Four Years in Freelance Writing: Every Lesson Learned

Lesson one. Tell everyone you’re pregnant and the internet loses its collective shit. But seriously. If you follow me on LinkedIn, you’ll likely have been bugged by those annoying ‘celebrating four years at Katie Lingo’ notifications.

Sorry about that.

In 2016, post-Brexit vote but pre-Trump, my good friend Jonny and I were sitting in a pub, putting the world to rights. I was working in a digital marketing agency, and told him I wanted a side hustle for some “extra pocket money to buy a house”.

Welcome to the world, Katie Lingo. It’s been four years and one hell of a ride, but I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. Whether you’re a novice, an expert, or just want to laugh at my misfortune, please enjoy.

Lesson 1: Talk. To. People.

Difficult with the ‘rona, I’ll grant you, but if only I had known the benefits of networking early on. I’m not talking about referral networking – I find this forced – I’m talking about events with a captive audience.

SearchLeeds. York Business Week. BrightonSEO. I went to all of these events alone and gained clients, just from talking to people.

Lesson 2: Stop fearing your competitors.

My article discussing this subject in more depth went viral. How many of you can honestly say you’ve never recoiled in horror when a potential competitor connected with you? What if they stole your ideas, or your clients?

Remember, not everybody is an arsehole. Some definitely are, and we’ll get to that. In the freelance world, these people are your friends. They know your pain. They might even send work your way.

Lesson 3: Consistency is key.

Easy to say, hard to practise, right? Gosh, were it not for the discipline of #Write52 and my own stubbornness, I’d never have been able to publish content once a week.

But my goodness – I never knew it would have such an impact. New connections, clients, award nominations…content is the best way I can market myself. If you want to make a sale, don’t tell them. Show them.

Lesson 4: Get others involved with your content.

I’ve been experimenting with interviews, guest blogs, surveys and more as part of this whole #Write52 shebang. People are more than happy to offer their expertise or viewpoint.

What’s more, it enhances your content – not only with valuable information, but with reach. Share and share alike!

Lesson 5: Professional is as professional does.

We all cringe when we look back on the past, right? When I started out, I’d made my business cards in Paint. My website was a 1&1 template. I canvassed universities with proofreading adverts for international students…featuring a panda that I drew…on Paint.

annual beating

The annual, character-building beating. This one is 2007.

If you want people to take you seriously, you need to have a serious brand. Let’s be clear: I’m not about to stop being a class clown. I come from a family of six kids who give me a Christmas beating without fail.

What has ended, thankfully, is corner-cutting. Now, I pay people to design my business cards, finesse my website and list me in directories. What a difference it’s made.

Lesson 6: I’m no gynaecologist, but…

If you’re vulgarly-minded like me, you’ll know how this ends. (Way to contradict the last point, Thompson.) Four years of hustle has taught me to be pretty discerning when it comes to chancers. Sadly, there is always someone out there trying to exploit fledgling freelancers, par exemple:

  • A Premier League sponsor (no joke) failed to pay me for months on end and told me it was my bank before suggesting I “change my attitude immediately”. F%*$£$.
  • A chap led me up the garden path at a marketing event and arranged countless calls promising me work. When I dared to suggest we actually start the work…he disappeared.
  • A woman on PeoplePerHour insisted I write dozens of product descriptions on the day we met, but refused to pay through the platform. Guess what? She disappeared.
  • Countless heartless bastards have made me write ‘trial’ content before ghosting. Do they…get a kick out of this?

Lesson 7: People understand you are human.

As a writer and daughter of a pompous, but nevertheless brilliant, grammar school graduate, I’m pretty self-critical. Apostrophes do not belong in plurals and I will die on this hill.

But…mistakes do happen. I try tirelessly not to make spelling and grammar mistakes, but we all mess up one way or another. Last week I missed a deadline because I misread the email. Friday afternoon became Monday morning. It happens.

More importantly, your clients are human, too. They will understand if you’re going through a hard time. I lost my father last year and cannot tell you how much I appreciated their compassion.

Lesson 8: Want to be productive? Be cool.

If I had a penny for every time I’d broken down and panicked about deadlines…

Wait, how much are Freddos now? Anyway, I’ve learned to step back, take a breath and use a simple time management tool. It really frees the mind and yes, it saves time!

Lesson 9: Stick to your guns.

“Errr, it’s that price, but if that’s a problem, we can always negotiate.” Get in the sea. I 100 per cent sympathise with those starting out – you need to build that portfolio. But after a while, you begin to realise what’s really worth your time.

As many wise freelancers have said, saying yes to everything means you might have to say no to something better. If someone challenges your rates, educate them. Show them the ProCopywriters report. Tell them what an agency would cost. Remind them that you’re the expert.

Or…scrap that. Send them to Upwork and focus on those who value you. Assertiveness doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s a fantastic feeling when it does.

Lesson 10: Never stop learning.

Please don’t ever be pig-headed enough to think you’re at the peak of your career and can never learn anything new. I thought that in 2013. I crashed my car that year.

The greatest gift this world can give you is the chance to expand your horizons. Read. Take courses. Speak to people outside of your network. A faith healer once told me (marathon injury – don’t ask) that we meet two kinds of people in life: those we learn from, and those we teach. Try a little of both.

And finally…

I want to say the biggest, loudest, drunkest thank you from the bottom of my heart. From a naïve 26-year-old to a grey-haired cat momma, I have learned so much. Special thanks to:

  • My gorgeous clients, who have stuck with me through thick and thin
  • The social media communities who prop me up
  • The bastard siblings, whose beatings built my character
  • The unhinged mother and the dearly departed father
  • The wife – the silent partner who truly is the brains behind Katie Lingo – I owe you more than you’ll ever know.
  • The cat, obviously.

To the next four years, kids!

craig cat

katie lingo 4th bday
Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
10th September 2020