It’s been a while since we’ve published a Freelancer Spotlight.
That’s partly because we’ve been gradually replacing them with Student Success Stories – thinking that our community of writers and virtual assistants can relate better to someone who’s started where they are.
But we couldn’t pass up a Spotlight with Ashley Gainer (and you’ll see why if you read her interview). You’ll be seeing more of Ashley’s writing on Fully Booked VA, so it’s only fair that you find out what an awesome writer and absolute professional she is.
Here’s Ashley’s advice on all things freelancing.
What do you do and how long have you been in business?
I’m a freelance writer, editor, and coach (for lack of a better term). I love writing and editing for clients, and I love teaching other at-home mamas how to make money online doing what I do.
I got started as a freelance editor in 2010 and did that for a while, but I got frustrated with hourly rates, boring work, and clients who expected perfection when perfection isn’t really possible. I made a switch to writing in 2014 and haven’t looked back! I do still take on FUN editing projects (mostly self-published books) and I love those when they come along.
Hi, Ashley! What got you into freelancing?
I started out testing the waters with freelancing as a bit of a hobby, to see if it was something I liked and could do long-term.
I had high hopes for turning it into something significant down the road – something to do to bring in some extra money while I had a family, and then eventually ramp into a “real” income once my future kids were in school.
Fast forward a couple years and I was very pregnant with my first child and about to be divorced.
I didn’t want to let go of being an at-home mom even though I was a single mom. I’d been dabbing in freelancing long enough to know that I could make it work if I put in enough effort and lived very frugally … so I took the plunge! I turned my hobby into my primary source of income as a single mom and lived to tell the (dramatic) tale.
What has been most challenging part of solopreneurship so far?
I’ve had a ton of challenges, as you could probably imagine.
But most of them have to do with what’s going on inside, not outside. For a long time, I made myself stay in a freelancing niche that I just did not like, because I’d had my identity wrapped up in being an editor. But as a freelance editor, I was unhappy and broke and stressed to the max.
Eventually I started paying attention to what other people were doing, and I realized that many of the editors I knew were also stressed and struggling.
I also knew writers who were much more comfortable and satisfied. That’s what I wanted.
So I decided to make the shift to writing. It felt huge and exciting and scary all at once.
And then, of course, I got in my own way again, this time by ignorance. I had dreadfully low rates for a dreadfully long time because I was too afraid to turn down any and every gig that came my way.
I was a single mom! How could I say no to a potential paycheck??
Thanks to some insightful (and insistent) mentors, I started prioritizing time to build my own business, and eventually I climbed out of the rate rut and started to make progress.
These days my struggles are much more existential and deal with things like self-sabotage and comparison-itis and fear of success (which is a real thing!).
It was a pretty deep, long struggle. (I’ve been freelancing since 2010, so there’s been a lot of time for struggle!)
Did you ever want to quit or give up?
All the time! Especially in the beginning.
I did this freelancing thing the hard way for years, and it felt like a grind day in and day out.
But every time I’d collapse in a pile of frustrated, angry tears, I’d remember why I was freelancing in the first place: to be home with my son. Thinking about the alternative options was enough to convince me to keep going, and seeing that there were people making a comfortable income doing what I wanted to do gave me hope.
What tasks in your business would you like to outsource?
That’s easy! Pinterest and email.
I’m fortunately at a point in my business where clients come to me, usually via referrals or from the past. I love the thrill of pitching and landing new clients, but I don’t spend a ton of time on that anymore.
Psst! Not sure what niches you can specialize in as a freelance writer? We’ve done some research and brainstorming for you, and we came up with over 200 niches to choose from. Here’s the list:
How do you stay motivated and productive when working solo?
I like rules and structure (nerd alert), so I have rules about when I work and when I don’t. That helps with the day-to-day work – both by creating urgency and by knowing there’s a “quittin’ time” as we say in North Carolina.
When it comes to greater issues like motivation (which I think is a trap) and overall dissatisfaction, I think about two things: why I’m doing this, and what I’d need to change for me to like it better.
It’s obvious to me that this is the only “career” I want, but there’s so much room for growth and change that there’s no reason to be miserable about any of it.
Once I can identify the real issues, I can fix them and get rolling again.
Annoying clients, boring assignments, a workspace that’s too dark or ugly, not feeling like I’m getting paid enough, wanting a new project to build on the back burner … those are some of the things that I’ve cut, changed, or introduced over the years.
What are some big successes you’ve had recently?
Well, there are a few ways to answer this! From a business standpoint, my biggest “win” this year so far has been starting a 5-day niche challenge for freelance writers, which felt AWESOME after “thinking about it” for way too long.
Then it was time to get to work on something I’ve been planning for more than a year, but more on that in a second.
On a mental level, I call it a HUGE success that I got to the core of why I’ve been self-sabotaging for two years now.
I worked through the issues and am now finally feeling energized and truly happy in my business, for the first time in a long time.
What are some specific strategies and pieces of advice that helped you grow?
The best thing I did was to start asking questions.
Figuring everything out on my own didn’t work, even though I tried to make it work for years. I didn’t really start getting traction until I found a couple of mentors who saw the (very obvious) things I was doing wrong and could give me a swift kick in the rear to do better.
Finding a mentor was the #1 best thing I did.
There are a few pieces of specific advice that have made all the difference for me along the way. Some of those include:
1. Market your business, first thing. Even if it’s just 20 minutes a day, build your own house before you build someone else’s. If you’re starting out, this could mean pitching. If you’re more established, you probably know what you need to be doing to market your business. Do that stuff first, and then do client work.
2. Justify the rate. When I was first working up the nerve to raise my rates, I came across the advice to charge more but offer more and then justify the rate. I’ve used this successfully for several years now, and it’s been really helpful in defining scope, solidifying my rates, and delivering exactly what the client wants. It can be as simple as “I charge $$$ for a 1,000-word post, and my posts come to you fully formatted, free of errors, and with 3-4 suggested titles incorporating keywords.”
3. Write down tomorrow’s to-dos when you’re wrapping up today’s work. You already know what comes next, and you can jump right in where you left off instead of trying to warm up and “figure it out” tomorrow. Being able to hit the ground running was a huge game-changer for me when my working hours were extremely limited but the pressure was on.
4. Put a price tag on self care. I was burning the candle at both ends for about three years. This was in part due to necessity, but at the same time, I probably could have planned better, worked smarter, and avoided the health consequences of prolonged stress. I still deal with the lingering effects of an extremely stressful period that ended three years ago, and I regret not taking better care of myself.
What are you most excited about for your business next?
My course! Once my niche challenge was humming along, I launched a beta run of my course, Freelance Writing from A to Z. It’s a course specifically for at-home (or wanna-be-at-home) moms who are trying to build a freelance writing business on the side.
Right now I’m working closely with a group of 12 fantastic mamas who are taking charge of their lives and making this work-at-home thing a reality. So many of them have little guys at home, and it’s a thrill to be able to help them “change their family tree” as Dave Ramsey says.
The course will be ready for a full market launch in July, and I just can’t wait. My goal is to keep the lowest tier of it accessible even for women with super-strict budgets (like mine was for so long).
It’s not really “good for business” but I have a real heart for mamas who have a lot to give but very little to spend, and I want to do what I can to meet their needs.
It’s been a great year for me so far, and I’m looking forward to see what else develops!
Ashley Gainer is a freelance writer specializing in money and entrepreneurship. When she’s not writing for her awesome clients, she’s teaching other moms how put their smarts to work at home. Want to pick a new (or better) niche? Here’s Ashley’s FREE 5-day niche challenge to find the perfect freelance writing niche for you.