Working From Home: Episode 4 – From journalist to B2B content and anti-racism writer – with Sharon Hurley Hall
In this episode of the Working From Home podcast, Nelson is joined by professional writer and blogger Sharon Hurley Hall. Sharon has written for various publications including IBM, OptinMonster, CrazyEgg, Search Engine People, and Unbounce.
Topics of conversation include: transitioning to the working from home lifestyle, connecting with experts and finding sources when working solo, working from home as a POC, racism, the wage gap, finding ways to stay connected as a remote worker, financial planning in the gig economy, and other topics.
[4:22] – Sharon shares her career background as a writer and journalist, and her early inspiration to be self-employed.
[7:50] – Making the transition from print to digital publications and the difference in styles.
[10:15] – Guidelines for networking with experts and researching writing topics.
[17:41] – Working from home as a POC. Experiencing racism in the professional sphere.
[24:04] – “Doxing” as a means to fight racism.
[31:18] – Nelson and Sharon share their experience with the wage gap and question the tradition of not sharing information about your salary with coworkers.
[34:16] – Sharon dives into the workflow for her podcast and the organizational tools she uses to balance multiple projects.
[47:31] – Finding connection and human interaction when working from home full-time.
[52:34] – Financial strategies for working in the gig economy as a freelancer. Pro-tip, always request a 50% deposit prior to beginning work on a project!
Nelson: Hello, and welcome to the ‘Working From Home’ podcast with your host, me, Nelson Jordan, copywriter and digital marketer. And today, I’m delighted to say that we have Sharon Hurley Hall on the line with us. Hey, Sharon, how you doing?
Sharon: Hi, Nelson. Good to be here.
Nelson: I’m very, very glad to have you. And I’m sure everybody else is going to love listening to your stories today. So thank you again for joining us. So Sharon, how would you describe what you do, in terms of your profession?
Sharon: I am a freelance b2b writer, mainly b2b. I have written a lot of stuff over the years for a lot of different companies. And I’m a former journalist as well.
Nelson: Amazing. How many years have you been a writer and its various forms?
Sharon: Haha…well I’m going to age myself now.
Sharon: I had my very first job in journalism in 1987. So 33 years.
Nelson: Amazing. Okay, so you’ve obviously been involved and seen a lot of different changes in the writing spirit itself, you know, going from, I assume you’re primarily a print journalist. And then when did you kind of move into the digital space?
Sharon: Okay, so, um, I would say that I moved online about 15 years ago. And even at that, when I first started, I hadn’t really figured out that this was something that was going to turn into my profession. You know, I worked as a journalist, I took a few years off and worked as a journalist lecturer at Coventry University and have developed some journalism programs there. And then I was looking for a little more flexibility. At that point, I had a young daughter, my husband was already happily self-employed and had been for many years. And I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, you know, I need to do something else’. And of course, everything moved online and I started blogging. And this was really a way, at the start, of just getting to understand a little bit about what was going on in the space. You know, we were all pretty new to it; to blogging. I wasn’t new to writing, but I was new to blogging.
Nelson: And so were in the, kind of, first wave of bloggers?
Sharon: I don’t think I was quite in the first wave, because one of the stories I like to tell to show that nobody’s infallible is that I tried ‘Blogger’ when it first came out. And I thought, ‘No, not particularly impressed’, deleted my account and went away again for a couple of years. And so, you know, I started again, on a group blogging site (which is now defunct), met a number of blogging friends that I’m still in touch with today, and started by taking that age-old writing advice: write what you know. Which I think is not totally accurate, it’s only partially accurate, but we can talk about that another time.
Nelson: Fantastic. So you’d switched for journalism, and I don’t want gloss over that because I think there’s a chance that it informs both your writing style and probably how you go about research and things like that. So I don’t want to gloss over that. So that was how you got your writing start, I suppose, in journalism. How long were you involved in that in its various forms, and in Coventry and other places?
Sharon: I was involved in journalism, actively, for about 13 years.
Nelson: Any particular beats?
Sharon: I actually started out working in the Caribbean and then I moved to the UK and did trade journalism for different industries. I worked for a little-known subsidiary of the Financial Times working on financial reports for a couple of years. And then I moved to Metals which was slightly more interesting, though not a lot.
Sharon: It’s like how quickly can people fall asleep when you tell them what do you do? ’I work for Metal, but [acts out falling asleep]. And that kind of thing.
Nelson: I’m right with you there, Sharon. We used to have a bit of a competition at this, with my old agency. I used to work for an agency in Birmingham. So, not very far away from Coventry in the UK at all. And we have a b2b division and a glamorous b2c and homeware division. And I did a lot of work for the b2b division and yes, safe to say that we put a lot of people to sleep, just telling them what our what our jobs were, but we have everything from heavy engineering and manufacturing and supply chain and all of that. So you’re definitely not alone there.
Sharon: Yeah, it’s kind of like writing to the guest publications on ‘Have I got news for you’, you know what I mean? Yeah. So I went to….where did I go next? I did Education Design and Technology Education. I worked in the Design and Technology Association; they were based in Wellesbourne in Warwickshire. I worked for the National Youth Agency as editor of their monthly magazine and a book editor as well. And then after that, I moved into teaching journalism, which I did for five years, and then I moved online.
Sharon: So yeah, it’s been it’s been varied. And then even in moving online, it’s been very varied because as I was telling you, when I started blogging, on this group blogging site, somebody that was there wanted to get content for his new blog and he ran a competition, which I took part in. And I won! And you know, the prize was a princely $50 and a blogging gig. So I started blogging about blogging.
Nelson: Ah, how very meta of you.
Sharon: Yes, I started blogging about social media, so that’s what actually led to me mostly writing about digital marketing, which is what I do now. But even within that, you know, people keep saying, ‘Can you do that?’ And I think, ‘Yeah, I probably can, with a little bit of research’. In that, as you were saying, is where the journalism background comes in. Because you’re used to going out and finding information on a lot of, you know…if I have the writing skill, and I have the research skill, than I can write about many, many, many things. And the only question is whether I’m interested.
Nelson: Sure, definitely. So within journalism, obviously, there’s certain styles and guides that you have to adhere to, did it feel a little bit like the Wild West when you were moving online, and was it kind of like, ‘What is going on here?’
Sharon: It was, it was a learning curve. It was a learning curve, in terms of the style of writing. And also for me moving from writing for primarily British audience in my trade journalism career, to writing for a primarily American audience in my digital marketing writing career, I needed to change the way I wrote slightly. In terms of shortening sentences, shortening paragraphs, you know, getting rid of flowery phrases, you know, not letting my love for the language overwhelm the point I needed to make, kind of thing. And that was interesting, but what I think has always stood me in good stead is that journalism background because I’m happy to research, I’m happy to talk to people. Well, happy-ish, I’m a bit of a… I’m an introvert, but you know, I can, I can get past that when it’s a work thing.
Nelson: Well, you’ve been gracious enough to appear today, so thank you. Now, I think the research skills are very important. Basically, I take the opinion of if you’ve got the writing skill, you can learn the rest. I mean, especially, I used to say all the time in the PR agency I worked at. None of us started as experts in any particular field, but what we did do was interview experts, and we just every week, we would call various people up, get them on the phone, or record them for an hour, two hours, and digest what they have to say and ask them how everything worked and ask them to explain. I’m working for a finance client at the moment and although I know a little bit (or enough, to be dangerous, as one of my old bosses would say), about consumer finance, I don’t know massive amounts about commercial finance at all. But I do know how to ask the right questions and to get on the phone with somebody who does know that stuff. And I’ve been doing that over the last couple of days.
Sharon: It’s invaluable.
Nelson: Exactly. So for anybody that kind of wants to do that, and obviously that journalism has its own set and kind of guidelines around research, how would you advise somebody to go about it in the copywriting world?
Sharon: Okay, for me, the research is learning how to go beyond what’s served up in the average search result. Okay? So, for example, people want fresh information. So you need to use the search tools to make sure that you’re looking for fresh information. You need to look at the sources you’re going for and look and see if you can see clues as to whether this is really new information or old information that snapped a new date on. You need to follow up the links and make sure that you can triangulate, basically, you can see, you know, is this this person’s opinion? In which case you presented his opinion, is it a fact? And can it be independently verified?
Sharon: You know, I don’t know. I mean don’t be afraid to go deeper, and don’t be afraid to go for nontraditional sources that are still good.
Nelson: Excellent. Yeah. One of the one of the things that I make a point of almost all of my copywriting projects, once they get over a certain size, is incorporating user interviews. And that’s something that you’re able to do and make it work when you’re doing larger copywriting projects. You’re not necessarily able to do it, when you’re doing a monthly blog for somebody. It’s not always just possible, that sort of thing. So it’s about striking that balance as well between what is reasonable amount of research to do. And occasionally I’ll write something, and then I’ll go, ‘Actually, I’ve missed this, this out. I need to make a point here, but I don’t know enough about that, to actually write about it, in this particular subtopic of the topic I’m writing about’. So it’s not always straightforward research, then copywriting, then editing, then submission. A lot of the times I find myself doing research, copywriting, research, copywriting, editing, maybe research if I really need to look up, and then kind of submission and reworking.
Sharon: Definitely, sometimes as you go over work, you realise that there’s a missing piece, and you need to go back and fill that in, and you need to get the right sort of input to do it.
Nelson: Yeah and that’s another reason that I never write and submit something on the same day, for example.
Sharon: Oh, no, never, never, never.
Nelson: I always have to sleep on something and look at it with fresh eyes the next day.
Sharon: I like to give things a couple of days, at least a couple of days or longer if I can.
Nelson: Yeah, you see it in a different way don’t you?
Sharon: Yeah, my usual process for that piece of work. Okay, say, I have a blog post due on September 30. And I’m going to want to have that drafted by September 15. And probably even worked on the outline and done the initial research September 10. And then some time in between September 15 and 30th, I’ll take another look at the draft after I’ve done the first draft, and I’ll probably give it one more once over before submitting it. I mean, that varies depending on how in-depth the work is, and whether it’s a topic I know well enough, you know, but even then there’s always something that you could improve, right?
Nelson: Yeah definitely. Yeah, there’s very few pieces that I look at that I think, ‘I probably could make a tweak here, or I could do that’. But most of the time, its little, small stylistic things that nobody else is ever going to notice. It’s just me, for the benefit of my own writing, wanting to put out the best thing. So you and I have talked a couple of times before this call. And one of the things that kind of struck me the most was how many plates you’re spinning. And I think it’s safe to say that there’s quite a few. So I wonder, firstly, tell us about them and then secondly, tell us about the management behind them and how you manage to do all of it.
Sharon: Okay, so in addition to my day job, as I call it, as a freelance b2b writer, I have also just started an anti-racism newsletter. You know, brand new isn’t it’s two and a half weeks old. But it requires management. I am working on some anti-racism school courses and some anti-racism courses with the Beyond School. And let me just say that, again, I am working with working on some anti-racism courses with the Beyond School, one for children, and a bootcamp coming up in November for remote workers. What else am I doing? I’ve been working on a collection of my anti-racism essays, which I’ve basically just submitted to a competition. But that is going to be a part of a longer, a bigger collection, which I hope to have published in 2021. Oh, yes and my sister and I co-host a podcast called ‘The Introvert Sisters’.
Nelson: Don’t want to forget that one. Otherwise…
Sharon: Don’t want to forget that one.
Nelson: Otherwise your sister will be like, ‘Sharon, how dare you forget it, I can’t believe it…’
Sharon: So many things, so many things. But you know, that’s kind of just the beginning. Because there are a lot of bits underpinning that. I write regularly about non-business topics on medium. So I have been writing recently about some of some of my old travel experiences, just to keep my hand in. And I’ve been writing about writing. I used to run a writer mentoring blog, I did it for about seven years. And then I kind of popped it on medium and stopped writing about it, because there were so many other people writing about it. And I feel like I said, after seven years, I had said all I had to say, and now I’ve discovered I still have a few things to say. So occasionally, I write about writing.
Nelson: The turn around of the old detective ‘And just on one more thing’.
Nelson: And before long, you’ve written like another 10 blogs.
Nelson: That’s fantastic. So firstly, your anti-racism writings, I’d like to kind of delve into that and talk a little bit more. And obviously, we’re talking today under the umbrella of working from home. Working from home, has that kind of affected your exposure to racism? More or less? Do you feel like you still have a lot of those interactions in a in a professional capacity?
Sharon: There are still some in a professional capacity because there have been people who have looked at my profile picture and thought, ‘Oh, well, I don’t need to pay her as much. She’s a black woman’. You know.
Sharon: So that still happens to people who work online. And you know, as I said, I lived in the UK for 15 years, I am currently in the Caribbean, I have visited the US many times and I lived in France as well. I have experience of racism in multiple countries and multiple settings. And yes, it still does exist online. It exists in the way that some people feel they can categorise your comments, it exists in the pushback that you get when you raise certain topics. So yeah, it’s still alive and well, even when you’re working from home. You know, everybody’s spending much more time at home, so it’s not something that I’m dealing with in my day-to-day interactions outside the house.
Nelson: Is that just because of where you live?
Sharon: Not necessarily that, you know, that’s a whole other deep issue. Because, yes, I don’t stand out here because of the colour of my skin, but there’s a lot of internalised racism in post-colonial societies, which comes out as colorism, something I wrote a book about. I don’t know that anyone’s immune from it or exempt from it. Even living in a place where black people are in the majority.
Nelson: Yeah and as well working online, you still have the majority of your professional interactions, I suppose, are outside of the country.
Sharon: Yes. Absolutely I work mostly with Americans and some Brits, and the majority of my clients are white as well. You know, now, for all any clients who are listening, I’m not saying that I have a problem with you, all I’m saying is that when I post about racism, and when other black women and black people post about racism on social media, for example, you get pushback from some racists who seem to have no trouble identifying themselves as such.
Nelson: LinkedIn is a bizarre place. Can we just talk about that? Because, okay, I expect some level of disconnect between personal beliefs and professional beliefs, on Twitter, on Facebook. On LinkedIn, I just don’t, I don’t get it. Regardless of whether (and this isn’t a question, by the way, of course, I know the answer), but regardless of whether racism is acceptable or not, and it’s not. You would expect people that harboured those sort of views to be bright enough to not bring them out on the platform that’s specifically designed to bring in business, if you see what I mean. There must be some sort of understanding of thought that like, ‘Most people don’t find these views acceptable; I should keep them quiet’. I’m not saying that that’s like, a good thing to do, because they need to bring these views out into the open and hopefully, be educated, and them to be explored. But at the same thing, from like, even a self-protection factor, from a racist, you’d have thought that they’d have wanted to kind of be more careful, I suppose, with those comments, or keep them to themselves. But I’ve seen it, you’ve definitely encountered it just from the stories that we’ve talked about in the past. Bizarre
Sharon: It’s bizarre, it really is bizarre. On a professional platform, because if you’re in an office setting, you wouldn’t say those things.
Nelson: You’d hope they wouldn’t say those things.
Sharon: But social media seems to embolden people who bring out views that they would not spout face to face. But as you say, it’s particularly amazing on LinkedIn, which is seen as a professional platform, where you are there with your name, and your professional associations on display for all to see. And people still feel comfortable with it. But you know, it has to be said that there is also a lot of pushback from anti-racism, as you know, they’re screenshotting they’re sharing, they’re holding companies to account, you know, ‘Do these people with these views actually represent how you think?’. Some companies are doing things about it, and some companies don’t care. So it’s been very interesting, it’s been very interesting.
Nelson: I don’t want to get too off the topic, of working from home, but obviously, part of working from home, as a black woman, is encountering these things, so I don’t want to shy away from it either. But something like doxing, where you’re purposely kind of calling out somebody associations, in order, presumably, to have some sort of effect either on the individual – either directly, as in, ‘Stop doing it’, or for their business or associates or colleagues to think, ‘Hang on, there’s a real danger of being associated with these people’. What’s your kind of view on where doxing falls on, on the scale of being a force for complete good, or a complete menace to society? What’s your take in general?
Sharon: Oh, that’s a difficult one. Because I feel that if you are comfortable sharing your racist views in public, then you should be comfortable being called out in public. And therefore, I don’t feel that the people to whom you have been racist, have to take it without doing something about it. And if it’s an online platform, then screenshotting and reporting is where it has to start.
Sharon: You know, if you have contacted a particular company and then you know, you want to take it offline, then that’s a different matter. But I don’t know what else you do. I think that’s, it’s kind of what you have to do otherwise, you leave them to, you know, you leave those views there. You have to make it clear that this is not something that you accept or support, somehow.
Nelson: So it might be a case of, it’s not the best tool in terms of it being completely flawless, but it’s the best tool available right now that everyone can access and make use of.
Sharon: Yeah, yeah.
Nelson: I think I probably agree with that, actually, in terms of, if there was a better way around that can actually have effect, then then let’s see it.
Sharon: Right now, there isn’t.
Nelson: You just have to kind of mix it when you hear certain horror stories about the effect that that has on that person’s life. And whether that weighed up the initial interaction. But people get doxed for a variety of things, whether that sometimes that includes racism, sometimes it’s about completely unrelated things that people just decide they don’t like your view, and decide that they’re going to wreck your life because of it.
Sharon: Well, yes. Okay. So yes, clearly, there’s a fine line. But if racism is unacceptable as it is, then getting doxed for being racist, you know –
Nelson: Part and parcel.
Sharon: You know, if you don’t want to risk it then don’t share those views. Okay? Because if you are commenting on something I’ve shared with racist views, I am going to push back. I’m not saying that I’m necessarily going to, the very first time, go and report you to your company. Sometimes I ignore people, and other people jump in and say ‘Wait, that wasn’t acceptable. Enough’. It may depend on how I’m feeling on the day.
Sharon: I will, however, take screenshots should I ever need them to the future. Because what happens is that people get called on it, and then they try to remove the evidence that they ever said it.
Nelson: Yeah, I mean, that’s something I think has been more prevalent on Twitter. Of course, it happens on LinkedIn. But that’s just something which it’s known for, everybody deleting that comment and pretending it never happened when it did. Yeah, yeah, I agree. You have to use the tools at your disposal to fight the battles that you want to fight. For sure. I want to ask this, mainly because it wouldn’t have occurred to me if you hadn’t mentioned it on one of our previous conversations. But I think you mentioned at some point that, you’d found that there was some disconnect with you with having quite an Anglophile name. And then people kind of not associating that with you. And I wondered if that was something that you’d like to share with us?
Sharon: Absolutely, most of my experiences with this has been before social media, or, you know, before everybody had their picture on social media. Okay. Certainly, when I was still working in offices, you’d go for an interview, you’d send in your CV, and then you turn up but people would say, ‘Whoa, she’s black’. You know, you just see that look, because, my name…I mean at the time, it was, Sharon Hurley. It sounds almost Irish really, so clearly I was not what they were expecting. And in my early days online, actually, I remember applying for a writing job. And after a little bit of back and forth, the person saw my picture somewhere because at that point, I hadn’t yet posted online mainly because of the same phenomenon. And the potential client immediately reduced what he was offering to pay me.
Sharon: And implied that I should be grateful for anything. Right? Yes. And yeah, so you know, so that actually happened. At a certain point I just decided well, ‘Okay, fine’. You know, it got to the stage where you couldn’t just have the default egg on your picture, on your profile anymore. I put my picture out there and I figured, ‘Well, you know, if people don’t hire me, if people see me and decide not to work with me, I’ll never know’. But definitely I have still come across, even after that I’ve come across situations where a friend and I were working for the same company; she was white; I was black, and you know, we got offered different amounts for the same work. It still happens, it still happens. You eventually have to get to the point where you say, ‘Okay, I’m not standing to this anymore. You know, I’ve been doing this for x number of years, I have this amount of experience, I have this number of clips online, so you pay me what I’m worth, or I’m not working with you’.
Nelson: That’s, that’s fantastic that you’re in the position to be able to do that and to fight back and to kind of hold your ground there. And one of the things that you mentioned now, which is super interesting to me, is actually having that sort of evidence. When you have a white colleague there, who is doing the same job as you, and you can actually…because I think so rarely people are in that position where they know, absolutely, for sure, for the same work, this is happening. And it happens, obviously, in a racist level, but also on a sexist level as well.
Nelson: You know, various workplaces where I know that there’s something happening there with regards to a wage gap. And I’ve always found that very interesting in terms of that, lots of companies try and actively dissuade their employees from talking about wages full stop, which I always found really, really interesting. I can’t really see a big reason for it, other than not wanting to have some of these conversations, and potentially giving the employer something that they can leverage on some people and not on others. So yeah, here’s a bit of a weird one that I’ve always found, like writing into the contract, that you’re not allowed to discuss wages, like ‘Are you ashamed of the wages or something?’
Sharon: Yeah, they want the opportunity to pay some people less without anybody finding out about it. And as you say, it’s very rare to have that evidence. You know, I can think of maybe two or three times when I know absolutely, for sure. You know, there are lots of times when you suspect, but the fact that there are times when you know, for sure it’s happening, means that you’re probably not wrong to suspect. Do you know what I mean?
Nelson: Definitely, yeah.
Nelson: Yeah, the name thing I was, I found quite interesting as well. Just because I’ve bizarrely had an experience of that with my name. Nelson isn’t a super common first name for a white person.
Nelson: There’s plenty of white people that have Nelson as like a last name, for example. Yeah, and I’ve encountered that a few times before when, like, with one of my ex-girlfriends, like her friends before they met me all expected me to be black, which was weird. But I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t think I’ve had that before’. But, yeah, nothing that’s ever, I think, work to my detriment. And there may have been times where that name, and the association perhaps, hurt me when I was applying for jobs. You know, and without attaching social media profiles and, and things like that. I like to think that they didn’t, but who knows you’re in that sort of position where you’re just like, I have no evidence. I can suspect some things. But yeah I have had people literally said to me, ‘Oh, I thought you were going to be black’.
Sharon: Yeah, well, you know, just because you don’t see it happening doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
Nelson: Exactly. So just moving on then. With the podcast, how you manage that balancing it with your work and your anti-racism writing as well? So am I going to assume you’re some sort of super woman who’s able to juggle or these plates or have you got a system in place that you refined?
Sharon: Well, no I am not a super woman. I just feel that all of these things are important so I’m trying to do them all. Which may turn out to be a little bit of a mistake, but you never know I’m going to keep going as long as I can. I think the secret is just to be organised. So I have my work calendar, I put in my tasks for every piece of work that I do. As I was saying earlier, almost every piece of work has three or four tasks attached to it, one of them for the deadline. And a little secret is, I always set my personal deadline one day before the actual deadline, just in case. So 90% of the time I deliver work early, so my clients are happy. And then if I ever need flexibility, it means that they will give me the flexibility that I need,
Nelson: Because you’ve done so well on all the other ones. Right?
Nelson: Right. Yeah. And then it’s just fitting things in where you can, When Lisa and I started the podcast, work was in a little bit of a slump, so I had more time. And now it’s becoming a little bit more of a challenge to keep on top of it in the same way that we did before; we’re just about managing it. You know, we put in a recording session every couple of weeks. And, you know, we try and record as many podcast episodes as we can in a session; either two or three. And if we can do that two weeks in a row, then we’ve got six episodes, that we just have to do the post-production on.
Nelson: Right, yeah.
Sharon: In terms of all the other things, what I found is that I’m now allocating Saturday mornings to working on some of those projects, sometimes it goes into Saturday afternoon. So my weekend tends to be down to one day. I’m working on changing that though. If I ever get to the point where I can turn one of these side gigs into more of a main gig, because it’s paying me, then that’s going to make everything fall into place. But in the meantime, you know, I just fit things in where I can. You know, I have a calendar, and I use the slots accordingly.
Nelson: When you put your calendar then, you’re blocking out days? Or you’ve got a to do list for that day, and you just go through it tasks one by one and move on to the next one? Or if you are you quite stringent about, ‘No today is the day that I’m just doing client work, or today is just today that I’m doing my own work’.
Sharon: I’m not as stringent as I would like to be I’ve tried for years to have this set aside only for my own work. But it doesn’t ever seem to work like that. So what I do is, I know that I’m most productive and most creative in the morning. So I will get up and I will do whatever my client tasks are for that day. I try not to have more than two or three things to work on for clients in a given day, because that’s the best way to really make the most of that creative period. And then I’ll chunk it down. So right now I’m working on a 3000 word article for someone, a guide to online education. And so I set aside a morning last week for doing the outline, and yesterday’s task was to get halfway through the draft, today’s task is to get to the other half of the draft. And then once that’s done, I think I have something different for another client tomorrow. This week, I actually have a little more time to work on other things.
Nelson: Great, it’s nice when that happens.
Sharon: Yes, it is nice when that happens. Yeah. But also, I think as you get to the point where you get better projects that supports your interest and your desired income level, then you hopefully don’t have to work quite as hard as you do at the beginning.
Nelson: I’ll take your word for that at the moment. I’m not at that stage. Ah, so it’s nice to know that that’s potentially in the future.
Sharon: Potentially, potentially, I you know, I wouldn’t even say that I’m totally there yet. But occasionally I get a nice big project, and it’s going to meet my needs for a few weeks. And I say ‘Okay, so that means I don’t actually have to take on anything else, I don’t have to chase anything else in this period’. Which means that when I’m not working on that I have time to work on the projects. It’s not quite as straightforward as that. But I feel like I’m moving closer to that ideal. Not there yet, but maybe in another few months.
Nelson: Like if you can, you can see the endpoint and the goal there and it’s not too far away. That’s great.
Sharon: Yeah, for sure.
Nelson: And one of the things that you mentioned before which I’d just like to talk about a little bit is that you consider yourself an introvert.
Sharon: Oh yes.
Nelson: So there’s obviously some things that you like even an outsider can see would suit you about working from home. Are there anything that is kind of your you don’t like so much about working from home and working for yourself? And I can imagine, not I want to put words in your mouth, but is pitching something that you that you feel okay to do as an introvert?
Sharon: I don’t like pitching.
Nelson: That’s what I was suspecting but I wasn’t going to say, like ‘You, Sharon, do not like pitching’.
Sharon: I, Sharon, do not like pitching. I’ll do it if I have to. But what has actually happened is because, A) because I’ve been doing it for a while. But even if I think back to, say seven years ago, okay, sort halfway into this period of freelancing, I had a writing gig where I was publishing several posts, bylined posts a month, I shared them on social media. And what started happening is that people would see what I shared and approached me about writing similar content for them. And that has continued to happen ever since. So I don’t have to pitch very often. Which is, which is the way that I like it. It’s definitely not a sweet spot for introverts.
Nelson: No, no, I get that. It’s so nice that you’ve been able to kind of get to that stage. But I’m guessing like, people can’t expect that, similar introverts can’t expect that overnight. You know, it did take a period of several years for you kind of getting these pieces under your belt and being able to share them and enough people seeing them that, you’d get this inbound marketing effect, as opposed to cold emails or referrals or stuff like.
Nelson: My previous business, and the vast majority of my experience, has been in digital advertising. So I get lots of people coming to me specifically for that, that tends to be kind of Facebook and Instagram ads. It’s not something that I’m (and I don’t mind saying it here), it’s not something that I’m massively passionate about. I do it because I’m good at it and I know I can command a good rate when I do it.
Sharon: I mean, we’ve all done that.
Nelson: Yes, exactly, for every job! ‘Will you right about this?’ ‘I will for money, yes’. But I’m in this position now where I’m really passionate about copywriting. I’m really enjoying it. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve just genuinely felt creative. And this is from somebody, like myself, who never considered myself creative. So it’s kind of come from nowhere. And it’s a lovely feeling.
Sharon: It is great isn’t it?
Nelson: It’s so nice. Yeah, just to think that ‘Hang on, I could create something from nothing today. But that ‘wows’ people and convinces them to do something’.
Sharon: And can I just say that this, for me was a side benefit of the anti-racism writing. Which I started, I started because I was upset about George Floyd. And in doing so, I rediscovered my own writing voice, you know, the Sharon’s who’s not the Sharon who’s writing for clients. And so that has led me to write all kinds of other things. And it is wonderful, as you say that, that well of creativity, that passion for what you’re working on. It’s actually nice to rediscover that.
Nelson: Yeah, I mean, I created a social media post on LinkedIn a few weeks ago, or something, that was about how taking one opportunity opens the door for other opportunities, but you just can’t see those opportunities until you take the first one. And so this kind of creativity benefit, I suppose I’m going to call it, was something that I didn’t even envisage. That wasn’t on my radar at all. It was just like a happy byproduct, I suppose, of doing the work. So I’m in this odd situation, I suppose, where I’m not having to pitch or win work the digital advertising stuff, but I’m trying to actively win less of it. Whereas I do have to be more proactive in winning the copywriting. Though I do some white labelling for a digital marketing agency, and I have a couple of my own smaller clients at the moment, but I’m trying to kind of pursue course-creators and coaches, just because through a lot of the work I’ve been white labelling actually, I’ve just enjoyed that the most. You know, writing with a certain personality. When it comes from a person, and it’s a course 99% of the time, you get more leeway than, you know, your typical brands guidelines for a large multinational. You can be more creative, you can be a little bit more daring, a little bit more out there. And I love that. Absolutely love that.
Sharon: That’s great.
Nelson: So I’m definitely going to be coming to you for tips to kind of get those articles rolling and have people approach me at some point. But I have to balance that with the cold pitching. Which makes me sweat a little bit.
Sharon: It does, does it?
Nelson: Yeah, I’m kind of a middle point, I definitely wouldn’t call myself an introvert nor would I say that I’m an extrovert. One of the things that I found tough about working from home is that I do also get energy from other people, as well as needing a quiet space to actually do my work. And so there are some things that working from home does incredibly well for me. In terms of, I used to feel like when I worked at an agency, and we had, you know, 50-60 people in the building and an open office as well.
Nelson: I couldn’t actually do very good work, in relative terms, compared to the stuff that I was able to do when I took myself off to a meeting room and worked on my own, in silence. The level of work, it’s obviously something to do with concentration and focus, the level just wasn’t there. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. It wasn’t at that level I was happy to put out. But then now I am working from home, one of the chief selfish reasons that I’m doing this podcast is to talk to super interesting people like you, because like, that’s how I kind of recharge myself and get ideas. I don’t know, I think if I was just doing the writing and not having any of that interaction, I think I would really, really struggle.
Sharon: I find that I get plenty of interaction without necessarily having to go out there. So I’m in a couple of slack groups with fellow writers. And so you know, we chat about this, that, you know, the with the most active threads, that is what we call ‘coffee talk’. You know, so we, you know, we just talk about whatever’s going on. And, and that works to me, because I can check into the chat, but I want and I can be away from it when I don’t want.
Nelson: So it works to your schedule.
Nelson: Exactly, exactly. I don’t miss I don’t miss working in offices. I haven’t done it for a long time now. And I don’t think I would ever want to go back.
Nelson: So would you consider a more traditional job?
Nelson: Flat no?
Sharon: Flat no, no, not at this stage. Only part time, maybe only part time, and not anything that required me, you know, I’d be quite happy if they wanted me to do part time teaching. And I could go and deliver my lecture and leave and I didn’t have to get involved with any meetings. I’m absolutely fine with that.
Nelson: Just do the good bits.
Sharon: Actually, I did that for a while, you know. One of the things that happened when I stopped teaching at Coventry is that for the first term after I left, they hadn’t replaced me so they kind of hired me part time to replace myself. And that was brilliant. Because I was not required to attend any meetings, I just had to turn up and teach.
Nelson: That’s fantastic!
Sharon: It was great, it was absolutely great!
Nelson: Yeah getting the bit that you love the most and getting rid of all the stuff that you don’t. I think a lot of people would have would have made the concession there and be like, ‘Yeah, I’m sure I can come in for a little bit’.
Nelson: I know it was a little a little while ago now, in terms of you’ve been working from home for so long, but obviously you’ll have done plenty of reading and you know a tonne of people also, that work from home. But what (and I have to kind of caveat this with the fact that it depends on the industry of course but) do you have any kind of like transition tips for people wanting to, who currently do work for a company and perhaps work on to work from home or want to go freelance and work themselves, what should people kind of start with?
Sharon: Well, if you want to go freelance, one of the things is to start building up your client list. Which unfortunately, usually means a little bit of after hours, and we can work. That doesn’t work well for everybody. You know, if you have a full-time job, and you have a family, and you need to do things with your family, in the evenings and weekends, it’s going to be very difficult to carve out that time. But I do know of a couple of people that just would make sure everybody was in bed, they would hang out with their family, and then they would just do a little sort of 11 to 2 shift, doing their work and you know, not get quite enough sleep, but enough to keep them going in order to start their freelance career. Because what you really need is to have some clients before you have that confidence. Unless you’re in the happy position, as some people are having someone else who’s not freelance who is happy to fund the family for a few months while you get started. I think it’s important to get to know whether this is really a lifestyle that you’re going to like, and it’s kind of hard to know unless you go all in. But you can start by getting clients; see if you find that process of getting new clients, and working with them, energising. You know, see if you can deal with the highs and the lows, because let’s face it, every freelance career has them. I mean I talked earlier about the slump –
Nelson: That’s pretty much every day. Haha.
Sharon: Because of COVID, I had a couple of clients in the travel industry, and I had a couple of other new big projects are about to come on stream, all got put on hold. So I had two months where I made 20% of my usual income. Okay, that is a big hit.
Nelson: It’s a huge hit.
Sharon: But it’s not the first time. You know, sometimes a recession comes or whatever happens, something’s happening out there, and it affects your income. So you need to be prepared to deal with that. If you want to go all in, it’s a good idea to save some money just to bridge that gap, you know, for, you know, six months if you can manage it. Right, so that you know that while you’re building up your clientele, that you have a buffer.
Nelson: So yeah, I think it’s definitely a mindset thing. I think that buffer is amazingly helpful in freelancing, especially when you’re first starting out is a bit of a pressure cooker. You know, you go from potentially being in a salaried position where, you could perform terribly, you can perform incredibly well, you could have a mediocre month, but whatever happens, you’re still going to get the same salary at the end of the month – come rain or shine. To something like a freelancer, which is the complete opposite, where even if you do the work, you might not get paid. And everyone has stories of –
Sharon: Oh, yes!
Nelson: – of working and not hearing from a client ever again. Top tip to people, get 50% deposit before you start. You’re welcome!
Sharon: I co-sign that.
Nelson: So that’s something I do for every project now before I start. Before there’s any research anything, it’s always 50% down, thank you very much. And that makes it a little more bearable if you don’t hear from the client ever again. But you go from such a such change in your financial situation, such a change from your mindset, to like, ‘Hang on, this is all on me, now. I am the business. If I don’t do this, this and this, I will have zero money, nothing coming in’. So if there are ways, like you pointed out in terms of giving yourself a bit of room to manoeuvre and through building up that six month buffer or three month buffer or whatever it is, even if it’s not much, it goes some way to taking that pressure off and alleviating it just a little bit. And sometimes that’s all you need.
Sharon: Yeah. And, you know, part of the mindset shift is also not just thinking of yourself as a freelancer but as a business owner. Okay, you might be the business but therefore, it means that you have to take care of your marketing, you have to make sure you’re taking care of your accounts. You know, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that you have to take care of, in addition to the freelance service that you actually provide and so you have to be ready for that. Someone recommended ‘Wave Accounting’ to me years ago, and I use that to send out my invoices, it is just, it is just wonderful. Apart from that, I keep a spreadsheet. I can tell you how much income I’ve made every month since I started freelancing. You know, just because I like to keep track of the data to see if there are any patterns. So, you know, for example, I know that January is actually usually okay, because I usually end up doing lots of work for people in November, December, because they want stuff done before Christmas. But then February is slow, because people don’t assign stuff in January. Right?
Nelson: Of course.
Sharon: You know, so it’s good to know, you once you have the information, you feel better about it, I know that February is going to be slow, so I take whatever’s coming in November.
Nelson: Build that buffer.
Sharon: Yes, it’s very important to, to be aware of all those things, to have tools that support you. It also makes a difference when you are negotiating with clients. Some clients don’t understand the freelancer-client relationship. They think you’re some sort of glorified, but lesser employee, which you are not!
Nelson: It tends to be, I find a lot of the most skilled employees end up becoming freelancers, because they, well, a lot of a lot of them, myself included, got to a certain level within an organization, saw the work that was involved, decided that they could do that work, do a lot better work with different processes, and get paid a lot more for it.
Nelson: Because you didn’t have all of these overheads, you didn’t have a business owner, in a traditional sense, to support, and all of these different bureaucratic layers, and you don’t have some big fancy office that you had to afford. And you thought, ‘Hang on, I could do this and make more money and get a bigger slice’. I think it’s weird that some people think of like freelancers as a lesser, when, in my experience, they tend to be fairly accomplished and more so than the people –
Sharon: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, that in the sense that sometimes you will come across clients who want an insane level of accountability as if you’re working for them in their office, you know what I mean? And so that’s the point where, as a freelancer, you have to say, ‘No, you know, I’m an equal partner here, you know. We’re working together on your content, or your design, or your webpage, or whatever it happens to be. And as long as I deliver, you don’t need to know when I’m doing, you know, we’ll set our milestones, but then I don’t need to be trapped. Okay, I don’t need to be reporting into you every 24 hours, I don’t necessarily need to be in your slack chat either’.
Nelson: I have a situation that feeds into it today, where somebody, we’d already booked a meeting in for Friday. So that’s four days in advance, three days in advance, and they then booked in another meeting for today, and I had to go back to them and explain, ‘We’ve said that meeting. This is a day that I book just for my writing, and personal projects. So that’s not available for you’. You know if you explain it in the right way, people understand it’s just this the equivalent of somebody saying, ‘Are you free for this meeting? and saying ‘No’.
Sharon: Yeah, I have stopped giving long explanations. I simply say ‘No, I’m not available’. You know, if they have pressed, I said, ‘I’ve gotten better engagement at that time’. They don’t need to know what I’m doing. Because my time is my business.
Nelson: Of course. They’re paying you for a certain result, by a certain time, anything that you’re doing in between isn’t necessary for them to know.
Sharon: Exactly, exactly. So you know, I don’t owe them explanations. They can say, ‘Are you available?’ And I can say yes or no. They don’t get to decide that something as an emergency for them, is one for me. They don’t get to decide if something is an emergency for me, if they haven’t got their act together.
Nelson: Sure, if they haven’t gone through the planning process and got a deadline, and got all their ducks in a row –
Nelson: Well, I think that is a great place to leave it today, Sharon. Where can people find you and the multitude of projects that you’ve got going on? So firstly, where can where can people hire you as a b2b copywriter?
Sharon: They can contact me on sharonhh.com for b2b and b2c writing. And of course, I am available on LinkedIn as well. If they’re interested in my podcast, it’s theintrovertsisters.com. If they are interested in my anti-racism writing, it’s antiracism.substack.com.
Nelson: Anymore projects we should know about?
Sharon: Oh, yes and then there’s the beyondschool.co, which is where I am doing a couple of courses. I can’t tell you exactly where my profile is, they’ve literally just set up a brand-new website.
Nelson: I’m sure people will find it to sign up and stuff. Right. Well, thank you again, Sharon. And I hope all our listeners have enjoyed this discussion as well.
Sharon: Thank you, Nelson. It’s been great. Thanks very much for having me on the podcast.
Nelson: You’re welcome. And that’s it for today. You’ve been listening to the ‘Working From Home’ podcast with me, Nelson Jordan. We’ve been talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly side of remote work. Thanks so much for listening, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed the time you spent with us today. If you’d like to discuss the podcast, you want to make a new friend, or you’re interested in working with me on a copywriting or digital marketing project. Then visit nelson-jordan.com. That’s nelson-jordan.com, where you can also sign up to my newsletter to hear about this podcast and other exciting projects. Until next week, goodbye.