Freelancer Success Stories – Melanie Lockert
Name: Melanie Lockert
Location: Los Angeles, California
Bio: Melanie Lockert is the author of the book Dear Debt, podcast host of The Mental Health and Wealth Show, and is a full-time freelance writer. Her work covers personal finance, small business, mental health, and relationships and has appeared on Business Insider, VICE, Allure, and more. Melanie has an M.A. from New York University, is passionate about music, boxing, and mental health and lives in Los Angeles with her two cats, Miles and Thelonious.
How long have you been doing freelance work?
More than 5 years.
Tell us about your freelance business, in 200 words or less.
I’ve been a self-employed writer for 6 years, primarily in the personal finance space. I also write about mental health, too. On top of freelance writing, I’m the blogger and author of Dear Debt, host of The Mental Health and Wealth Show and founder of Lola Retreat. I’m into a lot of things! Income wise, I earn most of my living as a writer. I create content for financial institutions and FinTech companies.
What do you consider to be your specialty. How does it help you in your business?
Since I write mostly about personal finance, I tend to target clients in that space who maybe need a writer who can sound like an empathetic friend. I do try and fill the gap in many places and write about the taboo topics of mental health and money. Having that as a focus has given me more work.
What made you become a freelancer?
When I started my blog in 2013, I was paying off debt and side hustling all the time. I was pet sitting, being a brand ambassador, working events, and more. I found out that my blogger friends were making money as a freelance writer on other personal finance blogs. I thought if they could do it, so could I. So I tried my hand at it and it turned into a full-time career! I quit my job in July 2014 to become self-employed.
What do you love most about freelance work, and why?
I love having control over my time. I don’t wake up with an alarm unless I have a meeting. I enjoy not being clockwatched while I take a lunch break. I typically work an unusual schedule where I work a few hours in the morning, take 3-4 hours off, then work at night. I like the ability to shift things around and take on different projects. I have much more autonomy and feel that I control my own time which gives me the sense of freedom.
What do you hate about it?
I hate chasing down payments, paying so much in taxes, and paying an arm and a leg for health insurance. Also, work tends to be feast or famine and it’s very difficult to find balance when self-employed.
Tell us about your first paid job. How did you land your first client?
I do! It was another blogger. I cold pitched and they said yes.
Do you think aspiring freelancers should take unpaid work to gain experience? Why or why not?
Not necessarily. I am not a fan of free work because it’s so much harder to ask for pay when you’ve been working for free. If you need experience, I recommend blogging or writing on Medium. If you need bylines to show credibility, I’d limit it to 3 guest posts to high-quality sites and that’s it. In general, I don’t think freelancers should work for free. In this case, low pay is better than no pay.
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Do you feel you’re charging what you’re worth?
I think I do sometimes. I’ve been known to undercharge in the past and it’s something I’m working on. It also depends on the client and the project. The client and project will affect what I charge. If it’s a nonprofit or I’m passionate about it, I might accept lower pay. But for more content marketing with a company, I’ll charge a higher rate. In my early days, I was not making much money as a writer. I was making like $25 to $100 per blog post. Then I had to make a shift and not write for other bloggers, but companies who had larger budgets. Ideally, I’m writing for at least 50 cents a word but that doesn’t always happen.
Describe your process for finding new clients? Where do you look?
I have found clients through Contently, Facebook groups, Twitter, friends of friends, my blog, and editors I’ve worked with. I recently have perfected the art of finding pitch requests on Twitter by using strategic hashtags. I’ve been able to secure some work that way. Also, word of mouth is a big one.
Have you ever had to ‘fire’ a client? If so, why and how did you do it?
I have. There comes a time where maybe you can’t work for that rate any more or you’re doing work that is soul-sucking or makes you feel like you have a job again. I have sent an email with 2 weeks notice and thanking the client for their time but letting them know I am going in a different direction moving forward.
Name 3 tools (apps, equipment) that you can’t live without. What makes them so great?
Google Docs, Asana, Quickbooks Self-Employed
What is your #1 productivity hack?
Using Focusmate. You virtually co-work with a stranger in 50-minute blocks. Having someone else keep me accountable helps me focus and get work done.
Do you outsource tasks? Why or why not? If so, which ones?
I outsource podcast editing and design work. This past year I finally decided to stop being a cheapskate and just admit I’m not good at certain things. Outsourcing these two tasks helps me focus on what I’m good at, which is writing, creating, etc.
In your opinion, what is the most important skill required for freelance work, and why?
Every freelancer should learn how to cold pitch. There’s an art to it. Learning this skill will ensure you will never be without work for too long.
Do you consider yourself a strong time manager? How do you stay organized?
I feel I’m pretty good with my time and productive. I do have days I linger on Twitter for too long or days I don’t want to work. But generally speaking, I feel pretty good about my time management.
Do you also work a 9-5? If so, how do you balance it with your freelance business?
No! I quit my job in July 2014 and have been self-employed since.
Where do you do most of your work?
Home now. I used to work in coffee shops a few times a week pre-pandemic.
Do you use a co-working space? No.
Name an entrepreneur/freelancer/influencer who inspires you. What is it about their story/message that resonates?
My friend Kristin Wong inspires me. She has a great career writing for The New York Times and other outlets and always has such thoughtful and poignant writing.
Name 1 thing you would do differently, if you were starting over today?
Go after higher paying clients sooner.
What is your #1 tip for aspiring freelancers?
Keep creating and pitching, all the time.
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