Sandra Parsons is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, travel, and psychology. She draws on her banking experience and graduate-level research training to create factual and engaging content for her clients.
Name: Sandra Parsons
Location: St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada
How long have you been doing freelance work?
1 – 2 years
Tell us about your freelance business, in 100 words or less.
I’m a freelance writer – I create original content for blogs, websites, ebooks – you name it. I offer SEO copywriting and professional ghostwriting services. My primary area of expertise is personal finance, but I also cover travel, psychology, and education.
What do you consider to be your specialty. How does it help you in your business?
My specialty is personal finance. I spent five years working in banking before I started freelancing, so I’m very knowledgable about financial products and how they work. This means I’m able to write about them without doing too much research, which means I can turn around projects quickly.
More than that, I’ve observed and been part of a lot of people’s financial journeys through my work in banking. That gives me insight into some of the psychology behind things like budgeting, debt, and investing, and helps me create more realistic content on these subjects.
What made you become a freelancer?
I’ve always been a hustler – for much of my working life, I’ve had a second job. I love making money and keeping busy. About two years back, I was telling a friend of mine who was living abroad that I’d like to find work that wasn’t so tied to a physical location.
He told me used a job board called UpWork to land freelance jobs so he could work from wherever. I’d never heard of UpWork, but I made a profile and started bidding on some jobs.
Those were my first freelance gigs. So I guess that conversation with that friend is what first sparked my interest in freelancing.
What do you love most about freelance work, and why?
I love the freedom. I can work anytime, anywhere, and I get to choose what I write and who I work with. It’s a very flexible way to work that really suits my personality and lifestyle.
What do you hate about it?
I sometimes dislike the uncertainty. Every now and then, I’ll have a few days with no work on my plate. That can be nice, but it can sometimes make it difficult to plan my time.
Tell us about your first paid job. How did you land your first client?
I do! It was ghostwriting gig through UpWork that paid next to nothing. Everybody has to start somewhere.
Do you think aspiring freelancers should take unpaid work to gain experience? Why or why not?
Yes, but they they should be selective about it. Doing one free guest post on a couple of blogs you admire can be a great way to get your portfolio started. It’s also a great way to build relationships with other writers.
One thing that worked well for me when I was starting out was connecting with other newer writers and swapping guest posts on each other’s blogs. That said, no one should make a habit of working for free.
Do you feel you’re charging what you’re worth?
I do, for the most part. I have one client who pays a little low, but they are fantastic to work with and the assignments are easy, so it’s a tradeoff. When I first started out, I wasn’t charging nearly enough, mainly because I didn’t know I could.
I had no idea what professional writers were earning, but I quickly realized that working for $.03 a word was not worth my time. I took a course called Earn More Writing (EarnMoreWriting.com) created by Holly Johnson, and from that, I learned a lot about pricing and about how to find good-quality clients.
I think as time goes on and your skills and portfolio grow, it’s important to reassess your fee structure and make sure you’re not selling yourself short. Sometimes that means asking existing clients for a raise, and sometimes it means looking for higher-paying clients.
How do you typically find new clients?
To be honest, I get most of my work through connections in the writing community. I rarely cold pitch. That said, I’m writing part-time for now, so if I were to take my business full-time, I think I would have to do some pitching to grow.
I’d occasionally scan job boards like UpWork, but in general, most of those jobs don’t pay enough. I would focus my efforts on pitching websites I enjoy and would like to write for.
Have you ever had to fire a client? If so, why, and how did you do it?
I haven’t! Once I was in the beginning stages with a new client and I realized we didn’t have the same professionalism standards, so I put a stop to things before they progressed. But I’ve never actually had to fire anyone – I guess I’ve been lucky to work with really great clients!
Name 3 tools (apps, equipment) that you can’t live without. What makes them so great?
One tool I use a lot is HARO (Help a Reporter Out). It’s a sourcing service, and I use it to find experts to quote in my articles. I use Grammarly to do a final proofread of my work, but to be honest, I find it hit or miss.
When I ran a WordPress blog, I used the Yoast Premium plugin for SEO. One little trick I used to do was creating a dummy post using text from an article I’d written for a client so I could assess it’s SEO with Yoast. I never published the post, but doing this allowed me to make sure the post was SEO optimized.
This was obviously most useful when I was writing SEO content with specified keywords.
What is your #1 productivity hack?
Not checking my phone (or trying not to).
Do you outsource tasks? Why or why not? If so, which ones?
I don’t – right now, I’m running a one-woman show. I tend to keep things simple and focus on my freelance writing. If I were managing a big blog as well, I might have to hire out some of the tech stuff, but that’s not where I am right now.
In your opinion, what is the most important skill required for freelance work, and why?
Self-discipline. When you work for yourself, there’s no one micromanaging you, so it’s up to you to keep motivated and manage your time appropriately. It’s easy to procrastinate when you don’t have a boss, and that’s a dangerous thing.
Do you consider yourself a strong time manager? How do you stay organized?
Yes – you need to excel at time management to do well freelancing. Depending on what else is going on in your life, it can be so challenging to carve out dedicated, distraction-free work time, but you have to do it. I don’t use any fancy tools to stay organized, just a calendar. But I try to plan my work time based on what I have due, and when.
How do you balance freelancing with your 9-5?
I work 8-4 for a university research unit, so I rely on my evenings and weekends to get my freelancing done. That said, I don’t want to work all weekend every weekend, so I try to get most of it done during the evenings.
Where do you do most of your work?
I work from my home office. Occasionally I go to a coffee shop for a couple of hours, but I’m most comfortable at home.
Do you use a co-working space? Tell us a bit about it.
I don’t – one of the benefits of being a freelancer is that I can work from home and not incur any office rental expenses. That said, I see the appeal of a co-working space – I think if I worked from home full-time, I might find it isolating at times. I still probably wouldn’t use a co-working space, because I love saving money, but I can see why people do.
Name an entrepreneur/freelancer/influencer who inspires you. What is it about their story/message that resonates?
Holly and Greg Johnson (creators of the blog Club Thrifty) really inspire me. They created the life of their dreams by building their freelance writing and blogging business while working full-time.
Eventually their business became so successful they were able to quit their day jobs to pursue it full-time. And they did this with two young kids! Now they have the freedom to travel the world 16 weeks a year – sounds pretty awesome to me.
Name one thing you’d do differently, if you were starting over today.
I would have spent less time on job boards and more time building real relationships within the writing community.
What is your #1 tip for aspiring freelancers?
Just try it. Don’t expect overnight success, but do know that it’s absolutely possible to make a good living (or build a lucrative side hustle) as a freelancer if you’re willing to put in the work.
MMM: Thank you Sandra, for taking us inside your freelance business! You mentioned the focus on building community and relationships, and how it’s been a big part of your success so far. To me, that stands out as incredibly valuable advice.
Be sure to check in next week, as I feature Claudia Pennington, a freelance digital marketing and SEO expert.
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