April’s Fools

I swear that every time I think, ‘oh yes, I must blog’ and then eventually get around to it, I am always ashamed by the last time I posted. I just checked and it was August. If I had posted every day since that post in August, I’d have loads now. All I have been doing since August is watching too many TV series, colouring, tea drinking and getting stressed at work. Hassle-free tenants are now few and far between.

In really good news, I’ve finally finished my MA. I guess I can blame my lack of writing on that, because bloomin’ hell, that took up most of my time. If I don’t ever see another piece on climate change or the environment I will be very happy. I think I underestimated how much time it would take to complete and everyone kept asking about how it was going, when really I was sick to bloody death of it. My tutor still said I have a long way to go with the script if I want to take it further, and admittedly, my thought was, ‘I don’t want to! I’d rather just put it in the bin!’ Always good to see the thousands of pounds spent on the MA has been used wisely. I’m not too sure where the closest copy is; that’s how much I care for it right now. I think it’s just because I spent the last two years of my life invested in it. I need another two years to get over it. I don’t know, maybe it’s one of those things I’ll come back to in later life; when I have children and I don’t want to work in lettings and I decide to be all hippyish and write a novel at home. Chance would be a fine thing.

April has been a long old month, despite it feeling like a bit of a blur. I suspect this is because I’ve done not a great deal apart from eat, sleep and work. Oh, and watch random TV to fill my time and be delightfully anti-social. I’ve recently gotten into Dexter and I about to start season 3 today. I’ve smashed out 24 episodes in the last two weeks. I don’t think that’s too bad considering I’m at work five days a week. Shows I am little addicted to TV, but hey, a girl’s got to have a hobby 😉

I suppose I better be very apologetic and say that I will do my utmost best to keep blogging and writing. I’m confused as to whether writing has any purpose or prescience in my life anymore. I think this is just because I’ve lived too much of it. Even so, what is the point of blogging anyway? Can you sense the dejected feeling I have for it right now? Maybe I will have a change of heart when something good happens. My boyfriend is home on Friday from Germany after working there for three months, so at least that’s a plus. All I know is I won’t have to cook for myself as much, which is fab!

I think I’ll go fill up on caffeine. Making a cup of tea takes at least five minutes and then ten minutes to drink it. Maybe after that I’ll sharpen my pencils and colour in some more trees.

 

S x

What’s it all about, anyway?

Dear you,

Happy August. I swear it’s just zoomed past without a care in the world. I know we’re only half way through, but in two weeks, it’ll be Bank Holiday weekend. The next thing, it’ll be Christmas and I’ll have the problem of figuring out what everyone is going to be getting!

I don’t really think I have a great deal of news since we last spoke. I finished my research module and I’m now working on my Teardrop script ready for my dissertation. It’s proving to be quite taxing and getting the plot just right is causing me a few problems. At first, I was dead set on being all cool and environmental, but now I’m like, ‘stuff that, where’s the action at?’ I would love to write it like ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ but that’s kind of been done now. I’ll soldier on however. I have a catch-up with my supervisor next week and I’ve been lucky enough to have a friend who’s read it over and said, ‘no’ at the crappy bits. I’m really funny about who reads it, and I’m pretty sure that I’ve offended people by refusing to let them read it 🙂

In other news, Lowen is still alive, still cute and still a pain in the ass. I know it’s bad but I’ve been trying to palm him off onto people, as I just don’t think I can give him enough attention anymore. it doesn’t help the situation that we weren’t even friends to start with. I’m beginning to think he’s fallen out of love with my boyfriend too. I mean, at least it’s him and not me I guess!

I’ve been to a couple of christenings as well recently, which is starting to make me feel mega old and grown up. I.e. grown up in the way that people I know have children, if that makes sense?! The next problem will be when I turn 25 and it’s mid-20s and then it’ll be late-20s. Yikes. On a good note, I’ve got my own home, a great boyfriend and I enjoy my job when people aren’t being total dumbasses. Plus, I’m lucky enough to still follow my dream of writing, rambling and doing a Masters.

This is all getting a bit deep, so I should probably sign off for now. I’m really tempted to have another cup of tea, but I know I won’t sleep if I do. I’m way past the time for caffeine. Though, maybe I’ll have a green tea with mint – living on the edge. Not to mention Hell’s Kitchen is on.

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The Freelancer’s Journey: From Then to Now – Melissa Blamey

Melissa Blamey is a successful copywriter based in Buckinghamshire, with over 12 years experience writing for print and online media. She has written over 1,000 product descriptions for a leading food and drink wholesaler, web pages for an international gaming company plus many more. Her specialisms range from property and housebuilding to parenting and pregnancy, which certainly is quite a difference! She was willing to share her freelance experiences with me and her insight into today’s industry.

 

How did you first get started writing and into copywriting?

 

Although my degree was in English Literature, it wasn’t my intention to become a freelance writer. I was formerly the Media and Communications officer for a large new build insurer for ten years. It was during this time that I really honed my writing skills as my day-to-day work involved creating a wide variety of content, from press releases to magazine feature articles. I was also editor-in-chief of the quarterly staff magazine. The more I wrote, the more I realised I enjoyed and wanted to focus on the writing element of my role rather than the PR responsibilities.

Following maternity leave I decided to bite the bullet and pursue a freelance writing career. However, despite having strong writing skills I realised I was at the bottom of the freelance writer pile in terms of hands-on experience, not to mention knowing how to run my own business.

First off, I started a blog (parenting and lifestyle) and started pulling together examples of my writing, such as the staff magazine and published press releases, to showcase my writing skills. From there I approached agencies and was taken on by a great SEO copywriting agency. It was a steep, occasionally daunting, learning curve.

As well as mastering Search Engine Optimisation, I had to adjust to writing knowledgeably about any industry, from wedding planning to pharmaceutical production processes. I also had to turn around large amounts of copy in a short amount of time.

It was challenging and I had to take an eye-wateringly large salary cut but it gave me the experience I needed in order to set up independently.

 

How long have you been freelancing? 

 

I have been a freelance writer for six years.

 

Do you think in today’s industry it is sustainable to be a freelance writer? 

 

I think so, yes, but it takes more than writing talent, you have to be prepared to graft too.

In the beginning I worked for very little and wrote articles for magazines and online blogs for free to increase my portfolio range. I know some writers are against working for free but, as long as it’s within reason, then it’s a great way to demonstrate your skill, commitment and build up examples of your writing.

I also think it’s important to manage your expectations. When I started out as a freelance writer I was adamant I was only going to write juicy features for national magazines and newspapers, and although I’ve had hits, getting the occasional article published isn’t going to put food on the table.

I realised if I was going to earn regular money I needed to establish myself as a copywriter first and indulge my passion for writing articles on subjects that I wanted to write about, second.

 

How important do you think social media is in sourcing freelance work? What kind of methods do you use?

 

In my experience I think social media is great for building relationships, not necessarily sourcing direct work.

If there’s a company or publication in particular you’d like to write for, connect with them on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook and introduce yourself. Be sure to share and comment on their posts – obviously not everything, be a talker, not a stalker! – but show interest in what they do. I have secured writing gigs on Twitter and Facebook this way and also made some really valuable, supportive freelance writing contacts that are happy to dish out advice.

In terms of sourcing freelance writing jobs there are plenty of sites out there advertising writing vacancies but competition is high. I think it is more worthwhile following media and copywriting agencies which outsource jobs from time to time.

My freelance work comes from a variety of sources. In the beginning it was largely ad-hoc agency work and enquiries via my website. Now it tends to be client referral, which is lovely, web enquiries and web design agencies.

I also can’t help myself – if my spelling and grammar antenna picks up poorly written wording on a web page, brochure or product packaging – I contact the company and say I can help. So prospecting is a good way to find work too!

 

What are your thoughts on freelance platforms such as Elance? 

 

Personally, I’m not a fan. There are a lot of freelancers bidding for the same jobs and it is time consuming creating a quality personalised proposal for a writing job, only to have it whipped away by someone who’s willing to do it for peanuts. On sites such as Elance you also have to have a few positive ratings to be considered for a job, so it requires a lot of determination to succeed on these sites, especially if you’re just starting out.

I am not sure whether these sites specifically are driving costs down but there are certainly people out there prepared to offer crazily low rates to produce tonnes of copy.

I think at the end of the day, like everything, you get what you pay for. Good quality, well-crafted copy brings many benefits, from higher search engine rankings to increasing sales, so hiring a freelance writer should be viewed as an investment not as a quick buck ‘add on’. Of course more experienced writers are going to charge more but the payoff is that they are more likely to deliver powerful content that brings real business benefits.

I also think the bidding war approach encourages clients to hop from freelancer to freelancer when there is genuine value to be had in building a long-term relationship with a freelance writer. This is because it allows a writer to really get under the skin of a business and its customers’ needs, enabling them to create even better copy.

 

What would be the one piece of advice you’d offer to a budding freelancer?

 

My advice is twofold. It can be really tough in the beginning, especially if you have to work for free, so to give your freelance writing career the best chance, firstly, make sure you have enough money to tide you over for a few months. And secondly, never give up! It’s easy to get disheartened by the deafening silence of editors and company directors but perseverance – backed up by a solid website and portfolio – is the absolute key.

 

How do you think the industry has changed since you first started freelancing? 

 

I started when the demand for web copy was starting to really take off. It wasn’t enough to have a glossy hard copy brochure; companies needed a professional well written, user-friendly web presence too.

Six years on the industry has expanded even more so that now it’s not just the big names who need enticing web copy, it’s everyone – from one-man band businesses to small local shops. Combined with the rise of online content marketing and the fact that search engines love up to date, quality content, such as shareable blog posts, I think there is more scope than ever to start a rewarding freelance writing career.

 

Thank you, Melissa, for your thorough and informative words. You can reach Melissa at http://www.melissablamey.com

Hitting the right note

Fin started freelancing when he was 17, roughly two years before starting University. Arguably, this is more than the average teenager would be doing at that age. ‘I knew I wanted to study journalism and in order to get onto my course, I had to gain experience,’ he told me, ‘I interned at a newspaper and a television studio, and I then decided to write music reviews on a freelance basis. Freelancing also kept me writing regularly, something which I feel is important in journalism in order to stay fresh.’ He most certainly took the proactive approach to ensure he got where he wanted to be, which many budding freelancers can probably relate to.

Freelancing to me always seemed a bit of a daunting prospect. When I first tackled it, I didn’t quite know where to start, however, Fin’s experience differs from mine tremendously. ‘I first started by reaching out to a music journalist who had recently set up a new website based on daily Scottish music news and reviews, he was keen for me help him out and I started interviewing and reviewing bands,’ he said, ‘all I really did was send an email, it was as easy as that. ‘

When I asked about freelance platforms such as Elance and Upwork, I was surprised to have been met with a puzzled response. Fin told me that it was the first time he’d heard of such sites and felt they looked ‘promising for people who are interested in one-off jobs.’ That to me suggests they lack sustainability in the long run. ‘ I think I’d rather develop professional relationships with contacts I’ve made in “the real world” whether at networking events or through covering stories,’ he said. ‘For a longer term future in freelancing I believe that would be key.’ 

Wholeheartedly, I agree with him and this is echoed by the others I have spoken to. Real life connections, social media and biting the bullet and sending emails are seeming to be the way to attract a client. Fin’s first connection with a journalist was over Twitter and he told me that he set up many meetings with little bands thanks to a tweet or direct message. Funnily enough, this is how I managed to speak to Fin; through a mutual friend on Twitter. But for his specialism, social media is ‘particularly important because people are always talking about who they’re listening to.’

Despite freelancing, Fin’s career path is changing. His aim is to start a career in communications and he is currently interning at Renishaw in their communications department. He hasn’t ruled out returning to freelancing, however. ‘Perhaps if I get the itch to start writing again I would consider freelancing, but it wouldn’t be a financial thing. One of the key problems with freelancing in music journalism is that there is less and less money,’ he said, ‘I get the odd offer from people asking if I’ll cover a gig or review an album, and when you ask how much it pays they’ll reply with, “we’ll put you on the guest list / give you an advanced copy / give you a by-line”, which just isn’t good enough.’ I get the impression that the engagement and appreciation between client and freelancer in his specialism has not yet evolved. He shares my concerns over freelancing and thinks there is ‘no guarantee of a steady income through freelancing’ and the security of a 9-5 is much more attractive.

Could we say that freelancing is sustainable from what Fin has said? Probably not. However, I think the idea of being a freelancer for the music industry is pretty tough going. All us freelancers need is drive, tough skin and luck. Lots of it as well.

 

Many thanks to Fin for taking the time to speak to me. His info can be found at https://finlaymatheson.wordpress.com or drop him a tweet on @thisisfin.

An Interview with Susie Kearley

Susie is a freelance writer and journalist, who works for companies in the UK, US and also internationally. She focuses on feature writing, copy editing, proofreading and ghost writing. Her clients include Time Inc, Immediate Media (BBC Magazines), Bauer Media and Hearst UK. She was kind enough to give her insight into freelancing and the industry.

How did you first get started writing?

I took voluntary redundancy from a marketing role and after a few false starts, decided to become a freelance writer. It was tough getting started, but I persevered and I’m glad I did. I have been freelancing for about four and a half years.
Do you think in today’s industry it is sustainable to be a freelance writer?

Yes, but you need to be very committed.
How important do you think social media is in sourcing freelance work?

It isn’t important at all, instead I approach the people that I want to work for directly.

 

What are your thoughts on freelancing platforms such as Elance and Upwork?

I haven’t used them much because the pay is unclear on many of them, with ranges from very poor to sensible. It strikes me that they want people to work at the low end, and that’s not worth my while. I’m not in this line of work to compete with writers in third world countries. They’re welcome to it.

What would be the one piece of advice you’d offer to a budding writer?

Perseverance is key to success in this industry.

 

Many thanks for Susie for taking the time to speak to me. Her info can be found at www.susiekearley.co.uk

 

On Being a Freelancer – Wendy Rose Gould

I was lucky enough to speak to Wendy for a chat on her experiences of being a freelance writer. As a successful lifestyle writer and photographer, her work has been featured in print and online for Glamour Magazine, Yahoo! Huffington Post, USA Today and eHow, to name a few. She was also the style editor for AOL Shopping. Cool, huh? I thought so too. She also takes some pretty neat pictures and likes to photograph her cats just like me. Good to know I’m not the only one!

 

How long have you been freelancing?

I began freelancing when I was in college to help pay the bills, in roughly 2006. I took on several internships throughout my four years at college, and each of those internships turned into freelancing opportunities once I completed them. It was great because I was getting real-life experience in my field, while I was still studying. I continue to freelance for one of those outlets today, nearly 10 years later.

After college I moved to Korea and taught ESL. I felt like my writing career was on hold at first, since I was living abroad and not really working in my field, so I really sought out freelance writing opportunities online. When I moved back to the USA in 2009, I began freelancing full time.

 

How easy was it for you to find writing opportunities online when you were abroad?

I think 2008 saw a sort of boom where online service journalism was concerned. It was fairly easy to find opportunities to write online, be it for start up blogs, established businesses or websites. I can tell you that the pay wasn’t great, and it rarely is when you first get started in the writing field, but my passion and long-term goals drove me.

 

Would you say that the ‘boom’ has dwindled now?

I think the boom has definitely lessened, a large part because of Google’s changes. However, the field is really just changing. Outlets are searching for higher quality content and paying more for it.

 

What kind of methods were you using to find work on online?

I was, and am, a member of various forums and I signed up for newsletters. I would also seek out outlets that were appealing to me, or that aligned with my current resume, and would cold pitch myself to them.

 

I’ve noticed that a lot of freelance platforms have popped up that specifically act as a platform for freelancers to find work. I.e. Elance, Upwork. They seem to be getting very busy and it feels like they’re driving the cost of work down. What are your thoughts on them?

I don’t have much experience with either of those (Elance or Upwork). I did write for Demand Studios, and still do, but only when their editors contact me directly and not using the platform. Demand Media Studios was one of the first online content sites I wrote for. They paid very little but I went for it to get the experience. They’ve since done a MAJOR overhaul of the way they work.

 

If you were first starting out as a freelancer now in 2015, where would you look?

 I would start by finding networks of freelancers. We are a talkative bunch and don’t mind lending expertise. There’s a LOT to talk about, too, from taxes to getting paid to pitching to kill fees to SEO and beyond. We’re also pretty connected, so you may have better luck getting an editor’s direct email, or being pointed in the right direction with a story you’ve got brewing.

 

You’re also set up on the right social media websites. Do you think this helps with work?

 I think social media does help to an extent! LinkedIn is probably the most important one to be set up with.

 

Do you write specifically when a client asks or do you just write for the pleasure of writing? I.e. and then pitch?

I wish I had more time just to write “for myself,” but I’ve found that, over time, the work I choose to do is the work that fulfils me. There’s always going to be assignments you dislike, but the longer you go and the more established you become, the more control you have over writing what YOU want to write about.

 

Many thanks to Wendy for her time and insight.

 

All Wendy’s info can be found at www.wendygould.com.

Thoughts from the Outside

My analysis on freelance writing sites has sparked a flurry of interesting discussion. At first, I was of the view that freelance sites could be a feasible way of making, however, after speaking to other freelancers, I am beginning to realise that these sites cannot be relied on. I decided to create a freelancing questionnaire, which I distributed on my Twitter and Facebook, which is still in circulation to see if this was the case. I also passed this across to my local SfEP (Society for Editors & Proofreaders) group leader, Claire Handy. Claire chairs the West Midlands group monthly in Birmingham.  The results are as follows:

  • 40% of those surveyed have been freelancing for over five years
  • 80% stated that they find it relatively easy to find freelance work
  • Over half find their work from Social Media, with the rest relying on word of mouth to gain work. Interestingly, 40% of those surveyed use freelance sites
  • Just under 75% believe that freelance sites are somewhat viable in terms of gaining work. One surveyed commented that this is dependent on ‘the level of the website’.
  • 60% of those surveyed have used a freelance site to look for work. One surveyed is a regular user of Elance, whereas another is currently using jobs.problogger.net
  • 60% believe that freelance websites have not made it harder for them to gain work
  • The consensus was split in regards to whether freelance sites have made clients expect to pay less for work. The percentages were even across the board, including an option for ‘don’t know’.
  • Overall, an overwhelming 80% believe that freelance sites are not damaging the freelance industry

Of those surveyed, 75% were women, with an average age between 30 – 44. 

The results have been somewhat in favour of the freelance sites, which counteracts other discussions I have had with other writers. These conversations are due to follow in the coming days. I have a meet set up with an ex freelance writer early next month, so all being well, this will also shed some light on the matter. It can never hurt to have too many opinions! If anyone would like to get in touch regarding this, then please do not hesitate to do so.

Upworking?

It has been announced today that oDesk/Elance has changed its name to Upwork. One may question as to why they have done this, however, it shows a clear need to unify the oDesk and Elance brands under one roof. This could suggest that the freelance industry is bigger than originally anticipated. A merger such as this reflects money, ambition, the dominance of the online freelance website market & the drive to move forward as technology advances. They have even estimated that the ‘contractor job market is worth 1 trillion annually’, as reported in Techcrunch.

It demonstrates that this is an industry that means business. From this, they are hoping to open their doors to many more job sites and many more contractors. Which in theory, means more work for the likes of us. Will we still continue to see the same aggressive style of bidding for work or will this filter out if there’s more work to go around? Only time will tell. The unification is meant to attract both clients and contractors in their millions. Interestingly, the fee for Upwork is 10% instead of 8%. This is not exactly a sweetener.

I will road test the new site at some point in the coming week. I have yet to hear back from the last job that I applied for, so we’ll soon see if it makes a heap of a difference.

E-xciting

Elance, or Elance oDesk as it’s now calling itself, feels vaguely familiar when I logged back in on Saturday. The same type of jobs were on the jobs board and the same type of people were going for them. On each job, on average, was roughly 14 proposals. That’s 14 other people vying for the work. As I was contractor number 15, I instantly felt the need to sell myself well in order to gain the work.

I picked a relatively straightforward job as my guinea pig. It was an editing job that consisted of editing circa 100 pages of a novel. I mulled for a long time on what job to go for, as many seemed to be awash with proposals. The problem with there being more proposals per job is that you’re concerned you won’t get a chance or you have to deliberately lower your price to get it.

The London Freelance Guide states that for copy-editing the average hourly rate is £24 and £21 for proofreading. So, let’s say an average of £22.50 an hour. The question is, how long would it take me to edit 100 pages with a fine tooth comb? If it took me 12 hours that would make the fee £270, not including Elance’s 8.5% cut or currency conversion. How valuable is my time? As a student, probably not very valuable.

I decided to pitch myself as the student wanting to gain experience. I had done a few proofreading jobs on there in the past, as I found it an okay way to earn some extra cash. I played on the fact that I am an English Literature graduate and used to re-reading things constantly. As I was not hoping to get the job, I also proposed a higher amount than the £270 average. If you want to be sneaky and see what everyone else has bidded, you have to have an ugraded account, which costs $10 a month. Elance give you all the tools to be efficient and you’re also asked to give milestones, which I assume is to give the client security that things will be done by a certain date. You can also opt to be paid at certain points throughout the work. 

To make a proposal, Elance operate a connect (coin) system, whereby it ‘costs’ you one or two connects to place a proposal. You can also place your proposal at the top of the list for four connects. I went for this option to see what it looked like, and it comes up as a ‘sponsored proposal’ and at the top as stated. 

As of this evening, 15 proposals have been placed and I am still at the top. The closing date for the job isn’t until 1st May so we have a bit of time yet. Time to find another job to go for. The question is, will I get it this one? Not to mention, how often will I be successful or will price be the key factor? We’ll soon find out.

Putting Pen to Paper

The way we make a living from writing has changed dramatically over the couple of decades. Before, writers were found at the library in paperback format or the books could be bought from a newly formed Amazon. But today, we are overwhelmed by the digital age of social media, ebooks and self-publishing. The quest for making a living from writing has evolved and we have much more control of how we go about it.
The freelance industry appears to have exploded all over the world. Freelance websites have emerged into the market attracting both professionals and freelancers, particularly in America. The question is, how viable is it to make a living from these websites alone? Elance made $200 million dollars in 2012 and they said that 500,000 businesses are posting over 100,000 jobs every month. From starting in 1999, that’s not that bad going. With those figures, we’d expect that jobs are readily available and there are ample to go around, but with 53 million Americans now freelancing, how many people are competing for just the one job? Is this pushing the price of work down? One freelancer I spoke to referred to sites such as Elance as, ‘race-to-the-bottom middleman sites’.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be documenting if it is easy and sustainable to generate work via the freelance websites and to see if they are all they say they are. I will be using Elance, as it is a platform I am familiar with. No longer are we putting pen to paper, but fingers to keyboard to earn a quick buck. Let’s see how easy that really is. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic as well!