Freelancer Q&A: Meet Jac Taylor!

by Rachel Smith
25 January 2019

Jac Taylor is one of those people you could sit next to at a dinner party and talk to all night. I’ll never forget when I first met her at a mutual friend’s birthday picnic and she wrote down the recipe for the awesome roast pumpkin salad she’d brought along (I still make it weekly). She always seems to be doing something interesting – a road trip with her 4-year-old daughter was the latest! – and I love the way she cheerfully embraces the chaos and tumultuousness of our industry (or as Jac calls it, the ‘Wild West’). Read on for her mad freelance journey, her thoughts on success, where she thinks the industry is headed, her favourite types of projects and the best social platform to find work on.

What made you decide to become a freelancer?

Institutionalised nastiness in the commercial television industry. Did that sound too bolshie? Ha! A freelance cameraman convinced me over a few rums on location on some island off Queensland to go my own way. He made me jump up and down on a picnic table and punch at the air at one point, if I recall. I woke up the next day with a headache and a whole new resolve.

What type of freelancing do you currently do and what route did you take to get there?

I now specialise in branded and native content consulting and copywriting, but still do a lot of editorial writing and photography, mostly in the field of travel and leisure, but also home, design and gardening writing. For example, recent weeks have seen me consulting on articulation of a new sub-brand for AAT Kings, photographing for Gardening Australia and writing longform native travel content for International Traveller magazine. Life is never boring! I started with a Communications degree, ended up in commercial TV, researching then producing travel TV shows across two networks, then decided to publish the many words and pictures I’d jotted down on the road over the years. After a while, those words and pictures took over and I ran away from TV altogether.

How has your freelance work changed over the years? What’s been the biggest surprise?

The glorious advent of native content and the subsequent crossover of journalism and marketing has created this wonderful new space I occupy – a kind of ideal shaded bit of the Venn diagram between the journalism I’ve always believed in, the multimedia knowledge I hold, and the marketing skills I’ve joyfully gained along the way. The biggest surprise? The fall and fall of word rates for editorial journalism. Some are a quarter of the rates I worked for 20 years ago.

Where do you think the industry is headed? What have you done (or what do you do) to adapt to changes in the industry?

I see individuals and content agencies equally scrambling for a foothold in a new world where words and pictures are a new kind of commodity, but their usage is still being defined in both journalistic and monetary terms. That makes it a kind of Wild West out there right now, which I’m frankly loving. For myself, I have reflected along the way on my own definitions of paid, sponsored, native and client-driven content – so I’ve gone forth without the squeamishness that I know some more traditional journos might have about this new ‘content versus journalism’ space.

What does success mean to you? What is THE singular thing that you think has made you successful?

Great question. I used to define success as a full diary of work and clients – which is why I very nearly worked myself into the ground. Now I define success as being paid what I’m worth – and what the project is worth. What has made me successful? No idea! I’d like to think it’s because I have genuine enthusiasm to fulfil a brief, to meet people and listen to them, and to tell exciting stories. I love the world and I love to write about it.

What’s your favourite kind of writing to do / project to work on?

I still absolutely relish longform travel writing. It’s delicious. And I love to interview and photograph people doing amazing things in the world.

How do you generally find clients to work with (or do they find you)?

I am so terrible at pitching. Luckily, they generally come to me these days. I’m a good networker through social media and face-to-face at events, and love a chat – it’s amazing how often I’ll start the conversation on a great new contract over a champers or two! But I’ve been in the travel media industry so long, and it’s such a small world, there are never too many genuinely new introductions.

Is there a social platform you find most useful in getting work?

I want to say Instagram. But actually, Facebook. Professional groups on Facebook are worth their weight in gold.

What’s your ‘writing ritual’? Which location do you work from mainly? What’s a typical work week look like for you?

My home office room is cluttered and scary, but it does the trick. My writing ritual involves one computer bingeing Suits episodes as I research on the other. Then I take a shower and have a think. Then I return with a full bottle of 1.25-litre No Sugar Coke and don’t emerge till the piece is done. Ah, self employment. And there is no typical week.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a freelancer?

Everyone has different pay periods, invoicing requirements, pay on publishing, etc etc… and I have a mortgage!

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you started working for yourself? And what would be the two tips you’d pass on to those starting out?

Forget about the writing and being a creative. If you are a freelancer, you are running a business. Act like it. Get organised. It took me 15 years to learn that! The two tips? Play to your strengths – don’t stretch yourself too far to try and win every job. Take the jobs that will make you shine and take you where you want to be. The other: Know your worth. You teach the rest of the world how you deserve to be treated.

What are the three top tools you can’t live without?

Rounded accounting app has changed my life – thanks to RL for putting it on my radar! Now that I have a virtual assistant, Trello has rocked my world this year; my VA’s laughing that I’m now even using it to tell myself to do something, not just her. And I’m loving Tailwind app as I’m switching my social media gaze to Pinterest this year – it’s moving my content around between channels in a very easy way.

Any career highlights? Where has this job taken you?

Honestly? It’s not the destinations or the famous people. It’s the passionate, everyday people I’ve enjoyed meeting the most, and hearing their stories. The 85-year-old woman heading to the South Pole because she’s getting old and won’t make it to space, her first choice, so this’ll do. The nut farmer who spoke so glowingly of pecans for two hours I was shining with excitement all day afterwards.

What’s the story / piece of work you’re most proud of? Why?

I’m incredibly proud to have delivered a TEDx talk in October last year – what a nerve-wracking, out-of-this-world experience! It was a difficult topic, about travelling and unpacking white-woman privilege, to a mostly un-Caucasian audience in the room, and nobody threw anything at me, so I guess I got it right. As far as written work? I was so proud to have converted a 12-day trip to Vanuatu, with a 20-month-old child, into no less than 14 published stories. This was a longform for International Traveller that I loved writing.

Currently what are your biggest growth areas as a freelancer? Any surprises?

I am definitely into working smarter, not harder, so I’m investigating automation tools such as Hootsuite, etc, but want to retain content control (because I’m a total control freak). However, I’m surprised to learn that I’m getting used to outsourcing some things – my virtual assistant, for example, is gathering new pitching contacts for me as we speak!

What are your goals for the coming year?

I’m launching a new travel website with a rather comprehensive reach in terms of brand and services, and have started sorting out corporate partnerships, etc. 2019 is making me dizzy already… but excited!

Like to know more about Jac? Here’s her bio:

Jac Taylor is an experienced content leader in the field of travel and leisure, with a strong background in traditional editorial media as well as a solid grounding in branding, strategy and native content/advertorial copywriting. In short, a travel writer made good. You can find her website here and she’s also on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Rachel Smith

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