One of the things I appreciate most about where I work is that in the almost nine years I’ve worked there, I have made wonderful friends. One of those friends is Jesaka Long. As colleagues, we were in different departments, but worked together with words. My team created training materials and Jesaka graciously reviewed our copy…binder after binder after binder.
Six months ago, Jesaka let me know that she was moving out of the state and as a result had to quit her job. I asked what she was going to do. “Freelance,” she said with a grin. Since then I’ve kept up with Jesaka via Facebook and her blog. Jesaka’s ambition and willingness to take a chance are inspiring to me. I recently asked if she’d be willing to share her thoughts in an interview at Motherlogue and she agreed. I hope that like me, you will learn from what Jesaka shares here about writing and taking the leap to go out on her own.
How did you decide to take the leap and leave your full-time position in corporate America?
I had wanted to go out on my own for two years and I started taking writing classes through Mediabistro.com (in addition to working full time). Originally, I wanted to focus on magazine writing, but I had a very long way to go from corporate communications to making a living as a freelance feature article writer. The “aha” came when I realized that I actually like writing for companies – and I could do that on my own.
The logistics started aligning when my significant other and I decided to move to Colorado to be closer to family. Since we knew I wanted to go full-time freelance, we factored that in as we were planning the move – we chose an affordable apartment and made sure it had an office space. Because the move from Seattle to Denver was a such a change, it helped make the leap to freelancing feel less drastic.
What things did you have in place to help with your transition to freelance work?
A strong network. Because of the move, I had to leave the company I worked for; there was not an option to work remotely. Yet, that gave me a perfect, positive opportunity to tell lots of people that I was going to be freelancing. People handed me referrals and offered to help me connect with companies. Nearly all of my clients are in Seattle because they came through referrals and word of mouth. It’s a relief to know that I’m working with people who respect writers and pay fairly – and on time.
The second thing I had in place was a support system. Friends helped me brainstorm and bounce around ideas, including the name of my business a.k.a writer. Other writers and editors reviewed my marketing materials and gave very frank feedback. A very gifted designer – and a good friend – did my logo for free, even though I was fully prepared to pay for it. I couldn’t have done it without such talented, supportive friends.
Tell us a little about the focus of your writing as a freelance writer (e.g., do you write essays, fiction, corporate communications, etc.).
For my “bread and butter” work, I’m writing branding and marketing communications. Examples of the work I’ve done include overhauling corporate website copy, creating brand voice guidelines, developing e-mail marketing campaigns and writing customer-facing sales brochures. Depending on the size of a company, I may be their only writer and provide communications or marketing consulting in addition to writing. In another instance, I may be paired with a designer as a creative team and work through a project manager, who handles client meetings and timelines. I really like the variety of work, industries and personalities.
For “soul food,” I focus on creative nonfiction, mostly personal essays. One of my essays will be published in an anthology about daughters losing their fathers; we’re still waiting on publishing details to be finalized. I keep a bulletin board posted above my desk with goals and deadlines – every time I look up, there they are. It keeps me motivated.
What is the hardest thing about being a freelance writer?
The hardest thing about being a freelance writer is what also makes it great: it’s all up to me. If I decide to spend two hours outside in the middle of the day, I can do that, just as long as I’m meeting deadlines and delivering high quality copy. But, if my phone is not ringing or my workload is too light, that’s all on me, too. Even if I’m slammed, I need to keep marketing myself and making sure that I’m bringing in new business.
At one point early in my career, I had the opportunity to work very closely with two small business owners. The two businesses were very different, but I learned so much about running a business, achieving sales goals and what it takes to be successful. I used that hands-on experience every day in running my own business and in working with my clients.
What has surprised you the most, now that you’ve been freelance for six months?
It’s been six months since I started freelancing full-time – but it feels like much, much longer! What has surprised me this most? It’s going to sound a little odd, but here goes: it’s the work I’m doing.
That makes me sound like I didn’t have a plan, but I did! The company I had been working for tended to group writers by audience, either external (customers, media, etc.) or employee-focused. Much of the work I did was for employee communications, but I really liked consumer-focused writing. I assumed that my prospective clients would want me for internal communications, too, but it was just the opposite.
The majority of my customers are calling me because of my voice – they want me to infuse “sparkle,” “pizzazz” and “freshness” into their sales and marketing materials, websites and consumer newsletters. It’s really fueled my creativity and opened up unimaginable doors. For example, I’m writing for several new industries now, including high tech.
Where do you find your writing support?
For my creative non-fiction writing, I’m still in touch with classmates from writing classes and we exchange essays or chapters. That’s been great. I also have several friends who write and edit, and I turn to them regularly. I would like to meet some writers in Denver, but it can take time to cultivate or find just the right writing group.
For the rent-paying gigs, I generally like writing alone. However, I was surprised to find that I missed working with fellow writers. One of my co-workers and I used to trade drafts to help push each other. It really helped me be creative as well as improve my writing. We can’t do that now and I really miss it. Starting this month, I’ll be working on a project with four writers, so I’m curious to see how that goes.
What is your favorite resource for freelance writers?
I love Michelle Goodman’s book My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire. This book covers everything from establishing your rates to keeping a healthy relationship with Uncle Sam. It’s on my reference shelf, nestled next to my AP Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style.
Another great resource is Freelance Switch (http://freelanceswitch.com/), which covers everything from getting started as a freelancer to growing a business and hiring freelancers to work for you.
What recommendations do you have for anyone who is considering a freelance writing career?
First, save as much money as you possibly can before going full-time freelance. I know everyone says it, but it’s true. Whether you’re waiting on a payment from a slow-paying client or need extra money to cover bills because a project deadline got extended, you will save yourself a lot of worry by having a well-fed savings account.
Second, get a mentor. I wish I’d had one as I was starting out. It’s so nice to have someone you can call to test your pricing and project estimates or to help you decipher edits to your work. I have an informal mentor who’s specifically helping me navigate the high tech world and I am so grateful to her.
Thanks to Jesaka for sharing her insights and inspiration with us here at Motherlogue!