I’m happy to feature Christy Wilson on The Writing Realm today. As a full-time freelance writer, Christy has tons of advice and experience to help you out if you’re looking to start your own freelance writing business. Continue reading to learn about her successes and what she does to please clients.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing. Also, what do you primarily write about?
I can’t remember not being a writer in some capacity. A short story I wrote my freshman year of high school got picked up by a regional magazine, and when I saw my byline in print the bug hit! I graduated with a degree in journalism from Samford University and within a few years had built my own freelance writing business. I was the editor of my hometown newspaper, and wrote a weekly column for The Birmingham News. After my divorce, I was forced out of writing for awhile but eventually was able to build another freelance writing biz.
Most of my personal writing involves health and fitness, primarily for those with extremely low incomes. I live in a rural area with high poverty levels. I noticed the poor fitness levels that are almost always associated with poverty in this country. People don’t even understand why I bother to walk every day. They are largely ignorant of what good health decisions are, and when they do understand they don’t think they can afford to eat well or get into a workout regimen. That’s where the idea for Trailer Trash Fitness was born. It’s my way of getting ideas out there that I’ve personally used to stay healthy, even with no room in the grocery budget and no extra space for treadmills or exercise equipment.
I am also an avid gardener and love to grill, so I like writing about those, too. But most of my professional writing involves whatever the client’s needs are. My first client with this biz was a heating and air contractor, whom I still work for. I built his website and filled it with high-quality SEO writing. Within a few months, he’s ranking on the first page of Google with 98 percent of our targeted demographic areas. I truly love helping my clients succeed with good writing and well-crafted SEO copy. One of my passions has always been for small businesses. I’m so glad the trashy SEO is going away. High-quality SEO content benefits everyone: the client, the reader, and the writer.
Why do you write, and what’s your favorite thing about it?
I suppose I covered this in #1 – no wonder it was so long!
I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I enjoy being able to have the best of both worlds: I’m able to be a full-time career gal without sacrificing full-time motherhood and homemaking. The 9-5 gig, office politics, and water cooler gossip just aren’t my thing. Plus, with writing I get to deal with a wide variety of topics. I’m never stuck with the same boring industry day in and day out. I spent a year working for a law firm my freshman year of college, and another year at a life insurance company after graduating. I quickly bored with working on the same old things all the time. With writing, I’ve toured the globe, learned about new technologies, delved into the field of medicine, learned about the world of finance, dabbled in the supply chain, and gathered knowledge on hundreds of subjects – all from the comfort of my home office (and usually in my rattiest T-shirt and sweat pants). It never gets boring, and I learn many new things every day. It fascinates me.
You right mostly blog content. What do you think is the most crucial aspect of writing that provides the “high-quality” content clients and readers are looking for?
For now, my blogs are just a hobby. The income comes from my paying clients who hire me to design and populate their websites. My clients don’t know or care to know how to write or what makes content rank well on search engines. What they want is a website that draws traffic and helps customers find them. With the heating and air client, for example, he doesn’t want to see the smoke and mirrors: he just wants his website to pop up first when somebody Googles, “Happyville heating and air.” My clients need content which:
A. Ranks well with search engines
B. Makes their business look good
C. Draws customers.
The most crucial aspects of this type of writing are:
1. Being able to understand exactly what the client wants and knowing how to implement their voice and express their personality
2. Putting their needs above what you think the website ought to be.
3. Understanding what makes articles rank well on search engines.
4. Being able to make any topic interesting to the reader, no matter how uninterested in the topic they might be.
The last of these is the most challenging!
You write about fitness and eating healthy on a low budget. How did you establish authority in your niche, and how do you make sure your readers trust your advice?
I always link my articles to credible industry resources. For example, on the heating and air website, I always reference the Department of Energy or EnergyStar.gov. On the fitness blog, I find credible resources and steer clear of unproven or controversial recommendations unless I make it obvious that those ideas are up for debate. I take an irreverent tone and poke lots of fun at poverty, trailer parks, bad fitness habits, the difficulties parenthood lends to one’s fitness goals, and other common struggles. I think people can take you seriously when you can laugh at yourself.
Most of the topics and discussions are based on things I experience or my friends experience in real life, so that reality also lends an air of authority. People can tell when you’re being a fake – establishing yourself as an authority means you always have to be honest with your readers, and you have to admit when you’re in territory you’re ignorant about. I spent years reading literature on exercise and diet – not the fad stuff, but actual research-based materials. So now I have a baseline of understanding from which to build the fun ideas and inspiration that go into the blog.
You’ve established a full-time freelance writing business for yourself. What advice would you give to people who are considering dropping their 9-5 job and stepping into freelance writing?
First, you’re going to have to develop a thick skin. Clients, copy houses, and editors aren’t going to hold your hand – it isn’t their job. Their job is to assure that the content that goes onto their website or blog is high-quality, expresses what they need for it to, and does so in the company’s unique voice. Learn to deliver, and learn to accept criticism when you haven’t produced what they needed. Hear what they have to say, and make your second effort stellar. People forgive a host of mistakes when you have a good attitude.
Secondly, learn to market yourself and keep the books in order.
Any business you enter requires at least three skills:
1. The ability to do the job of the business,
2. The ability to market that business, and
3. The financial savvy to make the business successful.
Whether you write, clean houses, or bake cookies, marketing and finance are part of the job when you’re self-employed.
Thirdly, never get comfortable. When you think you’ve learned all there is to know and stop studying your craft, you’re in trouble. Fill a healthy percentage of your free time reading quality literature and reading good books on writing. My personal favorite is On Writing Well by William Zissner. I try to read it at least once every couple of years, and every time I do I find myself working on another aspect of my writing that needs improvement.
Lastly, realize that writing for a living is one of the most un-glamorous jobs on earth. As writers, our time is largely spent alone. Your kids will always need your undivided attention the very moment you come up with the perfect paragraph to write. The neighbors will always schedule their noisy home repairs during the most productive part of your day. When you’re working from home, your family and everyone else thinks that means you aren’t really working – so they have no qualms about intruding on your work time.
Set and keep a reasonable work schedule. When the workday is done, turn off the computer and spend time on normal activities, such as housework, time with the kids, and TV shows. It’s too easy to convince yourself that working from home means you ARE with your family, when in fact you are almost constantly engaged in your writing (even if you aren’t sitting at the desk). Learn to let work go, accept the days and days without social activities, and embrace both the pros and the cons of freelancing. I’ve found my best work comes following a period away from daily writing. I come back refreshed with new ideas, concepts, and experiences to work into my writing.
Connect with Christy