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.
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?!”
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.