I like funny people.
Even better, I like funny freelancers. And today, we have one of my funniest freelancer friends, Karen Marston here to share with us how she’s gotten to where she is today.
I think y’all will really enjoy her freelancer spotlight. And for anyone thinking “Why would you interview the competition?” (Karen has some awesome courses on freelance writing), I would say, there’s room for us all. (That and the whole keep your friends close and your enemies closer…) 😉
What do you do and how long have you been in business?
I run Untamed Writing, where I help people start online writing businesses they can run from anywhere in the world, so they can live a life of total freedom while doing what they love. I teach two courses: Start SEO Writing, to show people how to get paid to write as quickly as possible, and Start Content Writing, to help people build freelance writing businesses they love. Both are designed for total beginners.
I also write creative copy for people who want to add personality to their businesses’ websites.
I made my first money from writing on 28 September 2012. A fine day!
What got you into freelancing?
I’d just returned from backpacking throughout North and South America, and I came home to yet another menial job. So far my pattern had been: work menial job to save money for travel, spend all money while travelling, come home, get another menial job, repeat. I was afraid to ‘start my career’ (I have a degree in Journalism), because I didn’t want to get tied down to a job that would scupper my future travel plans.
I figured there must be a better way — something that would mean I could earn money as I travelled. I considered several options — teaching (for the long holidays), working holidays (not a permanent solution, and would mean staying in one place), radiography (in demand the world over), and various other things — but none of them were right. Eventually I started to take the idea of freelance writing seriously. I’d brushed it off in the past because I wasn’t sure how to get into it, or if it was even really possible.
But then one day, despairing at my job, I just went for it. I found some instructions online, created a website, and started pitching companies. I started out writing exclusively for SEO companies, so the pay wasn’t great, but it was a nice, easy way to get started.
Was it what I expected?
Hmm. I don’t know. It’s not as if I had much to lose, so I didn’t think too hard about it. I just gave it a shot.
As for how the business has turned out now, well that was totally unexpected. I never thought I’d end up teaching other people how to do this, but that path unfolded naturally in front of me, and I followed it. I’m a big fan of listening to my gut and doing what feels right at the time, so that’s how I run my business, too.
What’s been most challenging thus far?
Learning how to manage the lifestyle, totally.
When you start working alone, if you’re not careful, your social life withers, your waistline expands, sweatpants become a regular feature in your wardrobe, and you realise you haven’t left the house or spoken to anybody for three days. And on top of all that, this new freedom of time makes it very easy for a last-minuter like me to, well… leave everything to the last minute, which in itself is stressful.
I manage my day to day life much better now: I’ve joined a co-working space, where I can hang out with like-minded people, I regularly frequent coffee shops when I want to get some in-depth writing done, and I’ve formed some good habits around productivity and doing my work.
I even shower and put fresh clothes on every day! (Kind of have to; don’t think they’d appreciate me rocking up to the co-working space in my PJs.)
Did you ever want to quit or give up?
I can’t imagine ever going back to a job now. I’m not really a ‘job’ person. I usually think my boss is a moron, I always think I’m right, and I despise being told what to do. Not a happy combination for the workplace. I’ve been fired twice. I love the freedom running my own business gives me, and the sacrifices that come with it are easy for me to make.
One of my grounding beliefs is that the past is the best predictor of the future. So any time I’m feeling doubtful, I remind myself that I’ve made this work so far — I’ve learned how to make money for myself. So I can do it again. And again. UNTIL DEATH. Ahem.
What would you love to pay some to take off of your plate?
I’m tentatively toying with the idea of getting someone to run Start SEO Writing for me. It’s my original course, which I created over two years ago, and I don’t enjoy teaching it any more, as it’s very repetitive.
I’d prefer to focus my efforts on my newer, bigger, better course, Start Content Writing, which I adore teaching. There’s much more variety and the students are usually more engaged (and, ahem, better writers).
One of the first ever hires I made was an accountant. They’ve been with me almost since the start, because fuck all that paperwork and bullshit. I also hired someone to design a new logo for me last year, because my idea of design is opening paint, choosing the colours that hurt your retinas the most, and scratching something out with the pen tool. Or is it a pencil?
What task in your own business would you like to do more of?
Huh. I suppose the answer is nothing, since I pretty much already do whatever the hell I want.
I mean, I guess I want to do more marketing. It hasn’t been a priority up till now (I’ve been making a living just fine without it), but this year I want to step up my game. I foresee much guest posting in my future.
What are some big successes you’ve had recently?
I completely redesigned my website and redefined the mission of Untamed Writing at the start of the year.
Now there’s more of a focus on the lifestyle side of running an online writing business, as opposed to just the entrepreneurial side. And I’ve gotta say, I’m in love with the outcome. Just look at that sexy beast of a website. Phwoar.
Another big win was creating Start Content Writing back in September. The response was way beyond anything I’d ever seen with Start SEO Writing, and, as I said, I just love teaching it and working with my students. It feels much more aligned with what Untamed Writing’s all about, too.
What are some specific strategies, tactics or pieces of advice that helped you grow?
Honestly, my big thing is to take it slowly and listen to your gut. There’s no hurry.
Stay true to yourself and your values, and create the business that feels right to you. Fuck what everyone else is doing.
Obviously it’s a good idea to find out ‘how things are done’ when you’re a total newbie, but I heartily recommend taking on board what makes sense to you and discarding the rest. Do what makes sense to you.
And don’t stress if you don’t start making thousands of dollars straightaway. This takes time.
What are you most excited about for your business in 2016?
Ooh, well apart from the whole new direction I’m taking Untamed Writing in, I’m also excited about the type of writing work I personally am going to be doing.
I want to move away from copywriting and start writing more of my own stuff. I’ll still take on interesting copywriting projects that come my way, but what I really want is to tell my own stories and see my own name published next to my work.
If I can get paid for it, all the better! This is a whole new realm for me, so I’m psyched to get into it.
Karen Marston runs Untamed Writing, where she helps people create freelance writing businesses they can run from anywhere in the world. She also writes web copy for businesses that need a personality transplant, gets out of bed too late, and swears quite a lot.