Interview – Rachel Smith, freelance journalist, writer and founder of Rachel’s List

At Rounded we're incredibly fortunate to have Rachel as a loyal user. As an accomplished writer with more than 15 years in the biz, she now successfully juggles freelance life, motherhood and entrepreneurship. Rachel's freelance journey started when she got made redundant from her job... twice.

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Tell us about yourself – what do you do and what were you doing before you went freelance?

I’ve been freelancing since about 2001, which is a long time to not head to an office on a daily basis!

When I started freelancing, I did mainly magazine features. I was a movie reviewer for 10 years, and a travel editor for a while, which was awesome. These days, I do less travel writing but I still write about movies a lot, and I do a lot of interiors writing and a lot of health and business writing, too. I also build websites for other people (having had a lot of experience doing that for myself!)

I am also the founder and co-owner of Rachel’s List, a recruitment site for the media and digital industries. It started as a very small networking email between me and a group of freelancers, but it grew fast and became very popular with editors, because it was a super-fast way to recruit people. Eventually, it got too large to be handled by my email client and at the same time I joined forces with a fellow freelancer, Leo Wiles, and we had a website and a proper jobs board built.

Today we have thousands of job-seekers in media and digital: journos, content producers, copywriters, editors, designers – all kinds of creatives. Everyone gets pre-approved before they’re allowed to join, which saves job-posters a lot of time and ensures they’re targeting the right people in their space.

How did you decide that freelancing was the right thing for you?

Actually, I didn’t. I was ‘forced’ into freelancing when I was made redundant twice in six months. The first time was when a start-up I was working at went under. I then worked for a few months for a TV studio which made the entire content department redundant, too. So I had little choice really, but I was also really pigheaded and determined that I would control my income from then on, by working for myself. That was both the hardest and the best professional decision I ever made.

What are some of the best aspects of your profession?

I knew from a really young age that I wanted to write. I had my first piece of writing published in the primary school bulletin – a poem – when I was about 5 or 6, and from then I was pretty much hooked. I feel incredibly lucky that I can get paid to do something I am passionate about, and that I have a lot of freedom to write about things that interest me. I’m also a massive introvert and knew when I went freelance that I was carving out a life that I’d long dreamed about. I love spending huge amounts of time on my own playing with words. It might drive some people bonkers, but time on my own to write – it’s my idea of heaven!

What motivates you? How do you overcome difficult moments?

I’m motivated by the sheer love of what I do, by the life I’ve created, and wanting to keep working for myself. There are always difficult moments and slow patches, for me and all freelancers I know. It’s really important to have a support network as a freelancer during these times. It can be so isolating and just bouncing ideas off a colleague, getting advice, venting about the situation and getting a kick up the bum can really help bust you out of a funk and thinking of new ways to move forward and new income streams to possibly tap into. I always try to think positively about how far I’ve come, which helps.

You’ve recently revamped your Rachel’s List website. What’s the plan for the future?

Our ultimate goal is to keep growing and become the number one place employers think of when they need to hire a journalist, content producer, copywriter, designer, editor, proofreader or anyone in a creative field. We’ve re-launched with some great job postings to suit all employers – whether you need a full-timer, someone to fulfill a short project or even want to be hands off and let us filter candidates for you.

I’m also working with another freelancer to create a podcast about content and digital which I can’t wait to unveil. And we have some fantastic ideas for our new Toolkit with e-courses and other resources we hope will really help freelancers. It’s an exciting time for us!

What are some of the biggest challenges Australian freelancers face?

I think one of the biggest which has been reported on widely is the issue with payment and not being paid promptly. I remember when I started out, cash flow was so much easier. It was so much easier to save and to get ahead. These days, it’s not unusual to have to wait 6 weeks or more for an invoice to be paid which is absolutely ridiculous for a small business trying to stay afloat.

How important is the accounting side of things? How does Rounded help you with staying on top of things?

So important. As a freelancer you have to become very confident talking about money, negotiating rates with clients, chasing outstanding payments. That’s a massive learning curve and if you’re a creative person, the numbers side of things can be a challenge (well it is for me anyway!).

It has been a lot easier since I started using Rounded but not just that. It has made me so much more productive and it keeps me accountable in ways I hadn’t expected. I set goals and work my ass off to meet them and I never had a structure before to really help me do that so I really value it as a freelance tool.

I just loved the simplicity of it and the user-friendly interface. Also, it came highly recommended via another freelance group I’m in.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned on your freelance journey so far?

So many things – it’s hard to distil it down to just one. But, if I had to, I would say that the freelancers I know who survive and thrive in the biz are those that think laterally all the time, become very adept at tapping into new markets, making connections and taking advantage of opportunities.

You also have to become very good at reinventing yourself. Learning new skills and adapting to the ebbs and flows of the market. If you can do that and get to the point where it’s an automatic thing, you’ll be OK.

Can you share some tips for aspiring freelancers looking to start working for themselves?

Firstly, toot your own horn. Let everyone you know that you’ve hung your shingle out and are available for XYZ (whatever it is that you do). Get a shit-hot online portfolio and build a solid social media following. Be visible; post often with relevant, useful content. Become known in your niche. Be confident. Trust in your skills, your abilities and your worth. Don’t set your fees too low. Don’t accept crappy rates if you can help it. Oh, and enjoy the ride.

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