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Freelancer Q&A: Meet Simon Jones!

by Rachel Smith
09 October 2019

For many of us, freelancing is the default option following retrenchment or company closure. And the latter – the closure of King Content – was how its former chief sub Simon Jones kicked off his freelance business. He shares how he keeps the work flowing, his favourite platform for finding leads, why the ‘negative voice’ in our heads can actually be motivating – and his top tips for freelancers starting out.

What made you decide to become a freelancer?

I guess I was forced into it initially. I’d spent over six-and-a-half years as Chief Sub-editor at King Content, and when the company when belly-up I found myself with a bit of time on my hands. 

 I didn’t want to jump into a new job straight away as I had a six-week trip to Europe in a few months. So I reached out to all my old contacts and started doing some odd jobs when they popped up.

 Luckily the ex-King Content people have been hugely successful in their own right, so I had an ‘in’ with a few young agencies. By the time I was in Europe I had a decent little freelancing gig going, and it’s just grown from there.

 I’m hugely appreciative to all my former KC co-workers who gave me a shot in those early days.    

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

I’d spent the majority of my recent career as a sub, but I’m a writer by trade, having worked at newspapers, magazines and obviously in digital over the years.

Subbing these days only makes up about 5-10% of what I do, and the rest is writing.

To get here, I guess I just hustled. I told myself if I was going to make freelancing ‘work’ then I’d have to work my arse off reaching out to old contacts, hassling digital agencies for a small writing task to get my foot in the door, and of course keeping an eye on sites like Rachel’s List.

How has your freelance work changed over the years? Have you had to adapt to industry changes and if so, how?

I’ve only been freelancing full-time for less than two years, so I can’t say I’ve seen the industry or the work change. However I’ve worked in digital media for more than a decade – managing lots of freelancers during that time as well – so I’ve definitely seen how the gig economy has changed things for the better (in my opinion).

I’ve just tried to build strong relationships with clients based on a couple of things: honesty, humour and above all keeping promises – I don’t miss deadlines.

I do a bit of editing for wine organisations so I’ve taken my WSET Level 1 Award and am jumping into Level 2 later this year.

You’ve just become a dad (congrats!). Is this your first child? How are you doing balancing parenthood with freelance life?

First child! My daughter Charlie has been a dream so far. She’s four weeks old and is a great sleeper which has been a huge help for me transitioning back to work.

It also helps that my wife is a barrister so, like me, she’ll be able to pick and choose the days she works when she goes back early next year.

Freelancing has been terrific with a newborn. It means I can work at all hours and also help my wife with all the nappy changes, the settling, etc. any time of the day.

Do you feel you’ve ‘cracked’ it as a freelancer? Is there any one thing that’s helped, or something you do personally, that has led to your success?

I don’t think I’ll ever feel confident enough to say I’ve cracked it – I’m a realist who dabbles in pessimism far too often. But I do feel like I can now say this is my job. I’m in it for the long haul.

My network of ex-King Content staff definitely helped turn freelancing from a pipe dream into a reality. But I also like to think my doggedness and my sadistic need to always be working has made me an asset to my clients – someone they can count on to get stuff done right the first time.

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

I’m a big fan of working with businesses who are just getting started on their content journey. That way I’m able to work with them to define their voice and figure out what copy will hit the mark with their audience.

How do you generally find clients to work with?

I can’t say I’ve had a client from hell yet – although I’m sure they’ll pop up somewhere along the way.

For agency work there’s a buffer between the client and me, so that can be challenging when the only feedback you get is emotionless text on a page.

For my own clients, I’m pretty picky about who I work with. I’ve had a couple of instances where the initial phone call just hasn’t felt right. But my regulars are a dream. I’d rather have fewer clients who are committed to creating high-quality copy than a bunch of clients who are a nightmare to manage.

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

LinkedIn. It took me a while to figure out the best keywords for my profile, but now I find I don’t have to cold-call potential clients – they reach out to me instead.

Do you have a ‘work ritual’? Where do you work from and what does a typical work week look like?

I was recently kicked out of my office so my daughter could get her own nursery. So I’m working out of our spare bedroom now, with a lovely view of both my dogs’ butts as they lounge on the guest bed.

I try to keep regular work hours (as much as is possible with a newborn), though I do find myself working every day of the week.

The only ritual I keep to every day is walking the dogs. It’s so necessary to get outside every day and just decompress with a podcast.

Biggest challenges you face as a freelancer?

The little voice in your head telling you you’re shit. No matter how busy you are, I think a lot of freelancers get the same sinking feeling in their gut sometimes about “What if everything dries up?” or “What if your biggest client cuts you loose?”

But that may also be a good thing. On quieter days where that happens, I’ll start hustling again rather than just throwing my hands in the air and giving up. I think some people – like me – need that little negative voice to keep pushing us forward.

What are the two tips you’d pass on to those starting out?

1. Network, network, network! I don’t mean spam people with emails and cold calls. Instead, contact people you’ve worked with in the past – even if it’s been years since you’ve spoken. You never know what work they could flick your way.

2. Be excited to learn. You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I’ve written about and the people I’ve spoken to. I’ve interviewed specialist surgeons, award-winning gin makers, CEOs, self-help gurus, survivors of the Stolen Generation… the list goes on. My advice is if a brief comes in that scares you, embrace it. Some of the most fascinating work I’ve done has terrified me at first.

The top tools you can’t live without?

I love my Macquarie Dictionary subscription – an Australian sub-editor’s best friend! Also you can’t go past a good free thesaurus.

And for those long, long, looooong days spent editing boring copy, a Spotify subscription really comes in handy.

Any career highlights?

Getting to interview Andrew Marks, the creator of one of my favourite gins, Melbourne Gin Company. He invited me to his property in regional Victoria, showed me around his facility and his parents’ vineyard, and his hilarious mother even kept me fed and watered. It appeared in the August edition of Gin Journal.

What are your freelance goals going forward?

Finish my website!

But honestly, I’m in a really good place right now. I’d love to get to a point where I could take on a couple of contractors (if you asked my wife she’d probably say I could do that now but I just hate delegating!), but for now I’m content being a one-man show and seeing what happens.

Like to know more about Simon? Here’s his bio!

I’m a writer and sub-editor mostly working in the corporate space. I tend to specialise in finance and tech, but if you look at my client history you’ll find copy on everything from pet care to property-market algorithms, the gut microbiome, gin making – you name it. I guess I’m the copywriter equivalent of a streetwalker. You can check out examples of my work here or find me on LinkedIn. I also pop up semi-regularly on my dogs’ Insta!

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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
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