Hello WriteWorldwide readers! And welcome to another week of useful content on the blog. To kick things off this week, we’re bringing you our exclusive interview with full-time freelance writer Leah Presser.
Leah reached out to me a few weeks ago through my writer’s site to let me know that she’s a big fan of WriteWorldwide. Like me, she writes for the pet niche, and was interested in connecting and sharing ideas.
I was happy to make a new contact in my niche, and even happier to hear that Leah’s getting so much value from WriteWorldwide – even though (in her words) “English actually is my first and only language.”
Whatever your first language is, there’s plenty of actionable content right here on WriteWorldwide to help you on your freelance writing journey.
That’s why we made the site. And we’re glad to have you all here!
Leah kindly agreed to be interviewed, and has some great advice for beginner freelance writers. Read on to discover her freelance writing tips and tricks …
1) Hi Leah, please tell us a little about yourself and your career as a writer.
I’m about six months into making freelance writing my full-time career. I’ve written my whole life, but didn’t pursue it as more than a side gig until recently. I always kept a full-time office job until last year, writing on the side when great opportunities presented themselves.
I love pursuing this challenging, rewarding, frustrating, amazingly fun career. Writing is a solitary act, for sure, but getting ready to write and engaging in a writing career is far from it. I’m always learning new things, meeting new people, hearing new and exciting ideas, and, if I’m lucky, writing about it.
I’ve been working as a content writer and copywriter for B2B and B2C businesses. A generalist, basically. I’ve recently decided to choose the pet industry as my writing niche.
2) Did you grow up wanting to be a writer? And how did you break into the industry?
I wanted to be a writer ever since I fell in love with reading at a young age. When I was 10 years old, I spent my whole summer sitting on the front porch hunched over Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I still remember seeing the round doors on the hobbit homes, the golden-haired elves, and enchanted forests in vivid detail in my mind as I flipped the pages.
Words, I discovered, hold the power to set off an explosion in my mind where entirely new worlds are built, and I am free to roam as far as I want for as long as I can. I was hooked. As a teenager, Stephen King was my truest, most reliable friend.
I always wanted to be able to harness the power of words to produce the same magic these gifted writers did. I wanted to be able to create exciting lives full of adventure in readers’ minds and reach them on an emotional level.
During my 20’s, I had several short stories and poems published in obscure literary magazines nobody ever reads. But, I nursed a nagging sense that I didn’t know the requisite number of things necessary to write well.
I didn’t know, exactly, what things I needed to know to write well. I started college at age 31 to see if I could find out. I majored in journalism, hoping it’d give me the answers.
College taught me many things, some useful, some not so much. It also taught me the one thing I truly needed to know, and that is:
There’s an impossible amount of things to know. Impossible. I could never learn it all. No one could ever even learn one-billionth of the all the things there are to learn.
I’d have to just forget about feeling good enough or smart enough or educated enough to write. I’d have to just buckle up and write, regardless of what I knew or didn’t know.
Thankfully, I was figuring this out when I was connected with my first “real” writing gig.
Two of my journalism instructors lined me up with my first professional news/business writing jobs. They had contacts in the industry and trusted me to do high quality work when editors from Cincinnati Business Courier and Newsroom Ink asked to be connected with a great writer.
3) What advice do you have for beginner freelance writers?
You don’t need to start blindfolded. You can follow the tested and true advice of established writers such as Jorden Roper, John Morrow, and Carol Tice for starting and running a successful freelance writing business.
At the same time, you gotta do our own thing. You can’t get so hung up following every piece of advice you hear that you become shackled by “shoulds.” Not everything everyone says will work for you. Find what works and move forward.
Don’t wait for your work, your website, your pitch, or anything you do to be perfect before you hit the “publish” or “send” buttons. Done is better than perfect. You won’t learn and improve if you never take action and make mistakes. You will make mistakes, but you’ll also move on and do well afterward.
4) Do you have any advice for writers juggling freelance writing with a full-time job?
One saying that kept reverberating through my mind while I was working a full-time office job was: How you spend your days is how you spend your life. If that makes you panic, then you have to do something. Generally, that means you have to either make peace with how you’re spending your days and accept where you are, or change it.
If you see even the tiniest sliver of light shining through a crack in the doorway to making writing your full-time gig, push your way through it. Don’t look back.
On the other hand, if you must keep your full-time job, it can be 100% fulfilling to write on the side. You just have to let go of what you think you “should be” doing (writing full-time) and embrace what you are doing (writing kick-ass material when you can).
5) What’s your opinion on the subject of choosing a writing niche?
Finding a writing niche has been a big source of stress for me. Many established writers swear you must work within a niche to make money. Yet, many other writers appear to be super successful as generalists.
Because the writing I do often requires a lot of research and citing to authoritative sources, I know that focusing my efforts toward writing in the pet industry niche works best for me.
I won’t make wild guesses when I write or just jot down random fluff and deem it “good enough.” I have to feel confident that what I’m writing is accurate, well-rounded, and of the highest quality. That means I
spend a lot of time and effort understanding the industry and topic I’m writing about. As a generalist, I sometimes spend four or five hours learning background information about an industry. Then, I spend a couple more hours researching the specific topic I’m writing about.
That’s not efficient or productive.
Writing in the pet industry niche solves this problem for me. It means I’ve already got my finger on the pulse of the pet industry. I’m familiar with the industry’s standards, best practices, and who its thought leaders and influencers are. I know where to go to get accurate information. This ultimately saves me time, increases my productivity, and make my writing better.
6) Winning new clients is always a hot topic on the WriteWorldwide blog. What’s the most effective prospecting method you’ve used to find new work?
For me, it’s often simply been a matter of being in the right place at the right time. The right place to be is online, and the right time to be online is whenever people need my services. I can’t predict exactly when that will be, so I spend a lot of time creating a solid online presence.
What works for me is having a website with a blog that I consistently update and staying active on LinkedIn and Twitter. I’ve attracted leads directly through my website, LinkedIn and Twitter.
I also use Facebook, but it hasn’t produced any leads for me. I barely use Pinterest or Google+ and I don’t use SnapChat, Instagram, or any others because I haven’t automated the process yet. I may need to change this approach.
Your online presence spreads awareness of your availability as a writer. It also serves as a de facto online interview. It’s how prospective clients get to know you as a writer and potential business partner. They will decide if you are right for them as a freelancer based mostly on the impression they get from your online presence. So make sure you’re out there where they can find you.
7) What do you wish you’d known at the start of your freelance writing career?
Starting out, I wish I’d had a better understanding of how to build websites on WordPress. I’ve spent a great deal of time building, modifying and rebuilding my writer’s website. I’ve wasted money buying themes and plugins that don’t work right for me or that I didn’t really need.
Lots of money, lots of time, all down the tubes. (By the way, what “tubes” are we talking about when we say this?) It’s all part of the learning process, I guess.
Anyway, all that time and money would have been better spent marketing myself and writing. I still have a lot to learn about WordPress and how to use it to make my website better. Every time I turn around, there’s more to do and learn. I try to make the time I spend learning more beneficial by also writing about what I learn.
8) Name one book, one tool, and one article that have helped you in your writing career.
Seth Godin’s book All Marketers Are Liars stresses the importance of storytelling in copywriting and content writing (two interrelated but different animals, to be sure). Much of my work is marketing focused. Understanding how readers relate to my writing helps me tell authentic stories that resonate in the hearts and minds of buyers.
I’ve tried out so many tools to help me in my writing career. Get Stencil, Visme, Asana, Airtable, Wave, Giphy, Calendly, Canva, elink.io, different keyword research tools … they’re all great. In fact, you can waste a massive amount of time just trying out all the different apps and programs out there. Be careful about that.
SumoMe is one of the best tools I use for building a stronger online presence, which is crucial to getting new business. I use SumoMe’s free version on my website. SumoMe makes it easy for me or anyone else to simply click and share my articles. It allows me to easily capture leads and build an email list – all for free!
John Morrow’s Become a Writing Machine showed me how to establish a schedule and remove distractions when I write. It is simple advice that actually works!
The internet is a rabbit hole that’s so easy to slip into and never get anything done. Under the guise of “research,” I’ve spent days and days flitting from one article to the next. I was reading and learning, yes, but I was also never actually writing anything. It’s crucial that writers actually write.
Become a Writing Machine showed me how to stop that compulsive behaviour. Plus, answering the list of questions Morrow provides is the best way I’ve found (out of many I’ve tried) to create a solid draft of a blog post.
9) Who are your biggest influences and people you admire in the freelance writing industry?
Jorden Roper at Writing Revolt is amazing at relating to and motivating freelance writers.
John Morrow at Smart Blogger is a guy to emulate. He communicates clearly and is fun to read.
Carol Tice at Make A Living Writing gives great tips and actionable advice that helps freelance writers.
The folks at Copyblogger and The Write Life are also dedicated to educating freelance writers and providing tips and advice that are genuinely helpful if you take action on them.
And, of course, WriteWorldwide drew me in by writing about things that matter to me!
10) What does the future hold for you – are you involved in any new projects related to writing?
I have a new article coming out in the July/August issue of Pets Plus magazine. Writing the article helped me choose the pet industry as my niche. Right now, I am learning more about marketing and writing for pet businesses by reading trade magazines and the websites of leaders in the pet industry. Next, I will set up a website specific to freelance writing for the pet industry, or modify my current website. Then, I’ll get myself out there winning over new clients and writing smashing new content for the pet industry.
Find out more about Leah by visiting her website.