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Freelancer Q&A… Meet Lilani Goonesena!

by Rachel Smith
19 January 2018

Lilani is one freelancer I kept coming across again and again online, long before she joined the List. We bang on about visibility: she is a case in proof of how well it works. I signed up for her newsletter a year ago now, and I love it: it’s not easy writing a weekly newsletter and keeping it fresh and useful for your audience. Lani’s is always a goldmine of tips for any freelancer, whether you’re keen to tweak aspects of your business or digital marketing, master various social media platforms, learn about a new tool or resource or save yourself valuable time dealing with clients. Here’s our Q&A with Lani, who shares her freelance challenges, growth areas, top tools and much more…

1.   What’s your name and what do you do?

My name is Lilani Goonesena and I’m a freelance writer, SEO copywriter and website designer.

2.   How did you start freelancing?

It happened a bit by accident. I was intending to go back to work after the birth of my second child and then the 2013 government hiring freeze came into place (in Canberra) and I couldn’t get a job. I’d done a bit of freelance writing before so I refocused my efforts on it then.

3.   What’s your niche?

I wear 3 main hats – I blog and write articles about food and travel, I design websites, and I also do SEO copywriting for businesses. And I teach digital marketing to small businesses in my weekly newsletter. So, oh, that’s actually 4 hats then…

4.   Main challenge you face as a freelancer?

The irregularity of work. Sometimes I have a full month’s work, other times it’s lean. There’s always planning and marketing to line things up in advance, which is tiring in itself, and I’d love to have a more reliable source of income.

5.   What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you started working for yourself?

It’s corny to say but I really have been surprised by my own capacity to learn and reinvent myself. I really struggled through high school. I was about 30 when I realised one day that I wasn’t ‘stupid’. It was such a revelation after years of assuming that I must be kind of slow since I couldn’t keep up with the other kids, especially in maths.

Since I got into the digital world of marketing, websites and SEO, it’s been a massive learning curve and I love it. Rather than feel overwhelmed, I’ve developed my own systems and thrived in it. So, learning that you can always keep learning and be inspired by new and old things, that’s a great feeling.

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

  • Google Drive, I do everything in Drive, it’s awesome
  • Outlook and my obsessive folder system
  • TinyJpeg, for chopping down file sizes on all my images.

7.   What would you be doing if you weren’t freelancing?

Good question. I’d like to think I’d be doing something fun like managing events for charities (which I do a lot of in my free time) but realistically I’d probably be in some boring (but well-paid with a nice superannuation balance) government job dreaming of being a freelance writer!

8.   Any career highlights?

I’ve had a few great famils, to Rutherglen wine region for a story with Selector magazine, and also a couple of week-long famils around Victoria and Tasmania with Appetite for Excellence.

I’ve also really enjoyed writing my current blog, Eat Drink Laos. It’s been really well received here in Laos and also been recommended internationally. I started this blog just because I love writing about food but between my perfectionism and Vientiane’s amazing eateries, it’s become something very special.

9.   What piece of work are you most proud of?

It’s a toss up between one of my first early stories for Modern Farmer about the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. It’s such a fantastic facility that helps to sustain global food security. I knew from the moment I heard about the center exactly what I’ll call the article, which is rare for me as I’m usually terrible with titles so it was a good sign. And I just love Modern Farmer too, it’s my dream publication.

My other favourite is an opinion piece I wrote for SBS about refugees (another of my passions). It had almost 10k social shares so it was great to know that it resonated with a lot of people too.

10.                 What are currently your biggest growth areas as a freelancer?

Web design is definitely an area of growth which is why I branched into it a few years ago. And also SEO copywriting, as businesses start to realise that there’s a real process behind getting those Google results, and it’s harder than they may think.

11.                 What’s surprised you the most about freelancing?

I think the potential, not just for me but for every small business owner out there. Freelancing is a whole working revolution. Women in particular are challenging the norm of working long office hours and hardly seeing their kids. They’re choosing to follow their passions instead and making a real success of it. Technology enables people to do this now in a way that wasn’t possible 10 years ago. And now you can see traditional industries starting to respond. It’s great. Go us!

12.                 How has your freelance work changed over the years? What have you done to adapt to changes in the industry?

Well, 3 years ago, just before I moved to Laos (where I live now), I bundled my writing skills in with my web design skills. I’d worked on websites for about 5 years beforehand, mostly for myself or updating the company site, that kind of thing. Offering it as a business service was a big step but one that’s worked really well.

Also I’ve gotten right into digital marketing, especially Facebook. I’m now teaching that in my weekly newsletter. That’s something I wouldn’t have predicted a few years ago!

The next step is e-courses and I’m working on my first one now, and webinars. I’m still nervous about video but I know that’s huge right now so I’m trying to overcome my introverted nature here!

13.                 Where do you work from mainly? What’s great / not so great about it?

My home office. I quite jealously guard my own space to think and work. Notwithstanding a cat or two, and usually the sweet sounds of a neighbourhood karaoke party (anytime is a good time for very loud karaoke in Laos).

I’ve never tried a co-working space though a well-stocked communal cookie jar does sound enormously tempting…

14.                 Where would you like your business to be in two years? 

I’d love to be offering a couple of e-courses and focusing most of my energy on that.

But I’d still like to blog about food, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of that.

15.                 What would be your advice to other freelancers starting out?

One thing I’d say is to start with what you know. It’s great to want to be a food and travel writer but if your current job is selling insurance then don’t discount that. Businesses and editors increasingly want people with niche knowledge, so start off by being an insurance writer. It pays well and you’ll find it easier to get work than in an area where you have no experience or contacts.

The business side of things – website, social media, marketing etc – that’s the same regardless of your niche. You need those skills though so start safe with what you know and then move on once you’ve mastered the business skills.

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

Lilani Goonesena is a freelance writer, SEO copywriter and web designer based in Vientiane, Laos (but moving to Canberra, ACT in July 2018). She works with freelancers and small businesses in Australia and Asia. She writes an awesome weekly newsletter on digital marketing, social media, and “all that online stuff”. Lilani also blogs at the delectable Eat Drink Laos, just for fun, and you can find her website here. You should also definitely track her down on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Rachel Smith
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Rachel Smith

As a kid, Rachel used to carry around a little suitcase of pens and paper so she could stop and write stories whenever inspiration struck. These days, she writes for a living, in between running the show at Rachel's List. Some of you may actually believe she looks like a megaphone in real life, but it's not the case. Honest.
Rachel Smith
Find us!

2 responses on "Freelancer Q&A… Meet Lilani Goonesena!"

  1. Great interview Lani and Rachel! I’ve been following Lilani’s career for a long time too and am always inspired:)

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      She’s a bit of a legend 🙂

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