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Building a Thriving Freelance Writing Career: Insights and Strategies from Kayla Voigt

Building a Thriving Freelance Writing Career: Insights and Strategies from Kayla Voigt

Marketing your skills as a freelance writer can be difficult especially when you are starting out. It takes a combination of good marketing, deliverance of exemplary work, and proper work management for one to excel as a freelance writer. 

Kayla Voigt is a freelance travel, food, and tech writer with bylines in Conde Nast Traveler, Eater, Fodor’s, USA Today, and more. She helps her B2B SaaS clients tell their story through longform content journalism, ghostwriting, and blogging. Before starting her own business, she spent six years obsessed with all things content marketing.

In this episode, Kayla excitingly shares her freelancing journey and the strategies she employs to win clients and manage her workload. She also shares the differences between corporation and publication work, and how she uses her experience in the conventional 9 to 5 jobs to enhance her productivity as a freelance writer. 

Show Topics:

  • Growing your Marketing Skills
  • Leverage the Social Media Platforms
  • Focus on one Skill to increase Efficiency
  • Difference between Corporation and publication work
  • Estimating Monthly Workload
  • Work-Life Balance
  • Dealing with a difficult client
  • The art of proofreading
  • Brainstorm before you write
  • Content Strategy
  • Project Management as a Freelance
  • The Story versus the metrics

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Listen to the podcast:

Key Takeaways:

[07: 27]- Growing your Marketing Skills

Engage in different activities to develop your marketing skills.

“What do I want to do? I don’t know. And that while I was on campus the whole time, I was a tour guide. And I also worked in the communications department. But nobody told me that that was marketing. I worked in marketing and sales for my, for my entire college. And nobody ever, like, connected the dots for me. So a lovely relative of mine who worked in was a lawyer in a corporate setting was like, Oh, it sounds kind of like you’ve been doing marketing. Do you want to look at some marketing development programs, it’s at different tech companies and try some different elements of marketing since I did not have a marketing degree. So my first job, I rotated around the business, I worked at EMC, which is a data storage company that was bought by Dell while I was there. So yeah, the largest tech merger, I think at the time. Yeah, it was a bit of a wild ride, especially where I was I was basically an intern, step up from the interns just hanging out getting coffee. And I learned in the course of those rotations that I really liked writing, and I did have some opportunities to do that. I did a lot of sales enablement, and other things. My second job, I went out, and I just got a job at a startup as an associate marketer, and I did everything. Event Planning, ever, whatever they needed, and it was awesome. It was really amazing job. It was peak, like, girl boss hustle culture time. So that Job was when I started my side hustle as a journalist. And I started kind of pitching and getting some buy lines at different publications. And so I kind of have this parallel. Like, I came up in marketing, I did a lot of content work and event planning and all the things that entry level marketers are for me, yeah, oh my gosh, I’m terrible at social media. And I had ran, I started the Instagram for this count. That puts you puts Miami in my era, but and then at the same time, I was a journalist on campus in college and I miss doing that and I managed… I had my first big break I wrote a piece about Disney World for Fodors And I just kind of slowly became their Disney correspondent.”

[12:15]- Leverage the Social Media Platforms

Use your online presence, especially social media platforms, to share your skills and services to the world.

“You know, the thing about it is so many people are focused on these overnight success stories. And that $10,000 is wild. But I literally when the day I got laid off, this was before people did this, I was like, I’m going to be super vulnerable. I posted on LinkedIn, and said, you know, if anyone needs a writer, I’m here. And I had a ton of people reach out to me, and several people would be like, thank goodness, you’re available. Yeah, that’s a weird way to say it. But okay, great. So I, yeah, so that’s how my business really took off.”

[13:20]- Focus on one Skill to increase Efficiency

Specialize at what you do best .

“But it was very clear early on in that first rotational job, that writing was my strength comparatively to other marketers that it was something that I could do, I could listen to what was going on around me and synthesize it into something that people would understand. And that I think people don’t understand how hard that is to do other writers. It’s so easy. So I remember someone saying to me, oh, you know, this must be so challenging, like all this writing that you have to do. And I was like, the writing is easy. The content strategy and the meetings and the politics. That’s the hard stuff. But just sit me down. And let me write the story. And that that was what I always found easiest. And so now, running my own business, I can do what I’m actually really, really good at, which is those long form stories. I don’t have to write any copy. I don’t have to attend 1000 strategy meetings. It’s, it’s so nice.”

[14:57]- Difference between Corporation and publication work

Understand your client and deliver as per their needs.

“I think in terms of the biggest difference between the way that A lot of corporations work and the way a lot of publications work is that publications want you to pitch them their ideas. So they and I’ve been in corporate settings where we’ve had pitch rooms and come up, you know, we’ve gotten a whiteboard and just done all kinds of brainstorming, but it’s different. So the editors that I work with in major publications expect you to pitch them, ideas that fit in with their publication that don’t overlap with what they’ve recently covered. So there’s a lot more background research, often if I’m serious about a big publication, like when I wrote for eater, which is, was it was such a fun story I wrote about why I love to make fruit salad. This was like peak pandemic cooking, like non cooking, cooking, yes. And that I actually interviewed some a historian from the Smithsonian, about the history of fruit salads before I ever got the assignment. So I’m out there doing all this pre work, just get the assignment. And then I don’t know, the editor, you know, I hopefully that I’ve found the right email, there’s a lot of upfront work, versus when I work with corporations, generally, it’s inbound, which is exciting. So it’s inbound, they have a very clear need. Generally, they know their audience.”

[17:16]- Estimating Monthly Workload

Your financial budget can determine the amount of work you will accept in a certain period of time.

“And then the second part of your question brain space, I actually do this in a really boring way. But I have not heard other freelancers say this. So I will explain why I do it based on my budget. So I actually think like a salesperson, I have a quota for each month, and I have to book that quota each month. And that quota was determined by me and my partner based on our budget for the year. And we’re currently working on next year, like what you know, what’s the minimum I need to make to make sure that we pay our mortgage and all that stuff? But then what’s the net? You know, what’s the ideal based on childcare based on all these other expenses we have? What do I need to make per month so I that quota per month, I book the retainer stuff is kind of more natural, when I make sure that those are happening. I build kind of those building blocks of like, here’s the minimum to pay the bills that get always gets booked first, that’s booked, then I kind of look at how much is left. And how many slots in the month I have left. So I used to do this where, okay, I don’t want to work Fridays. So that’s four days a week, four weeks in the month. Ideally, I’m only writing one thing per day. That’s still kind of a lot. Sometimes, you know, if it’s an ebook or something longer, that that doesn’t work, but try to do the math out, right, and what I booked the minimum, and then after that, I kind of see where the other projects fall. And then after that, if I have any room left in terms of the slots, that’s when I pitch. So I typically don’t, although I’ve actually had some editors assigned me some things, which is exciting. I just did another piece for photos, which was really fun. Those are fun. I tend to write them at night or on the weekends, because they don’t like I say all this mapping and never really ends up working.”

[20:15]- Work Life Balance

Having a work schedule creates free time for you.

“Because I didn’t work Fridays, I would book three to four slots in the week. And then I had that bonus day where it’s like, I’d rather not work on Friday, but I could now wiggle childcare, it has to be the structured because these are the days that the nanny is here. Yeah, she’s not here. I’m not working. And that’s fine. That’s how I want to run my life and sit in daycare right now. That would add a lot of predictability. It’s been discussed. But I think with writing, the thing about the is it when you get to a point in your writing career where you can do this, like, yeah, couldn’t have done this, even maybe last year, I was very much like, well, the creative Muse will take me like maybe today I’ll write something fun. Or maybe today, I’ll just do pitches. But I still had a structure I it would be Monday was administrative pitch day, because by Friday, I’d be following up. So like Monday, I would send out all my pitches, as when I was doing more journalism, right. It was a client day, Wednesday was a reporting day, I’d stack all of my calls on Wednesdays. And then Thursday, I’d write and then Friday would be like bonus day, ideally taking it off. And so that I had a structure even before I had a kid, but now super important, hard, it’s hard to hold on to and I try it’s not nearly as fun. It’s not but you know, I think I’ve been trying to get over my own ego when it comes to my writing and just get it out the door.”

[22:01]- Dealing with difficult client

Always strive to make the client happy, regardless of their frustrating demands.

“For instance, with ghostwriting, it can be so frustrating to you have the interview, you emphasize six different assets, whatever’s going on with the ghostwriting, it’s hard to pin down the CEO, you’ve moved the meetings, like whatever goes on. Ghostwriting is one of the hardest things because then you have the interview, it goes in a completely different direction. That doesn’t matter. You write it. And then they get it and they decide to rewrite the whole Yeah. Yeah. That’s so frustrating as a writer, because you’ve spent, I don’t even want to talk about how many hours that just was that I mentioned offhand. But like, the goal is just is still achieved by that. If the executive rewrites it, A, they’re happy with it, which is great. But the goal was always to get a thought leadership piece, from their perspective out into the market for the industry, ideally, one that drives traffic and all those other kind of lagging indicators. But as a writer, like you have to just let it go. Because always still achieved and the client is happy. So I’ve been, I don’t do like every not everything is ghostwriting, I do a lot of actually, I would call it content journalism, where I’m interviewing one or two sources and putting quotes in and the same as any journalistic article. And but, you know, ultimately, the client has to be happy.”

[27:13]- The art of proofreading

Go through your work before submitting it to the client.

“I mean, it is what it is, you just get it out. And so I don’t necessarily ship that day, I hold on to stuff, at least 24 hours, if I can, I can’t always because you know, at the end of the month is the end of the month, but I do my best to hold on to something for at least 24 hours before I release it to my client gives me a chance to then go in and be like, What was I thinking or sometimes, you know, you kind of can catch, you’re just like, oh, I had a thought and I jumped to a different part of the piece or whatever random writing process thing you don’t want to I don’t want to open the categories. You know, it needs to have you need to read through it a couple times, you can’t necessarily get caught up in the editing. But also, if I’ve chosen the right clients, I know that they have an editing process. And so the clients, I know that don’t edit my work as much I pay more attention to it and make sure it’s really clean, which is great, trust me, but it’s every client has kind of a different process. Like if I know I’m going to be submitting this to an editor, I obviously want it to still be good and no errors or anything. But I also know it’s going to end up going to a different place. Because we’re getting on it there’s going to be more voices in the piece. So I try not to overthink it and just get a draft done and I edit it came to mind when you said that is I don’t do a ton of podcasts. We listen to this one. But Neil Gaiman was on Tim Ferriss podcast, and he and I, he’s just a really cool writer, if you’ve never read any of his work, he wrote American Gods and a whole bunch of other things. It’s very dark and cool science fiction, fantasy. But he said when he goes to write, he also just has a great voice. So it’s worth listening to. But he when he goes to write, he goes into his little shed or wherever he goes for his writing. And he has a role where you can either he can look outside, he can do nothing, he can sit in his chair and do nothing. Or he can write he can’t do anything else. He can’t go on his phone, he can’t go on the internet, nothing. And that hasn’t really helped. So sometimes if I don’t feel like doing it, I will sit in my chair or my standing desk and be like, Okay, I can stand here. And you just you give in like there’s like there’s certain it’s a surprising amount of time sometimes that you can sit and do nothing and let your mind wander.”

[32:34]- Brainstorm before you write

Moments of thinking bring new ideas and proper structure of your work.

“I mean, there’s part of this sitting there. And doing nothing thing is also it’s not really doing nothing, I ended up organizing my thoughts. So the other advantage of having structure is that I know going into the day what I’m going to write and I can kind of let it percolate. So it doesn’t always work. But you know, it, I tried to time it so that I have the interview the day before I write, or two days before, ideally not too far in between, but enough in between that I can let the ideas kind of marinate in my head. They say that, you know, when you’re a writer, you’re always writing just by virtue of observing and thinking through ideas. And so sometimes, and this is this goes back to her saying like writing has always been so much easier for me out of all the tasks that I’ve ever had to do in marketing because I just, I write it in my head and then it comes out onto the page. So I’m sometimes I move around and my thoughts aren’t organized. But generally if I give myself a little bit of time to think about like, okay, like tomorrow, I’m going to be writing something about how AI is relating to the shipping industry. I don’t remember the exact topic but that’s the broad like and so I was literally just today I was like Oh, I wonder if there’s any connection with some of the new like aI headlines that are going out so like, just even just knowing that that’s what I’m writing tomorrow is priming my brain today like not necessarily explicitly like I’m not sitting there all day thinking about it but just I’m then tomorrow when I show up, I’ll be like, Oh, okay, this is what I’m going to look up like what headlines or what data I need to look up or anything like that. So that can help a lot. But yeah, thinking as you thinking beforehand can help with a lot of that like, Oh, it doesn’t sound good.”

[40:19]- Content Strategy

Invest in a good content strategy course if you are struggling with the strategy part of writing.

“I think a lot of freelance writers would benefit from studying content at the strategy level and at the business like business strategy level. And I like that you identify as like a freelance content marketer, and a lot of people use content marketer and writer interchangeably, because there is overlap like this square rectangle, rectangle square analogy thing. But content marketer, it’s, it’s more all-encompassing. And there’s a lot more that goes into content, marketing and content strategy than just the writing element, like you said, like writing is your favorite part. But being able to look at a client and identifying new opportunities, being able to look at a draft and identifying where you can plug in different conversion elements, remembering the goal of what you’re doing, which isn’t only to make it sound good, and read well and make for a good experience, but to also do XYZ per while you’re being hired, you know. So I feel like a lot of writers would benefit from a course like that”

[46:24]- Project Management as a Freelance

Try different management tools to enhance your productivity.

 “But you know, I do think there’s something to be said for a little more structure than people like to do that. Like, I don’t know, I when I talk to other freelancers, they just resist a lot of that structure. And I still use Trello. Sometimes for myself, I’m like, I tried Monday, didn’t, it didn’t quite work for me. Like, well, you know what I mean, I use project management tool for myself. Some people track everything in a spreadsheet, which is also fine, but like, I’ve talked to freelancers, and they’re like, Oh, how do you organize your freelancing? I’m like, I use a spreadsheet like it’s do you not do not use a spreadsheet? No, like, No, I just kind of just do it. I’m like, Whoa, like, that’s all in their head. So I think part of it is coming up from corporate but like, I embrace the some l like the best parts of my corporate experience. And what I learned on turns out to be a good project manager. What elements of strategy matter when you’re writing and what don’t. What meetings do I need to attend? Because sometimes I do say like, yeah, sure, I’ll attend a meeting. What boundaries do I need to set? Yep, I think we’ve talked about this, I’m anti slack. Yep.”

[54:31]- The Story versus the metrics

Focus on the Story, not on the metrics.

“Focus on story not on metrics, it’s not always going to create an immediate ROI, but it builds a brand equity that you cash in later in different formats.”

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Allie Decker

Allie is co-founder and Head of Client Success at Omniscient Digital. She previously led content initiatives at HubSpot and Shopify.