Brill to have the lovely Philippa on the site today, who is a freelance writer. I know a lot of you out there would love to know how to source and undertake freelance writing work, so think you’ll get a lot from Philippa’s great insights. I think what she has to say about “making it happen” applies very much to writers of other mediums, too. Enjoy!
1) If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?
Opinionated, funny, conscientious.
2) What’s your background?
I studied French at the University of Sheffield, which included one year of studying at the Universite de Provence in the south of France (lots of sunshine and lavender fields – perfect!). After that, I worked in the health and voluntary sectors, in teenage pregnancy prevention projects, at disability organisations and within the health service itself. Then I had to take some time off sick and re-entered the workforce as a volunteer. I have also done “temp” work in lots of different industries. In addition to that, I wrote for feminist and disability-related websites on a voluntary basis for some years, which I continue to do. I think this wide variety of background work helps me in my freelancing business because I have experience in all sorts of weird and wonderful areas!
3) Where do you source your jobs as a freelance writer/what do you do?
I source my work in a variety of ways – I think that’s probably the experience of a lot of freelancers. I rarely use the typical freelancing websites because it is hard to compete with people offering work at unrealistically low prices, so instead I go straight to businesses I am interested in working with. I designed some postcards to make approaches and publicise what I do, and I also sometimes just contact them by email, or meet the right people at networking events. I get other work through word of mouth, which is always a positive experience because it means somebody has been impressed enough by you that they have recommended you to others. I’ve also got some work through my social media feeds, mainly LinkedIn, and also as a result of A Little Bird Told Me, a freelance writing podcast that I co-host.
I do some writing for magazines, and opinion pieces for publications like The Guardian, the Independent, Channel Four News and the New Statesman websites. For those, I approach the editor with my idea and, if they like it, work with their requirements to create a great article.
4) What’s your top 3 bits of advice on the industry for freelance writers?
- Be persistent. Work won’t fall into your lap, you have to put yourself out there and make it happen.
- Keep learning. You never know it all, and the more you know and understand about the industry and any areas you specialise in, the more employable you are. Plus you will produce better work and have more confidence.
- Reach out. Make contact with other freelancers. It can be a lonely job at times, so use social networking or real life networking events to chat with others in a similar position to yourself.
5) Describe a typical day for you.
It sounds like a cliche, but there isn’t really a typical day for me, and that’s one of the reasons I love freelancing! So I will take you through what today has looked like, as it has been a fairly representative working day.
I started work at 8:15am – all those thoughts of never setting an alarm again once you become self-employed are sadly a myth! I don’t always start at this time but I have a lot of deadlines next week so I need to knuckle down. Because I’m still a bit dozy at this time I spent the first hour or so of the day dealing with straight forward tasks like replying to emails, updating financial spreadsheets and preparing the podcast for uploading.
9:30 – I made a really detailed to-do list to avoid getting overwhelmed with the number of different tasks I have to do. I then spent the morning researching and writing two blog posts for a client I provide weekly work for. These are in my specialist area, so they particularly interest me. I also had a 15 minute break around mid-morning.
12:15 – I didn’t really take a lunch break today, but I did spend 15 minutes making a sandwich and stretching my legs a bit!
12:30 – I responded to some emails from clients and potential clients. These included queries about prices, confirmation of the payment of an invoice, and clarifying the details of some future work.
1pm – I then spent two hours getting my head round the topic of some work I have to submit in a few days. It’s not an area of industry I’ve worked with before so I’m having to do quite a lot of background research to make sure that I understand it properly so that I will do a good job. I also used the research I was doing to start making some general outlines for the articles the client wants.
3pm – I often have a real energy slump around this time, so I plan around it. I took a break from 3 until 3.45, because I know I don’t produce my best work at this time, and I just can’t concentrate.
3.45 – I came back to my desk a bit brighter and more alert again! It’s sometimes hard not to get distracted by what is going on outside the window, but I’m really focused today, I think because of the deadlines that are approaching. I spent three hours, until 6.45pm, doing more detailed outlines of the articles, and writing an introduction for two of them.
6.45 – I stop for the day. Of course I’ll still check my email throughout the evening, it’s hard to stop that bad habit, but work proper has finished until tomorrow.
6) What’s the ONE thing you wish you knew before you became a freelance writer?
That marketing is hard! It goes against all my British self-depracation to tell people how great I am, and why I’m the best person for the job! Similarly, I hadn’t really grasped how continual the marketing efforts have to be. Having work one week is no guarantee of having work the next, so even when you’re busy you have to be promoting yourself to make sure the work keeps coming in.
BIO: Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer who lives in the north of England. Her main website is Philippa Writes but she also has a site for her specialist tech writing, here. Philippa is the co-host of a freelance writing podcast, A Little Bird Told Me. She spends far too much time on Twitter and is slightly obsessed with Tom Lehrer.
The Women & Writing Series profiles inspirational women and their writing and/or related work on B2W. If you know of an inspiring female writer you want to see profiled here – or are one yourself! – get in touch. Tweet me, leave a msg on the Facebook wall or send me an email on Bang2writeATaolDOTcom Want more? Here’s a collection of tweets dedicated to Inspirational Women, as nominated by Bang2writers.
Thanks Phillipa. That was helpful to remember that a writer has to work just at least as long hours as someone in an office if they are serious. Also useful to know of another way of earning from writing because so few can afford to feed themselves of one type alone.
And please excuse my terrible grammar 😉