A bit of background: an interview with… me

Last week, I was approached by Rebecca Wren, an aspiring writer. She was writing a university assignment about the career she wants to enter – writing – and wanted to ask me some questions to help to guide her in both her uni work and her path to her future career.

I answered her questions and it turned out to be quite an extensive piece of work! So Rebecca agreed that I could reproduce my answers here. I’m all about repurposing content, especially when it’s 1500 words long.

What inspired you to become a freelancer in different fields of writing?

I had a blog, which I started in the days when you still had to explain what a blog was! I then joined a feminist group blog, where my writing got more attention. Being disabled, I was struggling to work out how I could work in a way that I could manage and started to explore the idea of freelancing.

I knew that my writing was appreciated, so doing that in a freelance capacity was the ideal combination of work for me. I could write, which I loved, and I could do it on my own terms, which suited my health.

Could you provide a brief timeline of the different kinds of jobs you have done leading up to becoming a freelance editor?

Before starting freelancing I had done a variety of work, mostly in the non-profit sector.

How did you find the work? How did you go about establishing connections with people to work with/for them in the beginning?

if the only opportunities available will leave you broke and basically being exploited, then you can always do better elsewhere. Always.

In the beginning, I set up a website and set up social media accounts specific to my business (I have separate work and personal accounts on Twitter, a professional Page on Facebook, and a professional LinkedIn account. I also have an Instagram account that is mostly personal but bits of work sneak in).

Once I’d set up my website I kind of waited for work to come in but it quickly became clear that it wasn’t that simple! Instead, I had to start looking for work more proactively. I joined a few freelancing sites but they are mostly terrible, terrible places that want you to write extensively for very few pennies. So I quickly realised that wasn’t the way I wanted to go either.

I started reaching out to businesses in the areas I wanted to specialise in. Some of them hired me, and it started from there. In journalism, I had some connections from blogging so started pitching ideas to those people. With other publications, I just looked up who the editors were and pitched them directly.

Have you ever worked with publishers, etc. regarding your editing or do you work alone? If you have, how did you begin working with them?

With editing and proofreading literature, I mostly work with self-publishers but I have worked with three conventional publishers. They all found my website and approached me.

How did you get your name out there?

Social media, blogging, I started a podcast (like with blogging, it was in the days when you had to explain what a podcast was!), and directly contacting people.

Do you recommend doing some kind of apprenticeship after leaving university, if there are any?

To be honest, it depends. Definitely steer clear of anything that wants you to work for free because you deserve better than that. Ditto if the salary is tiny. However, if you can find an opportunity with a reasonable salary that can give you a great grounding in what you want to work in, then snap that up. Don’t expect to make £millions that way but grab the experience and contacts.

However, if the only opportunities available will leave you broke and basically being exploited, then you can always do better elsewhere. Always.

How long did it take before you felt like you could be a freelance writer full-time?

I did it a bit differently to most people in that I just launched and was full-time immediately. Obviously it took time to build up to a full-time income but I didn’t freelance on the side while still working a day job, which a lot of people do (and is probably more sensible when starting out).

If you’re going to freelance on the side to build up your client base and experience, then you’ll have an idea of how much you’re earning as a freelancer and how to build your business up but you should still have some savings before you take the leap. If you’re just jumping in with both feet, like I did, then you need at least one month’s expenses saved up, ideally around three months’.

Did you ever advertise your services on job sites, etc. or only through your website?

I did but with no results whatsoever so that’s a strategy I abandoned quite quickly. However that was only on sites that offered free advertising so maybe if you pay it’s better.

How did you land on a price for your services?

Pricing is an ongoing issue. I started off working for fees that were a bit too low but allowed me to gain experience and confidence. Once I had a bit of those two things, I started to increase my prices. I still change them pretty regularly, but never downwards. Always upwards!

I saw on your website that you specialise in writing about disability, health and women’s issues. What inspires you to write about these topics?

I’m disabled, I’m a woman and a feminist. They are passions that consume me and that I was already reading and writing a lot about, so writing about them professionally made sense.

How do you make your writing engaging and distinctive, especially when writing about things like garden machinery or health and safety that you might not have initially had much knowledge about?

It’s easy to be engaging when you’re writing about something you care about. When you’re writing about garden machinery or lanyards or health and safety… yeah, it’s harder. I guess I try to write as if I’m having a conversation with somebody who’s really interested in the topic, I re-read out loud what I’ve written so I can see where it sounds awkward (or tedious), and I research as much as I can so that I can find snippets of info that are genuinely interesting even in a somewhat boring topic.

Do you believe a social media presence is essential in this line of work? How do you attract a following on the sites that you use?

I think at this point it’s pretty much essential to have some kind of social media presence. Obviously there will always be outliers who have succeeded without, but social media is a great way to make connections with people who would otherwise be difficult to reach.

You can also use it to demonstrate your expertise or your specialisms in a way that will make other people say to a potential client “Oh, I don’t write about that, but XX does” because they’ve got to know what you’re interested in.

Do you have any tips on how to make a successful website?

This isn’t my area really. My website is pretty successful but I don’t know which bits of it make it so. It’s kinda messy, it’s overly full, and I daren’t take anything away in case it breaks the spell!!

There are specialists in how to design websites to encourage success, and I’m not one of them!

I saw that your website was on the first page of a Google search for freelance writers. I’m guessing this has to do with SEO? What are your skills in that area?

Yes, SEO. I started to learn about SEO when I started out so that I could improve the chances of my website being seen. As a result of learning about it, I realised I was quite interested in it in a geeky way. This led to me learning more and ultimately now it’s something I write about for other clients, such as writing blog posts for companies that offer SEO services.

Do you have any tips on how to write a successful blog?

Find out what people want to know and answer those questions.

Do you have any other advice for people who are only just beginning their writing careers?

People say you have to not have a fear of rejection if you’re going to be a writer. I find that’s not so much the case; instead, you have to get over the frustration of never hearing back from someone. That does happen a lot!

You need a bit of a thick skin in this career but perhaps no more than most other careers. Writing is great, especially as a job, and it’s hard too. But it’s not as hard as working at a fast-food shop or on a building site or on the Customer Service desk in a supermarket at Christmas. People over-romanticise writing when, in reality, you quickly learn it’s just a job. You dream of sitting with your laptop in Starbucks and creating but you also have email backlogs and spreadsheets and invoices and difficult clients and editors who ignore you.

My best advice is to build relationships with other writers as well as trying to connect with clients or editors. I gain so much more from mutual collaboration than I ever would from feeling like I had to view everyone around me as competition.

 

About Philippa Willitts

British freelance writer and proofreader.

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