November 20, 2019
This is a guest post from freelancer Brittany Risher.
Brittany Risher is a content strategist, editor, and writer specializing in health and lifestyle content. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University, she worked at Men’s Health, Prevention, Women’s Health, Shape, and Greatist before going freelance three years ago. Her current clients include Sonima, Elemental, ZocDoc, Men’s Health, and Whisky Advocate.
Learn how Risher got started freelance writing and transitioned from a full-time job to becoming a full-time freelancer.
1. How did you get started freelancing?
I began my career as a health editor and worked full time for websites and magazines such as Men’s Health, Women’s Health, and Shape for eight years. I then left the health and wellness space to take the opportunity to help launch a website about online business and entrepreneurship for Ramit Sethi called GrowthLab. While I’d gained experience with content marketing in my past jobs, this position gave me a chance to learn much more. After a year, I decided to go freelance because I wanted to be able to “do it all”—strategy, marketing, editing, writing, and project management. I also wanted to return to health and wellness content, because that’s my passion. I’ve been freelance for more than three years now.
2. Do you mind sharing some early freelance rates you earned when starting out?
When I started out, I took a part-time project management job with Everyday Health for $65 per hour. For my writing gigs, I earned between $325 and $800. (The high end was for a physical therapy and sports performance company.) Today, my hourly rate is typically $125, and my highest-paying writing assignments pay $1 per word.
3. When did you first consider freelancing full time as an option?
I began considering going freelance while working on GrowthLab. That entire team was remote, so it gave me a taste of working from home and mostly managing my own hours. Although it was a great opportunity, there was a lot of red tape at the company and some management issues that gave me increasing anxiety. So I considered freelance for my mental health as well as for professional reasons.
4. What reservations did you have about freelancing full time?
I never thought I would go freelance—it never even crossed my mind until I was at GrowthLab. I am type A and like stability, so not having a consistent income and health benefits concerned me. I worried that I would constantly be stressing out over money. And I had imposter syndrome—would anyone hire me for more than just writing?
5. Did those change? Do you still have the same fears/apprehensions or have new ones cropped up?
A few months after making the change, I talked to another freelance editor and told her how I thought I could not do it because I was type A. She replied, “You need to be type A to freelance.” She has a point: To be successful, you need to be highly organized and stay on top of everything. Although I am very comfortable freelancing today, I still have imposter syndrome when I cold-email new clients about doing their content strategy. And when work is light, I get some anxiety, but I also broke down my financial goals by each month as well as each week. Looking at those numbers helps reassure me that I’m OK. (Here’s how to write pitches that editors want to read.)
6. What did you wish you knew about freelancing before you did this full time?
I wish I knew to think about my financial goals not only in terms of money but also clients. I used to take my annual income target and divide that into both monthly and weekly goals. Then I’d compare those to what deadlines came in for each month and week to see if I was on track. While that is smart, when I created my goals for 2019, I took my monthly income goal and broke that down into specific clients and types of assignments. For example, I would earn $X from Sonima, for which I’m editorial director. Then I’d write four articles per month for My Fitness Pal, which added up to $Y. I’d do one longer “passion project” assignment for a print publication for $Z. Granted, that is not how each month has ended up. However, having these types of goals gives me the drive to go after new clients and also to continue to pitch articles that I simply really want to write about. This year, it also led to two new clients whom I regularly write for—and who pay more than my past clients. (Here’s what other freelancers wish they knew about freelancing as beginners.)
7. What is your favorite part of freelancing?
I love two things in particular about freelancing. One, I get to do a variety of things. I enjoy content strategy and editing and writing and marketing and managing teams. And I can do a little of all of that, or shift from doing more writing for a few months to taking on a project management client and almost no writing six months later. Second, I love working from home. Having no commute or set hours gives me more flexibility to get chores and errands done, so then I can relax more with my boyfriend at night or on the weekends. (Though I’m a workaholic, so it’s very easy for me to work nonstop.)
8. What is the most challenging part of freelancing full time?
There are two things that I find challenging about freelancing. One, while yes, you do make your own schedule, you are also very reliant on others’ schedules. For example, I need to schedule calls with clients and interviews with experts when they are free. So my work schedule is not fully “my” work schedule. Second, some days it can seem like the only feedback you get is negative feedback. Constructive criticism is important, however, sometimes all you get is very critical comments from an editor. And if you get several assignments with that kind of feedback all in one day…you can feel pretty crappy.
9. Do you think it’s important for someone to use the skills they plan to use freelancing on the side first while working full time before taking the leap to do this full time?
If you’ve been in your chosen freelance industry for at least five years and have strong relationships, no. You most likely have the skills you need, have good contacts, and know you enjoy the work. On the other hand, if the field in which you want to freelance is new to you, yes, definitely try it as a side hustle first. That allows you to establish relationships, learn the work cycle (such as pitch-assign-write-edit-revise), and see if you actually enjoy it—all while you have the security of a full-time income to fall back on.
10. What do you do to maintain a steady flow of freelance work?
Most of my work is in the health space, so I receive daily emails with links to new health research. These studies help me stay on top of trends and often lead to article ideas. I also try to read industry news and follow organizations on social media to see what people are talking about. Then, I make sure I’m always pitching. I admit, it can be hard to keep that up, but I have a running document of pitches and who to send them to so that, once I hear back from an editor on one batch of pitches, I can send them more pitches. Lastly, if there’s a new company I hear of, I’ll check out their site to see if they have a blog or do other content. Either way, I’ll often cold email their general email or try to find someone on LinkedIn to contact and offer my content strategy services. That has led to many conversations…and I am confident it will lead to work!
11. Is there anything else you think is the key to your success as a freelancer?
I think relationships are essential. I feel I was only able to begin my freelance career so successfully (the first year I made more money than I had at any full-time job) because I had nine years of experience, and editors knew my reputation. When I decided to make the leap, I emailed everyone I knew to tell them I was going freelance and ask if they were open to pitches. That led to many of them coming to me with assignments.
Talking to other freelancers has also been crucial. You learn how certain editors and managers work, hear who pays what, get advice on how to pitch or ask for more money, get second opinions on what rate to ask for, and more. Working by yourself can be lonely, so having people on your side who you can lean on makes you realize we’re all in this together and want each other to succeed.
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