Being a creative entrepreneur is one of my favourite topics, but we don’t talk about it very often on The Party Girl. With our focus usually on celebrating, it can be hard to find ways to organically bring it up. That’s why I love how positive the response has been for our #wcw posts, because it gives us the opportunity to explore how exciting and terrifying and powerful and amazing it can be. Basically we get to celebrate the courage of all these women we’re profiling, and how does that not fit in with The Party Girl values?
ANYWAYS, I am super excited to share today’s #wcw with y’all because she is pretty much the epitome of courage. Laura was an exhausted inner-city teacher who fell out of love with her job and needed a change. She put it all on the line and broke out as a freelance writer, and now she’s the successful business and lifestyle coach of two courses designed to help aspiring writers find their own financial freedom. Today we’re talking with Laura about burn out, leaving your professional safety net, and helping others do what they love.
Tell us more about your career path. What were you doing before Six Figure Writing Secrets and Freelancing Freedom and what got you to where you are today?
Before I got involved with my freelance writing and coaching company, I was an inner city teacher. I taught 7th grade in Baltimore City, and it was very challenging and exhausting, and at many times overwhelming. There were days when I just could not imagine coming back the next day and the only reason that I did was because of the kids who were really making an effort.
I also spent some time working in corporate America in the life insurance and annuity world, and while that certainly wasn’t a bad position, it also wasn’t really very fulfilling for me. I didn’t really like that efficiency wasn’t rewarded. It was more important for you to be at your desk between certain hours whether you had work to do or not. So, there was no real motivation for me to finish things or feel like we were really valued as part of the company.
For me, I actually sort of stumbled upon freelance writing and discovered that I really enjoyed it and that I loved the freedom and the flexibility that it offered. So I started my company while I was still working full-time somewhere else and sort of grew it over the period of a year and then eventually was out on my own to work as a freelance writer and I have been doing that since 2013.
Because so many people heard about my story, especially teachers in my world, or military spouses [my boyfriend is active duty Navy, so we move every couple of years and having a mobile career also appeals to a lot other military spouses/significant others]. I love what I do and I think it’s a lot of fun, but other people saw that as well and reached out to me for advice and that’s why I founded Six Figure Writing Secrets.
So, now I have the best of both worlds. From my teaching experience I get to work with and coach other people and write and have something that I wake up and enjoy doing every day.
What advice would you give other freelancers looking to start their own brand? How do you go about building a positive reputation from scratch?
One of the most important things I recommend is having a lot of care and attention given to your first couple of clients. So referrals, word of mouth, your online reputation, ratings on job boards, networking – all of these are really crucial as a freelance writer and you have to build a reputation and let your work really speak for itself and your clients speak for themselves, too.
Now that I have a stable of clients, many of whom I have worked with for more than two years, it’s really easy when someone asks for a reference to say, “yeah, here is so and so at this particular firm, we’ve worked together for years”. I mean, the fact that we worked together means often that the new client doesn’t even contact anybody at that firm because you are not going to pay someone for two years if you are not happy with the services.
Having happy clients, even if it’s just one or two go a long way. Another thing I recommend if you are building a positive reputation from scratch: no matter what kind of freelancer you are, a graphic designer, web designer, writer, virtual assistant, is to build some work samples. One of the hesitations new people have about doing this is that if they have never been paid to do it before they don’t think they have work samples.
You probably have done some kind of project or hobby or task at work that relates to your chosen field. It’s really easy to turn that into a work sample and if you don’t have work samples, I encourage you to create one.
I made three freelance writing samples in the industries I wanted to focus in when I got started and I used just those three to get me jobs for my first year of being a freelance writer. Set aside that time to put a couple of hours into creating some really quality samples that demonstrate your work. Time and time again talent will get you a job with a freelance client when experience doesn’t. So, if you don’t have that background, don’t panic about it, just put in the effort to have really good quality samples.
Describe what a typical day in the life looks like for you.
So for me one of the coolest things about my career is that it’s really flexible. I never thrived in the 9-5 environment because I felt like it was the same old same old. So, while I actually work more hours than I ever did at my day job, it’s because I am so passionate about what I am doing. And I go above and beyond just delivering things to clients. I am constantly thinking about marketing and serving my coaching clients and how I can create better services and better value, so it’s like it never really turns off, but what’s cool about that is I can work according to my moods.
I have learned over the course of several years doing this that I am most productive between 6 o clock in the morning and noon. So I do all my heavy thinking activities during that time. I don’t always get up that early, but I am almost always in my office by 7:30am working just because I want to capitalize on that. In the afternoon, I do trainings and to get myself to be better, I do phone calls with my clients, I do marketing, things like writing on my blog or creating Pinterest graphics, all those sort of things that don’t require as much mental stamina and strength as writing or creating a module for my course does, but they are still really important.
That’s how I usually devise my day. I usually try to take Fridays off and I usually don’t work past 3 or 4 o clock in the afternoon. I am just mentally drained after that time and just don’t feel like doing any more work, so I just quit and go exercise or go read a book or go do something fun, and I love that because it means that I am never forcing myself to work when I don’t want to. It’s very rare that I am at my computer doing something because I have to and I love that.
What do you think is the most valuable lesson clients can learn from your courses?
For me what’s really important for my clients to know is that way more of getting in the freelance business is about the mental work you need to do to be ready for it than it is the actual products. A lot of people simply haven’t started a freelancing career because they don’t think they can and that fear might be buried pretty deep or they might not even realize that it’s a lack of self-confidence holding them back, but it happens far too often.
People are scared to give themselves permission to start marketing or to start talking to clients and not having that confidence can be really detrimental. So, I am a very process-oriented person and a huge part of my courses are all about like the literal steps you need to take. How to create a writing sample. How to have a sales conversation with a client, etc. But I also find myself really trying to allow my clients to give themselves permission to start this process because some people are scared of what’s going to happen if they start. What if I actually do get a client? They don’t believe that they can do it.
I feel like it is just as important and I think it’s a really valuable lesson for clients to realize and it’s really cool watching them get their first job or really good job. And a lot of the time that isn’t because they have a samples problem or because they have a sales conversation problem or a quality issue. It’s simply because they didn’t have the confidence to give themselves permission to really go out there and own their worth and own how awesome they are.
For me, what is huge about what I do and what I help other people do is that some people will never be a fit for corporate America or various jobs out there that are very stringent about how you work within them. I felt the same way when I was a teacher. I was allowed to be creative to an extent but then there was always a wall that I was brushing up with. and I felt in my corporate job I wasn’t rewarded for being efficient or really creative, it was more about you showing up every day and being there between the specific time whether I had anything to do or not. It just drove me crazy.
For me, I think that one piece of wisdom I’ve learned is to recognize when you are the odd duck and own it. I have felt this way often. I am a PhD candidate in Public Policy too and the entire duration of me being in graduate school with that PhD program, I have felt like the odd person out because I am not really drawn to academia. I am more about creating things and helping other people more so than a lot of traditional academic roles are these days. But I found a way to make my role as an odd duck still work with my day to day life.
Since I am so passionate about what I do with freelance writing and coaching other freelancers, I feel that really allows me to have that creative aspect of myself without feeling drained by times when I have to do work with PhD or other things that don’t really interest me as much as what I do. I knew early on that I was not a 9 to 5 person. I went into college saying “9 to 5, not for me, I’ve got to find something else.” I didn’t think it would be business, but I always just knew that the traditional model wasn’t for me.
The biggest lesson and piece of wisdom I can pass along to others is ‘trust your intuition’. If you really have the discipline to work for yourself and to make things happen, then you would thrive as an entrepreneur and you might be struggling in your day job now or you might be feeling like you don’t even want to get a day job because you know it wouldn’t go well.
As an entrepreneur or a freelancer, your self-discipline is going to bring out all those of aspects of you like being really efficient, really creative, helping other people, doing things when it works best for you. Be in tune with what your own mind and spirit is telling you. If that type of job opportunity isn’t for you, don’t do it. I think my experience working in those industries helped me, but ultimately it didn’t serve me the way that my job now does so I wish I would have sooner jumped into the realm of freelance writing. I just didn’t know about it. I didn’t know how much fun it could be and how lucrative it could be.
What is your next goal?
My next goal is to really build a suite of programs that are designed to help new and emerging freelancers and entrepreneurs be successful in their business. I have learned so much about time management and hiring and managing a digital team because I have had the opportunity to work with some pretty amazing clients like TrueCar and Microsoft and build out their digital teams and streamline their work flow.
I feel like I have a voice in that, a voice that I can share with a lot of entrepreneurs. I really love coaching people through the struggles that they create, so I am working on some programs that are designed to help people who may have already launched a freelance career, but it’s not earning the money they want or it’s not giving them the fulfillment they want. I really see myself having an information product library that serves clients at many different levels and helps entrepreneurs and freelancers be successful.
If you could pick anyone, which three women would you invite to your next dinner party?
First of all I am going to have to go with Hillary Clinton because I am a huge fan of how she has handled grace under pressure and how successful she has been as a politician. We also both went to an all-women’s college and I would love to chat her with about how she feels that experience prepared her for life because I think for me being in a group of really empowered and amazing women has sky rocketed me to success, and it’s still something I reflect back on years later.
Second, I would have to say Tyra Banks. I followed her modelling career and her business for about the last decade and I am just amazed at how much insight she had to know that there was a time limit to her modelling career and to really think about the end while she was in the beginning. I think she has a lot of tremendous business insight about how to capitalize on your strengths and really turn that into a fulfilling and meaningful business and brand.
Finally, I would love to have dinner with Meryl Streep. Meryl Streep is an incredibly thoughtful and talented actress and she has so many interesting commentaries about society today. She has proven that women can be successful actresses over many different stages of their life and I’ve just really enjoyed watching her career blossom and really see her as an actress with a tremendous amount of integrity.
I wish I knew how to…?
Do technical stuff. This is so my downfall and this is why I rely on a virtual team to help me. I can spend hours banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how to input information into an email auto responder or to how to understand and manipulate Google analytics.
After several years of being in business, I have just decided to embrace the fact that that is not my wheelhouse and to hire people for whom it is. I do not work efficiently when I am doing technical stuff and it ends up giving me a headache and making me frustrated. I’ve learned to like just let that go and not get hung up on, “oh, I am sure I can figure this out myself” when it makes a lot more sense to hire someone else.
Tell us what ‘celebrate the everyday’ means to you.
For me, there is so much joy in life and celebrating the little things in the day to day moments. I sometimes go out on my trampoline in my backyard here in North Carolina and just lay on it while the breeze is blowing and taking the time to do a small ritual like that even for five minutes allows me to appreciate all of my surroundings and the fact that I have the freedom to step out in the middle of my day and do that when I need to.
For me celebrating the everyday is about seeing the little things and not just being appreciative of the big successes that we have in life but also being mindful of the little things we accomplish on our day to day basis and the little things we can be grateful for on a regular basis too.
A big thank you to Laura for taking the time to join us today – is it any wonder she’s our #wcw? Learn more about Laura and her courses at her website: www.sixfigurewritingsecrets.com