In our second Freelancing Spotlight column, we interviewed Jessica Everitt whom I met in the Writing Revolters Facebook Group. New to the freelancing space, she has some incredible insight for people contemplating getting into freelancing – and more specifically, if people are thinking about changing their current career path for freelancing.
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Tell us a little about yourself and your role within the freelancing ecosystem.
I’m a single mother to a beautiful little girl. Just over a year ago, I was living in a place where I had no family or support system (I was there for work). I worked 45+ hours per week. Most of the time, I’d work 8+ hours per day, come home, take care of my daughter, put her to bed and then log onto my laptop and continue working for several hours.
I was always too stressed, tired and busy to do anything fun, and I hadn’t been on vacation since before my little girl was born. I knew I needed to find a way out. I wasn’t giving my daughter the best version of myself, and I didn’t want her to grow up thinking that was all there was to life.
For the next 8 months, I looked at all kinds of ways to try to make money online. Affiliate marketing, completing paid surveys, writing and publishing books on Amazon. Nothing paid off.
Then I discovered freelance writing in January of this year (2018). Before then, I had no idea it was even a job option. February 1, 2018, I launched my own website and freelancing business, and two weeks later I had secured my first client.
Since then, I’ve continued to grow rapidly, gaining larger, better clients, working only on projects I enjoy, and expanding enough to hire a virtual assistant. Recently, I’ve also started launching the coaching side of my business.
You mentioned having no prior experience with freelancing before you got into it. Can you tell us about what you did previously and why you gave that up for a freelance writing career?
I went to school to be an Accountant and got my CMA (Certified Management Accountant) designation — not because I had any passion towards it but because it was a very employable field and I was good at it.
I ended up getting a job as a Project Accountant, which threw me into the world of projects, which I discovered I did have a passion for. So, I made the transition over to project lead, and then project manager and got my Project Management Professional (PMP) designation.
I love project management. I love working with teams, brainstorming and problem solving together, accomplishing something solid, and always getting to tackle something new. But the hours of a project manager are dreadful.
There were days I’d work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. without even time for lunch and then log back on and work in the evening. I had a company cell phone and was always on call. I juggled multiple projects so it seemed like something was always at a critical point.
It’s not a job for a single parent with a young child. You really have to be willing to let your whole life revolve around it. And I just couldn’t do that. I knew I needed to find a better work-life balance for both me and my child.
Freelance writing allows me to be home with her more. I can afford to take vacation now. I can stay home with her when she’s sick. I can take a random Thursday off to take her to the beach because it’s beautiful out. And when I’m done working for the day, I’m happy and not stressed or worrying about deadlines and crises. We play more, we do more fun stuff. I have more energy and we’re both much happier. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
How did you land your first client, and what techniques do you use to get new customers?
I landed my first client off the Problogger job board. I had originally launched my own website and chosen the niche of personal finance, since finance is something I know well. I wrote 2-3 sample articles on my site and also published two more on LinkedIn. Then, I started applying for jobs. And not just finance related jobs, but anything I felt I could do.
My first job was actually in the pet niche. I applied, stating that while that wasn’t my niche, I have pets, there’s been a dog in my house since before I was born, I love animals, etc. And the client asked me to write a test article, which I passed. So, I started writing about 2-3 articles per week, mostly about dog breeds.
I also signed up with an agency called Get a Copywriter, which allowed me to ghostwrite all sorts of pieces for different end customers and helped provide more work. It’s pretty easy to get on there, you just have to pass the test articles (one general one and one for any ‘premium’ subject you want to be able to write about.)
Then I found two more clients, within the next month, both again from job boards — one of which was huge and really made the difference. They wanted enough work that it allowed me to go full-time. So I quit my corporate job and officially incorporated my freelance business.
The money was pretty great but I was still working about 40 hours per week. And now I didn’t have any security. No benefits, sick days, teammates to cover for vacations, etc. So I knew I couldn’t continue that way long-term. Which is when I brought in a business coach, Ed Gandia.
We’re still working together and he’s helping me double the size of my business, while reducing my hours. I repositioned myself, created a new website, relaunched with a new niche (project management) and started using ‘warm emailing’ to find clients.
That has led to me being able to work with larger companies who pay more money. Because they’re not just paying for someone to write an article. They’re paying for my knowledge and experience. How many people can write a decent dog breed article? Quite a few. But how many people can write about project management? It’s not something that you can easily learn overnight through Google searches. That’s made me worth a lot more.
If you want to be paid more for your articles, you need to be able to offer knowledge that other people can’t. But it doesn’t have to be knowledge from school or past work experience (although that’s often easiest). Everyone has something unique that they bring to the table. Some people just have a harder time recognizing it in themselves.
You have a website for your freelancing business. Tell us a little about why you started a website, and how has it helped?
A website is your portfolio. It’s critical. Even if you opt for a free WordPress site, it’s still much better than nothing. When I started out, I had no past writing clients. My website was how I proved that I could write. It’s where I put my samples. I also used it to tell a little bit more about myself.
Now, my new company site is much more business focused and professional looking. I do have a couple blog pieces on it, but I haven’t really had much time to build that out. It’s primarily just to showcase my background, the services I offer and why people should choose me.
I’ve also created a separate website for coaching. Eventually I’ll build it out with blog posts and tons of free content for people. But right now, it’s similar to my other one, in that it just outlines who I am, why I can help, and what services I can offer.
How do you set yourself apart from other freelance writers in the space?
I focus on project management content now because I can set myself apart there and because it’s something I’m passionate about, and I think that shows. I have my PMP. How many content writers can say that?
But I also try to set myself apart by showcasing my other knowledge and skills, as well. For example, I use tools like Hemingway, SEMrush and Grammarly Premium plagiarism checker. Any stuff like that helps show that you know what you’re doing.
You really need to find a way to stand out if you are going to capture the best clients. Don’t get me wrong, there’s tons of work, but a few tweaks to improve your positioning can make the difference between a $0.05/word gig and one that pays $1.00/word.
Since you started freelancing, what, if anything, has changed the most within the freelance writing industry?
I just started less than seven months ago, so I don’t think anything has really changed. Although Google has implemented two significant algorithm changes during that period. It’s still early days, but I think there is going to be an impact from this.
What changes do you expect in the future for freelance writers?
I think there are two streams of freelance writing.
In one stream, there are thousands of writers willing to work for a few cents per word, churning out large volumes of content for low paying clients who don’t understand SEO or care about Google algorithms.
The other stream is the one everyone should want to be in: where writers are highly paid professionals who help companies create content that improves their businesses.
But ranking in Google is becoming more competitive and involves a lot more than just well-written content. I think there will be more pressure to be not only a content writer but a content marketer because companies will need digital marketers and content marketers for their businesses to thrive.
Even traditional businesses like grocery stores are placing more emphasis on online shopping, and they need people who have that online marketing knowledge. So, if you only offer the writing, it means they would need to hire someone else for the planning, oversight, management, etc. and then you to write.
That is less efficient for them (unless they are a huge company) and means less money available to pay you. So, a content writer might make $200 for an article, where a content marketer could charge $500.
What are the biggest pros/cons of writing full-time?
The biggest pros are that I can select my own clients, chose my projects, set my rates and dictate my own workload and schedule. It’s a level of freedom I’ve never had before. In June, I took a vacation for the first time in four years. I love being my own boss, setting my own hours and wearing whatever I want. It’s hard to beat working from home in sweatpants! Or cutting out early when I want to go swimming or do something fun.
The biggest con is that there’s a lack of safety net. You always have to be hustling for that next client or that next project. One of my clients suddenly had work dry up in July with no warning. If I didn’t have other work to fall back on, I would have struggled to pay my bills. Plus, when you’re a team of one, what happens if you get sick? In this business, when you don’t work you don’t get paid.
Another con is the complexity of managing a business. It’s not just writing. You need to project manage your clients, schedule, deadlines, tasks, money coming in, invoices, taxes, etc. It can be a lot and feel really overwhelming, especially when it all ramps up so quickly like it did for me.
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What are your top three tips for people who are considering freelance writing?
- Stop doubting yourself and just take action. I see so many people who don’t launch their website or don’t apply for a job or don’t take on an opportunity because they’re scared of failure or rejection. You can do it. You just need to be driven and passionate. Everything else can be learned. When people tell me they can’t do this job because their grammar isn’t good enough, I tell them there’s an app for that! You can learn all the skills you need, if you want it bad enough.
- You’re not in this alone. I didn’t pay for a course and I didn’t hire a coach until after I was already full-time. But I did obsessively read as much free stuff as I could find from other successful freelance writers. Join Facebook groups, take part in discussions, sign up for free online courses, ask questions. The more you let people help you, the faster you will succeed.
- It’s important to be willing to try new things, and to make mistakes, as scary as that might sound. I started out marketing myself as a personal finance writer, then I did pet articles, then I did content marketing and SEO articles, and then finally I moved to project management. All within less than six months. You need to pick one niche but there’s no reason you can’t apply for jobs in others, or change your niche later. Also be open to what type of content you write. I started doing blog posts but I’ve since moved into white papers, as well. They require different tools and even a slightly different skill set (you’ll likely need to conduct interviews with people), but they also pay more and are not as labor intensive. Without adding those into the mix, I’d never be able to take time off for vacation. Blog deadlines tend to be a lot more rigid.
Outside of yourself, what other resources should freelancers be using to improve their craft?
There are tons of resources out there. Find one that speaks to you. A lot of people love Jorden Roper (Creative Revolt) and she has a super active Facebook group that offers a lot of advice and support. But some people really just don’t like her style. That’s fine (as long as you’re nice about it!). Elna Cain is another well-known freelance writing coach. Ed Gandia (b2blauncher.com) is my coach.
But I think the first step is to just focus on what you need right now and look for that type of resource. A lot of these coaches create wonderful free resources, but they’re really broad and general and all that information can feel overwhelming to a beginner.
Don’t bother reading about cold or warm emailing if you don’t even have a website yet. Instead, find a resource that walks you through how to set up a WordPress site. The more complex stuff will come.
I think you should understand the basics of SEO. And I love Neil Patel. I think he provides tons of invaluable information. He has several websites (Quick Sprout, neilpatel.com, etc) and a great YouTube channel. But if you’re just starting out, don’t worry about content marketing or SEO. Just focus on the basics of how to craft a good article. Whether that’s long-form, short-form, a review, etc. Pick one thing, read about it, learn about it, implement it (which is another reason why you should have your own blog — to play around and try things out), and then move on.
Everything is one step at a time. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. What can you do today, right now? Focus on that.
Where can people find more information about/from you?
I have two websites:
https://www.everittpublishing.com/ (Content Writing)
I also have a Facebook group for writers who want to do this full-time: