by Rachel Smith
03 November 2017
We’re starting a new type of post on the blog – profiling some of our most inspiring RL members. We’re kicking off with the brilliant Lindy Alexander from Castlemaine, Victoria, who swapped social work for freelance writing – and is making a killing doing so. Lindy’s blog, The Freelancer’s Year, is an unfailingly honest and always insightful read about money, pitching and finding work. Below, Lindy shares everything from the challenges she faces as a freelancer, the tools she couldn’t do without, and why she decided to share her monthly earnings on her blog. Take it away Lindy…
How did you start freelancing?
It wasn’t a deliberate decision! I was on maternity leave (from my job as a social worker) with my first child in 2012 and I decided to do a course through the Australian Writers’ Centre about feature writing for magazines and newspapers. I’d always loved writing but never thought I could possibly write for the publications that I read regularly (that is, without a journalism degree). But my first article was published within weeks of finishing the course and I suddenly realised it was possible. I freelanced on the side for five years before leaving social work and going full time as a freelance writer at the start of 2017.
What’s your niche?
I tend to be a generalist, but I’m getting more specialised as I get more experience. Usually, I write about social issues, health and wellbeing, food, travel and business. So it’s pretty broad! Mostly I write for magazines and newspapers (and their online counterparts) so in some ways perhaps that’s my niche.
What kind of challenges have you faced as a freelancer?
There are lots of challenges – inconsistent income, editors changing jobs, having to pitch for work and so on, but for me, the biggest challenge is ensuring I don’t let my work take over my life. I have a fairly flexible schedule. While I treat freelancing as my full time job, it’s not unusual for me to take an hour or two out of the day if I need to pick my son up from kindergarden, or give my partner time to study etc. This means that I often ‘catch up’ on work after hours or on weekends. There is a risk that you’re always on and never off, so I try to be disciplined that once I finish work for the day (around 4.30pm) that’s family time, so my phone is on silent until after the kids go to bed.
Oh, and taking a holiday without doing any work while I’m away – that’s a big challenge and one that I’m yet to conquer!
Biggest lesson you’ve learned since you started working for yourself?
To not take on jobs I know are not a good fit, regardless of how good the remuneration is. I learnt that the hard way this year as I was really flattered to be offered a project that paid really well but was beyond my skill level and competence. I ended up pulling out half way through because I knew I couldn’t deliver what they needed. Not my finest moment. But every time I’m offered work like that now, I’m wiser and say no. So that’s been a big lesson and I’m grateful for it.
What are the three top freelance tools you can’t live without?
What would you be doing if you weren’t freelancing?
I would probably still be a social worker. I finished my PhD in social work in 2014 with the idea that I could potentially move into academia, research or consulting, but I realised that freelance writing offered me everything I wanted.
Any career highlights?
It’s hard to pick a career highlight – I do think that each time I’m published in a ‘dream’ publication, that’s a highlight for me. The first time I was in Sunday Life, a magazine that I had read and loved for years I was beside myself with excitement. It’s still amazing to me even now that I’m a regular contributor to that publication.
But generally, what I love is speaking to people and hearing their stories – I’ve had people open up and tell me the most amazing things, share very personal stories and share their passion with me. That’s such a highlight and a real blessing.
I’ve also started branching into travel writing and I’ve been so lucky to have had supported trips to the Gold Coast, Perth and along the Great Ocean Road. Recently I went on a famil (or press trip) with a group of six other writers and journalists and I had the best time.
Story you’re most proud of?
I feel really proud of this story I wrote for The Age – about young Australians who die while travelling overseas. As you can appreciate, it’s a super sensitive topic and parents had a good deal of trust in me telling their stories in a way that respected their children. It was my first proper feature for a national newspaper.
What are currently your biggest growth areas as a freelancer?
I feel like I am constantly learning. Because I don’t have qualifications in journalism, I always feel that I’m a bit of an imposter in this freelance world. This year I’ve really made the switch to thinking of myself as a micro-enterprise or a creative entrepreneur (however wanky that may sound!), rather than “just” a freelance writer.
The tricky thing is getting pulled in some many different directions – as well as writing, I’m still trying to get a grip on social media engagement, writing my blog, tax and superannuation, forward planning – not to mention honing my craft.
What’s surprised you the most about freelancing since you started?
That you can make a living from it. Since I started I always heard that it’s very difficult to earn a good living from being a freelance writer (particularly if you’re writing feature articles for magazines and newspapers). And I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s definitely possible to earn a very good living.
You’re very open about what you earn on your blog. Was it hard to make the decision to be so transparent? Does it motivate you to work harder and what’s the feedback been?
Like many people, I’m not particularly comfortable talking about money, and especially publicising how much I earn. But I felt like I couldn’t say it was possible to earn good money from freelance writing without letting readers know what I meant by good money – did I mean $2,000/month or $10,000?
I did talk to my partner about whether I’d share that information and understandably, he was hesitant. But I know when I’ve read blogs, the more open and ‘warts and all’ they were, the more value I got from them. Especially people like American content marketing writer Jennifer Gregory.
It’s a good question about whether sharing my income motivates me to work harder! I’m definitely aware that some readers particularly look forward to my monthly income updates, but I don’t think that motivates me any more than usual.
If I have a ‘down’ month in terms of income then I’m happy to share that with my readers, because that’s is the nature of freelancing.
I can’t tell you how close I was to not starting The Freelancer’s Year. I was consumed with doubt about my idea – would anyone be would be interested in reading about what it was like making the transition to full time freelancing. But I’m so glad I did it. I’m amazed by the traction that my blog has had – I mean, it’s still got a small readership, but I get emails and tweets every week from freelancers when my content has resonated with them. It has made me realise that there is such a need for resources for freelance writers.
How has your freelance work changed over the years? What have you done to adapt to changes in the industry?
I’ve seen a lot of rate cuts and content cuts to publications that I used to write for. I’ve adapted by constantly seeking out higher paying publications that fit my interests and pay well. They are definitely out there.
Are you a home office, coffice or co-working space type of person?
I live in country Victoria and work two days a week from the fantastic co-working space in town. I love the co-working space because it’s this vibrant melting pot of entrepreneurs, journalists, environmentalists, architects, international aid workers – all kinds of people. I always say it’s like having the best work place – great colleagues but without all the work bureaucracy.
And I work the rest of the time from home.
Where will you be in 2020, do you think?
Gosh, I’m not sure! I imagine that I’ll still be writing for magazines and newspapers, but I’ve just started mentoring and coaching other freelance writers in order to advance their careers and earn great money from their work, so I’m hopeful I’ll be doing more of that.
What would be your advice to other freelancers starting out?
Play a long game. Freelancing is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll get rejected and silence, but if you keep at it, you’ll get there. Find other writers who will support and encourage you – it can be lonely and isolating if you don’t know others who really get what it’s like to be a freelancer.
Like to know more about Lindy? Here’s her bio:
Lindy Alexander is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to some of Australia’s best known and well loved publications such as Sunday Life, delicious., The Saturday Paper and The Age/Sydney Morning Herald. She predominantly writes about social issues, food, health, travel and business. Lindy has a PhD in social work and also works with non-profits and universities, conducting research, writing literature reviews and writing content. Lindy lives in a vibrant town in central Victoria, where every second person is a writer, or wants to be. Find her website here and her blog here. She’s also on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter if you’d like to connect.
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