When we asked the 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success Facebook group for suggestions for potential features in the Freelancer Spotlight series, Jackie Lam’s name was mentioned.
More than once, and for good reason.
‘Jackie is a sweetheart!’ someone said. ‘Jackie’s blog is so much fun’ said another one of our members.
So we reached out to her with our usual round of questions, and Jackie more than delivered.
Here’s an in-depth look of how this personal finance writer started on the freelancing path.
What do you do and how long have you been in business, Jackie?
I am a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance, and I also do copyediting/proofing and copywriting.
I run a blog about money and freelancing called Cheapsters and am the Los Angeles organizer for Freelance Friday.
I’ve been freelancing full-time since last fall.
Why did you start freelancing?
I’ve long daydreamed about being a freelancer.
The lure of having freedom and flexibility to carve out your own schedule had vast appeal. And by following fellow personal finance writers who have made a go of freelancing and have done really well for themselves (i.e., Carrie Smith of Careful Cents, Melanie Lockert of Dear Debt, Zina Kumok of Debt Free After Three) inspired me to try it myself.
(Psst! Zina wrote a post for Horkey Handbook on how she gets high-paying clients from Contently. Check it out!)
I had been taking on copyediting and web writing gigs here and there since 2010, but doing it full-time seemed like a pipe dream. In the fall of 2014 I landed my first freelance gig writing at FinCon, a conference for content creators in personal finance.
At the time I just had my blog, which I ran purely for the sake of fun and helping my friends live a life of abundance on a shoestring budget. At the conference I learned that there was an abundance of opportunities for writers.
Getting paid to write about something I loved was a bit of a dream!
I freelanced on nights and weekends on top of my day job. About a month into my new gig, there was a surge for more content from my new client and I ended up making about the same that month as I did at my full-time job. That’s when I saw the vast earning potential with freelancing.
In the summer of 2015, I made the difficult decision of leaving a job as a proofreader and content editor at a publishing company to take a one-year contract job writing personal finance articles for a large insurance company’s consumer blog. It was tough because I actually really enjoyed my job.
But I decided to take the contract position because personal finance writing was what I wanted to ultimately do.
About five weeks into my new job, I received two weeks’ notice that I would be let go due to over-staffing. Naturally, I freaked out.
The good news was that a day after I received notice I was on a plane to that year’s FinCon. I attended the freelancer marketplace, and landed a lot of great leads for freelance writing opportunities.
When I got back to L.A., I met with a handful of recruiters at creative staffing agencies, and eventually received an offer for a contract job at an investment firm.
The pay was more than I had ever imagined making. It was another tough decision.
At the time, I had client whose needs had recently ramped up, and a bunch of leads that I was currently courting. Besides that, I had a comfortable buffer fund I could tap into, if needed.
Plus I would be laying the groundwork for building the career that I wanted. So I pushed aside my fears and took the leap.
I really wanted to give myself a chance to do this freelance thing. I’m calling it “my year of experimentation” and I’m about ten months into it. For the most part, it’s been everything I’ve expected and then some.
What has been most challenging part of solopreneurship so far?
For me the most challenging part of working for myself so far is how it can feel like an accelerated “Choose Your Own Adventure,” meaning you sometimes have to make a series of decisions in a short period of time.
For instance, while with a day job you have to negotiate salary, say, once every few years; but when you freelance, you may have to negotiate rates with several new clients in a week. Having to make a lot more decisions is something I’ve found to get easier, but it can still be overwhelming and stressful.
Did you ever want to quit or give up?
Not really. But I get discouraged at times.
I tend to get discouraged when I experience a lull.
Lulls happens to everyone; sometimes a client may change their content strategy, their publication goes under, or their needs just change. It’s out of your control, and it can be easy to get crippled by anxiety.
I learned to deal with this type of situations by reaching out to fellow freelancers, or by figuring out a game plan on how to best make use of my time and focus on my daily wins.
(Gina’s Tip: Check out this 90-day plan I recommend to boost a freelance writing business.)
Even if you are having slow month with work, it’s up to you to get the most fulfillment from any given day.
As someone who is self-employed, you are more capable of doing that than if you were tethered to a 9-5 job. And that is a very powerful and motivating thing!
If you could pay someone to take a task off your plate, what would you outsource?
Probably help with research for articles when I’m slammed, or to help me maintain my social media for my blog. I love writing and working with words, but social media management? That’s a separate beast, and one which I have yet to tame.
What task in your own business would you like to do more of?
As a self-described minimalist freelancer, I think I would like to find a greater balance with juggling my freelance work and my personal projects, which include blogging, working on a collection of short stories, and a book series on how artists can balance their personal creative pursuits and managing their money. Finding this balance is still very much a work in progress — stay tuned!
What are some big successes you’ve had recently?
While I have had some really awesome career wins such as getting to work with some great clients, landing my first four-figure assignment, and raking in about $11,000 in a single month (I admit I took on more than I should’ve and don’t recommend working in the fashion I did that month to anyone), I think the biggest success for me has been changing my relationship with money.
I used to feel compelled to work as much as I could in order to make as much money as possible.
The funny thing was that I only saved money so that I could eventually afford to take time off to pursue some personal projects.
With a day job you are trading a given amount of time and expertise for a set amount of pay. But with freelancing there’s a direct correlation between your time and money, and you can always turn down an assignment. Of course, you may take the assignment because you don’t want to lose a client or just need the money, but the option is there.
You can take that time you would’ve spent on the assignment to build your business, work on a passion project, or spend time with friends. You usually don’t have that option with a day job.
While I still feel internal pressure at times to be that six-figure freelancer, I know that I am happier working less and making less money. Instead, I work to cultivate relationships and tend to my artistic pursuits.
Cait Flanders of Blonde on a Budget wrote a great piece on giving yourself permission to earn less, which really resonated with me.
As an introvert who is prone to anxiety, I used to sometimes hide behind this guise of busyness to avoid social situations.
I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m much better now about setting boundaries and communicating my needs, both professionally and personally. Freelancing has really helped me with that.
What are some specific strategies, tactics or pieces of advice that helped you grow?
There are so many!
I think creating a sense of community, structure, and “stability” has really helped me. I am grateful for being part of a community of freelancers and artists (both online and in real life) and for my mentor, Alan Steinborn of Fully Expressed Life.
Although, lately I’ve come to realize that a year-long approach is the way to go. For instance, instead of judging your success by your progress and income each month, look at how much progress you’ve made in a year. The inevitable ebbs and flows that come with the territory of freelancing can trip you up.
Having a wide, long-term view can help not fret about the little things, and see all that you have achieved.
What are you most excited about for your business next?
I think just continuing to grow and learn how to run my own business, and finishing the first book in my series for creative freelancers. Working for yourself gives you the freedom to design a business in such a way that’s in alignment with your long-term goals.
For instance, in working on this book I plan to learn more about the process of self-publishing. I also hope to share any insights and any big wins and failures if they may be helpful to fellow freelancers.
Thank you so much for joining us, Jackie!
Any questions you’d like to ask Jackie, now that we have her attention?
Jackie Lam is the creator of Cheapsters, where she helps freelancers get by in the gig economy. She lives in L.A., where she is on the perpetual hunt for the perfect breakfast burrito. You can check out Jackie’s work on Contently and connect with her on Twitter.