By Nichole Kanney
I heard the knock at my front door. The kids were just settled in for naptime, and I looked forward to taking advantage of the newfound calm that silenced my home. I cautiously open the door, as I’m new to the Midwest and not yet used to the concept of door-to-door sales still existing. I still have East Coast paranoia, thinking people only knock on other’s doors for nefarious reasons.
“Can I help you?” I ask.
He’s wearing a pair of khaki dress pants, a white shirt and a tie. He means business. “I’m so sorry. Did I wake you?”
It was two o’clock in the afternoon. That was the moment I realized I was officially a freelancer. I think I’d actually changed out of my pajamas that day, too, and there’s a 50% chance I wore a bra.
Any parent will say there’s nothing glamorous about living with toddlers – they’re messy, sticky, loud, smelly, and needy. Combine that with long days in front of various computers scattered around the house, four cats, and a diagnosed compulsive disorder triggered by chaos; I’m lucky just to make it into bed at night.
However, I love the life I’ve created. I won’t tell you it’s fashionable, and I’ll never tell you it’s easy, but it is rewarding. I’m a full-time mom of two and a freelance copywriter, social media manager, and marketing writer. Two days before my 501 residency, I walked out of the retail pharmacy where I was a manager for over ten years, and decided I was going to change careers.
I went into the freelancing world completely blind. My husband’s job relocated to Indiana, where I had no family or friends. After a few months in our new home in the Midwest, I wanted to find a way to work from home while being able to set my own schedule. That desire led me to freelance writing, where I learned that it would take three key elements to be successful: Focus, Clients, and Balance.
In January of 2014, I created my own website, relying on my husband’s skills in web development to simplify the process. After that, I generated a “work-specific” email account to keep all the job requests separated from my regular inbox, and then I turned to social media. Literally. I think two days passed before I realized I was distracted by Facebook. Three swooning couples had gotten engaged, two high school acquaintances had babies, two more were now pregnant, seven foodies were stuffing their faces with Instagram-worthy cuisine, and four gym-bound friends proved, that, yes, they ”even lift, bro.” I hadn’t done anything other than stare at the timeline.
If I wanted this freelancing thing to work, I had to do the unthinkable as a writer: FOCUS. With so many time-sucks, from social media and gossip blogs to television and even books, finding time to work was going to be essential. So I had to make sure that whatever free time I found, I spent it focused on the task at hand.
It’s important to note that I use the term “focus” loosely. My motivation to write 500 words is that I allow myself to play a level of Pet Rescue Saga, or spend five minutes reading Buzzfeed lists. I mean, how else can you get through the day without seeing 10 Cats Who Are Better At Life Than You? You’d also be surprised how much you actually want to do laundry when you’re trying to procrastinate.
While I’m easily distracted, I can stay disciplined when working under a deadline. The trick is finding unconventional opportunities to blend writing with other tasks. I travel from Indiana to Wilkes-Barre frequently, which is about nine hours. That’s time, as a passenger, I can focus on the laptop. If I could finagle my breast pump and all its wires, tubes, and accessories, into the seat of our Subaru, I certainly could turn it into a mobile office just as easily.
It may seem obvious, but the most important part of being a successful freelancer is the actual work. However, finding the work was not quite as apparent. This is where the whole endeavor becomes unglamorous.
After doing some research about freelancing sites, I created accounts on both Fiverr.com and Elance.com (which is now a part of the Upwork community). Within just a few days, things really took off on Fiverr. Here’s the catch though: I was offering 500 word SEO friendly articles for $5, of which, Fiverr takes 20%, meaning I made $4 for each article.
I was underselling myself, but we all have to start somewhere. I never actually expected it to take off, or to have more than 20 clients in two weeks wanting to give me money to pretend I knew about things like metal roofs, Formula One racing, and the Australian real estate market, none of which I had first-hand experience with.
I lowered my word count three months later, because it was getting difficult to manage all of the projects. And while I still only made $4 per article, it only took about 20 minutes to write each one, provided I stayed off Facebook and FOCUSED. In theory, I was earning $12 an hour, which I consider a win for not having to get dressed, or leave my house.
While it may seem like a lot of work for very little money to begin with, I’m glad I went through the service for a variety of reasons:
- Protection. I wasn’t out there on my own trying to collect money and hoping these random people would pay me. The money was secured before I delivered my product.
- SEO. Search Engine Optimization techniques are always being updated, thanks to the constantly changing algorithms from Google. Doing quick short articles on a variety of topics helped me hone my SEO skills and understand more about traffic, views, meta descriptions, subheadings and other techie mumbo jumbo. While it’s not necessary to know SEO to write a great article, it certainly helps and can give you an edge over the competition.
- Portfolio. This is the big one. Because I had done these articles, I had something to show my skills when the heavy hitters came to bat. I built a portfolio of different types of writing, which demonstrated a range and ability to higher-paying potential clients.
- Networking. Because I was delivering product to clients and they were satisfied, my confidence in my work grew. I knew that I was able to write an informative article and meet the customer’s specific requirements. I also felt more comfortable with the industry as a whole, and was able to communicate with clients in an efficient manner. This gave me the ability to take my portfolio and actively seek out new clients off the service.
Now that I’ve moved on from the “getting started” phase, I barely do any work on Fiverr anymore, and am working independently for a variety of different marketing firms and businesses, many whom I found through direct networking relationships. Basically, I knew someone who knew someone who needed work. I solicit business more openly now, because I have the confidence in my writing and am more comfortable with freelancing. I know my limitations and my timeframe for job completion. Now I meet a business owner with a flash heavy website that gives very little information for their customers, and I openly ask if they’ve ever thought about revising their current web copy. You’d be surprised how a simple conversation can score you a job when you freelance.
As I’m writing this, my almost 4-year-old daughter is styling my hair and applying pretend makeup to my face. I don’t really notice. I’m in the zone.
I’ve learned how to balance the many aspects of my life, in order to commit fully to each one. I’m a stay at home mom first and foremost, and while my heart will always lie with my children, my passion is with my writing.
Most of my freelance jobs aren’t very creative, but that doesn’t mean that my personal writing hasn’t benefitted. Writing is writing, and each word you put on the page is a conscious decision, whether you’re writing the next “Great American Novel” or an article that literally contains the phrase “if the bear starts to eat you.” That last one is a real quote from a commissioned article on bear attacks.
I write Every. Single. Day. I’m continuously thinking about words and sentences and brevity. I’m thinking of paragraphs and structure and properly communicating cohesive ideas. Whether I’m writing about collaborative consumption or the latest tax laws, I find a way to learn from every piece I turn in.
Finding the right balance between work and home when you work from home can take some getting used to. I set a goal each day of how many words or articles or pages of web copy I want to write, and then I figure out how I can separate that goal into smaller tasks that I can complete at various points throughout the day. I set my own schedule, although I don’t really work off my own time. Each day is different, because kids are different every day. For the most part, we stick to a routine, but some days we may want to cuddle and watch movies and I only write 500 words that day, and other days they play together without mom and I can complete a whole job and have time to work on my personal writing projects, even if it means I’m at my computer until midnight.
My days are hectic, and sometimes when I finally get to my upstairs computer, and hubby has taken over parenting for the day, I’m mentally exhausted. Even trying to write 100 words can feel like torture. I often have to remind myself that it’s okay to feel that way. The point is about being flexible, and being okay with whatever the day throws at me. Some days I exceed my goals, some days I just reach them, and there are other days where I accomplish very little. And that’s fine. I may need to let the laundry pile up for a day or two, or order take-out instead of a homemade dinner if I’m trying to meet a deadline. It’s all about creating the right balance.
“What? Wake me?” I ask the salesman standing on my chalk drawing covered porch. Just because my skin is pale from lack of vitamin D, I’ve been drinking from the same coffee mug for two days, my hair naturally grows into a messy bun now, and there are toys scattered all over my living room doesn’t mean I spend all day sleeping. “No. I’m a freelance writer.” I answer confidently.
Nichole Kanney received her M.F.A. from Wilkes in June of 2015, and is actively engaged in screenwriting, football, and student loan repayment. You can find her writing and laughing in her own little world, comprised of the three important C’s: coffee, cats, and characters.