Freelancer Success Stories – Catherine Alford
Name: Catherine Alford
Location: Detroit, Michigan
Bio: Catherine Alford is a nationally recognized financial educator who partners with top brands to encourage and inspire people to take on a more active financial role in their families. She is also an accomplished financial writer and the founder of CatherineAlford.com, an award-winning personal finance blog that she created in 2010.
How long have you been doing freelance work?
More than 5 years.
Tell us about your freelance business, in 200 words or less.
These days, I consider myself an online entrepreneur vs. a straight freelance writer like I started. I am a blogger and own/co-own three different personal finance websites. I still freelance write for a few personal finance blogs but mostly I work on my own brand now and partner with financial companies as a video talent and script writer to create online content. I also just got my first book deal to write a personal finance book for moms, due to come out in 2021.
What do you consider to be your specialty. How does it help you in your business?
I enjoy working with large financial brands to create content that helps families with their money. I market myself to them in person at conferences or they email me after finding my work online when searching for someone to represent their company in videos and online content.
What made you become a freelancer?
In 2011, I moved to the Caribbean island of Grenada because my husband got accepted to medical school there. I arrived fresh from graduate school with no job and no work visa. But, I had my blog and I really, really needed to make money to live. So, I pitched relentlessly and used my blog as a portfolio to get freelance writing jobs. That time on the island launched my business and enabled me to become self-employed by the time I returned to the States.
What do you love most about freelance work, and why?
Freelancing, and entrepreneurship in general to me, is all about personal freedom. I love having control over my day, deciding what projects I want to do, and never having to ask anyone to approve time off.
What do you hate about it?
It’s hard to turn it off. When you work from home from a home office, it’s hard to separate work from family life. I often work on the weekends and during weird times of day.
Tell us about your first paid job. How did you land your first client?
I’ll never forget it. I got paid $8/post to write for a budget fashion/beauty website. I thought I was getting hired to write about money saving beauty tips, but I ended up writing about tons of other topics. One of the first articles they assigned me was “How to Pop a Pimple.” True story.
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Do you think aspiring freelancers should take unpaid work to gain experience? Why or why not?
The only “unpaid” work I would do is to write free guest posts on other blogs. That way, when you put together a portfolio or a pitch email to get your first clients, you can show that several other websites thought your work was good enough to publish. But, there are too many paying jobs out there to write for free. If you can’t find paying jobs, you’re not looking hard enough. They’re everywhere.
Do you feel you’re charging what you’re worth?
Yes. I am extremely passionate about charging high rates for my work and encouraging other writers to do the same. I got there by befriending other financial writers and having open, honest conversations about rates. When I started doing brand work and video work, I did the same thing. When I got my book deal, I talked to other authors who were published by the same publisher and found out what their royalty deals and advances were so I could negotiate. Your network is everything. Talking about what you’re paid shouldn’t be taboo. In fact, it’s necessary if you want to keep moving up price-wise.
Describe your process for finding new clients? Where do you look?
Lately I’ve been focused on my own brand but I do still freelance a little bit. All the clients I work with now came from client referrals or from other writers who couldn’t take on the work and recommended me instead. In my course, Get Paid To Write For Blogs, I give several detailed lessons on how I grew my business in the beginning, though, and all the tricks I used to find jobs in the early stages.
Have you ever had to ‘fire’ a client? If so, why and how did you do it?
Oh yes. I’ve left several clients who had rude editors or didn’t have good boundaries. I just email them, give them notice that I’m stopping after a certain date, and send them a final invoice.
Name 3 tools (apps, equipment) that you can’t live without. What makes them so great?
Google Docs, Brain.fm, & SelfControl app.
What is your #1 productivity hack?
Take your phone in your hand and walk it to the room that’s farthest away from your office, put it down, leave it there, and then walk all the way back to your office/desk and work.
Do you outsource tasks? Why or why not? If so, which ones?
Sometimes, but rarely. There have been a handful of moments where I had too many deadlines at once, and I’ll bring another writer in to help outline articles, put in research links, etc. to help make the process faster for me.
In your opinion, what is the most important skill required for freelance work, and why?
Grit. If you take every rejection personally or every time an editor ignored you to heart, you won’t get very far. You have to be relentless about pitching in the beginning and don’t let up until you have a completely full plate and a full-time income.
Do you consider yourself a strong time manager? How do you stay organized?
I give myself a B- in time management. I have to set up website blockers, put my phone in another room, and put Brain.fm in my ears to be productive. It’s taken a lot of habit-forming work for me to be disciplined and manage my time wisely. I’ve been self-employed for many, many years and I still have a lot of work to do in this area.
Do you also work a 9-5? If so, how do you balance it with your freelance business?
No, I’ve been self-employed for 6.5 years now.
Where do you do most of your work?
I have a pretty, pink home office that I love writing in.
Do you use a co-working space?
Name an entrepreneur/freelancer/influencer who inspires you. What is it about their story/message that resonates?
I am obsessed with Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. She’s all about positive energy, thinking abundantly, and giving back.
Name 1 thing you would do differently, if you were starting over today?
#NoRegrets – Every lesson, every mistake, was part of the journey and helped me become the entrepreneur I am now.
What is your #1 tip for aspiring freelancers?
10x your work ethic. You can write a lot more than you think you can in a day. You can pitch a lot more people than you think you can in a month. Turn off Netflix and lean in to your business. Go nuts. Self-employment is worth it.
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