Today we have a special guest for the interview – Joe F. from joecanwrite.com, freelance copywriter and blogger who specializes in writing about technology, web design and online marketing.
I contacted Joe for an interview and he kindly accepted, so here it is.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, what do you do for a living?
I’m from the UK but have been living in Thailand for the past few years. When I found out we were moving over here I wasn’t sure what work opportunities there would be, so I started looking into things I could do online, remotely or on a freelance basis. I stumbled upon internet marketing and did that, as well as freelance web design.
Since we’ve been out here we’ve had two children so working from home has been a perfect way to spend quality time with the kids while still earning.
Then about a year ago I found out about freelance writing and deciding to give it a try as an additional way to work online from home. In the last year, freelance writing has taken over as my main source of work online, but I hope to find more of a balance in the coming months and get back into the web design and internet marketing stuff.
How long have you been working with WordPress? When was your first experience?
I first started using WordPress back in around 2009 so I’m relatively new to the platform. At the time I was making small websites and creating them by hand using HTML, CSS and a bit of PHP. People kept recommending WordPress but at the time I felt the themes on offer where too uniform and the design too restrictive for what I was doing. Plus I really enjoyed working with HTML and CSS to build my own designs. In the end though, I caved and after designing a (very basic) theme I finally began to see the potential of WordPress and haven’t looked back since.
How did you get into freelance writing and why do you enjoy it?
I never planned to become a freelance writer and it was never something that appealed to me to be honest. I was creating websites and writing the content myself, but had never considered doing the writing for other peoples’ projects.
At the same time I was reading the Leaving Work Behind blog by Tom Ewer, who was then just getting into freelance blogger and making good money from it. It all sounded so easy so I thought why not?
At around the same time I got an offer to write for a new WordPress blog, WP Squared, and it all sort of took off from there.
I wouldn’t say I particularly love writing, but I do enjoy getting paid to research different topics which I then write about. It’s also interesting to get an insight into how popular websites are managed and function, which you wouldn’t get as a regular reader.
The ups and downs of being freelance writer.
The main ups and downs of freelance writing probably apply to freelancing in general, and that is for the most part at least, you are your own boss. This is great as you can choose when, where and how your work, but it also means you have to find the motivation and discipline to use your time effectively in order to get the job done on time.
Procrastination, laziness, lack of focus, call it what you will, all come down to a lack of motivation and it can be hard to get started sometimes. It’s been a while since I worked a regular 9-5 job in an office, so it can be easy to forget how lucky we are as freelancers.
How does it feel to be an author at so many popular WordPress blogs?
I’m really pleased to have found so many blogs that are willing to pay me to write for them. Writing about WordPress happened pretty organically and I’m glad that it worked out as it has as it’s a great community to be a part of, and something I was totally unaware of beforehand. The only downside of writing for multiple blogs in the same area is that the more I write, the harder it is to find new topics to write about.
Describe your home workspace.
Unfortunately I don’t have a dedicated home workspace and I just work on my laptop from wherever I can find a space, whether that is on the dining room table, the sofa or elsewhere. I’m lucky enough to have Starbucks just over the road so I if I need to do a short one or two hour stint I will go over there for some peace and quiet.
For longer sessions I’ve recently started making use of a local coworking space which has been a godsend. I love the idea of coworking spaces and recommend anyone freelancing to seek out one near them and give it a try.
I’d love a proper home office setup but it’s not on the cards at the moment and in general I find working at home too distracting with too many things going on.
What’s the average time you spend on writing?
As well as blogging for clients, I do a fair amount of other writing jobs during the week. These can be anything from ghost-written articles for other blogs, more traditional content for websites, such as information and about pages, user documentation, and promotional material including things like press releases and promotional material.
I’m still experimenting with trying to find the best way to work that suits me. The two main options are working a few long days a week, vs. working more days but with less hours per day. I’m leaning towards working more days but doing less per day, as my productivity levels go down the more time I spend writing in a single day.
What I can do first thing in the morning can take me twice as long to do in the evening. Syed from WP Beginner blogged about getting up earlier to be more productive and after giving it a try I really agree with this approach, however it’s hard to stay disciplined and ensure you get to bed on time.
What's your view about recently opened RiseForums?
Its early days but it’s shaping up to be a great community. There’s a good mixture or bloggers, blog owners and freelancers or those working for themselves online. This makes it great for getting advice and feedback from a range of perspectives. Everyone seems to be connected with WordPress in some way so it’s ideal for networking and sharing the latest developments. Kevin has done a great job in setting it up and I hope it really takes off this year.
Do you have any advice for people who want to become freelance writers?
Writing or blogging for clients is a great way to become a freelancer and get all the benefits that goes along with working on your own terms, such as location independence, working your own hours and many more. With freelance writing and blogging in particular, the barrier to entry is very low as anyone in theory can get started.
The main issue with getting into freelance writing is that it appears rates are very low due to the massive amount of competition from other aspiring writers. While this is the case on sites like Odesk, if you want to make a decent wage you will need to find your own jobs and clients, rather than competing for advertised jobs.
I wasted a lot of time on Odesk in the beginning, believing I could work my way up the ladder and become one of the few at the top with the highest rates. While this is probably possible, it’s going to be a hard slog and isn’t the best use of your time.
If anyone wanted to start freelance writing today I would advise them to identify five popular sites in the topic they want to write about. Then approach those sites asking if you can write a free guest post for them and pitch them some ideas and explain why you want to write for them. Once you’ve got five good posts published on top sites, then add them to your portfolio. Now you can start approaching sites you’d like to write for asking for a paid writing gig. If the sites you want to write for have a ‘write for us’ link that is great, but if not, still pitch them your services; many of my gigs where gotten from speculatively approaching sites in this way. Just make sure you target your opening email to each site, rather than email bombing 100s of sites with a generic offer.
At the same time it is vital that you start your own site where you can write about the topic you want to be paid to write about. This will allow you to get your name out there in that area, as well as giving you more content for your portfolio. It will also allow you to work on your writing skills and get familiar with what makes a good post and what doesn’t.
If you want to get hired, you need to demonstrate to clients that you can already do what they are looking for: write good content that gets read/shared/commented on. Another benefit is that eventually this site could become a revenue generating project that could compliment or even replace your client work. If you keep working on the site, you could even be the one who ends up hiring the writers.
I didn’t start my own site when I began freelancing and I really regret it. Instead of chasing low paying jobs on Odesk I should’ve been building something that would not only help me get better paying jobs, but also become a source of income in its own right. Make sure you learn from my mistake!
If you want a roadmap to follow to help you get from zero to making decent money then I wholeheartedly recommend Tom Ewer’s Paid to Blog guide. The first version, Successful Freelance Writing Online, was really what made the difference for me and was well worth the small investment. In what other line of work could you pay less than $50 to learn all you need to know in order to begin making $1,000s per month?
Favorite WordPress sites and authors you admire
My favourite WordPress blogger at the moment is probably Chris Lema and the content he publishes on his own site and on other blogs. His style is very conversational and he always gives his own personal take on things rather than just rehashing product descriptions. He always seems to add an extra layer to any topic, based on his own personal experience, which is something that often isn’t seen elsewhere.
As for professional bloggers, Tom Ewer has to get a mention. I know he outsources most of this writing now, but he literally burst onto the scene and was making serious money within a short amount of time. His talent for writing and getting paid well for doing so make him a great role model for anyone thinking about working online, especially as a freelance writer.
James Altucher is also a favourite of mine. Basically my Feedly app is packed with 100s of different blogs and I read a wide range of sites, when I have the time.
When not writing?
With two young children under three years old, most of my time is spent with them when not working. I’m really grateful to be able to work a flexible schedule and spend quality time with them while they are young. Apart from that I try and get to the gym occasionally and always have at least one book on the go.
2013 turned out to be a year of freelance writing in terms of work, but I’m aiming for more of a balance in 2014. I want to get my web design portfolio setup so I can focus on that side a bit more. I’m also going to finally start that blog I should’ve started last year. It’s going to be in the WordPress-related niche. I’ve been putting it off for months but should have it up and running soon…