Name: Sarah Li Cain
Bio: Sarah Li-Cain is a finance writer and host of Beyond The Dollar whose work has appeared in places like Bankrate, Business Insider, Redbook, Financial Planning Association, Stacking Benjamins and Her Money podcast with Jean Chatzky (of NBC Today). Her work blends practical tips and mindset strategies so that those trying to change their financial life can see themselves in the starring role. She also integrates physical, spiritual and mental wellness so that money becomes a tool to enhance people’s lives.
How long have you been doing freelance work?
More than 5 years.
Tell us about your freelance business, in 200 words or less.
I’m a freelance personal finance writer. I also help clients with their content strategy if the occasion calls for it.
What do you consider to be your specialty. How does it help you in your business?
I typically work with financial services companies. They’re typically companies that have somewhat of a content strategy in place, so I come in and help them build out content. Currently I’m known for writing about credit, loans and real estate simply because that’s what most of my clients ask me to write about.
What made you become a freelancer?
I started because I got bored one day! I was randomly surfing online and stumbled upon a website that shows you how to get paid to write for blogs. My first gig was writing a post about zombies for $50.
I never took it seriously until 2015 after my son was born and my family and I were transitioning from moving from China (where we lived for 8 years) to the U.S. I wanted a more flexible schedule because of my young son, so decided to make a go of it full time.
What do you love most about freelance work, and why?
I really love being able to work on projects that help people and are fun. And if I’m being completely honest, the ability to sleep in if I really want to without the pressure of showing up to an office at a certain time.
What do you hate about it?
Sometimes you lose clients, or they’ll have budget cuts. So each month can have unexpected surprises. And I experience impostor syndrome a lot.
Tell us about your first paid job. How did you land your first client?
Yup, that $50 post where I wrote about zombies! I randomly pitched to guest post for a blog I found via a website for freelance writers. I emailed the client, pitched them my idea and it was accepted.
Do you think aspiring freelancers should take unpaid work to gain experience? Why or why not?
This is a tough question. I think if you do it once to get a writing piece in your portfolio, don’t keep doing it. You’d be surprised at how one piece of writing is enough to land you a gig. Some people do unpaid guest posts on larger websites to get the credibility as well, so that could be an advantage. If you don’t want to do free work, that’s fine, you can still get work.
Do you feel you’re charging what you’re worth?
I think I tend to undercharge at times for my work because I have major impostor syndrome around the quality of my work – I have since reached out to fellow freelance writer friends to compare rates before I negotiate. I think as I kept writing about the same subjects and gotten bigger bylines I felt more confident asking current and future clients for higher rates.
Describe your process for finding new clients? Where do you look?
I like to do google searches for content marketing agencies and see their list of clients. If they work with finance companies I’ll reach out. For individual companies I send cold pitches to the marketing manager describing my subject matter expertise and any relevant portfolio pieces.
The key to writing cold emails is to get them to respond, not necessarily hire you right away – ask a simple question at the end like “does it make sense to continue the conversation?” so they just answer yes or no.
Have you ever had to ‘fire’ a client? If so, why and how did you do it?
Yes. In one instance another editor took over and started adding in new tasks that wasn’t stated in the contract. When I asked about reviewing rates I was told it would be the same. I normally do a bit more than asked anyway, but this would have been twice the work. I emailed the new editor and told them that the work wasn’t a good fit anymore and wasn’t in line with the contract I originally signed and wished them good luck with other writers.
Name 3 tools (apps, equipment) that you can’t live without. What makes them so great?
Asana – My life is scheduled on there, ha! Google Calendar – It syncs with Asana ProWritingAid – It’s similar to Grammarly
What is your #1 productivity hack?
Schedule out three priority tasks where if you only get those done and if the rest of the to-do list isn’t, you’ll still feel like you accomplished something.
Do you outsource tasks? Why or why not? If so, which ones?
I sometimes hire a VA to do research if I’m working on big projects. I also outsource editing for my podcast, and will probably do the same if I end up producing podcasts for clients.
In your opinion, what is the most important skill required for freelance work, and why?
Persistence. You need to be stubborn and keep going. You can learn to be a better writer, researcher and any industry you want to work for. The key is to get started and keep going.
Do you consider yourself a strong time manager? How do you stay organized?
Yes. I am very aware of my energy levels so don’t schedule in too much intense work in a day. I write everything down, no matter how small it seems so I don’t feel I have to remember it.
Do you also work a 9-5? If so, how do you balance it with your freelance business?
Nope, this is full-time for me.
Where do you do most of your work?
I have a home office.
Do you use a co-working space?
No, there isn’t one near me.
Name an entrepreneur/freelancer/influencer who inspires you. What is it about their story/message that resonates?
My friend Jackie Lam who is also a freelance writer. I love the way she prioritizes her life and then schedules in work, and still does an amazing job for her clients.
Name 1 thing you would do differently, if you were starting over today?
I would be a lot kinder to myself when I would get rejection emails. It’s not useful to do that at all.
What is your #1 tip for aspiring freelancers?
Just start. Sounds cheesy, but that’s it. Think of the smallest step you need to do and do it. Then move onto the next step.
MMM: Sarah, thank you for sharing some of your freelance story with us, and for your transparency, it’s very encouraging. I think a lot of people experience self doubt, especially when starting out, so it’s refreshing to hear that it happens to the best!
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