Posts filed under Self-Employed

Jean Baur: Self-Employed Writer & Speaker

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Name: Jean Baur    

Age: 71

College & Majors/Minors: Lake Forest College, English Major with Honors

Current Location: Connecticut

Current Form of Employment: Self-employed: writer and speaker

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work from home and write books, and I also create and give presentations to a wide range of industry groups, from librarians to insurance executives.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

My first really good job was working in NYC as a corporate trainer. I researched the company, found connections, and went after them until they hired me. I was hired to teach business writing, but soon also taught presentation skills. And then they asked me and one of the account executives to revise the writing program, which we did.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I worked as a freelance writer for many years and learned that I could write just about anything if I understood what was needed. I wrote for the food industry, Time Life Books, a small publisher, ETS, and so on. This gave me confidence and diverse opportunities.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Not much. It was a tricky time as the war in Vietnam was raging and many of us were focused on social issues—stopping the war, race relations, poverty—without any real career path. I took the GREs, but knew I didn't want to go to grad school. It took me a long time to realize that my degree in English had prepared me for many types of work.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

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Take advantage of internships, and your career counseling office at your school. Don't worry about not knowing what you want as you'll discover that as you try out different jobs. For some, the job will simply be a way to make money so that they have time to write, while for others, the job itself matters more. Remember, every organization needs people who have what you have: great analytical skills, deep knowledge of human behavior and strong writing and editing skills. It won't be easy and your career path, like mine, may zig and zag a bit. But you'll never be bored and as long as you keep reinventing yourself, you'll be fine. I've been a corporate trainer, a creative writing teacher, a freelance writer, an author, a career coach, a florist, a mother, a therapy dog handler and a speaker. So much fun!

If you want to learn more about Jean, you can visit her site at JeanBaur.com. You can also check out a few of her books here: 

By Jean Baur
By Jean Baur
By Jean Baur

Posted on April 21, 2018 and filed under Self-Employed, Writing, Writer.

Michelle Swanson: Self-Employed Resume Writer

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Name: Michelle Swanson

Age: 39

College & Majors/Minors: Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Current Location: Edwardsville, IL

Current Form of Employment: Self-employed Resume Writer

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I own and operate MichelleSwanson.com, a resume writing and job search consultancy serving senior business executives worldwide. I offer a range of services designed to help my clients document and communicate their professional value. My focus is on developing resumes/CVs, executive bios, LinkedIn profiles, and letters, but my clients also rely on me to edit business plans, presentations, emails, press releases, and other business and career-related communications.

“I was a nontraditional student and returned to college to finish my degree after 6 years in the Air Force.”

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

I was a nontraditional student and returned to college to finish my degree after 6 years in the Air Force. I found my first post-college job through a staffing agency and, after about 2 years, left to start my own company.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

My military service included serving as an Intelligence Analyst. In that role, I wrote reports for intelligence agencies and decision-makers at the highest levels of government. This early experience serves me well in my current career because I learned how to gather and process large amounts of information, cut through the clutter, distill the information into its crucial pieces, and communicate a message in a way that supports decision-making.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Unfortunately, I did very little to prepare for my career during college. I regret not pursuing internships or professional training such as certifications.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

My advice to students and graduates would be to stay open to all the career opportunities that are out there! In college, I was aware of only about a dozen possible career paths for someone with an English degree. I wasn’t even aware that professional resume writers existed! I’ve been in business for more than 10 years, and I’m still amazed by the sheer variety of paths you can take. If you think you’ve thought about all your options… you haven’t. My clients with bachelor’s degrees in English include an IT Project Manager, Vice President of Crisis Communications, Health Insurance Product Manager, Business Analyst, Senior Director of Digital Video, Television Production Assistant, Advertising Sales Manager, Director of Marketing and Investor Relations, Award-winning Independent Film Producer, Television Director, and more. Your degree is just the beginning and does not limit your opportunities!

To learn more about Michelle, you can visit her site at michelleswanson.com. You can also connect with Michelle on LinkedIn.


Posted on April 21, 2018 and filed under Self-Employed, Writer.

Nicole Danielle Chinn: Copywriter

Name: Nicole Danielle Chinn

Age: 22

College & Majors: I graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas with a Bachelor of Arts in Literary Studies

Current Location: Dallas, Texas

Current Form of Employment: Copywriter

Where do you work and what is your current position? 

I'm currently a self-employed freelance copywriter. 

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

My first couple of jobs were fairly easy to get; they were all either in retail, fast food, or lifeguarding, so the process was pretty simple. Walk in, ask for an application, and wait for a callback. 

Finding my current job took a bit more work. I stumbled accross the opportunity when I was job searching back in November of 2015 and applied for it and didn't hear back. That's when I got my job as a Content Strategist/Copywriter and Social Media Manager at a local digital marketing agency in Dallas. A few months later I found out that I had a friend who knew someone that worked at the company I hadn't heard back from and and was able to put me in contact with the Editor-in-Chief. About a month later, I was offered the option to come on board as a freelance copywriter.  

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career? 

Before I decided to go freelance, I worked as a Content Strategist/Copywriter and Social Media Manager for a digital marketing company during my final semester of my senior year. During that time I was able to really immerse myself in my writing and I was able to refine my writing skills in many different areas thanks to my time in this position. 

What did you do in college to prepare you for your post-grad life? 

Pretend that post-grad life didn't exist and that I'd never have to become an adult? In all seriousness though, I spent my extra electives throughout college dabbling in different subjects that seemed interesting to me. This allowed me to see if maybe there was something out there I wanted to do other than write. In the end, I learned a lot from those classes, but nothing ever trumped my love for writing. 

After I made certain that I really wanted to write, I started looking for careers that would allow me to hone my abilities to the fullest. I tried the whole 'corporate America' desk job thing for awhile, but I ended up feeling very stifled. So, I looked for other ways I could support myself by writing that wouldn't make me resent my craft. Freelancing is the perfect opportunity to do exactly that. 

“ Don’t settle because it seems like the only option. Find your passion and do what you love.”

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree? 

Don't settle. Don't settle for a dead-end job that doesn't allow you to utilize your English degree and everything you've learned and practiced and perfected over the years. I know that when I was in school, I would get a lot of weird looks and chuckles when I told people what I was majoring in, which can feel a little discouraging. I was told I would never be able to find a job with my degree. However, when I was growing up, I was always told to go after what I enjoyed and what made me happy, so I did and I don't regret it for a second. Don't settle because it seems like the only option. Find your passion and do what you love. 

You can connect with Nicole on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter


Posted on August 17, 2016 and filed under Copywriting, Freelance, Self-Employed.

Judi Ketteler: Freelance Writer

Name: Judi Ketteler

Age: 41

College & Majors/Minors: English Major/Anthropology Minor (B.A. from Northern Kentucky University); I also have an M.A. in English from Miami University of Ohio

Current Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Current Form of Employment: Freelance Writer

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’ve been self-employed for 14 years. I work as a full-time freelance writer. That’s meant different things throughout the years. At one time, my focus was primarily writing for magazines. Now, I do mostly content marketing writing and copywriting, working for corporate clients (and some small businesses). I’ve been able to successfully support myself through writing all these years! Not only that, my husband is a stay-at-home dad, and for nearly eight years, I’ve been supporting the whole family!

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job.

My first job out of graduate school was a sales job at a trade industry magazine. I found it through a newspaper listing. Searching for jobs online wasn’t really much of a thing yet (this was 1999!). I only took the job because I thought I could work my way into editorial. I HATED the job. I didn’t want to sell banner ads for web sites (remember, this was 1999, and banner ads were all the rage). I only stayed six months. Everything about the job was terrible, except for the people I met! I made friends at that first job that I still have today. So, in the end, something good came out of it!

I started freelancing in 2002, after I got laid off twice in row, six months apart. I had been working as a copywriter at a design firm. I liked the job a lot, but when the economy took a turn for the worst in the summer of 2001, I got laid off. I found another job right away, helping a start-up nonprofit in the tech world with marketing. That job only lasted six months, because after 9/11 happened, the tech world was devastated. Non-profits definitely didn’t have any money!

When I lost that job in spring of 2002, I was 27 years old, and about to buy my first house. I was crushed and had to pull the offer for the house (my layoff literally happened the day after I made an offer)! It turned out to be a blessing, because I was able to take the money that would have been my downpayment, and use it to start freelancing. I had no idea what I was doing at first! I had been writing on the side for the local newspapers. I kept doing that, but then also started pitching stories to national magazines (which paid exponentially better than local publications).

I felt my way along, and soon was writing for many women’s magazines (SELF, Shape, Health, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Better Homes and Gardens, plus, a smattering of web sites). I also had some agency connections because of my time working for the design firm, so I landed some good freelance copywriting gigs. When the magazine industry took a big hit around 2009 - 2010, I moved away from magazine writing and focused most of my attentions on copywriting. That’s where I am now! I partner with lots of content marketing agencies and web design firms. I have small business clients, too, and I help with everything from social media to branding to advising on web design. I’ve also written a non-fiction book, Sew Retro (2010), and I partnered with a company to co-write another book, The Spoonflower Handbook (2015). I’m currently working with my agent on a young adult novel. 

“It’s been a really great ride so far, and I never imagined that I could make such a good living by writing, including years when I’ve made six figures. I had no idea that ‘freelance writer’ was a job when I was in school.”

It’s been a really great ride so far, and I never imagined that I could make such a good living by writing, including years when I've made six figures. I had no idea that “freelance writer” was a job when I was in school. I didn’t really have any model either. I just made it up as I went along, and found the resources and mentors I needed as I went. 

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I mentioned that I worked as a copywriter at a design firm. That was a really crucial thing, because it’s how I learned the ropes of copywriting. The only writing experience I had coming out of grad school was academic. So, I knew a lot about 19th century women’s fiction, but I didn’t know much about how to write for everyday consumers. I had to learn by doing. Copywriting really is an art. Not all “good” writers can do it. You have to set aside ego and figure out how to clearly communicate to a target audience. I learned to do this by working at that design firm. I never could have freelanced without learning those basics!

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Honestly, I wasn’t much concerned with preparing for post-grad life when I was in college, or graduate school for that matter! I concentrated on learning as much as I could, and getting as much out of every class that I could! Looking back, I can see all kinds of ways that I was building skills in college. For example, deadlines! In my world, I wouldn’t get repeat work from clients if I didn’t know how to meet deadlines. In college, I learned the importance of turning papers in on time—and that skill has served me well! 

Also, the ability to research, to follow a footnote or a thread of something—that curiosity has taken me to some fantastic places, professionally-speaking. I had such great professors in college. They encouraged me to follow my interests and work on developing my own ideas about books, characters, theories, etc. I still use the critical thinking and discernment skills I learned by reading texts and criticism (and then writing about texts and criticism). Critical thinking is a big part of any story or project: knowing what to include (and why), what to leave out, what to edit, when to dig deeper into, when to push back, etc. 

“No time is ever wasted if you are learning new things. Sometimes it’s a seemingly small thing, but you never know how it may play out in your career!”

In terms of the craft of writing, my college and grad school classes definitely taught me the importance of voice. One of my strengths as a writer is my voice—specifically, my ability to craft the right voice for the project. How could I have learned that if hadn’t been exposed to such a diversity of voices, from Virginia Woolf to Herman Melville?

I think there is a social aspect, too: learning to have intelligent, respectful discussions with peers. I was very shy in college, so I probably didn’t really bloom in this area until graduate school. But the ability to contribute to discussions in a thoughtful way—that’s been so important in my career, and it’s helped me network and develop really key business relationships.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

You may stumble upon the perfect job right away, or, like me, it may be a series of stops and starts, and then a bit of luck and timing and going for it. Try to take something from each experience. No time is ever wasted if you are learning new things. Sometimes it’s a seemingly small thing, but you never know how it may play out in your career! Also, do as much networking and connecting with other people as you can. I’m talking face to face conversations! I love social media (especially LinkedIn), and have made quality connections that way, of course. But never underestimate the power of showing up in person and having a good conversation. Sometimes, I think I owe the success of my career to my ability to have a really good conversation with someone.

You can see Judi's work on her website, www.judiketteler.com


Posted on February 17, 2016 and filed under Writing, Freelance, Copywriting, Journalism, Publishing, Self-Employed.

7 Cold, Hard Facts About Freelancing

Freelancing is an excellent career option for many writers—it allows you to have more choice, from the type of work you do to your daily schedule. Want to work in your pajamas all day? Want to work on the beach in Hawaii this week? Go for it! However, just like any job, there are pros and cons. It’s important to do your research before you jump in head first!

There’s some cold, hard facts you should know about freelancing if you’re considering taking the leap of quitting your day job:

1. There’s a lot that a full-time employer figures out for you. As a self-employed freelancer, you will have responsibility for these things.

If you have had experience working for a larger company, then at least a couple of the following things were most likely taken care of for you:

  • Your paycheck already had taxes taken out.

  • Signing up for health and dental insurance was pretty easy, and if you had any questions, Human Resources could help you out.

  • Signing up to contribute to a 401(k) or other retirement plan may have been an option for you, and your employer may have even contributed to it.

  • Paid Time Off (PTO) was measured out for you and your boss or HR kept track.

To begin with, as a freelancer, you are in charge of doing all of your own taxes. For many, this will mean paying quarterly taxes, or planning ahead and budgeting enough money to pay taxes at the end of the year (which you’ll also need a business license to do!). When it comes to managing your own finances, this is just the beginning! You will also have to find your own healthcare plan, and plan/invest for retirement on your own. And PTO is a thing of the past! On that note...

2. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid.

In regards to the benefit of having an employer, having PTO means that you get paid even when you’re not at work, whether you’re sick with the flu or on vacation in Hawaii. But of course, things are a little different when you’re completely on your own. If you’re working hourly for a client and not putting in the hours, you’re not getting paid. Your schedule may be flexible, but no one else is there to do the work for you and pick up the slack. 

However, this also allows you to take as much vacation time as you want. Instead of being limited to what your employer offers each year, now you have the flexibility to do as you please. 

3. You will probably spend a lot of time alone.

While there may be opportunities to collaborate with others, the bulk of your time will most likely be spent getting work done on your own. You’ll be in charge of managing your time, calendar, and projects. It’s important that you work well independently, are self-motivated, and are able to find that cherished work/life balance that can be so hard (especially for freelancers) to achieve. Think back to college or any work-from-home days you have had: Was 8+ hours too long to be alone? Were you able to study and be productive?

4. You need to network. Period.

Even if you set up an amazing website that showcases your skills and portfolio and “does the talking for you,” business will most likely not magically appear. You have to network. The word “network” alone is enough to stop some people dead in their job-search tracks, but break it down and it won’t be so scary! Reach out to agencies that are dedicated to connecting creatives with employers, ask friends, family and former co-workers if they know anyone who might be in need of a copywriter/editor/etc., and don’t turn down opportunities to meet new people. For some freelancers, the bulk of their work may come simply from referrals alone. Either way, it's essential to your business to make new contacts and connections.

5. You are constantly going to interviews.

While it’s not necessarily like an interview for a full-time position at a big company, each new client you meet will be like going through the interview process all over again in a way. Some clients will have a lot of questions, some will know exactly what they want, and some might need YOU to tell them what they need. At the very least, you’ll want to be prepared to tell them what you do, how much you do it for, similar work you’ve done in the past, and maybe even why what you do is important.

6. You might not have a stable income. 

Many choose the freelancing life due to the fact that you have the potential to have more control over your income. You can set your own hourly rates, project fees, and the hours you put into your business are indicative of how much money you will make. This also means that when work is slow, you're not getting paid as much. It's important to figure out exactly how much money you need to make each month and ensure you can meet those goals. It will also be important to save up at least a few months worth of living expenses, just in case you don't have enough work or jobs fall through. Planning ahead is essential!

7. You are responsible for everything. No pressure!

The world of freelancing is truly a blessing and a curse! While it affords you with a flexibility that full-time, 9-5 employees can only dream of, it comes at a price. It’s all about making a trade—what are you willing to sacrifice in order to gain more freedom and autonomy? In addition to being a writer (or editor, or whatever it may be), are you ready to also be your own finance, human resources, and marketing departments?

The future of your career is in your hands—go and make the most of it! Read about the careers of other freelancers and self-employed people here on Dear English Major:

 Ashley Sapp: Freelance Writer/Editor & Administrative Coordinator

Ashley Sapp: Freelance Writer/Editor & Administrative Coordinator

 Emily Ladau: Freelance Writer & Disability Rights Advocate

Emily Ladau: Freelance Writer & Disability Rights Advocate

 Summer Fanous: Freelance Writer

Summer Fanous: Freelance Writer

 Nicole Wayland: Freelance Copyeditor & Proofreader

Nicole Wayland: Freelance Copyeditor & Proofreader

 Kelsey Wiseman: Freelance Editor

Kelsey Wiseman: Freelance Editor

 Erik Hanberg: Self-Employed/Writer

Erik Hanberg: Self-Employed/Writer

 Melissa Kravitz: Freelance Writer

Melissa Kravitz: Freelance Writer

 Jan Couture: Self-Employed Writer

Jan Couture: Self-Employed Writer

 Janet Schwind: Self-Employed Writer, Editor & Publishing Consultant

Janet Schwind: Self-Employed Writer, Editor & Publishing Consultant

 Andi Satterlund: Self-Employed Writer/Knitting Pattern Designer

Andi Satterlund: Self-Employed Writer/Knitting Pattern Designer

 Pamela Patton: Owner, Operator & Chief Wordsmith @ Paragraph Writing Services

Pamela Patton: Owner, Operator & Chief Wordsmith @ Paragraph Writing Services

 Katie Plumb: Freelance Writer

Katie Plumb: Freelance Writer

 Christine Stoddard: Writer/Filmmaker, Co-owner & Creative Director of Quail Bell Press & Productions

Christine Stoddard: Writer/Filmmaker, Co-owner & Creative Director of Quail Bell Press & Productions

 Robert S. Gerleman: Freelance Author & Editor

Robert S. Gerleman: Freelance Author & Editor

 Charlotte McGill: Self-Employed Writer & Editor

Charlotte McGill: Self-Employed Writer & Editor

 Maggie Smith-Beehler: Poet, Author, Freelance Writer & Editor

Maggie Smith-Beehler: Poet, Author, Freelance Writer & Editor


READ MORE:

Posted on November 12, 2014 and filed under Articles, Freelance, Self-Employed, Featured Articles.

Nicole Wayland: Freelance Copyeditor & Proofreader

 Photo courtesy of Fairfield Grace Photography

Photo courtesy of Fairfield Grace Photography

Name: Nicole Wayland

Age: 29

College & Majors/Minors: Cornell University, B.S. in Communication

Current Location: Washington, DC

Current Form of Employment: Freelance Copyeditor/Proofreader at Ford Editing

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I am a freelance copyeditor/proofreader and operator of Ford Editing. As a freelancer, I have the luxury of working anywhere as long as I have my laptop and an Internet connection, but I spend most of my time working from my cozy corner apartment just north of Washington, DC. I am very passionate about what I do, and I love that I am always learning something new. I edit for several publishers (both academic and trade), as well as businesses and individual authors. I also have a wellness blog called Healthy Happy Sound that I update weekly.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

After graduation, I moved to Buffalo, NY. I knew the chances of finding a publishing job (my dream career) immediately were pretty slim, so I took a waitressing job while I searched. At the restaurant, I worked with over one hundred servers, bartenders, cooks, and managers, so I was able to network, learn about the area, and ask around for leads on publishing work. I also looked online. I signed up for several job announcement websites and scanned pages upon pages for the perfect position.

About six months after relocating, I found a job posting for an editorial assistant at an academic press (on Craigslist of all places). Although initially I didn’t see myself in academic publishing, I knew the position would give me the experience I needed to get a start in the field. I interviewed over the phone a few times and then in person, and by the beginning of March 2008, I was working in my dream field. I knew I wanted to work in publishing since I wrote my entrance essay for Cornell, and it had become a reality.

I worked at the press for just about three years before relocating to Washington, DC, in 2011. After arriving in DC, I took a position at Cornell University’s Washington DC semester program. Working for Cornell felt like home, and part of the job required writing and editing, so I thought it would be a good fit, at least until I got my bearings in a new city. But it didn’t take long for me to realize how much I missed the publishing world. I started to take a few editing projects in my spare time (my commute to DC alone provided over two hours per day for editing), and it picked up rather quickly. Within a few short months, I had to make a choice—my office job or freelancing. I took the leap to full-time freelancing in October 2012 (with the full support of my coworkers at Cornell and a goodbye/good luck card from all the students that semester) and haven’t looked back.

  Photo courtesy of   Fairfield Grace Photography

Photo courtesy of Fairfield Grace Photography

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

My time at the press (my first job out of college) undeniably set me up for my current freelance position. Because the company was relatively new and small, the team was very close. I worked alongside the director of the press on a daily basis and learned a lot from her. I started as an editorial assistant, then moved to assistant editorial manager, and then finished my time there in the publications manager post. I learned about operations, management, marketing, design, human resources, purchasing and sales, and customer service. I also traveled to represent the company at several conferences throughout the year. Having the responsibility of wearing many hats while at the press gave me the experience needed to operate my own business, and I’m still learning every day.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Unfortunately, I didn’t do as much preparing as I wish I had (I feel like that’s a common theme among most college graduates). Because I paid for college on my own, I was constantly working to pay for my car, books, and other bills, which didn’t leave a lot of time for clubs, studying abroad, or networking. My primary focus was on getting the best grades I could while working to pay for school, a balancing act that turned out to be very helpful in strengthening my organizational and time management skills.

That being said, I do remember taking a class on résumé and cover letter writing, which I found very helpful when applying for jobs after graduation. I was told by the director of the press I worked for that my cover letter really stood out to her—it put me on the list of top contenders and eventually helped me land the job. 

I think my choice of school also helped to prepare me for post-grad life. Being at Cornell showed me that you have to work hard for what you want. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. . . . I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” I worked very hard to do well there, and that work ethic is something I’ve carried with me.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

First, as a student, talk to your university career center. Tell them what you would like to do with your degree, and they can tell you if you’re on the right track. Once you’ve confirmed that your degree program aligns with your career goals, do everything you can to boost your knowledge and experience in that field. Take internships, talk to professors, and, when given the choice, tailor your classes to bolster your résumé (i.e., put some thought into elective classes and try to get the most out of them). The sooner you test the waters, the sooner you will know if what you’re doing is what you want to do when you get out of school.

Be true to yourself. If you want to be a writer (or one of the many other careers you can have with an English degree), do it regardless of what others think. In the end, you are the one who has to be passionate about and love what you do. You can be successful at anything if you work hard. I have been teased for getting a degree in communication (some argue that it’s a useless major), and now I own my own business. I absolutely love what I do, and I am happy that I stood up for what I wanted and didn’t listen to the naysayers.

Be patient and don’t give up. I really believe that we make our own luck. Good things happen to those who are willing to work hard and seize opportunities. As a freelancer, I have contacted publishers in the past who either didn’t need help at the time or just plain weren’t interested who have been delighted to add me to their roster six months later. The key is to be patient and do what you can to build your portfolio in the meantime.

Visit Nicole Wayland's business website, FordEditing.com and check out her blog, Healthy Happy Sound. Follow her business on Facebook and Twitter and connect with Nicole on LinkedIn


READ MORE:

 Erik Hanberg: Self-Employed/Writer

Erik Hanberg: Self-Employed/Writer

 Melissa Kravitz: Freelance Writer

Melissa Kravitz: Freelance Writer

 Ashley Sapp: Freelance Writer/Editor & Administrative Coordinator

Ashley Sapp: Freelance Writer/Editor & Administrative Coordinator

Posted on October 21, 2014 and filed under Freelance, Editing, Self-Employed.

Amy Braunschweiger: Web Communications Manager @ Human Rights Watch

Name: Amy Braunschweiger

Age: 39

College & Majors/Minors: English and German major/European studies minor

Current Location: NYC

Current Form of Employment: Web Communications Manager at Human Rights Watch

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work at Human Rights Watch as their web communications manager–I basically work as their feature writer, do a lot of editing, and I’m part of a team that oversees strategy and execution for all our digital properties, including our website, social media, e-newsletters, other digital projects, etc. What I do is storytelling, often using words together with photos and video. I work with people who are lawyers and human rights experts, so a lot of what I do is translate what I’m told or what I read from political/legalese into language that allows a piece to live and breathe. The information was already there, it was just buried.

I’ve had so many writing and editing jobs I can’t even count, as I was a freelancer for ages.

  • Author: Wrote the book Taxi Confidential: Life, Death and 3 a.m. Revelations in New York City Cabs.
  • Freelance article writer: Had fun, fabulous articles published in awesome places like the New York Times, New York magazine, Worth, etc. At the Village Voice I lead a team of writers to create 3,000 or so nightlife listings/reviews.
  • Freelance less-sexy writer: Had less fun but also sometimes interesting pieces published in steady-paying places like trade magazines for financial professionals, nonprofit newsletters, for investment banks, random financial sites, etc.
  • Ghost writer: Helped ghost write an encyclopedia of American food and wine. (It was never published as the head writer entered something of a downward spiral.)
  • Other odd jobs/gigs that my writing and reporting skills lead to as a freelancer: Had a gig doing background checks on corporate executives (reporting skills); Market research for an arm of Morgan Stanley (interviewing skills); researching how to build schools in Vietnam for a nonprofit (research skills).
  • My only other fulltime job: Was a financial reporter at Dow Jones writing mostly breaking news stories. My feature stories (3% of the job) often made it into the Wall Street Journal. 
  • Stringer at Ohio’s Toledo City Paper: Wrote about nightlife, culture and fun.
  • International: I’ve also had a few fellowships that have allowed me to live in Germany and work at German-language publications. I’m not a native speaker, just lucky and strong-willed.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). 

I was in my early 20s when I came home to Toledo, Ohio, from a fellowship I had in Germany. I didn’t consider myself a journalist, but I really enjoyed participating in, and writing about, nightlife and the arts (at my college paper, at my internship as an MTV stringer covering Cincinnati’s music scene, at my fellowship in Leipzig, Germany where I worked at their city magazine). But I thought that I was now an adult, and adults wrote about politics and finance, so I should get a job writing about one of those two things. So I lived with my folks, waitressed, drove my mom’s car and spent months applying to “serious” jobs. Somewhere in there, I got dumped, too. It was not a happy time.

My first real full-time job was at Dow Jones Newswires, and getting hired there was crazy. I applied for it, and then called me, did a phone interview, and then asked me if I’d take a 4-hour test in their Detroit Wall Street Journal bureau (Dow Jones also owns the WSJ). I asked them for any tips, and they said brush up on your math, know how to calculate percentages. I did, drove the hour to Detroit, and took the test. It took me an extra hour, but it really wasn’t that bad. They were mostly trying to judge how logical you were—do you compare apples to apples if we give you apples, oranges and bananas? That type of thing. I easily calculated all the answers in the math section, but had I not asked about what to study ahead of time, I would have winged that entire section, and the results could have been grim. Math was never my best subject (understatement). Just as an fyi.

Then Dow Jones let me know that I passed the test and asked me to come in for a 3-day work trial in Jersey City, where they were based. I had to spring for my own plane ticket and lodgings there. Might I add I had zero money? My folks said “No way!” but I went for it anyway, buying a plane ticket and staying with my friend’s parents in a nearby suburb. There, people who were surprisingly young, fun and interesting trained me in financial newswire writing for three days–how to report on earnings, retail sales, airline figures, mergers, etc. Afterwards they had me take yet another five-hour test to see how well you absorbed the training.

You know what? I totally bombed that test. Awfully. But they still hired me. After the fact, one of my editors told me that they liked my international experience, I was smart enough, and–wait for it–I fit into the newsroom personality-wise.  

My take-away: sometimes you just have to go for it, buy your own plane ticket, and go out of your way to get something. Even if the hiring process is ridiculous.

My other take away: I came to embrace what I call the lunchroom rule. You have to have the skills to get in the door, but people really want to hire a co-worker that they can sit down and talk with over lunch with. I bombed that second test and got hired anyway. Why? The lunchroom rule. When I applied to a long-term freelance position at the Village Voice, my resume was plucked out of already short-listed bunch because of the lunchroom rule (the editor was fascinated with Berlin, and I’d lived there), and at Human Rights Watch I was hired over someone more qualified than me because they just liked me better. I’ve seen this play out over and over again both with friends and with myself.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

Freelancing! It taught me how to write differently for different publications, how to change my tone of voice. I learned how to read publications from Elle Magazine to Inc. critically, to figure out what editors wanted or would more likely buy. I learned how to pitch myself and the articles I wanted to write—you need to be able to sell editors your ideas and yourself as an author. After I went quickly broke, I was forced to begin treating writing like a business—you do have to pay rent after all. So while I kept up the fun, fabulous articles that inspired me, I also began picking up more boring, financial work that paid much better and took much less time to write. For me, and for many freelancers, money worries will suck away your creativity and you’ll stop having fun with your writing, and I was constantly balancing my creative work with the better-paying kind. I also learned how to be flexible and mold your skills to various opportunities in ways that others can’t see. Doing corporate background checks? No problem, it’s really just reporting under a different name.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Not much, to be honest. I had fun, made good friends, drank a lot of beer, etc. I took a couple journalism classes, but didn’t find them interesting or useful. I didn’t even declare a major until I was a junior, and my GPA was a 3.2 or something. I rowed crew for the joy of it for a year or two but quit because those 5 a.m. practices killed me.

OK, wait, now that I think harder, I did do some things. My journalism professor basically forced me to get a job at the student newspaper because “I’d never get a job” if I didn’t. I found the newspaper so boring, and I just couldn’t stomach the fact of covering city council meetings, so I did layout and design for them, which was actually fun. And it paid. I did a bit of entertainment writing for them—bands, DJs.

I did take some other summer internships, but I really only worked at them 5 hours a week or so—I was a full-time waitress in the summers, as I needed to earn money for college. So I squeezed in an internship at a tiny suburban newspaper.

This is important: My junior year I spent a summer working in a bakery in Berlin and I studied for a semester in Luxembourg. How I got to Berlin: A professor was interviewing students to work there, my friend from a German class wanted to go, she didn’t want to do the interview alone, I went to support her, and ended up being offered a job. Since I would already be living in Europe, I decided to study at Miami University’s branch campus in Luxembourg, as it cost the same as my in-state tuition.

Full disclosure—I didn’t this to gain any international experience. I did it because it sounded like a blast and I have an adventurous streak. But it changed everything for me.

I fell in love with Germany, the language, the culture and became obsessed with really learning and experiencing it all. And in learning about what an amazing place Germany is, I realized that every other country in the world could be exactly as amazing and interesting if I were open to it. Despite growing up in an area that really wasn’t very diverse, I fell in love with all things international. I went back (for the love of it) and really learned German. I cannot tell you how many doors this experience has opened up for me, both personally and professionally.

Take away: If you want to live abroad and learn a language, do it. No regrets.

OK, back to college. Senior year, something amazing happened. I was looking for a fall internship on our listservs, scrolling past opportunities to cover city hall and PTA meetings in small town Ohio (I love small town Ohio, but no way), when I saw an internship to be a stringer for MTV online. I applied to cover the music scene in nearby Cincinnati, and to my amazement, landed it. It was unpaid, but I was living the free-concert-ticket dream. It was amazing. I had a blast. And I won a writing award reserved for their top seven stringers across the U.S. (they had 100, I think).

My take away from that internship: You can get work doing what you love to do. Not always, and it won’t work out the way you foresee, but it happens. Next step: getting paid for it.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

You may hate your first job. I sure did. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t learning a lot there. And you’ll learn what you don’t want to do/deal with in your next job. I spent four years at Dow Jones Newswires, and only enjoyed six months of it. It was years after I left that job that I realized how strong a financial reporter I had become. And that job opened up so many doors, too, through connections I made, because most people couldn’t write about finance and I could, and because people automatically took you a bit more seriously—even people at glossy women’s magazines. Who knew? So even if you’re hating it, keep learning.

Take big risks if you have the stomach for it. (Say, when I quit Dow Jones to go freelnace when I had no idea how I would make anything happen). Just also make sure you can stomach the consequences if the worst happens—which for me would have been moving back in with my folks (it didn’t happen).

Figure out what you’re passionate about and stick with it, at least in part. You’re always going to do better at what excites you, and you’ll feed off the energy of it. Just prioritize it. It may not be a full-time job or even a part-time job, but it’ll make you feel good.

Keep talking to people. People, for me, are key. People sometimes know things you don’t know and have opportunities you don’t know about. Are you stuck on your novel? Do some research by talking to people who may be similar to your character, either in job or personality. Are you a journalist out of story ideas? Just start talking to people at a bar, at a party, on a plane—especially talk to people different from you—and listen to them. Story ideas will just appear.

Follow Amy on twitter!

Posted on August 31, 2014 and filed under Freelance, Communications, Journalism, Non-profit, Self-Employed, Writing.

Emily Ladau: Freelance Writer & Disability Rights Advocate

Name: Emily Ladau

Age: 22

College & Majors/Minors: B.A. in English, Adelphi University

Current Location: Long Island, NY

Current Form of Employment: Freelance Writer and Disability Rights Advocate

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work from my favorite blue armchair in my living room, writing, researching, and emailing my heart out. I am a freelance writer, blogger, social media professional, and most importantly, a disability rights advocate.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

 Emily on Sesame Street.

Emily on Sesame Street.

If you want to get technical, my first job wasn’t writing-related at all. I appeared in several episodes of season 33 of Sesame Street when I was just ten years old. In the years since hanging out with Big Bird and Elmo, I focused on developing my voice as an advocate. For quite some time, my goal was to become an English teacher and incorporate embracing diversity and an attitude of acceptance in my classroom. However, mid-way through college, I found myself gravitating toward the idea of pursuing disability advocacy as a fulltime career.

Majoring in English certainly provided an ideal foundation because it gave me the opportunity to hone my writing and communication skills, both of which are huge facets of being a successful advocate. My skill sets and passion for activism led me to apply for a summer internship in Washington, D.C. with the American Association of People with Disabilities, through which I was placed to work at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. Not only did this internship prove to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life, but also it set me on my current career path. I was matched with a wonderful mentor who shared her wisdom on blogging with me, ultimately inspiring me to begin my own blog, Words I Wheel By. I’ve been blogging for nearly a year, and it has opened the door for all of the paid writing and social media opportunities that comprise my current work.

You've been published in so many places. How did you go about submitting your work? Did these publications seek out your writing? 

The first paid writing gig I landed was all thanks to a series of fortunate events. Soon after I began blogging, I delved into the professional side of social media as a means of sharing my work. After a couple months of connecting and interacting with other writers and disability rights advocates, a blog coordinator reached out to ask if I’d be interested in a volunteer opportunity writing a guest post on disability in the media. That process went so well that the coordinator put me in touch with one of his freelance bosses and recommended me to be a writer.

Once my first paid piece went live, I started to build up the confidence I needed to officially consider myself a writer. Since then, getting published in different places has been the result of both submitting my work for consideration and having people approach me. I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting my pitching skills, and it’s still something I work on refining whenever I can. I’ve learned that the trick to a successful pitch email is to get right to the point, keeping it short and sweet rather than filling the page with flowery compliments.

So far, persistence has been key – with pitches, with tweets, with Facebook posts, with networking emails, with every aspect of writing. Everything I’ve done, successful or not, has been worth it just for the experience and connections. My favorite example of the pay-off so far is that I was offered an opportunity to write for The New York Times website via Twitter. The end result of that exchange is one of my favorite things I’ve written to date: “One Daughter, One Mother, Two Wheelchairs and Nothing Remarkable.”

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I was offered my first writing-related job by chance during my freshman year of college. There was a book response essay contest for the entire freshman class and I won. Part of my prize was dinner with the author and some faculty members, one of whom happened to be the director of my university’s Writing Center. We chatted throughout the meal and hit it off, so she approached me a few days later to let me know she had read my essay and wanted to hire me as a writing tutor.

Following a semester-long intensive tutor training course, I got to work with students from all over my school during tutoring sessions several days per week. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world, because it gave me exposure to immense diversity in writing habits that stemmed from different cultural backgrounds and learning styles. By reading the writing of others through a critical lens, offering guidance, and doing my best to help people comprehend an incredibly wide-range of grammatical and writing-related concepts, I was constantly motivated to consider my own writing and my understanding of the writing process in new ways.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life? 

I’ll be honest: since I changed career plans right in the middle of college, the real world intimidated me a bit. However, one of my primary goals was to make sure I graduated college with an already full resumé. All the clubs I joined, volunteering I did, and employment experiences I had during my time as an undergrad made it easier to transition to working after I graduated.

Also, once I realized that I wanted to shift my focus to advocacy, I began to explore possible options in case I decided to go to graduate school. As it happened, I took a year following graduation to focus on building my career, and just recently applied to a program that I learned about while I was still an undergrad. I’ll be pursuing an M.A. in Disability Studies starting Fall 2014 at the CUNY School of Professional Studies, and the program will allow me to continue my writing work as I earn my degree.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree? 

My first thought is, who am I to be spouting advice? Everyone will find a path that works best for them. That being said, I worry that far too many people make negative assumptions about what can be accomplished with an English degree, and I want anyone who’s ever doubted their decision to be an English major to know that there really is a world of potential out there.

In terms of practical advice, there are a few things I can’t stress enough:

  • If your goal is to write, put yourself out there. Create a blog, pitch material, develop a writing portfolio. It doesn’t matter if you’re still a student; the earlier you work towards making a name for yourself, the better. Even if you begin by doing lots of writing for free, you’ll be paid in the form of a wealth of writing clips to show off to potential employers. My blog serves as one big writing sample that I can easily present to anyone who may be interested, and I also have a separate portfolio page with a list of pieces I’ve written for other publications. This gives me credibility as an experienced writer, and provides Google with plenty of material in case anyone searches my name.
  • Social media can be a total rabbit hole, but it can also be your best friend. Some of my favorite work opportunities have come from simple online connections. It’s important not to focus only on one platform, though. I actively maintain accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and several other useful platforms (shameless plugs, I know). But the real point here is to diversify your social media outlets, because you never know where someone might stumble across your writing or you’ll find your niche.
  • Learn your limits. I find myself constantly wanting to say yes to everyone, but spreading myself too thin is just not fair to anyone. Saying no always makes me feel as though I’m being unfair to people when I have to do it, but when I have more time, I can write pieces and do work that I’m genuinely proud to call my own.
  • Most importantly, have faith in yourself. It’s super cheesy, cliché, and probably something you’ve heard a million times before, but it’s the advice that gets me through every day. Whenever self-doubt starts to creep in, acknowledge it, shake it off, and keep moving forward.

Visit Emily on her professional website and blog, Words I Wheel By. Connect with her on her Facebook and Twitter, too!


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