January 6, 2020
This is a guest post from freelancer Colleen Travers.
Colleen Travers is a writer, editor, and content strategist covering health, fitness, and lifestyle content. After graduating from Rutgers University with a journalism degree she jumped right into her digital media career, working as a digital editor for publications like CosmoGirl!, Real Beauty, Fitness and DoctorOz.com. She’s been a freelancer for almost two years and her work has been featured in HuffPost Life, Verywell, Fitbit, and more. You can see her full portfolio here.
I always admired freelancing from afar, but I also loved all of the publications I worked for, from my first gig at CosmoGirl! to later as the editorial director for DoctorOz.com. After getting married, having a baby, and the real kicker – moving to the suburbs – it was starting to become undeniable that the day-to-day grind of rushing to and from the train to get to daycare on time was really starting to wear on me. But still, I felt lucky to have a job in an industry that was often shaky and figured I would make it work as long as possible.
After my second child was born I had my roadmap all planned, both kids were going to the same daycare and I had one day a week I could work at home, so I was mentally prepared to jump back in. What I did not plan for was to get laid off two months after returning from maternity leave. I started the job hunt but was feeling both uninspired and anxious – I had been at my job for four years and really valued how they let you occasionally work remotely. Plus, my previous managers and coworkers knew my work ethic, so it was never an issue if I had to leave early or come in late to take my son to doctor’s appointments, etc. Starting someplace new where I would have to prove myself all over again was exhausting just to think about, on top of the hurdle of adjusting to life with two kids.
I remember driving to visit my parents one weekend and telling my husband this along with how I wish I could freelance to have a little bit of the best of both worlds, when he told me I should give it a try. My mind was so cluttered it hadn’t even dawned on me to take advantage of this opportunity to pivot. Together we decided I’d give full-time freelance writing a go and if it wasn’t working out I could always go back to a full-time gig.
2. Do you mind sharing some early freelance rates you earned when starting out?
This was a little bit of a mental hurdle for me as I had to continually remind myself that while I was new to freelancing, I was not green in my career. I had been working for well over a decade as a writer and editor before going freelance, so I tried to keep that in mind in the beginning when setting rates for clients. When I was starting out I knew I might have to do some cheaper work to start, but I didn’t want to sell myself so short that increasing my rate would be difficult or cause me to lose a ton of work. After doing some research (largely on The Freelance Content Marketing Writer Facebook group) I ultimately decided to start at $100/hour instead of a lower rate so that it accurately reflected my work experience. For written assignments, there are a lot of factors that come into play when I set a freelance rate and since I’ve worked as an editor I try to be sympathetic to those in that role who have a limited budget while still making sure I’m being paid fairly.
3. Did you ever think you wanted to become a freelancer when you had a family?
I had been assigning stories to freelance writers for years at each of the publications I worked for and always thought freelancing was some sort of unicorn occupation. It looked so enticing to me as a career move down the road after starting a family (and many of the writers I worked with were men and women who had done just that) but I just didn’t understand the logistics of how it could work as a feasible option. Once I had kids it really bummed me out how little I spent with them during the day. Because of my commute, I was only getting to spend about an hour in the morning and maybe two hours at night with them. Also, these are not the best parts of the day for kids (or at least my kids!) – they were usually cranky, hungry, or tired and weren’t interested in playing with me come 6 p.m. so I felt like I was just doing all the “unfun” parenting stuff and not getting to enjoy the little people we created.
4. What reservations did you have about freelancing full time with children at home?
I think the biggest thing for me was figuring out if I would have the time to do both jobs in a capacity that I wanted to. I wanted to take my kids out of full-time daycare and enroll them in a shorter nursery school option closer to home so I could spend more time with them, but I wasn’t naïve enough to think I’d be able to get much (or anything) done during the day when they were home with me. So I needed to think through that balance before I got started so I could be realistic about my freelance goals and expectations of myself.
5. How do you make freelancing work with two young children at home?
The biggest reason I am able to freelance is because my in-laws have retired. They come over two days a week and watch the kids so I can get work done. That makes these two days my primary working days, and then the rest of the week I work either at night, in the morning, or on weekends. This spring, both of my kids will be in school for a few hours at the same time, so I’ll be able to work during that window as well in addition to this schedule. On the days my in-laws come over, I treat it like I’m going into an office. I shower, put on real clothes, and probably the most important step – leave the house! I wouldn’t be able to get nearly as much done if I was working upstairs or in an office out of my house. I’d be way too distracted if I heard someone crying downstairs or trying to hide from my kids (toddlers seems to have a sixth sense where they know you’re somewhere in the house even though you haven’t seen them in hours!). I should also mention my in-laws do this for free (bless them), so on top of having set childcare a week we also save on babysitting which is a huge help.
6. What are some of the biggest challenges of working from home when you have children at home?
I’m thankful that my biggest freelance challenge is really self-imposed. I tend to want to say yes to everything but freelancing with small children can make that impossible at this current stage of life. I’ll be looking at job opportunities and see something I’m really interested in but notice that it’s a full-time remote job or that you have to be available for weekly Skype meetings so many days a week, etc. I’ve had to resist the urge to go for those types of projects right now. I remind myself that one day I’ll likely be more open to positions like this (not to mention enjoy the salary stability they come with) when my kids are in school full-time, but my priority right now is to have a healthy work-life balance. For me, that means taking on more short-term projects where I can set my own schedule as well as standalone writing assignments.
I also find that I really have to be proactive about scheduling, particularly when it comes to expert interviews. When I get an assignment I need expert input for I source and schedule them ASAP (typically the same day I get the assignment if I can). Since I really have only two full open days for phone calls, I like to slot any conversations during those times so that I’m not distracted, and I find the more advanced time you give experts to your availability the greater likelihood they are able to accommodate it.
7. What advice would you share with freelancers who plan to work from home that you think is important to your success?
One of the best things about freelancing is the ability to set your own workday, and this can leave extra time for errands, working out, etc. Just make sure you don’t carve out too much time for that stuff. In the beginning, I found if I scheduled a yoga class and a trip to the grocery store on one of the two days a week I had childcare I was really only getting about two to three hours of work done – that just wasn’t cutting it! Now, on weeks where I have a lighter workload, I pick one thing to do in addition to working (it’s usually a run) and this still leaves me with a five- to six-hour workday. On busy weeks I scratch this completely and squeeze the extracurricular stuff in at night or in the morning before I leave for the day, much like I would have when I had a full-time job. Freelancing gives you flexibility, but if you’re not careful with it you may find you’re less productive than you’d like to be.
8. Is there anything else that you think has been the key to your success as a freelancer and making this work?
Network! I have a hard time asking for help, but this is one of the best tools everyone should use when making the leap to full-time freelance. Reaching out to contacts I’ve made (whether I worked for them for years or met them one time at an event) proved to be invaluable resources to help me navigate this new career path. I was able to get insights on everything from how to set rates, where to find new writing opportunities, what editors were looking for pitches, and so much more. Also, I make sure to maintain a good relationship with all my sources.
Because I cover health I typically can use the same expert for different outlets over the course of the year if the story is about a different topic in their field. I make sure to send them any article I write that they are quoted in, no matter how long it takes to run because I find me sending them a link instead of them having to hunt it down (or forget about it entirely) makes them more eager to be interviewed again in the future, or connect me to other sources they may know. (Here’s how to become your own social media manager as a freelancer.)
Tags: freelance questions, freelance rates, freelance success, freelance writing tips, freelancer, freelancing, freelancing tips, guest post, productivity, six figure freelancing, work at home, work from home, work life balance, writing advice, writing rates
Diana can help with:
Email Diana about opportunities: Diana(at)DianaKelly.com.