Freelancer Spotlight: Rebecca Judd

In this month’s Freelancer Spotlight, Becca shares her story of going from owning a gaming website to playing professional poker to becoming a full-time editor.

Becca’s story is just one more proof of the fact that you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with your online career until you find something that really suits you and that you enjoy.

Here’s Rebecca!

What do you do and how long have you been in business?

I hunt grammar goblins and sentence snarks.

That is, I’m primarily an editor. Recently I’ve also been starting to incorporate other roles into my portfolio, such as social media management. I started this particular business in December 2014.

Before being a full-time freelance editor, however, I ran other businesses. The first one was my website that focused on online games, which reached 500k unique views per month. It developed into a hub for the online gaming community, and its content focus was a mixture of content curation featuring the best posts from around the gaming blogosphere and full-length editorial columns. I was also a part-time editor alongside this, which was something that had grown out of being a volunteer with the British Red Cross. I sold that gaming website in August 2011.

I went on to learn how to be a professional poker player, while continuing some freelance editing on the side.

I stopped playing poker professionally around the fall of 2013, when I needed to take a break for major surgery.

After the surgery and the recovery period, I took a little while to look at my career options and goals (professional poker is hard, and I especially had problems with self-confidence, which really undermined the mental side of my poker game). That’s when I started to think seriously about the idea of going full-time as a freelance editor.

What got you into freelancing?

I kind of fell into freelancing/solopreneurship because of lifestyle requirements. Partly, it was due to a chronic health condition which adds some specific challenges for me, so my work life needs to work with those challenges. It also happens to be just the sort of life I want to lead.

I’ve never been a fan of the 9-to-5 office-type lifestyle.

My mental picture of that has always been of going out and working for a company, as part of a team (I’m an introvert and really don’t think I’d cope well with that much socializing — not to mention the inter-team politics), with a boss who I perhaps really wouldn’t get on with, and in a job I pictured I wouldn’t find fulfilling. I wanted to avoid that.

It took me years to realize and admit to myself that my career decisions were strongly influenced by my aversion to that mental picture.

But at the same time, I realized that poker wasn’t working out for me. I wasn’t awful at it by any means and I really liked it as a career, but I recognized the fact that I found it very stressful as a career. Also, it simply wasn’t bringing in the share of income that I wanted and needed to provide to my household.

So I realized that for my own sanity (and to be fair to my partner), I needed to strongly consider other options. I had already been doing some freelance editing work on the side for years, and during those years I’d had so many people tell me I’d be great as a full-time editor. (Seriously. If I had a dollar for each person … well, okay, I could buy a tire of the Tesla S I really want.)

I hadn’t gone for being a full-time editor before because I wasn’t sure if I really enjoyed editing, and enjoying the work is important to me.

But I had a light-bulb moment: if I decided I didn’t like it, I could change it.

That was big for me. The idea that if you give your new career idea a go, you don’t have to be trapped doing it for the rest of your life. It made it a lot less scary for me. I told myself that I’d stick with it for a time (I think it was either 6 months or 1–2 years), and would then review whether I wanted to continue.

That was much more comforting than starting the business and feeling like I’d have to stick with it even if I hated it.

What has been most challenging part of solopreneurship?

Keeping all the balls in the air. There’s so much to do.

I often feel mentally overwhelmed by the amount of things to do and keep track of, and I often feel like I never have enough time.

It’s also partially because I am aware that I need to look after my health because I need to plan around and for my changeable health so that I can continue to provide a good and professional service for my clients.

I mean, in one way it’s great that I don’t have enough time. It’s because I’ve been lucky enough to have a solid diary full of work. But at the same time, I’ve always got a voice in my head saying that there’s an  extra task that I need to do, and often it just gets put off until some magic day when things are a bit less hectic.

I’ve decided recently that this is the age-old tactic of “triage” — that is, do the most important things. I realize that it’s a good way of running things so you don’t explode, but doing it in my work life is still a new concept to me and still doesn’t feel naturally “right.”

I still struggle with feeling overwhelmed, but I think it will get easier as I get better at  juggling all the tasks.

Did you ever want to quit?

I don’t know that I want to quit or give up, but I often feel like I want to take some time off.

I try to listen to this feeling and figure out if I genuinely need some chill time. Years ago, I fully believed I was lazy, and that any time I felt like taking time off it was because I was lazy.

Now, having watched myself work at this business, I know I’m not anywhere near that lazy. I do and have worked hard.

But I am trying to ingrain the healthier message that sometimes you need to slow down to speed up.

Sometimes pushing through and working hard anyway — when you’re exhausted or overwhelmed — means you’ll do the work slower and less efficiently. Sometimes it’s a worse idea than taking it easy now and being more productive in the future (unless you’ve got a deadline looming. Always meet the deadline unless there’s a very good excuse!). This way you’ll end up doing better work than you might’ve done if you’d pushed on after you reached those limits.

“What’s that, you’re recommending taking things slower even when you have a hundred and one other things to do?!”

Yes.

I take it on a case-by-case basis, and I always put deadlines first. But my current working theory is that doing things this way means you do your best work, and if I apply the concept of “triage” then the important stuff still gets done on time anyway.

I think this is a process of getting to know yourself as a self-starter and knowing your own limitations and capabilities, which can change from day-to-day and depending on what else is going on in your life. It also helps to keep things in perspective with other areas of your life.

I’ve found it’s important to self-reflect on your own needs — treat yourself like a client, as Gina might say. It’s also very important to be honest with yourself, and to be reliable and professional with your work commitments.

How do you stay motivated and productive when working solo?

A few years ago I took an online course called Learning How To Learn (LHTL). It teaches you strategies for learning effectively, and explains why those strategies work.

A lot of those strategies translate very well into working habits. For example, I use the Pomodoro technique (in full — including with breaks and rewards in between sessions) for some of my work tasks. I’ve also incorporated other techniques into my work day, such as the importance of keeping to your own schedule, to-do lists, and eating your frogs first.

The Pomodoro is particularly useful because I tend to incorporate it with household chores (though they’re not a reward — that’s where things like chocolate come in).

So I’ll do a Pomodoro of work/work tasks, and then I’ll go away from the keyboard and get something done from the housework list. This might not sound like the most fun thing ever, but it makes sure things get done from both task lists.

At the end of the day it feels good to know that I’ve been productive on both sides of things.

What are some big successes you’ve had recently?

Overall, I’ve had an amazing year of growth. I don’t just mean business growth, although I’m lucky enough to say that there’s been that too; I mean growth as a professional.

It has been a very challenging year, but so far I’ve met all those challenges. That feeling of growth is something I take as a win. So, too, is the recognition that sometimes I do need things to slow down and that’s okay.

If we’re talking more recent, more specific wins, though, two spring to mind. The first is that I’ve been solidly booked with work for the past several months, which is the first time in the life of my editing business. That’s great news.

And secondly, I recently pitched a lead with a more in-depth, higher paying role than normal, and they said yes! Hurrah! (And that’s led to an immediate need for yet more growth and learning!)

What are you most excited about for your business next?

Maybe I should be saying something like, “buying my Tesla/Mars ticket from my profits,” but honestly I think it’s “continuing to learn my craft and becoming a better solopreneur.”

Like with most things, I often learn new things with both solopreneurship and editing. These are areas where I can continually grow and see myself improve over time. Even if they’re tiny, finicky, and specific-circumstance new things that I’m learning in editing, that feels very fulfilling.

Becca Judd is a professional editor hunting grammar gremlins, sentence snarks, and (writing) style scallywags. Think you might have a few gribblies in your writing? Tell Becca and she’ll sort ’em out quicksmart. She lives in Scotland with her partner and their cat, and she’s a lifelong learner, foodie, and gamer.

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7 thoughts on “Freelancer Spotlight: Rebecca Judd”

  1. Fantastic interview! I love the interviews that are most honest as they resonate more clearly, and I find them so relatable. Confidence is great, but we all have doubts. I gain more motivation from reading a successful freelancer’s account which includes their doubting moments, rather than not including them. I’m sure even Bill Gates feels doubt!
    My biggest takeaway from the interview was Becca’s use of the Pomodoro technique in balancing work and home tasks. This was a light bulb moment for me as a work at home freelancer/parent. I’m excited to start implementing the method and see my productivity rise on both fronts!
    Thank you for another great interview full of real world experience and actionable takeaways!

    • Hi Lisa 🙂 I’m so glad you found the interview useful, and I wish you the best of luck with the Pomodoro technique.

      You may well already know all these, but just in case it’s helpful: there are a bunch of different ways to track Pomodoro sessions.

      For example, you might find the small Windows program “Tomighty” useful, which simply puts a box up on your screen and allows you to start Pomodoro sessions and then start a short or long break afterwards at the click of a button. Alternatively, if you use Slack then you probably know there are Slack Apps, which you can integrate into Slack; there are two Pomodoro Apps for Slack. (This is my preferred method!) Or, of course, you could just set a timer — e.g. on your phone — and do it that way!

      Good luck! And don’t forget the chocolate or similar, to go along with the housework rewards 🙂

  2. What a wonderful interview! So inspiring to see other freelancing walks of life. Please Becca, can you briefly share how you became a freelance editor? What would be your advice for someone looking to become a freelance editor? Was it as simple as marketing yourself as such, and seeking prospects?

    • This is another great interview because of the honesty Becca shares about her struggles and how she overcame them. She is a lifelong learner. which we all need to be in this business, I think. Anyway, thanks so much for the interview as it is inspiring and encouraging.

    • Hi Candra 🙂

      How did I get into freelancing?

      My first foray into freelance editing was when I was a volunteer with the British Red Cross. I was helping out with the local refugee services, and they mentioned that they had rewritten an internal guidance pack on working with young refugees. Somehow it got round to me editing that guide. I don’t remember how it came up, but I guess it was a “look for an opportunity to be helpful in the conversation” moment. I think at some point, you just have to put yourself out there to start, because no one knows you can do that work otherwise.

      What advice would I give someone?

      If you are thinking that you need a change and you could try jumping into freelance editing, ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen. Chances are the “worst” isn’t that bad. Maybe set yourself some “if this happens, then I’ll do this” plans, so it’s not as scary and so that if things do start going a bit sideways, you know what your plan is in advance. (I recommend Tim Ferriss on — or just Googling about — Fear Setting.)

      After that, freelancing can be overwhelming. There’s so much to do. I always come back to “what’s the first / next step?” If you’re just starting out, a good first step is probably to make a website. It doesn’t have to be perfect: just get something up on the web to show you are an editor. Another good next step is to look to see if there is an official proofreading/editing society in your country. Look it up and consider joining. It probably offers training if you want it, not to mention a support network of other editors and possibly referral work, and being a member of the society may be useful social proof. (E.g. my local one is the Society of Editors and Proofreaders — SfEP.)

      Has it been easy to find clients?

      Yes and no. I pitched on job boards a lot in my first year and didn’t have any success there. I don’t know if it’s just my experience and YMMV, or if getting editing work on those is trickier than getting other types of work.

      My first couple of clients came as referrals from my friends and family. From there, several clients seemed to come through word of mouth, which isn’t really something you can rely on happening, of course. As far as I can gather, one or two people have recommended me to their colleagues or peers and that has led to my working with some of my other clients.

      Other clients have just emailed from nowhere, and I have no idea how they found me (I really should ask). A few clients are on my roster because I approached them directly via email, and they said yes (hurrah). I will probably ask them to recommend me to their colleagues/peers at an opportune moment.

      I have plans for another round of pitching in the coming weeks, so we’ll see what comes of that.

      Did I do any marketing?

      I have long had the sneaking suspicion that I don’t do “enough” marketing, and it’s a weak point of mine. I don’t even manage to keep my professional social media feeds or blog going regularly! But at the moment I’m not struggling for work, so it’s not affecting me in the immediate term. Again, YMMV. I did do some basic stuff like getting into various freelance lists (e.g. Find a Proofreader, my local editing society list, etc.), and getting my website up. I always feel a bit lost on how to market, to be honest. I hope you figure this skill out xD

      Anyway, this has got kind of long so I’ll stop here! I hope some of it helped =) best of luck Candra, and anyone else, if you do take the plunge. The freedom is worth it, imo.

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