by Rachel Smith
23 March 2018
If there’s one great thing about running RL, it’s the amazing people we meet – virtually and otherwise – like the fascinating, funny Tracey Porter. The long-time RL member is a freelance journo, communications professional and mum of twins who jumped ship into freelance life in 2009. She talks about making the transition to running her own communications business, some of the wild and wonderful stories she’s worked on, and how she’s wrangled the WIFI passwords from surf clubs around the Central Coast in order to have a workspace with a view! Read on for her story – and some tips for anyone wishing to pick up more work in the b2b / b2c space.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, Tracey, and what you do to earn a crust.
I’m a Kiwi-born, NSW-based freelance journalist – and I call the magnificent Central Coast home.
My work involves essentially anything to do with the written word. In the 20 years I’ve been doing this gig I have written on almost every subject from criminal court and camel sperm extraction, to global warming and the sexual habits of geriatrics.
2. How did your career start out?
It has been far from boring. I was fortunate to have begun my career in daily newspapers in New Zealand at a time when newsrooms were still led by passionate career journalists who taught me to mine fully every round I was given – whether that was doing a dreaded death knock, profiling a less than popular politician or reporting on the riveting results of the local agricultural show. I was shown by example how to have a nose for news while still striving at all times to maintain a sense of humanity, independence, accuracy and balance.
My move into magazines was not something I planned and happened organically as a result of my move to Australia from my second stint living and working overseas. After about 12 months in Sydney I was offered a general reporter role at The Canberra Times but turned it down on the considered basis that I was having far too much fun exploring the night life around Surry Hills!
3. You’re now running your own communications business. How easy was it to make that transition?
The truth of the matter is that the transition to communications – which involved me dipping my toe into the marketing and PR worlds – was bloody difficult and I didn’t make a great fist of it. From the moment I went freelancing, I vowed that I would view every opportunity as a chance to learn – irrespective of whether I had prior experience in that field or not.
While I knew I had a knack for detailing a client or brand journey and could easily write an engaging and newsworthy press release, I was never particularly good at the distribution side of things or following up with journos. Unfortunately, having been on the other side of the fence, I had intimate knowledge of what was going through the editor’s head when they heard my annoying accent coming down the line at them. I was never great at putting a spin on a product or service that I didn’t believe in and to this day I remain the world’s worst liar.
4. Did you do extra study? Was it hard initially to find clients?
I had my first PR client within a few days of leaving my role as editor of a fashion business magazine so sadly I didn’t have any time to undertake further study. Surprisingly, finding clients was the easy part. Having previously worked for a trade magazine that operated in the advertising, marketing and media sphere there was always a plentiful supply of people far more talented and creative than I seeking to generate exposure for their latest initiative. Word of mouth has always been, and remains, my best form of advertising.
5. Why did you decide to do it and how has your work / life / income changed since you did?
I turned my back on full-time paid employment in 2009. I like to tell myself I was prompted to strike out on my own because I am a thrill-seeking, enterprising daredevil who likes the risk of the unknown. But the truth is I was just tired of life on the treadmill… fighting the same aggressive drivers every day on my way to and from work, writing about the same subject day in and day out, and having the same old arguments with pedantic colleagues about what temperature the air-conditioner should be on. For the second time in our respective careers, my husband and I found ourselves working at the same place – and short of going on trial for mariticide, I thought it best I high-tail it out of there.
The move into freelancing afforded me the flexibility of a mobile workspace so in 2010 we moved up the coast and I gave birth to boy/girl twins two years later. As with all freelancers, some years have proved more profitable than others in terms of income but overall, I am still well ahead of where I would be had I remained a salaried employee. In a nutshell working for myself has meant that not only am I am a much more balanced individual but I am much better placed to make considered decisions when it comes to my profession.
6. Do you think there’s a lot of work for freelancers in the b2b / b2c space?
Definitely. There’s plenty of work to go around, you just have to be prepared to think outside of the box. I think b2b and b2c titles are often overlooked by freelancers who prefer to target the high-profile consumer publications. Yet frequently b2b publishers tend to offer better word rates, more consistency in terms of payment as well as more variance in commissions.
7. Top tip for those starting out in that area?
Back yourself, always be open to new experiences and never underestimate the potential of a cold call.
8. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you started working for yourself?
There are many… a) to recognise my own value; b) where possible to always demand payment upfront before commencing work for a new client; c) that dealing with the ATO is a necessary evil; d) never to accept a Facetime or Skype call without first ensuring my children are occupied in another room and e) to build a website with a CMS to ensure it doesn’t sit stagnant for the duration of your freelance career.
9. What are the three top tools you can’t live without?
10. Any career highlights?
In all honesty, I don’t think I could ever have envisioned the opportunities I would enjoy as a result of becoming a journalist. Some of the more memorable situations I have found myself in a professional sense include: getting asked out on a date by a criminal in the dock awaiting sentencing on an assault charge; indulging in an open bar and inhaling food prepared by a personal chef after being flown to Noumea and shown around the islands aboard a multimillion dollar superyacht – and discussing the problems with female intimates while tightening singer Kate Ceberano’s bra strap in a toilet at an upmarket waterfront restaurant. Oh, and there was the time I was furiously scrubbing my skin for days in a fruitless attempt to rid myself of the smell of a dead sperm whale’s flesh (it’s a long story).
11. What’s the story or piece of work you’re most proud of?
There have been a few over the years. The first is a series of investigative pieces over the course of two years to expose the financial impropriety undertaken and bullying tactics engaged in by a secondary school principal who considered herself above reproach. With the help of a number of brave board members who fed me confidential documents to confirm my suspicions, the school’s accounts were forensically examined and the principal concerned dismissed from her job. The second is a simple piece I wrote of the impact of compassion fatigue on those working in the veterinary sector, which at the time of publishing was the most widely circulated article the magazine had ever published.
12. What are currently your biggest growth areas?
Despite the general feeling of doom and gloom being touted by many, regular journalism gigs still occupy the bulk of my time. That said, I am starting to field more requests for copywriting services across the real estate and small business sectors.
13. What’s surprised you the most about freelancing since you started doing it?
How easy it is to be productive when working in your own space. Before I went freelancing I always imagined the pull of the fridge and watching crappy television would prove too much of a temptation. Actually, the reverse has happened and I now think I am far more focussed and far less prone to distraction than I was when working for the man.
14. Where do you work from on a day-to-day basis?
At risk of sounding like a wanker… there are many obvious advantages to a sea change and the first and foremost is that in my case I can physically see the sea. Most days after dropping the kids off at school I head to whichever beach takes my fancy and set up onsite. I have worked hard at endearing myself to the managers of all the local surf clubs and so are now in possession of most of their Wi-Fi passwords.
The great thing about it is I can head for a swim whenever I fancy, the bad thing is the sound of the surf can prove a real distraction when you’re trying to conduct a phone interview.
I also maintain a desk at home with a panoramic view of the neighbour’s pool for those rare days when the weather is not playing ball.
15. You’ve edited a luxury magazine. What was the best thing about that gig?
Writing about the big names behind some of the most expensive and exquisite jewellery, fashion and cars in the world while clad in togs and jandals. And, marvelling at all the houses, toys and cars that I could never afford (as it turns out I wasn’t the only one as the magazine recently went bust).
16. You also worked in Ireland for a time. Any anecdotes you’d care to share?
The Irish are lovely people and would offer a stranger the shirt off their back. The problem came when you tried to get a straight answer out of them. Even something as simple as asking for directions to somewhere was usually met with a polite but firm: “Well, I wouldn’t be starting from here, so.” (Spoken in that endearing Irish lilt).
17. Skill you’re proud of (preferably one that even your closest mates wouldn’t know about you)?
That while I come from a long line of proud, fearless women, I am easily capable of death by spatula should anyone approach with a rodent in hand.
18. What would you be doing if you weren’t running your own business?
I’d be employed by the Clooney household – roaming the world identifying new philanthropy causes for George while simultaneously documenting Amal’s esteemed humanitarian efforts in book form. I would, of course, offer the pair my learned experiences of raising twins FOC on the side.
Like to know more about Tracey? Here’s her bio:
Wife to a poor time-keeper and mother of two time-wasters, Tracey Porter is a career journalist whose byline can be seen everywhere from online news sites to business and consumer magazine titles. Find her on LinkedIn.