A freelancers guide to building your blog biz

Hey, so today I'm joined by Emma Cossey and we are talking all things the life of a freelancer. All of Emma's links will be available in the show notes. We're going to be chatting about Emma's experience as a blogger and a freelancer as well as learning about the journey, challenges and successes Emma has faced which include moving past imposter syndrome and navigating through the roller coaster that is self employment.

Hello, thanks very much for having on. So I'm Emma. I run the Freelance Lifestyle which a blog and a podcast all about freelancing. I'm also a mum to a little boy and I live with my husband and my son in Bracknell which outside Reading. I've been blogging now for over ten years now and I've done all sorts of different ones from professional blogging to running my own ones. I am a fake blogging geek.

Amazing. You must really love it to want to blog for other people as well as your self.

Yeah, I was really lucky actually early on. One of my first ever freelance gigs was working for Parent Dish way before I had children of my own. So I got to blog for them on all things parenting which was definitely throwing me in at the deep end. Then I also worked for Echo Media who ran Catwalk Queen and Chihuahua and some of the first big fashion blogs in the U.K. and the Catwalk Queen I think was the first one that ever got a seat at fashion, at London Fashion Week and things like that. So it's been really fun. I've done some really fun kind of blogging over the years. Yeah, it's been great.

So what made you want to go into then writing your own? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did you write blogs for other people first and then kind of slowly transition to doing your own or have you always done your own alongside that? How's that look?

Yeah, the latter. I've always kind of done a mix, so I started landing these jobs because I was doing a little bit of blogging on my own. I loved the challenge of blogging for other people and learning about new things as well, but I've always run my own blog along the side. I kind of started off with one of these cheesy, I think it was called Cocktails and Cupcakes initially which I think every single blog at that time was started as and then Random Warblings of a Blogger, I think was another one. Then I started the Freelance Lifestyle about eight years ago I think.

So you've given me a great opportunity to talk about like one of my most favorite sides of blogging which is the business side. Tell me how you, how you viewed the blogs that you started for yourself alongside the blogs that you were doing. So you're happy to be paid as a freelancer for other people to write great articles but how did that go with you in your own mind when it came to doing your blog?

Oh it's hard. I think it's hard because sometimes when you're getting paid for these articles they become your focus. They become your priority and it can leave you with very little creative juice at the end of the day to write your own stuff, but it's also very important to all off your own blog content as well because I think it's kind of ... I'm trying to think what it kinds of compares to. I find the more you write the more you enjoy it.

Absolutely.

So you have to still make your own writing a priority. I think it helps at the time I was on Twitter a lot more as well which just gave constant inspiration for new topics.

How did you feel when it came to asking for money or finding a way to create money within the blogs you were doing for yourself or did it go on for quite a while where you were happy to kind of hobby blog, I suppose, or accept that your blogs weren't making the money that you were making from your freelancing for other blogs?

Good question. Okay, I do a lot actually with that. A lot of things I write about is a lot of the emotions that come around money. I think women in particular really struggle to ask for money and I find this so often with freelancers that they either struggle to ask for money or more than the absolute minimum amount. I definitely found that initially where I was quite comfortable charging at the time very small amounts but blogging for other clients. I felt very uncomfortable doing it initially with my own and it kind of ...

I think because initially I started the blog because I wanted it to be a resource for freelancers and new freelancers that wasn't cluttered with business lingo so I felt like it would be disingenuous to charge people for that. Then I realized that I was providing a lot of free content and that I found more in depth content for you, coaching and courses like that and sponsor posts and things like that and that it was, it's okay to ask for people to support you when you're providing them with lots of other free content as well.

Absolutely. I think this about the most come across thing and this isn't just in blogging. This is all over the board with people that go into a new business. Actually I did a Live about this tonight. I was talking about the thing that stops people getting what they want from their blog or from their business and nine times out of ten it's just the fact that they're not actually owning it as a business. They haven't every sat back and gone, "Oh, this is an actual business so how should I put together a business plan and decide what I want to achieve with it?" Like, none of that process happens. They just dive in at the deep end because either maybe they've left a job and they were on maternity leave and they want something to do or they've been through something.

Like you say, you were really passionate about equipping freelancers with the resources that they needed and you were so passionate about it that you felt like it was just, I don't know, like flowing from you anyway and you didn't need paying for it. Whereas your day job you're like, "Yeah, I'll write you an invoice for that that blog." It's getting that balance and I see it all the time. Tell me about how you grew then, once you've kind of, I suppose it's a case of acknowledgement, acceptance, isn't it, and kind of allowing it to change into a fully fledged business. So how did that grow for you? I know that when we were chatting before you said about being an introvert. How is this whole process, 'cause that's quite a big, not obstacle really, but it's a big part of your journey that you've sort of come through with all of this.

Yeah, absolutely. I think, yeah, definitely being an introvert I'm definitely on the ... I think this is where people view it as introversion and extroversion and that I'm quite chatty and quite happy talking to people but I hit a point where I'm like, "Oh, I'm done now. I'm done."

Gotta lay down in a dark room somewhere.

Yeah, exactly, but blogging allows you to reach a wide berth of people without being that energy drain on you sometimes. So actually it's fantastic for introverts in that way. You can get your message out there without being so emotionally and energy drained from it.  I've completely forgotten what was the question was. I've gone off on a tangent now.

It's fine, no, well it was a long question because I suppose it's a big part of your journey. It's kind of that part where you've gone, "Right, I'm not charging or I'm not making the money in my blog that's actually getting all of this traction, all these people are loving it but I'm not making any money. How is that? I'm billing X, Y, Z, $100, $200, whatever it is for her blog post. Why aren't I making that in my own business?" And kind of that light bulb going off to then actually not just accepting that and starting to make a move on that but then growing it to a point where it's then your sole, your main business sort of thing. How is that for you?

It was very organic. I can't say I sat down and wrote out a plan. That's not really ... I've very goal set now but at the time I was not really someone that sat down and made a plan out because that seemed too terrifying. It was very organic in terms of I would start to get people who would be introduced to me on my blog and people who were just getting started and I realized that I was sharing all of these tips that we bulked then into a course. And that was the first thing I did.  I created a course and I charged ten pounds for that course for 30 days of going freelance.

I think that's where it started and then it kind of snowballed from there that I took inspiration from other things. I ran a Facebook group and I often find myself doing conversations or Lives or anything that would snowball into content or something that I could sell. I think in that way it was less scary because it just bit by bit and inspired by what people were already asking me for which made it a lot less scary because you already know that there's demand for it.

I think one of the things that really changed for me a couple three years ago was I went to see Denise Stafford Thomas. Actually, it was at four years ago, so I was pregnant at the time and I remember being really uncomfortable. She did a show in London and she did a talk on women and men, how they sell. Have you seen it?

Yes.

Yeah, and that changed how I saw it completely because I realized I needed to detach myself emotionally sometimes from the sale and stop seeing everything as a personal reflection as me and more about how I can help people. And sometimes you can ask for money for that and it's okay to do that. It's okay for people to have to pay you to help them.

The first part of that is acknowledging that that is even a problem.

Absolutely, and you don't realize you're doing it until you realize ... and I think you'll say when you're a creative, assignment guilt wrapped in it.

And you don't want to do any of the business stuff. I think I'm one of the only creatives in the history of the world that loves doing that, that loves the business side which is why I've gone to where I've gone in what I do, because I've come from the business background, but there isn't many because nobody that's creative really wants to be bogged down with that. I find if I'm not shooting enough and doing more business-y stuff I find in myself that I'm not right. I'm not on balance, you know what I mean? The creative is really important but for a lot of people the creative is everything. It's very hard then to do the other stuff.

Because I think then the more creative you are and the more attached you are to the creative element, that builds again on that guilt of feeling guilty about even trying to charge for anything that you're offering. How dare you enjoy what you do and charge for it?

Absolutely. I like, I love the way that you just worded that with the attach to the creative element. I feel like that is very, very true and I feel like that's why a lot of people do and in all different sorts of businesses, as well. I think when you put yourself, like you've done your freelance business and you've been writing blog posts for other people and you've not had that emotional attachment to that like you had as soon as you went into doing sometime which solely under your name but more with your name being out there. You're kind of behind the scenes when you're writing for other people, aren't you?

Yeah, and I think actually if I was launching a blog now I think I would have found it a lot more intimidating because you go on Instagram and there's kind of the perfect bloggers, you know? The ones that are like super tan, drink green smoothies every day.

Or at least take pictures of themselves drinking the green fluid.

Absolutely.

We don't know if it's actually drunk every day.

No, no, but I think that was ... Back in the day, that makes me feel very old, but I think then it was never about how you were seen. It was about the content and it was quite freeing that actually. It was like we were just a bunch of nerds blogging. I can see why it can be intimidating now but equally I think there's so many interesting issues around blogging that are still out there and available to be creative and monetize them. Yeah, so.

No, absolutely. I completely agree with you. I feel that one of my biggest bug bearers is that word niche and not the word itself and not the concept behind it but the way that I feel 99.9% of people interpret it or have been educated to think of what that means. I think it scares people. It makes them think they've got to go and find a corner somewhere and that's their corner and they can't move out of it. I'm like, "No, that's not, that's not real." What a niche is, is that individual person that you are serving, that you start off serving.'

So for you, you're serving freelancers that want to charge more or whatever it is that they want to do, move out of their agency job and just go and do it theirself. It's a specific person you're speaking to with a specific problem. There's your niche. It's not whether you tell them about your emotional struggles or whether you tell them about your tech stuff that's gonna help them. That is all relevant to that one person. That really is what to me a niche is and I want to spread the word about that a lot more because I feel like that causes a lot of problems for people.

Actually I had an interesting conversation with a client this morning about niches. I often have people come in to me who want to find their niche, but I actually don't, but yes I did force it initially. I think you need to experiment and I think you will find your niche. I don't think you should decide on your niche before it comes to you naturally. Does that make sense?

Yeah.

I think if they forced themselves into a niche that they don't enjoy, it's like choosing your GCSE subject and you go with what you feel like you should do and actually it's better to follow what you're actually passionate about.

This is it. In 2019 being a blogger is about you. It's about the person, the story. It doesn't even have to be about a specific person. It's more the story that you're trying to tell, the experience you're sharing and the experience that you're creating for someone. That is what is going to show you who is vibing on that. I mean, obviously you're talking about something quite specific like freelancing. You're gonna attract a lot of freelancers in theory or people that want to be freelancers, aren't you? If you're coming from a more generalized point of view and you want to kind of step into that fashion world maybe I still feel like we all have our own unique shining beacon that when we stand up and own our businesses it attacks the people that love us and some of the people that don't love us because they, you get a mixture don't you? Mainly it attracts the people that love us and that our story helps and want to hear it.

I feel like that's an organic thing that happens but I do feel like it at the start, getting clear on what it is about you and what story you're going to share and what message it is. That is quite important, I feel, to sit down and nail down. What I've heard from what you've said is that you have done all this.  I don't think you'd realized that you'd done all these things but you had.

Yeah.

You'd had the light bulbs, you'd had the breaking down of what you were going to do and the light bulb around, oh, well this happened. And I figured out that I could bundle that together and that was really helpful to people and they were then going to pay me for it and that was my first thing that I then starting charging for. That is how, if you kind of know what you want to not achieve but who you want to reach out to, I suppose or what difference you want to make. That's how then that organic momentum happens.

Yeah, it does. You're completely spot on.

Tell me about, I know you're really great at apps and tolls and all this tech stuff that I, oh it drives me insane. I like to find an app or a program, like I'm obsessed with this Asana. I like to find things and then stick to 'em like glue. I don't like to evolve. I don't like to evolve my tech. I hate it when there's an update on something. I'm like, "Oh, no. I don't want an update. I've got to learn something." I literally hate it but tell me about the things that you recommend that you love using that have made your life really easy.

I'm like you, I love Asana. I also have a soft spot for Trello.

Yes, I like Trello, obviously visually. I love laying everything out. Asana keeps me so focused and organized in a task related way. I just, them together are just great. I don't want them to change. I don't want them to change.

No, they're brilliant.

They're great.

I use, I've got to be quite careful now because there's one in the room so I might turn it on, but we've got Alexis in a lot of the rooms in our house, which I'm sure are secretly spying on us, but they're brilliant for to-do lists. Always, if I've got an idea and I'm in the bedroom I'll just add it as a note or a reminder. That's really, really useful for that kind of thing and you can do recordings in there and stuff like that. I use that a lot.

I use Dubsado which is more for the business side. That does invoicing, calls tolls for your clients if you want it. I haven't used that yet. It will do things like contracts, proposals, so if you are blogging and you want to send a proposal to a potential brand and things like that, it can do all of that for you. You use all the templates, workflows that will automate it all for you. So I really like Dubsado. I just started using that in the last-

It's a really good one for keeping track of stuff I think.

Yeah, definitely.

And you can see it down as the work flow goes or whatever, you can see where you need to act on stuff and it keeps it in one place.

Yeah. It's brilliant. So I love that. I'm trying to think what else. Anything that allows me to use me gifs more. I am a terrible giffer. I use it all the time.

Yeah, so am I.

I taught my mom and sisters to do it so now we have a WhatsApp that's about 90% gifs. But yeah, those are kind of the key ones I would say I use. Another one is, I'm a terrible app whore in that I will just jump from app to app to app. I'm just constantly trying new apps but those are probably the ones that stick around for me the most.

Tell me about your podcast.

The podcast the Freelancer's Tea Break. It's designed to be three to five minutes, although we occasionally have a longer one so it's perfect for listing to whilst you're waiting for the kettle to boil and it's just quick tips and tricks for freelancers. This month is all about marketing. Last month we talked all about pitching, so a different one each week. January was all about goal setting and things like that. There's a theme each month and then weekly podcasts that are short and sweet so nice and easy to listen to. I'm a big fan of just giving people straight to the point tips and so that's kind of what the podcast is. It's available on pretty much all the platforms.

Amazing. So it's the Freelancer's Tea Break.

Yeah, that's the one, yeah.

Oh so, we should check it all. What prompted you to get in and do a podcast for yourself?

I looked at this the other day. I've been podcasting for eight years on and off. So that means there's been a lot of big gaps. Yeah, I kind of, I remember listing to podcasts at university, and I'm 33 now. So I must have been listening for 12, 13 years at least. I remember listening to some Ricky Gervais one and the radio ones, Scott Mills when he was first on there, And He Said That. So I've always been a very big podcast fan. Yeah, eight years ago I decided to start my own and I was kind of was very flip-floppy about it, but the last six months I've been taking it a lot more seriously. I've already got the whole year planned out content wise.

Yeah, I love, I love podcasts. I think they're the best way of conveying content now. I love blog posts as well but especially as a busy mum, I mean you probably find that sometimes that it's, if you're on the go you sometimes listen to a podcast in the car or while you're cleaning or while you're catching up with work or e-mails or anything like that. It's the fastest way to absorb some information and I love it.

Yes, absolutely. I love that you can just ... It's so easy to just listen to. You can't always look, can you, but podcasts really are a great accessible way, especially when there's something quite quickly. I find that I'm using it more and more to search for something specific.

Yeah, I do the same now. It's almost like I used to use Pinterest as my new Google but now podcasts are my Google really now.

They're much more popular I think. There's such a huge selection of stuff out there now. I think in the last two or three years they have really exploded.

Yeah, they have. I think there's some amazing ones out there. I listen to one called Adults Do Disney, which sounds like porn but it's not. There's a couple that go around to all the Disney parks and they record their journeys. They give their insider tips and information. It's such a relaxing listen. It sounds like it shouldn't be but when you're not going with your own children it's very relaxing.

Yes, yeah I can imagine. And I've noticed a lot more bloggers and floggers converting over to doing a podcast show as well. It seems to be a bit of a Phenomena.

I can never say that either.  Phenomena.

I know, I'm terrible. Phenomena that is taking over. Tell me about the more unusual ways that you can generate an income from your blog. Obviously you can have a podcast show that you can what, place ads in eventually? I think either doing that or it's more of a getting you out there tool. It's more of a marketing tool than a sales tool, a podcast. What other sort of income streams have you figured out in your ten years of blogging?

Oh, some of the ways I do it. So some of the more quirky ways are things like offering advertising space in your news letters. Newsletters now, in the last year, I've noticed there's a real shift and they're kind of going back to how traditional newsletters used to be of a real collection of lots of different bits and information. There's some really good ones out there so I kind of aimed to have mine as an update rather than just like an e-mail. That allows me to then have space for advertising, so that's one way to do it.

I offer courses and I have a membership and I re-trained as a coach three years ago so I now have coaching, but it all ties in around the subject of what I've got up on my blog. It all works really nicely around that. I've been asked to do workshops based on the content and I'm going to be doing a talks reports with This Week about it. That's of course with the university. What else? There's loads of different ways, but like you say, it's kind of, the blog and podcast I feel are like marketing your skills and your knowledge and then everything else kind of comes off that. I've got a Facebook group as well and off the back of that, because it's been quite a successful Facebook group relatively, varying like what it's about. I'm now being asked to do tutorials or training on Facebook groups for other people as well or manage their Facebook groups for them.

There are so many different ways around your blog to do it. I think you don't have to do it the way everyone else is doing it as well. You can think of new ways that you could earn a little bit of extra money without following the crowd. Patrons still are a growing area for bloggers and I think that's something a lot of people could into a lot more.

Okay, that's gonna give people some ideas. I feel like what happens is people get a bit stagnant on the thought that they've got to a certain amount of viewers to be able to get some ads on their blog or they've got to rely on affiliate links and figure out a way to drive just massive amounts of traffic, but actually you have got some amazing ... I've said this on the podcast several times before. You have got some amazing skills as a blogger. As an entrepreneur we all have to do it all at the start. Every job we have to figure out how to do them all so you develop some amazing, amazing skills that you can then transform in different ways.

Package them.

Yeah, and use them to staircase your blog income to where you want to ultimately go. So the world's your oyster. It's limitless, that's what I always say.

Yeah, I and I think actually one thing that a lot of people gets to you is share onto LinkedIn and I've found now sharing my blog posts to LinkedIn leads to more work than any other network I've tried. That's people coming to you and pitching for you how to, what that would be. Those e-mails which wants to write for you to bring content to you and things like that. It's actual potential things that you can get from that.

I feel like everyone wants to do drive themselves insane in social platforms but they don't want to ... I feel some of us have platforms that we love for ourselves and then the thought of selling on them it's like a whole other block, isn't it? So why not just remove that by saying, "Okay, that's my platform. That's where I go to just get away and watch videos of slime and [crosstalk 00:27:04] shaved or whatever. That's where I go for that. This is where I'm going to concentrate on really getting my blog profile up and go where over somewhere that is different and you're just learning it to help your blog. I feel like you don't have to be everywhere and everything for everyone. I feel like just choose somewhere and be consistent and stick to it and show up there for your blog. That's pretty much all there is to it. You don't need to drive yourself insane with it.

No, no. I agree completely.

It's so tempting though isn't it, because I think there's a lot of pressure. This goes back to what you were saying about bloggers now and the way they're kind of interpreted. It's interesting to me because of, I supposed I was going my nan, it is my nan. I spoke to her the other day about it. I can't remember what I was saying. It was something about a podcast I was recording and she said something about bloggers. I could just tell that her interpretation of the blogger isn't really what a blogger is. It's kind of a newspaper's definition of a blogger. That was very interesting to me and I thought I really need to do a bit of research on what lots of different people's interpretation of that word and that job is 'cause it's quite interesting, isn't it?

Yeah, I notice a lot from you and our common content pages are often blogged.

Yeah, isn't Face Book the one that gave them that tie? One of the platforms gave them that tie to them, or YouTube. Somewhere gave them a title and they've just stuck with it.

I think it's also, I think, there's a really interesting difference and this is a generalization. I know it's not everybody but I think there's a big difference between the over 30 bloggers and the under 30 bloggers.

Really?

I mean it could be a kind of content energies thing.

Particular audiences they're talking to I feel.

Yeah, and obviously there's whole sectors in there. The parent bloggers and the career bloggers, the ones that like to keep up on their industry and things like that. I think there's less lifestyle bloggers in the over 30's unless they're in that kind of section like a parent blogger or things like that.

Less kind of Instagram bloggers you mean?

Yeah, yeah, exactly, but then I guess you've got a lot of the Instagram influences who are ... There's that whole group of mum influences on Instagram who are very popular and they originated from having their blog but a lot of them have moved away from their blogging and continue to Instagram. I think that's another thing. I think Instagram has replaced blogging for some people.

That's a more sensible choice.

No us there, is there?

It's not just that it's that you're relying on one place which is proved in the last week that you know, completely unreliable. I'm not saying that there are websites there that it keeps your sites always going to be reliable either but if you have everything in a place that belongs to you and you hold the keys to everything, you can't ... You know, if you ... I did a podcast about this the other day, actually, about becoming an Instagram and blogger because I think it's a great idea and it's an amazing marketing tool for your blog and it can be the forefront of your blog, like your showroom for your blog, in my opinion.

But your blog always needs to be backed up as being a blog because that is yours and no account bans or hacking or whatever can take that away from you, especially when you're relying on it as your business. So yeah, utilize Instagram as a sales tool but your blog always needs to have a blog web presence. That's in my opinion. Any business does. You can't just have a business that is Instagram stories. You can't just have a business that is Facebook stories because if that goes down all your eggs are in that basket and that's all of your income gone.

Yeah and I think actually there's something really nice about having your own private blog where you're not constantly seeing the next person on the feed, whatever they've posting and comparing. That's your personal space and I think it makes you more true to yourself perhaps.

Yeah, absolutely. Well and it's again, it's just more instead of treating your blog or your influence in business as a business, a proper fully fledged, money making, problem solving business. That's really what undercuts it there, isn't it?

Yeah, absolutely.

I think this has been an amazing show. I've loved speaking to you. Is there anything else that you'd like to share, Emma?

No, I've really enjoyed it. I love talking about blogging and freelancing, how it's all changed. It's been really interesting. Thank you very much.

Thank you again. Thanks so much for joining us, Emma. You can connect with Emma over at FreelanceLifestyle.co.uk.

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