Featured Freelancer: Ellen Manning, Freelance Journalist

Self doubt is extremely common amongst freelancers, from a lack of confidence in areas we’ve had little exposure to previously, to the imposter syndrome. However much of a struggle it is, it’s vital to seek support for that self doubt, whether it’s from a mentor or other freelancers, such as in the Freelance Hereos Facebook group. As this week’s Featured Freelancer – Ellen Manning – writes “You need to get past this to run a successful business and learn to see that people aren’t doing you a favour by giving you work.” However, that’s often easier said than done, as Ellen continues to learn. Here is what else Ellen has learnt on her freelancing journey. Enjoy…

What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?

Ellen Manning, I’m based in Rugby, Warwickshire, and I’m a freelance journalist but also do a bit of copywriting and help a few organisations with their PR.

How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?

I went freelance in May 2016 after being employed full-time for nearly 13 years. I had reached a point in my life where I wanted to make my career work around my life, rather than vice versa. I wanted to pursue a few new areas and becoming freelance was the best way to do that.

What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?

My family and friends were incredibly supportive. All the people close to me knew that I needed to make some changes as I hadn’t been particularly happy and they all seemed convinced that I could make a success of freelancing (though I wasn’t completely). My husband in particular was a huge support. The best part about his support was that while it was overwhelmingly positive, he was also very grounded and encouraged me to make sure we were in a stable position before I took the plunge.

Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?

Not formally. I sought the advice of fellow journalists and looked at advice available from the NUJ (National Union of Journalists), but most of it was using advice from other people.

How would you describe your clients or customers?

As a journalist my clients are national publications, both newspapers and magazines. I also do PR work for a range of people from small businesses to a Business Improvement District (BID) and a major division of a local authority.

Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?

The people I work for employ me as a person rather than an organisation. I like to think that once they have met me, it’s my experience, passion and commitment that persuades them to choose me over others. I like to build up a relationship with the people I work with, whether that’s editors, people who are the subject of features I write, or those who employ me to help them with copywriting and PR. I’ve always believed that building strong relationships is the key to long-term success and this applies in my work as much as in anybody’s business. If you can be seen as a trusted and reliable worker, whether that’s as a journalist or a PR, then people are likely to come back to you and to recommend you to others.

Is being a freelancer what you expected?  Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?

Some parts of freelancing are what I expected, while others are different. I work more hours than I’ve ever worked, and when it’s your own business even that really doesn’t feel enough. The fear of work drying up drives me to say ‘yes’ with little concern for the fact it’s likely to eat into the little time I keep aside for non-work commitments. However, the main driver for me going freelance – the flexibility – is working out exactly as I had hoped. I may work more than ever before, but I do it on my terms and at hours that work around my life, rather than having to reorganise my personal life around the antiquated idea of set hours in an office. Many of the practicalities are what I expected, but the mental drain on the buck stopping with you and you only is far greater than I had anticipated.

What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?

Google Calendar runs my life these days, as does my gmail account. I run my business through these along with Google Drive, as they give me the ability to run my business from any device wherever I am. I also use Trello to try to plan my projects and keep me ahead of my deadlines. I also have an invoicing app called Joist that seems to work for me.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?

Contacts, contacts, contacts. I had a contacts book bulging with relationships I’d been cultivating for over a decade and have been surprised at how many have ended up leading to work. Many of them respected me as being good at what I do and were happy to recommend me to people or give me work themselves. One of my first gigs was thanks to someone I had worked with right at the start of my career and hadn’t spoken to for years but he noticed I was looking for work and introduced me to people who needed someone with my skills.

And for anyone, no matter what sector you’re in, if you’re going to do it, do it wholeheartedly. There isn’t any room for going into it half-baked. You need to throw yourself into it and work your proverbial butt off to achieve what you want to achieve.

What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?

You need to know the value of what you do and understand that people will pay you because you’ve got skills and experience that they don’t. This is quite a personal thing – many of us are plagued by crippling self doubt and find it hard to see what we, or what we do, is worth. You need to get past this to run a successful business and learn to see that people aren’t doing you a favour by giving you work – they’re paying for a service that they know you can provide. I’m still working on this….

What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?

I love the flexibility and the freedom to ‘turn on the tap’ when you want to earn more. You’re not tied to a set salary or reliant on someone else handing you overtime. If you want to earn more, you can pitch for more work. If you want some time off, it’s your decision. It’s this freedom that I think drives most freelancers. That and the buzz of creating your own business and being the master of your own destiny.

What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?

Nobody likes uncertainty but unfortunately this comes with the territory of being a freelancer. If it all goes wrong there’s no safety net – just you. That’s scary.

What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?

As a journalist, I want to broaden the range of publications I write for and expand my portfolio. More broadly as a freelancer, I want to keep honing what I do so I can achieve some kind of balance, both in terms of the hours I work and the work I’m doing, whilst still pursuing my professional dreams.

What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?

I wish I’d realised quite how much support there is out there. Freelancing can seem like an incredibly lonely place, but actually there’s loads of us doing it and support from people who actually ‘get’ what it’s like is absolutely invaluable, especially when you’re having those days when you wonder, ‘what on earth have I done’.


If you’d like to connect with Ellen, then visit one (or all) of the following places:

My website is www.ellenmanning.co.uk

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/ellencmanning/

Twitter – @ellencmanning

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/ellencmanning/

Visit our other Featured Freelancers here and, if you’re a UK freelancer, join us in our Facebook group.