lessons learnt as a freelance writer

5 years as a freelance writer: 5 unexpected lessons learnt

It’s coming up to 6 years since I started freelancing as a career. It actually started as a hobby or a side hustle while on maternity leave from my marketing job.

One of my former colleagues had been a freelance writer. She had joined our marketing team on a contract and it was she who first planted the seed in my mind.

However, it took me almost a year to put it into action and only because I was on maternity leave and looking for something to keep busy with.

I had no idea what freelance writing actually meant except I wanted to see my stories published in magazines.

lessons learnt as a freelance writer

Life as a mummy blogger
I started blogging about parenting. Initially it was read by friends and family. Soon, I had followers, met other bloggers in Sydney, and got blogger envy when I saw other prettier blogs.

I taught myself WordPress, bought countless themes and cursed while trying to make it look pretty.

I blogged until my son was about one year old and used the blog to show editors I could write when I first started pitching story ideas to them.

Life as a features writer
I pitched ideas to editors before attempting any freelancing courses. Two of my ideas were accepted by the editor of Fitness First magazine (I had written rough outlines in bullet points and sent it to her through my Yahoo email – CRINGE!).

Surprisingly, she liked these story ideas and wanted me to write for the magazine.

Catch: She couldn’t pay me for the stories as they had no freelance budgets. I agreed to write for free, thrilled at the thought of seeing my byline in an actual magazine, and that hundreds of people would read MY stories!

I wrote the stories, got published and was hooked.

I finally looked up magazine writing courses offered by the Australian Writers’ Centre and enrolled into an evening course. I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment when I discovered I was the only ‘published’ writer in the room on the first day.

At the end of the 6 week course, I pitched a story idea as a ‘proper freelance writer’ using a professional email address to Essential Kids (SMH), got accepted and was paid $300!

This feature article was followed by others in Women’s Health and Fitness and Men’s Fitness magazines. I mixed feature writing with an editorial role for Leaders in Heels magazine and then wrote website copy, brochures and blogs for friends later on.

I kept writing, pitching and looking for writing opportunities online, joined Facebook groups and met new people in networking events.

What did I learn during these 5 years?

1. Don’t think too much or plan for the future

It takes time, effort, persistence to be published in magazines or to get copywriting clients. Take it one day at a time. Have one or two goals in mind but take every day as it comes until you get established, or clients start giving you repeat work.

This can take a few months based on how consistent you’re and how many hours you put into your freelancing business or like me, if you’re juggling a child or aren’t the main breadwinner – at least one year.

2. Don’t give up in the first 3 months

I found the first 3 months the hardest to stay focused, especially given the silence and rejections I faced from editors. But I kept going, wrote down two to three tasks to my to-do list daily e.g. analyse magazine X.

The point at which you want to give up? Keep going for one more day. You never know what awaits you in your inbox the next morning.

3. Life can get in the way of deadlines

As a new mum, life did sometimes get in the way of work but I chose my deadlines with care. I’ve always built in a buffer of 3-4 days with deadlines whenever accepting commissions or new copywriting clients.

I’ve planned submissions so I’m not writing more than one article or copy for one client in a day.

6 years later, building in a buffer into my work has become second nature. I’ve learnt that good writing takes time and I allow myself this time.

I’ve only ever felt stressed when unexpected work has come on top of my regular deadlines and the money has been too good to turn down.

4. Learn and keep learning

I went into this whole freelance gig blind through the first and even second year and made mistakes as a new freelancer.

My biggest mistake was not learning about what it really meant to be a freelancer, or the basics, where to find work, how to diversify, use social media and the Internet to promote myself. I didn’t even have a proper business plan until my third year.

I wish I had aligned myself to the right people from the start. I found The Clever Copywriting School invaluable for copywriters and also the private Facebook group for graduates run by the Australian Writers’ Centre.

5. I said yes to unpaid opportunities

As freelance writers, the cardinal rule is NEVER TO WRITE FOR FREE either for editors or for clients.

I broke this rule a few times during my first three years as a freelance writer.

I chose to look beyond money and instead focus on what other benefits I could get – contacts and experience. I do realise this is not for everyone as many freelancers earn money to support their families. I had the luxury of trying new things and building up my business slowly.

The benefits I experienced were, I learnt so much about writing and the business world, made crucial contacts and got a chance to leave the house and be surrounded by people who were out there doing things which always recharged my batteries.

I’ve not earned huge amounts of money when I compare myself to other freelancers but I look at it this way:

• I got the chance to look after my son full time and not send him to daycare at all
• I wrote some stories I’m very proud of
• I’ve made a name for myself among my peers and clients as a reliable, professional copywriter and features writer
• I’ve finally found my passion – writing

A new horizon…
I’m on the cusp of change in my life and my business as I wait for my second baby to arrive any day now.

I know my income will take a massive hit this year. I won’t be able to hit my double income goal in 2017 but I have peace of mind that I won’t lose this ‘job’.

I’ve no employer to pander to – I’ll start freelancing again when it’s the right time for me and my family.

I’m also planning to restart work on a new magazine I launched last year while I’m on ‘maternity leave’ and seeing what comes from it.

What I’ve really learnt about freelancing in these last 5 years? It’s that it’s constantly shifting and changing.

copywriting tips

4 copywriting tips I often share with beginners

No one ever talks about how they dealt with their very first copywriting project. Fortunately, I’m here to share my copywriting tips with you.

It finally happened one morning and you got an email asking for a price on writing website copy, after spending weeks or months hoping someone would notice your website. After doing a victory lap around your living room, chances are you’re probably feeling a little green with anxiety.

Having been in the writing business for four years, I decided to put together a list of copywriting tips and tricks I used in my first year of writing for businesses. I still use most these copywriting tips and techniques 4 years later and hope they’ll help you too.

Research your client and his/her business thoroughly

Before you get on that briefing phone call, or email them a copywriting brief, take the time to know their business inside and out.

Read up on any news articles, read their website content, and LinkedIn profiles of the main people you’ll be talking to.

Doing this as a new and unfamiliar copywriter shows you care about their business, you can ask the not-so-obvious questions giving you more valuable insights you can bring to the writing process, and it’ll give you a confidence boost!

The more you know about your client, the easier it’ll be to write good marketing copy.

Ask what they don’t like about their current copy

Often as a new copywriter, eager to impress, the important question about what the client doesn’t like about their current website content doesn’t get asked.

Why are they rewriting the website content? What’s wrong with the current written materials? Sometimes, it’s a change of strategy, or a branding exercise. Ask the question and you won’t produce copy that gets the thumbs down, smashing your confidence as a writer.

Create a good copywriting brief

To be honest, in my four years of freelance copywriting, I haven’t created a comprehensive, copywriting brief – an email brief has always done it for me. But I know other copywriters who won’t proceed with the client unless the copywriting brief has been signed and sealed.

There are advantages to writing a copywriting brief; both you and the client are clear on scope which avoids troubles later on. I’d highly recommend you create a copywriting brief for each new project – big and small. Here is an example of some copywriting documents including a brief you’ll need as a newbie copywriter.

Be realistic with deadlines

In a bid to win jobs, many new and inexperienced copywriters promise the client unrealistic turnaround times. If this is your first copywriting gig and you’re writing on a tight deadline, you won’t do your best work especially taking into account how much time researching the client takes and organising your thoughts.

You don’t want to be a frustrated copywriter and have a pissed-off client calling or emailing you repeatedly for their copy!

If you need two weeks to complete a copywriting project, then add in a couple extra days to the deadline as long as it’s not affecting the client’s timelines.

Work within their deadlines and project delivery times always.

Never missing a deadline is one of the unspoken commandments of being a trustworthy and reliable copywriter who gets repeat work.

Don’t skimp on thinking time

Most times I’m either thinking of my client’s new project or thinking about the first draft I have written or have yet to write.

Being a successful copywriter means you have to take time out to think.

Ideally after completing a first draft, set it aside for a few days to let it sink into your brain. Go back to it with a fresh set of eyes before sending it off to the client.

ps: When bub was small, I used to think about work when taking a shower, something about the water drumming down opened up my neurons!

I hope these tips help you become a better copywriter, I’d love to know from seasoned copywriters on copywriting tips you’d give to a new copywriter.

 

listening to podcasts

7 writing podcasts to boost your creativity

Podcasts are (IMO) the best thing since sliced bread. Before podcasts came along, I would have said it was red velvet cupcakes. But not anymore.

listening to podcasts

I’ve picked up so many useful tips and information while listening to podcasts and so if you’re looking for some inspiration on writing, then I’ve got you sorted!

An added benefit of listening to a podcast is it helps me while away time while sitting in traffic (and avoid road rage) and in the playground. No more yells of “Let’s go home now it’s really boring!” (that’s me wanting to go home).

In this post, I’ve decided to compile 7 great writing podcasts for you to whack onto your ipod or download to your phone:

  1. So You Want To Be A Writer – This podcast run by Valerie Khoo of Australian Writers Centre and Allison Tait, freelance writer and author is my all time favourite. They cover all things related to writing (other quirky things on the menu are Valerie’s dogs, gardening and Allison’s Procrastipup) and their writer in residence segment is outstanding.
  2. Hot copy podcast run by Kate Toon of ‘Toon’ fame and Belinda Weaver where they talk about copywriting processes, give tips based on their experiences, share writing resources, interviews and plenty of laughs with one goal in mind: help you become a better copywriter.
  3. The Newbie Writers Podcast comes from South Australia and is for you if you have an idea for a book but don’t know where to start! Damien and Catharine (a published author herself) interview authors who have been published and share where to begin, some tips and tricks in planning that novel, plus chit chat.
  4. The Wheeler Centre podcast is produced in Melbourne and features the best in books, writing and ideas. There’s some deep issues being tackled by this podcast. At the least, you’ll learn something new!
  5. Kill your darlings podcast says they talk about fresh, clever writing that combines intellect with intrigue. I’m intrigued already!
  6. Your Creative Life is run by Vanessa Carnevale who is a life coach, women’s fiction writer and also an occasional freelance writer. The podcast aims to help writers connect to their creativity, listen to conversations and insights with writers, authors and creative entrepreneurs, and get inspired about the writing process and living a creative life. A lot of creativity here!
  7. Penmanship dabbles in Australian writing culture hosted by Andrew McMillen, a freelance journalist and author based in Brisbane. The podcast features Australian writers, journalists, editors and publishers. Guests discuss their career, craft and inner life. Penmanship aims to provide unique insights into the creative process, mechanics and skills behind the best writing in the country.

So there you have, 7 fantastic writing podcasts to give you that rush of creativity after your morning coffee! So get listening and writing.

outsourcing partner

Finding the right freelancer for your business

Outsourcing.

outsourcing partner

It’s a word that gets bandied about by entrepreneurs, small and big business owners and even the barista in your favourite cafe. Everyone talks about it, most business owners know they should be doing it but where do you begin to find the right person? If you ask the question, you’re likely to hear a vague ummm…

Think of it like a marriage – they need to be compatible with you, want the same things from life (in this case, your business) and they’re willing to work hard at it.

I’ll share 4 easy ways in which you can find the right freelancer for your next project or business:

Freelance platforms

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, it’s become easier to find the right person through websites such as The Freelance Collective which covers many creative professions ranging from animators to virtual assistants or The Clever Copywriting School which has a searchable directory of copywriters and even a concierge service to help you find the best writer for your project.Another one to mention here is The Business Bakery Directory geared towards small businesses.

I haven’t mentioned well known websites where freelancers have to bid for projects and cost undercutting is the name of the game, because you won’t find the best, most knowledgeable person for your business there – paying peanuts will only get you monkeys.

Paying peanuts will only get you monkeys.

Facebook groups

Facebook groups both private and public are sprouting faster than you can say ‘mushrooms’. While I lurk in many groups often silent, they’re a good way to get referrals for outsourcing partners. I’ve found referrals from who to order my son’s birthday cake from to where I can find a social media manager for my business.

I’ve landed copywriting clients that otherwise I’d never ever meet in the real world and sent business to my network. People often rave about those who’ve impressed with their services, Facebook is a great way to meet these people. Examples of some Facebook groups that I belong to; Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine, Aussie Bloggers, geographical mum groups but you need to send a Join request or pay a fee.

Other places to find someone to outsource to are Google+ communities.

LinkedIn

Love or hate LinkedIn but it’s a valuable way of peeking into someone’s professional life to see if they’d be a good partner. LinkedIn profiles are usually kept updated (slap on the wrist if you haven’t updated yours) and you can see who your potential partner is connected to making it easy to approach and ask for an intro – like asking a mutual friend to set you up on a blind date but instead of a swanky restaurant it’s a conference room.

Ask your network

Last year, a contact shared a lucrative job opening at a well known brand and asked if I knew anyone who was suitable. While I didn’t at that time, asking someone in your personal network for a recommendation will get you names that have been vetted already – so no trial and error here!

So that’s it, these are ways I’ve used to find the right people for my business. Any others you use or have heard of?

blog and content writing

writing courses

This blog post was sparked from a discussion I had with a close friend two days ago. She wants to start writing but has no idea where to begin. Considering I went through a similar situation 4 years ago, I thought the advice and tips I gave her would be useful for anyone out there wanting to become a writer.

become a writer

Set aside 5 minutes each day

The hardest part of starting any new project is…the beginning. If writing for hours feels a bit daunting then set aside 5 minutes to jot down ideas or even write a couple of sentences in a journal. Do it at a time, either morning or evening, when there are no distractions or children demanding your attention. The aim is to build a writing habit.

Find writers groups

Writer groups can be found on Facebook, LinkedIn and even through Twitter hashtags. If you feel intimidated because you have to chat to strangers, simply join and read what people are talking about.

The advantages of joining such groups are; it keeps you connected to what’s happening in your area or city when it comes to events, meeting authors and other writers, it keeps you motivated; there are always others who ask the same questions and you have a forum for asking your own questions and receiving advice.

Take a writing course

Doing writing courses got me started off on the freelancing path and I avoided making many of the mistakes beginners make – so I got published faster. If you want to write children’s books, do a writing course specifically focusing on it or a blogging course if you’d like to blog.

Get a coffee

If you want to write but want to gauge what the industry is like, find a writer who is already doing what you want to do, then offer to take them out for a coffee. Even if they say no, at least you’ve made the connection and most people will say yes!

Find an accountability buddy

I offered to be my friend’s writing buddy and so can you. Find someone you know who also wants to write and buddy up with them to keep yourself accountable. Set one to three goals for every week and catch up with your buddy weekly via email or phone to see how much progress you’ve made. This exercise will get rid of your excuses and keep you motivated to achieve more.

Don’t fear rejection

Rejection can take on many forms for a writer; the important thing is not to fear it. View it as a learning opportunity and check how you can turn it into success. For example, one editor’s rejection could be another editor’s commission.

Keep trying.

I’m interested to know how you got started as a writer. Was it through blogging, writing for free or through work?

 

bad habits writer

Are these bad habits failing you as a writer?

Happy 2016!

Bad habits. Everyone has them – I can list a few that I’m currently trying to kick like not watching more than an hour of TV, moving around more (a lack of which has already led to two physio sessions early this year).

bad habits writer

As a writer though, bad habits can be the difference between getting constant work and not. After freelancing for the last four years and a bit, here are some common habits I’ve seen or experienced that can set you up for failure:

  1. Not setting goals leaving you directionless and procrastinating away or working on projects that don’t lead anywhere like a no-through road.
  2. Setting unrealistic goals which are a road to failure.
  3. Setting easy goals which leave you feeling dissatisfied.
  4. Not meeting deadlines – This is a strict no-negotiable rule if you want to become a successful writer. My writing tutor once told us that she met her deadline while in hospital with a broken leg.
  5. Not fact checking your work – Not checking your work for accuracy will not inspire confidence in your abilities to produce work that’s of great quality. Here’s a great post on why you should do it each time.
  6. Envying the success of others – Total waste of time, why not focus your efforts on setting goals and then working hard to achieve those?
  7. Accepting low paying work which makes you feel demoralised.
  8. Not wanting to network – I dread networking events at the best of times, but when you work from home like I do, you need a link with the outside world and these events are a great way to meet new people.
  9. Not asking for help – You’ve had 5 pitches rejected and no response from letters of introduction you’ve sent out to potential clients. Rather than stewing over the rejections, ask a fellow writer for some advice.
  10. Not pitching – You come up with great ideas but don’t send them to editors for fear of rejection. Stop fearing rejection and just do it! The more you pitch, the easier it gets.
  11. Not marketing yourself and your services – When people ask what you do, you usually avoid telling them you’re a writer. Next time, say it proudly and see where it leads you.

What bad habits do you indulge in that are stopping you from becoming a good writer?

Writing on spec

Why I’ve decided to stop writing on-spec for magazines

In the last two months, I’ve written two on-spec articles for two different publications and both were rejected.

Writing on spec

The rejections didn’t hurt as much as the fact that I had put in a fair bit of time writing both pieces (a personal story and a feature article with experts). I’d carefully studied both publications, ensuring I didn’t write what was already written in past issues and wrote to their guidelines.

Now there could be a number of reasons why the stories were turned down:

  1. The articles weren’t suitable for the publications at the time.
  2. The editor didn’t want to accept the articles because he or she had run similar articles in the past even though I was assured that they would still accept it if there was a fresh angle to the story.
  3. One of the 1,000,000 reasons why stories are turned down by editors.

I was often told in my writing courses that an editor would ask a writer to write on spec if he/she doesn’t know the writer and wanted to know if they can deliver to their guidelines. Fair enough, but being published in a magazine which requires this is not for me (and I’ve known this for some time) and as a writer I prefer to focus my limited time and resources on where I’ll receive maximum benefit.

I made a professional decision as a freelance writer/copywriter to write an article only if my pitch was accepted and commissioned rather than writing an article which may never see the light of day.

It comes down to purely business reasons:

  1. I prefer a firm commission which means I will get paid once I submit my article
  2. If I’ve been published many times over in the last few years then I can be relied upon to deliver
  3. It’s a waste of my time to research and write an article which can be turned down due to a million reasons some of which may be out of my control despite having delivered my best work.
  4. I’d rather put that time into finding a client who loves my work so I can make a steady income or pitching ideas to editors who I have worked with in the past who love my work.
  5. I don’t want to waste time trying to place already written articles in other publications when I could be coming up with better ideas instead to pitch to magazines.
  6. It was my third try with one magazine and I’d vowed that if it didn’t happen despite my best efforts that I was going to leave it. So now I’ve struck off both these names of my publishing bucket list!

So from this month on, one of my rules is NEVER to write on-spec just for a byline in a known or even local magazine. It’s simply not worth the angst and my time would be better spent elsewhere.

You might prefer to write on-spec or not. Tell me why you would or wouldn’t write on spec for a magazine as a freelance writer.

mistakes new freelance writer

3 mistakes you’ll probably make as a new freelance writer

So you’ve decided to freelance? Awesome!

You’re sitting at your desk on a normal working day and reading a particular magazine to see whether they take freelancers. As you browse through the publication, your mind is filling up with potential story ideas.

mistakes new freelance writer

You quickly jot them down, perhaps mind map these and open your email to write a pitch to the features editor. You do some quick research, find stats to support your idea, write it up and hit send. That’s your first mistake guaranteed not to land you a commission.

Mistake #1: Being overeager to send a pitch

The process from having an idea to finally pitching it can be long often taking over a few hours to a few days.

Don’t be in a hurry to send a half-baked pitch to the editor especially when  you’re starting out, sleep on it, flesh it out and make sure it’s a great pitch.

A fantastic pitch will improve your strike rates by landing you more commissions and help in building a relationship with the editor.

Mistake #2: Not reading the magazine

This error has to make any list that talks about the mistakes made by new freelancers.

Not reading the magazine is like going to swim and not knowing how to float (maybe a bit dramatic but true!).

One writer said on her blog that a freelance writer who’s thinking of pitching to a new magazine needs to read and analyse it with more concentration than a college textbook.

Going in blind is never a good idea plus it’s a time waster and the editor won’t take you seriously.

Mistake #3: Getting nervous about writing

As a freelancer who’s been in the business for over three years now, I can guarantee that the hardest part of freelancing is getting a pitch commissioned, not actually writing the article.

If you’re still feeling queasy about writing the article, plan ahead by contacting and interviewing your experts as soon as you’re commissioned and give yourself plenty of time to write two to three drafts so you can get the article perfect before submission.

Treat the article the same as if you’re trying to eat an elephant – one mouthful at a time!

Happy writing!

juggling writing and motherhood

The real truth about juggling writing and motherhood

I had a think about what my first blog post should cover, and immediately juggling motherhood with writing came to mind.

juggling writing and motherhood

I write about this first because both of these topics share equal space in my brain, sometimes one over takes the other and there is confusion and a sense of imbalance.

I’m happiest and most productive when these two areas align perfectly in my life which is not that often, I admit.

I never saw myself as a serious writer until I became a mother. If my son hadn’t come along, then most likely I’d still be working in a full time marketing job and wishing I had more time to write. Time then seemed very precious though the truth is I’d probably wasted vast amounts doing inconsequential stuff.

After I had my son, I decided to finally start writing or at least learn more about it, while I waited for my maternity leave to come to an end. I read one magazine, pitched a couple of really badly written ideas to the editor from my Yahoo! mail (cringe) which were accepted (to my surprise). I enjoyed it so much that I did a few writing courses and decided to formally pitch a few ideas, which were promptly rejected by most editors.

But I got up the next day, and the day after that and kept going through the sleep deprivation, early illnesses and constantly refreshing my inbox hoping to see a yes for one of my ideas. I kept pitching, making quite a few rookie mistakes before I learnt what not to do when pitching to an editor (I’m still learning!).

What got me to this stage, 3 years later, with many feature articles in my portfolio and a few corporate clients was:

  1. My passion for writing
  2. Persistence
  3. Flexibility

Without these three ingredients, I doubt I would have achieved as much as I would have done. I still feel on some days that I haven’t achieved as much as I would have liked, then I look at my son, and I know he has given me the life experiences that have added depth to my writing and partly contributed to my success as a freelancer.

I could sit here and tell you what I did to get established as a freelance writer but the truth is, you need to find a system that works for you and your child so that you can get your writing done. However, some general tips that work for many writers who are also mums are:

  1. Write in short bursts of time rather than trying to find a block of time because let’s face it, with a child that’s quite difficult to do.
  2. Have a dedicated space for your writing rather than at the kitchen table in the midst of dirty dishes!
  3. Go for a walk or do some exercise to start doing your best thinking.

Do you freelance around small children? What do you do to make it work?