Why I Hired a Writing Mentor — Part 1: I Wanna Quit My Day Job

By Susannah Noel

Here’s the story of why I hired Carol Tice to be my writing-business mentor:

I need a job that’s flexible and can also pull down a solid income.

A couple years ago, I decided this job could be copywriting. Not anything literary, of course — but business writing, for websites, newsletters, and blogs.

In the spring of 2010, I was lucky to land a 9-to-5 position as a marketing manager for a website developer. Now I write all day, and I’ve learned a ton. But I still need to edit books in the evenings and on the weekends to make ends meet.

Because my job is an hour away, I have very little time to spend with my kids. So as much as I like my 9-to-5 gig, something has to change.

I’ve decided I need to go freelance full-time.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Becoming a well-paid freelancer is a great goal — but how do I take the first step?

Maybe a Mentor?

A few weeks ago, in one of my furtive, late-night surfing sessions, I came across Carol’s article, How I Make $5,000 a Month as a Paid Blogger.

To be honest, it made me a little sick with envy. I blog at my 9-to-5 job, not unlike what Carol does — but even with additional freelance editing on the side, I don’t make nearly as much. But at the same time, I was exhilarated. If someone else can do it, I thought, maybe I can, too.

Then I noticed Carol’s page on mentoring. And my little puff of exhilaration grew into a gale-force wind. I had a plan.

I wrote a quick blog post on my new idea to hire a writing mentor — Carol very kindly posted a comment — and suddenly, I was being mentored. Just like that.

Carol Delivers

After I gathered my samples and sent Carol a list of my interests, she and I got on the phone for a delicious two-hour-long phone call.

It was like drinking a tall glass of water, after years of only sipping it by the teaspoonful. I finally got the nuts and bolts information I needed — not from a book or an online article, but from a real writer, talking only to me and my situation. Here’s what we talked about:

  • Potential markets that make sense for me, and how and to whom to pitch my ideas
  • How to improve my website, including what focus I could give to my blog
  • Creative ways I can network locally
  • The possibility of adding additional services to my repertoire, in addition to writing and editing
  • What I need to do financially to make a freelance business succeed — the rates I should charge and the amount of money I should save before I launch out on my own

Even before we hung up, she’d sent me several lists with resources, tips for how to find writing gigs online, and a list of action items. I suddenly had pages and pages of ideas on how to move forward. Here are the ones that most intrigued me:

Potential markets. For a year I’ve written newsletter copy for a local arts college. Carol suggested I build on that and develop college communications as one of my niches. We also discussed how I could parlay my experience writing copy for an accountant-focused Web developer into business-finance blogging.

Networking. I live in Vermont, a small state with fewer networking opportunities than elsewhere. But Carol had the brilliant idea that I could host a Mediabistro party. I love the way this busts through limitations and makes its own rules. No networking event? So make your own!

Improve my website. Over at my Vermont copywriter website, I had slapped some pages together without too much thought, figuring it was better to have something than nothing. Carol agreed — but she also suggested several easy updates that would instantly make the site more professional.

For example, she pointed out that my landing page would benefit from a professional tone and approach, and I could move the more casual, personal details to an About page. She also thought I could shift the focus of my blog from writerly thoughts to SEO discussion, given that I do SEO work at my full-time job.

The Power of Speaking It

But perhaps even more helpful, Carol directly addressed my disbelief that I could actually do this, actually become a full-time writer with enough money in the bank.

She told me about the Jewish Baruch She’amar prayer:

Blessed is the one who spoke, and the world came into being, blessed is He.

“This prayer is about how God created this world by speaking. We’re created in God’s image, and we speak our reality into being also,” said Carol. “The more you tell people you are making this transition to full-time freelancing, the more it will become real.”

I’m not religious, but this resonated with me. I felt a shift in my mind-set — from wishing, to deciding.

Here I Go…

Of course, for my freelance career to take flight, I need to do more than get my positive attitude on. I need to start marketing, pitching, and, most of all, writing.

So that’s what I’m doing — step by step. This week, I sent Carol my to-do list for December. I’m going to work on my website, research companies and people to pitch, and take a training course on writing for B2B copywriting.

It’s one tiny move forward at a time — but, finally, it’s my reality.

Susannah Noel is a Vermont-based business and marketing copywriter delivering meticulous SEO copy that drives traffic and boosts sales.

Follow Susannah’s journey from day-job copywriter to freelance writer — subscribe to Make a Living Writing.

Are you trying to make the leap from day job to freelance writing? Done it already? Leave a comment and tell us how you did it, or what your plan is for leaving 9-5 behind.

  1. Hi Susannah, I'm just getting started trying to make full-time freelance work a reality too, and I also just signed up to be mentored by Carol. My mentoring phone call was a week ago, and I'm still overwhelmed by all the options and ideas and possibilities that are out there. It definitely is exhilarating to think of the possibilities of making a living doing freelance work–and it definitely isn't get-rich-quick work, like you said there's a ton of marketing, research, pitching, writing to be done to make it happen. But, oh the possibilities! Not just to make more money, but to be more in charge of your own schedule and to get to the point where you can be choosy about the type of work you're doing. Best of luck to you, and I look forward to keeping up with your journey!
    My recent post Holiday

    • TiceWrites says:

      Hi Rebecca —

      I think people who are transitioning to freelance now are so smart. All the studies I read say that in future, more and more jobs including writing, marketing, and design work will increasingly be done by freelancers in the future. Why not be where the work is headed?

      Personally, having worked with so many people who've lost their one full-time job and had their lives plunged into chaos, I am super-grateful to be in command of my own career and not at the mercy of one employer who could ruin my life.

      I looked at my schedule this month and said you know, I think I want the last week of the year off. So I'll take it off. MAN that is empowering! The control over your life is transformative. We had years around here where our family never got to go on vacations because my husband's car-sales employer would decree that no one could take a vacation in August, or whatever. Our big thrill this year is that now, my husband is starting his own business, too, and if we want off, we're off.

      Now that I've freelanced for 5 years, I can hardly remember how I managed my life when I had a full-time job! Welcome to the freelance world, Rebecca — it's where it's at.

    • Susannah says:

      Hi Rebecca – Thanks for commenting. It's nice to be taking this journey with companions. And yes, the freelance schedule is something I yearn for – although my work habits aren't always the most traditional. If I can pull this off, I predict a lot of middle-of-the-night writing sessions. Stay in touch – let's root each other on! Oh, and your blog is great, by the way. Keep it up!

  2. pricewrite says:

    Hi Susannah,

    Very inspiring post. I wish you well.

    My downfall is that, when I land a job, I get so excited about doing the work that I stop marketing and devote all my attention to the project. I'm determined to stop doing that.

    Marketing is my number one priority for 2011, not writing. The writing will get done anyway.

    Best of luck,

    Jack Price
    My recent post Can We Really Trust Wonder Woman

    • TiceWrites says:

      It's one of the big challenges — making time for marketing, while still getting all the paid client work done. Personally, I'm sort of hooked on the marketing now and it's hard to turn it off! I'm sort of overbooked right now and am dialing down the marketing, but it becomes a habit. Which is what you really want it to be: An activity you simply do constantly. All the best-paid freelance writers are really dedicated marketers.

      For me the challenge is evolving the marketing, concentrating on the most productive methods, and fitting it into my schedule rather than doing a million things and ending up working until midnight on my current assignments. It helped me to do an analysis of what worked for me.

      For a while there in '08 and '09 I kind of got hooked on checking the online job ads, and then I had to sit myself down and have a talk — no more job ads! I had moved beyond that point, to search marketing, in-person networking, and other more effective ways of finding better-paying clients. But I felt like — maybe I'm missing something if I don't look in the ads. Took a while to kick the habit.

      For 2011 I'd love to get better organized in how I'm doing my marketing…I admire people who make it the first 2 hours of their work day, or set aside one day a week to do nothing but. I think that's a great approach where you know it won't overwhelm your schedule.

    • Susannah Noel says:

      Hi Jack – Your Wonder Woman post is great, and I love the Lynda Carter joke at the end. I like your attitude about writing vs. marketing. Most of us didn't get in to writing for a living unless we felt sufficiently confident that we could pull off the writing jobs on our desk – but marketing our business is not always our expertise. Lucky for us, online marketing IS writing, in a lot of ways. So we have a leg up over other online business owners.

      Thanks for commenting – good luck not being Wonder Woman.

      Susannah

  3. @dkanenh says:

    I started freelancing 4 years ago after being laid off my non-profit development & marketing job. It's taken 3 1/2 years to focus on my writing (I initially offered public relations consulting, too).

    Before I found Carol and this blog, I signed up with a career coach who's working with me in a way that sounds similar to how Carol is working with Susannah. He recently asked, "do you want a job or a business? Because if you want a business, you're going to approach it much differently than you would a job." That really made me pay attention. He's even encouraged me to think of building my business as a saleable entity. It's not about whether or not I actually sell it — it's how I approach my work. I'm really thinking more about how I market myself, how I allot time to projects and what projects to pursue.

    As for marketing, that's always a challenge. My current clients were secured from one-on-one networking, which I actually enjoy. My bread & butter client is a publisher who was on a committee with me for an area non-profit. When she found out I was a writer, she turned to me and asked "do you write about food?" That led to writing/editing wine and spirits publications for three liquor control states. But I need to secure other projects, so I need to reach out more. I know a freelance designer who devotes one morning a week to cold calling and emailing potential clients.

    Thanks, Carol (and Susannah) for your always insightful posts.

    • Susannah Noel says:

      Hi @dkanenh – I love that idea – to treat your business as a company that could exist without you running it. I'd never thought of my freelance business that way before – but I think it's a great idea because it would encourage me to take it more seriously and make decisions for how they affect the business, rather than just me.

      Having had a freelance editing business for 15 years, I do know that without marketing, you never really feel in control of your schedule or your projects. I always say yes to editing projects b/c I never know where the next one is coming from. But if I were to market that side of my business, I could perhaps plan out my projects better – and take only the higher paying gigs.

      Thanks for writing. And good luck!

      Susannah

  4. Amber says:

    GREAT post, Susannah!
    i'll try to incorporate the tips and inspiration I find here in my own "so called blog":)
    Thanks! and good luck!
    amber

  5. Sam says:

    Congratulations on taking the first step, Susannah! The Jewish prayer sounds a lot like The Secret! I'm really excited for you to be doing freelance. Best of luck and keep me posted on your successes!

  6. diane says:

    Hello thanks for the inspiring story, I have been online for awhile. I know what its like to go from knowing so little to knowing a little bit more. When you have a business there are so many things to do.

    Like start the website, seo, get traffic, plus really al you want to do is write.

    -v learned a few things, it better to expert in there field and hire them.

    Faster, and they do a better job.I’m starting a business for people who want to get there presence on facebook fan pages. I make thhem custom templates for there business, or any website.

    - really enjoy facebook, and found instead of being all over the internet to stick to one place till I know it so well… Thanks diane

  7. lifespolitikin says:

    Susannah,

    it really sounds like you and I came across Carol's website around the same time. While I have been freelancing for the past year, it's mostly been very low paying web content jobs. Now, I've been exposed to so much new information and literature that I'm really in the learning phase. I love Carol's site and all the useful information. I highly recommend "The Well-Fed Writer" by Peter Bowerman. There are some very concrete steps you can use when approaching prospects, and what you should have ready when you do reach out. I'm trying to reach the point where I can cold call confidently…not there yet. —

  8. lifespolitikin says:

    (continued) …
    At this point, in addition to learning, I'm trying to earn more with the writing work I'm already doing. However, clients who are accustomed to very low prices are not very happy to hear about rate increases. Sometimes it's just a matter of deciding what's really important, sticking with these low paying jobs, or investing the time into finding higher paying gigs? My motto has been "something is much better than nothing", but I think my motto is about to change. My writing is of quality, and I really do invest so much of myself into my work so I believe the pay I receive should reflect my work.

    Well, Susannah, you and I have started on this journey, so cheers to our success! Aslo, thanks to Carol for sparking such a passion for finding quality work. —- Ahlam Yassin

    • TiceWrites says:

      Hi Ahlam —

      I find when it comes to low-paying Web clients, it's hopeless trying to get a raise to an appropriate rate. They just don't get it.

      Earlier this year, I scored a client that provides blogs to lawyers. He'd fallen way behind and desperately needed to get his work done before his clients bolted. I did probably 20-30 posts for him at my usual rate — $100 a post — which got him caught up. And then he promptly dropped me and went straight back to paying $40 or so. Some people really never learn! No doubt he'll call me back once he's 3 months behind again, his clients are all angry, and he's in a crisis. But when I finished the backlog he asked me to blog for $50 instead, said he had an agency willing to give him that — and I said no.

      When you've got these kind of clients, it's really time to find new clients. Not that you shouldn't ask for a raise! By all means do…but they'll probably say no.

      I actually just asked my lowest-paying remaining client for about a 30% raise to bring them back in line with my other accounts, and they said no. So it's goodbye. Literally within about 3 hours of telling her I wouldn't be able to continue her account in 2011, I got an offer for articles that paid $200 apiece more than she had offered me. If you're out marketing, you'll find better clients.

      And if your client is a robot dashboard on a mill somewhere, then obviously, you can't ever get a raise, and that's the wrong kind of client, in my book.

    • susannahnoel says:

      Hi Ahlam,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. As I said above to Rebecca, it's nice to be taking this journey with companions! I'm impressed that you are out there getting work AND learning too. I'm kind of just in the learning phase at this point.

      I know exactly what you mean about something being better than nothing – and that's the philosophy I've followed with my editing business. But I think it's time to change that.

      Good luck Ahlam and thanks for commenting!

      Susannah

  9. Lida says:

    Dear Susannah,

    It’s really insightful post. Next year I will start to be a freelancers as there is a restructure on my day job. To be a writer and translator is always be my dream. I am quite interesting on carol program – mentoring and definitely want to know details about the program. Hopefully this blog will be my mentor to support my next journey, wish me luck!

  10. lifespolitikin says:

    Hi Carol,

    I just wanted to share with you this quote I found on the first page of Anne Wayman's free ebook, "The 3 Keys to Making Your Writing Pay!" that really hits what we've been talking about on the nail! "The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for." – Maureen Dowd. Now, THAT, should be my new motto :) — Ahlam

  11. You really have me thinking…. I will be eager to learn what happens next.
    My recent post Unbraided

  12. Lee Lefton says:

    Susannah, I applaud your efforts and your decision to work with Carol. She's my heroine. I've been working with a coach for the past year and have found it to be highly rewarding. I've been freelancing since '83 and it seems that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

    My big problem since the economy took a nosedive has been the fear around passing up any work that comes my way, no matter how low the pay. With the help of my coach, I've been changing my attitude and following Maureen Dowd's lead above. The less I settle for less than I deserve, the more higher paying jobs have been coming in. It really comes down to valuing ourselves, our talent and our expertise.

    • TiceWrites says:

      Hi Lee!

      You've hit on one of my favorite topics — the whole psychology of what you think you're worth, and how that leads you to make an amount in that ballpark. When I first started freelancing again in late '05, at first I was just hoping to make a bit while I looked around for another staff writing job. Then I was hoping to just replace my old salary and keep freelancing.

      Finally, I had a revelation — my income-earning potential was now UNLIMITED. Result? I now earn about 50% MORE than I used to as a staffer, and it's gone up every year. It really is fascinating to me how we create our reality with our thoughts…as I discussed with Susannah, if we make statements to people such as, "I deserve to be paid $100 an hour," we find shortly, that's the sort of rate we command.

      Just a reminder to all that if you post a comment on Saturday, it will take me until after sundown to moderate you in. Here's why. Appreciate everyone's patience on that.

      To avoid the wait, sign up at IntenseDebate or WordPress.com, and then my comment moderation system will automatically let you in.

      And thanks for the compliments! I feel like I'm just another freelance writer humping along trying to feed my family most of the time…I take the time to write this blog in hopes others can pursue the freelance life, too. Very gratifying to hear I'm providing useful information to readers, since that is why I bother…

  13. Excellent contribution.

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Coreen Nishijo, Carol Tice – Writer. Carol Tice – Writer said: Why I Hired a Writing Mentor — Part 1: I Wanna Quit My Day Job http://goo.gl/fb/C5UNW [...]

  2. [...] My writing-business mentee Susannah Noel guest-posts on my blog today and tells her story of why she wanted to work with me to move into full-time freelance writing…. [...]

  3. [...] month ago, I took one step closer to my dream of being a full-time freelance writer: I went down to half-time at my day job as a marketing manager, with the intention of using my [...]

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