The HomeWorkingClub podcast is back, with an insightful and inspiring interview with a HomeWorkingClub success story. After following advice provided on this very site, Lyn McNanee, a New Zealand-based teacher-by-trade has built a new career in freelance writing. She now has more work than she can handle, and only takes on work she knows she will enjoy – a lovely position to be in.
Lyn tells us how she got started, and provides advice for aspiring freelancers.
Podcast listeners who’d like to follow in Lyn’s footsteps can grab a 20% discount on my Freelance Kickstarter Course by signing up here using code PODCAST (offer valid until 31st July 2021).
Included in this podcast:
- Introductions (0:20)
- How Lyn got started in freelance writing (2:02)
- The positives of the freelance lifestyle (7:22)
- The negatives of freelancing (10:06)
- Lyn’s advice for new freelancers (15:47)
- Lyn’s experience of the Freelance Kickstarter course (18:29)
Supplementary Links and Information
We have edited some repeat words and unclear passages to enhance readability.
BEN: Welcome to the HomeWorkingClub podcast. I’m Ben Taylor, the founder of the HomeWorkingClub, and I’m here today with Lyn McNamee, one of my longest-term readers of the website and someone who’s made quite a success of herself as a freelance writer recently.
I thought it would be a lot of fun to get her on to talk about her experiences and hopefully inspire some other readers to go forth and conquer their freelancing goals.
I’d like to start just by saying hello to Lyn and getting her to introduce herself. So, if you could just tell me a bit about who you are and what you’ve been doing, that would be great.
LYN: Ah, hi Ben. Thanks very much for having me on the podcast. It was quite an honour to be asked. I live in New Zealand. I live on a farm very much down in the south of New Zealand. And, as well as being a farmer, I’m also a teacher… or I was a teacher until I became a writer.
Ah, yeah. I’m not young. I’m 62 years old. So I’m living proof that you don’t have to be young to get started on a new career. Which was my whole reason for coming to HomeWorkingClub in the first place… because I wanted to start on a new career in something that I really had always wanted to do, which was writing.
BEN: That’s great. So how did you discover HomeWorkingClub in the first place? Do you remember? It was a few years ago, I think.
LYN: It was. I would not be surprised if I was one of your longest term readers because the group was very small when I found you.
I’m pretty sure that I just found you on the Internet. I think I was probably googling “home working” and you came up.
BEN: That’s how I hope people will find me.[laughing]
So, can you tell us a bit about the work that you do now?
LYN: Yes. Well, I took your advice and decided that I would start on Upwork. I really like Upwork because it has found me lots of good clients, and it’s quite easy, and they handle everything… I really like that about Upwork.
So I got started. I set up my profile and it wasn’t very good, but it was a start. And someone agreed to hire me, which was really cool.
He didn’t pay me very much money, I think he paid me $10 an article. And it was about photography and I knew nothing about photography so I had to research everything he sent me… every topic so much! I was working for, like, one cent an hour. But it didn’t matter because I was really learning a lot when I was writing those articles.
Now what I do is I advertise myself as repurposing content. So, lots of people want content in different forms on their websites and in their businesses. So, they have a podcast but they’d like an article about it, or they’ve got a video and they want an article to accompany it, or they’re doing a virtual summit and they want notes to go with it. That’s the writing that I do.
BEN: Fantastic. I find that quite interesting because that’s a very specific sort of niche of writing, repurposing content.
Is that something that you went into it thinking that that would be a good thing for you to do? Or is it something that kind of came up and you thought, “I enjoy this so I’m going to continue trying to do more of it.”
How did that come about? That that ended up being your niche?
LYN: Well, it was a bit of both, really.
I had to think, “Well, what can I write about?” And the obvious thing, being a teacher, would be education. But I’ve been a teacher for a long time and the sorts of things that teachers do these days… I don’t actually know much about. I’m a bit old fashioned. And also, I wasn’t really interested in doing that. So I discounted that.
And then I thought, “Well, I don’t really know a lot about anything.” So I thought, “Well, lots of people want their content repurposed… that’s going to be my niche.” And that way they do the research and I get to do the writing, which is the bit that I really love.
BEN: That’s a very, very smart way of going about it, I have to be honest.
I talk to a lot of aspiring freelancers and the thing I say is to try and find a specialist area, something that you know a lot about. So, when I started doing freelance writing it was about technology and cybersecurity and all that kind of stuff. It was work that paid well… tech work always does seem to pay well… but it was never something that I was particularly interested in writing about.
Quite often I do have people ask me, “Well, what do I do if I don’t feel that there’s something that I’m particularly knowledgeable about/passionate about?” And it seems to me like you’ve actually found a very clever way of making your niche span absolutely everything.
LYN: Yes, yeah. And I’m in the position now where I only ever accept work that I actually want to do.
LYN: Sometimes it might not pay very much but it’s balanced out by being something that I’m super interested in learning about… and so I take that as part of my payment.
BEN: Yeah. Do you ever have it the other way round, where you do jobs that pay well but you’re doing them even though you’re not that interested in them… because the money is good?
LYN: Um, no. Nobody’s ever offered me that much money… [laughing] yet.
I have turned down a lot of jobs that I’ve just gone, “Nah. I’m not interested in that.” Or sometimes I’ve regretfully turned them down because I’ve actually got too much on. And I’ve said, “Come back to me. You know, if you can further down the track, come back to me and see if I’m free.” And some of them do!
BEN: That’s fantastic. So, you’ve literally gone from a standing start to having more work than you can manage now?
LYN: Yes, and I’ve got a real variety too… I write for a podcast, I write for some New Zealand companies, I write for American companies, I write for someone in Europe. Yeah, I’ve even written for you!
BEN: You have indeed. Yeah, I’d forgotten about that.
LYN: That’s really exciting too, you know, to have such a big variety of people and countries.
BEN: Yeah. Obviously anyone listening to this is only going to hear the audio, but I love watching how animated Lyn is when she’s talking about this. It came out also in the chat we had before we started recording… just both of us talking about different clients that we have got and how much we were enjoying certain things.
This is exactly what HomeWorkingClub has always been about – helping people to find work that they truly enjoy doing!
You said that you would now describe yourself as a freelance writer. So, what would you say are the big positives of that lifestyle?
LYN: Um, I always wanted to do two things in life – I wanted to teach, and I wanted to write. And I taught for nearly 40 years and so now to get to do my other big love, that’s a huge positive. To be able to do what I want.
To not have to leave home is another big positive. I can get up in the morning, have my breakfast, have a routine and then… I don’t have to travel. I can just sit down on my couch or sit down at the desk and write. If it’s hot in the summer I put my work outside and I set myself up on the porch with a couch and a desk and work out there where it is cool.
Um, being able to have an appointment whenever I want is really cool. So many people have to, you know, schedule their doctors or their dentists or whatever around their work. And I can just schedule my work around that, around my appointment.
I can go to the gym if I want to. Take a break if I want to. And no one tells me off… so long as I do the work and get it done on time. [laughs]
BEN: It is interesting that you say that about appointments because that would be right at the top of my list as well. The example I always use is that I’ve never had to miss one of my children’s Nativity plays or parents’ evenings or something like that.
Do you find, like me, that now when you talk to friends and stuff and they say, “I’ll have to see if I can get the time off.”, things like that… it just feels completely alien now?
LYN: Oh, absolutely.
This might sound a wee bit strange because… in New Zealand we have been COVID free for quite a long time so we can travel quite freely… So my children, three of them live in the North Island, which is a long way from where I live, and I just love the freedom of being able to say, “Oh, there’s a cheap airfare, I’m going to come and visit you and I’ll bring my laptop.”
And I can work from their houses just as easily as I can work for mine.
BEN: That’s fantastic. Yeah, it’s that ability to be spontaneous.
Similarly, I always do it on the first properly hot and sunny day of the year… we wait a long time for that here in the UK! Every year, when that day arrives, that’s it… I’m dropping everything and I’m getting out in that sunshine.
The thought of actually being in an office, looking out the window, seeing that sunshine and not being able to be out there is… a horrible feeling.
So, you’ve certainly highlighted some wonderful positives, but there must be some negatives as well. So what would you say they are?
LYN: Um, probably the biggest one is that I have to work until the work is finished. And if it’s taking me a long time… and that’s one of the big things I’m still learning, how to write faster, how to work faster… so if it takes me a long time, I just have to keep going until it’s done.
That might mean working late into the night, several nights in a row, because I have got a deadline and I just have to get it done.
That’s probably one of the biggest negatives.
When I was beginning, just finding clients was hard. You know, putting yourself out there. I had to have the mindset of, “It doesn’t matter.” I could scroll through Upwork and there would be nothing… nothing, nothing, nothing… as far as I look there is nothing!
And I would just remind myself that I’ve found a client and I will find another one. If there is one there are going to be more. But that was hard in the early days, going through and not finding somebody.
And then work ending is another one. So even long-term clients… their work isn’t necessarily going to go on forever. You know, um, the podcast might end and that would be a big gap my life that I would have to fill… in my work life. Yeah.
BEN: Yeah, that is a tricky one. Something I’ve said in an article before is that losing a client as a freelancer doesn’t mean that you’ve done something wrong.
I remember, very early in my freelance life, I’d ended up with one big client, who was quite a significant proportion of my income… this is when I was doing IT consultancy… and I got called into the office one day and basically told that they were being bought out by another company.
Their directors were all very celebratory because they’d obviously been acquired and everything, but this company had its own IT department. So it was just a question of, “Well, we’re ever so sorry. You’ve obviously been a huge part in helping us grow to the point that we’ve been acquired, but there’s going to be no more work for you after next month or the month after.”
LYN: Oh, hard.
BEN: I was straight on the phone to my accountant, saying, “What happens if you can’t pay your tax bill?”
So, yeah, that kind of lack of security is an inevitable downside of freelancing. And I think I’d have to say it’s not for everybody.
But the wonderful thing with Upwork is that every single day there are people publishing hundreds of new requirements. There’s always new stuff coming along.
I’d like to just stay on Upwork for a moment because you’ve said how much you like Upwork.
LYN: Yes, I do.
BEN: Upwork gets a lot of negative press as well. How do you feel about that? What do you think is bad about Upwork?
LYN: I actually haven’t found any negatives with it yet.
Yes, they charge you. But they have their business and they’re giving me a service. You have to pay for the services that you get and they give a lot.
It’s not just the clients, they handle all the money. So, they make sure that the client pays and they pay me. They send it to my bank account once a month but, you know, it could be as often as I asked them to.
Everything is handled for me, all I have to do is actually get the client and do the work. They handle everything else. And I’m quite willing to pay for their service.
When you have been with a client for a while the fee reduces. I think you have to earn a certain amount and then they drop the fee… they halve it, in fact.
Also, from my point of view, because they charge in US dollars and I work in New Zealand dollars, even with all the fees taken off, I still get at least, if not more, than the amount that I’m shown when you take the exchange rate into account. So, I feel quite happy with it.
BEN: Well, that’s really good. And I mean, I do think a lot of the negativity for Upwork is around people who just aren’t willing to put in that initial work.
You talked about your very first job and how on the photography stuff you spent so much time researching. And that reflects my own experience with Upwork. I did a few jobs for tiny, tiny amounts of money because you’re building up the experience of using the platform, of dealing with clients, of all of it.
And also getting that all-important feedback… good feedback from clients, which makes other clients, better clients, hire you.
I will put in the show notes our very, very detailed Upwork review for anyone who wants to learn more about the platform.
LYN: Yeah. They give you lots of advice. They give you lots of ways to showcase yourself. They’ve really stepped up in the last year, I think.
I’ve seen lots of changes just in the last year in the way they present themselves. They’ve had a podcast, which was really interesting. They send you interesting information about freelancing and home working. Yeah, it’s really good.
BEN: That’s great.
So, what advice would you give to aspiring freelancers? People who are just thinking, “I’d like to give this a go. What should I do?”
LYN: I’ve thought about that. I think my number one piece of advice would be: Don’t take it personally.
By that I mean, if you take any criticism, any negative feedback at all, don’t take it personally. Don’t get all precious and go, “I’m not working for you anymore… Oh no, my feelings are hurt.”
I always say to a client, straight up, “Look, if there is anything you don’t like, tell me about it. Please tell me about it. Because I can’t fix it if I don’t know you don’t like it.” And if they reject you… well, that’s just life, you know.
I just never, ever take it personally. A rejection or negative feedback. And sometimes it takes a while before you can, um, gel with the clients. And if they don’t tell you what’s wrong, then how would you make it better? And get more towards what they actually want?
BEN: Yeah. I think any first job for a new client is like an interview, essentially. It’s so important to just go completely… bend over backwards, do everything possible to please a new client.
BEN: It gets easier. You internalise the guidelines that you’ve been given, especially with writing and stuff like that. I always think the first article for a new client, you should expect it to take ages and for your hourly rate to whittle down to next to nothing while you’re doing it. But it gets easier and easier, the more work you do.
So, anything else that you would suggest for people who are just going to make their first steps?
LYN: Yeah. Keep trying. Keep trying. It took me… I think I had to have about 15 or 20 interviews before somebody was willing to take a chance on me.
I think you should really enjoy it. I don’t think it’s a good life for anyone who doesn’t really enjoy what they’re doing.
LYN: Just like blogging.
BEN: Well, I love the fact that you say that you’re only taking on jobs that you want to do, that you’re interested in. I mean, what a wonderful position that is to be in!
LYN: I will say, though, that I’m not living on the income all by myself because I do combine it with my husband’s income. So, we’ve got two incomes coming in. But yeah, it’s a lovely position to be in.
BEN: Yeah, it sounds like it.
So, I’m just going to ask one more thing. We’re talking about freelancing and we’re talking about Upwork, so I’m going to have a bit of a shameless plug for my Freelance Kickstarter course, which you took. You actually helped me with the beta testing of it.
So, Freelance Kickstarter is a course, that I have, which introduces Upwork, it helps people with how to look for jobs, how to identify good jobs, bad jobs, and literally how to get started doing exactly the kind of thing that Lyn and I’ve been talking about.
So, what did you think of Freelance Kickstarter? Did it help you?
LYN: Yes. Yes, I enjoyed doing the course very much.
I really liked some of the sections around insurance and accountants and taxes. It taught me a lot of things I hadn’t thought about, even though by that stage I had got started in freelancing. It was really helpful around setting goals and all sorts of the things that you say… I really enjoyed it doing it.
I did find it useful and I’ve used a lot of the information that you gave. I used that when I got started on Upwork.
BEN: That’s good to hear.
So, what I will do when I release this podcast is, I’ll set up a coupon code for the course. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes if anyone wants to buy the course after listening to the podcast. If you use the coupon code PODCAST, you will get 20% off the price of the course.
So, um, that’s all the selling I’m going to do. This isn’t about just plugging the course but I did want to mention that it is right there. And if this is the kind of lifestyle that appeals to you, then it is… it’s all about helping you achieve that kind of lifestyle.
LYN: It will certainly tell you a lot more about it and you’ll go into it with a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into, I think.
BEN: Yeah. I would also just like to emphasize that I’ve not paid Lyn anything for being on the podcast or for saying this. This is purely about… I like to see success stories at HomeWorkingClub, people who’ve actually followed the advice that I’ve been giving and taken it forward.
I think it’s lovely just to see how happy Lyn is with what she’s doing!
I’m really, really grateful to you for taking the time out, especially because, as we’re recording this, it’s early in the morning here in the UK but late at night in New Zealand. So, I really appreciate Lyn staying up in order to record this podcast.
I hope you found it interesting. Lyn, thanks again for coming.
LYN: You’re very welcome, Ben. I’m very grateful for all your advice and all the articles that I’ve read on HomeWorkingClub over the years because I don’t think I would be doing freelancing… I don’t know if you remember, but we had a consultancy call back when I had a blog.
BEN: Yeah, I remember.
LYN: Yeah, and you gave me some very good advice. In the end, I had to make a choice: would I go the freelance route or would I go the blogging route? That’s what helped me decide I wanted to be a freelancer.
LYN: I still would love to be a blogger, but I haven’t had time to write for my blog in over a year and I feel awful about that. That’s a negative.
BEN: Well, it is very hard to juggle the two things. I mean, I’m still running HomeWorkingClub and other sites and freelancing myself. Sometimes you just don’t have time to do all the things that you would like to do.
But at least as a freelancer. If you did find some time opened up, you could say, “You know what? For the next few months, I’m going to spend a day a week on a blog.” You don’t get to do that in a paid office job because you’ll find your boss doesn’t want you to spend a day a week working on a blog.
So, you never know… you might get that other way again soon as well.
Okay, thank you everyone for joining us. I do apologise if there have been a few metallic-y data noises and cutouts during this podcast. But this is just the inevitabilities of trying to record a podcast between the UK and New Zealand during COVID. It is the only way we could do it, so I will edit it down as best I can. And I hope it’s been a good listen for you anyway.
So, thanks again, Lyn, for being with us. And thank you for listening to the podcast. I’ll see you next time.
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben has worked freelance for nearly 20 years. As well as being a freelance writer and blogger, he is also a technical consultant with Microsoft and Apple certifications. He loves supporting new home workers but is prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.