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Anna Lee – Creative Copywriter and Freelance Mum

Anna Lee calls herself a “foreverlancer”, meaning that no traditional job could ever match the variety that freelancing offers her. Anna has an impressive portfolio of brands she worked with already; nevertheless she also genuinely enjoys writing for smaller brands and start-ups. Her best tip for fellow freelancers is to be prepared to work hard but always with a smile on the face...

1) Hello Anna, thanks for your participation in our freelancer insides interview series. Firstly, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and what are you up to right now?

I think it’s safe to say that I’m now a ‘foreverlancer’. There’s simply no permanent job that could ever match this variety, and climbing the slippery creative ladder at an agency, for example, has never been on my radar. For me, freelancing is all about picking and choosing what I work on and when, which is just how I like it. Right now I’m writing for some cool little start-ups, digital marketing agencies and branding agencies, covering everything from tone of voice development to packaging and eCRM. I had a baby in March, and the freedom and flexibility that freelancing offers means that I’ve been able to keep my hand in, working on bits and pieces since she was a month old. Though the phrase ‘burning the midnight oil’ now has an entirely different meaning to me!

2) What was your inspiration and when did you actually decide to become a freelancer?

I’d always toyed with the idea of going solo but it’s so easy to get comfortable at a job, especially if you get along with your workmates. The crunch moment came when I was promised a promotion while my manager was on sabbatical, which the HR department then decided not to honour after all. It was frustrating but the perfect excuse to finally take the leap. I’d also been working in-house on the same brand for three years and needed a change. When you see the same types of work come around again and again it’s time to take your creativity on the road.

3) Did you find many obstacles when everything started? Could you share with our readers the most important lessons you have learned?

There’s no getting away from the fact that switching from the security of a permanent job to freelancing can be a rocky ride. If you’re thinking about it, be prepared for the first year to be fairly quiet and involve a whole lot of hustling for work. There were times when I thought ‘am I doing the right thing?’, but hanging in there eventually paid off. My main advice would be to use your existing contacts and network to the max. To begin with, until you build a freelance folio and client base, it unfortunately can be more about who you know, so tell everyone you’ve ever worked with that you are now a footloose and fancy-free freelancer. People switch jobs a lot these days, and if previous colleagues like what you do, they’ll use your services at their next place. Once you have a few decent freelance projects under your belt, the rest follows fairly easily.

4) Did you find many obstacles when everything started? Could you share with our readers the most important lessons you have learned?

On a creative level, it’s motivating to work on so many different types of projects and meet new, interesting people. I find working with start-ups particularly rewarding, as there’s a real opportunity to influence a new brand’s direction and make things happen. Seeing others’ entrepreneurial spirit is really inspiring too. On a personal level, I put in extra hours and work weekends when I need to and take time off to see family and friends when things are quieter. Also, when my husband’s work took us abroad a few times in the last two years, I simply worked remotely from both Switzerland and Hong Kong. Some of my clients didn’t even notice the change!

5) Copywriting is more important than what lots of people think it is. How can a copywriter make a difference for a small business?

I actually studied journalism at university, but the two writing disciplines are very different. As a copywriter, it’s absolutely not about you, your opinion or your personal writing style. You are the voice of whichever brand you are representing that day, so any ego has to go out of the window. Sometimes, for example, I just love a line that I’ve thought of, but if it doesn’t completely fit with the brand’s tone of voice, it gets canned. Copywriting is about tapping in to how the audience feels and what they want. For businesses, having a copywriter who understands the brand and its voice is incredibly important. You have to put the brand first, but it’s also important to stand up for what’s right and what’s not. Sometimes the people working for a brand need a helping hand finding the right voice, so a copywriter’s expertise and opinion is invaluable.

6) John Lewis, Virgin Media, TK Maxx, Triumph, The Body shop,…and the list goes on! How do you find new clients that are interested in your services?

I have been pretty lucky! I worked in-house for Virgin and John Lewis, which gave me some great contacts once I moved on to freelancing. To begin with I had to approach a lot of brands and was relying on recruiters, but over the last four years or so I’ve been approached by brands directly who have seen my profile on LinkedIn, and that’s how I get the majority of work these days. Sometimes missed opportunities can also be a great way to pick up new clients. I once interviewed for a perm role for chef Jamie Oliver, which I didn’t get. But when they needed a freelancer a few months later they got back in touch and I got lots of work through them, on some interesting projects. And the lunches were pretty awesome too.

7) What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a freelance career? And what does it take to be successful as a freelancer?

I think that the artist Anthony Burrill’s line ‘work hard and be nice to people’ sums it up. If you’re prepared to put in the hard work with a smile on your face, you’ll keep hold of clients and never look back. I think it’s important to keep an open kind, too. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of glossy, big-budget projects, but I’ve also spent days writing about washing machines and fridges, and how to fix your dodgy broadband. It’s swings and roundabouts, so be prepared to mix it up. Plus, the reality is that the ‘sexy’, more creative jobs are rarely the best paid. So don’t knock the commercial stuff that perhaps doesn’t get your heart racing.

8) What are your future plans with regard to your career?

I’ll always be copywriting in some form. What drives me on is working with interesting people and products, from all types and sizes of brand. One day I’d like to own my own retail or wellbeing business, though. Funnily enough, I’d probably hire a copywriter for that. Writing about your own ‘baby’ would be the most difficult brief ever.

9) Last but not least, what are the top three books, blogs or magazines you read to stay up to date with the industry?

I wouldn’t say that I focus on too much creative-industry-specific news, I find it’s best just to stay connected to what’s happening from a range of areas. I read piles of travel, fashion and design magazines to help me stay up to date with trends and the latest happenings, as you just never know what you’ll be writing about next. I also like Raconteur reports and the Monocle Minute for topical stories from around the world. As I work on a lot of retail projects, I sign up to emails from just about everyone to see what brands are up to and how they’re communicating with their audience. I keep everything for reference, which means that my inbox is 22,000 emails and counting – something that really bothers my neat-freak husband, but I’m cool with it.

Where to find Anna:

Skype: annalucyelizabeth

Pic: © AnnaLee
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