s developed professional relationships with and who can rely on her.

Keep in touch, and don’t just reach out when you need something.

If traditional networking feels unnatural, Wilson thinks it’s because people don’t give and take help, and only reach out when they need something from a mentor. Wilson is adamant about keeping in touch with her network and advises offering to help someone with a project they’re working on and updating people when you have news to share.

Benet Wilson

For newer journalists who aren’t sure what they can offer their mentors, Wilson recommends volunteering to help when your mentors are preparing for events or conventions. “It helps me, but benefits them because it puts them in front of people that they might not meet otherwise.”

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