Featured Freelancer: Sara Donaldson: Northern Editorial – Copywriter and Proofreader

Sara Donaldson has been helping brands concentrate on the business side of things since 2001. Sara is in the business of words, and provides the much needed support to brands when they are struggling with their communication.

Let’s have a peak into Sara’s day to day life as a freelance copywriter.

What is your name and what do you do?

Hi! I’m Sara Donaldson and I’m a copyeditor/proofreader and copywriter. I help businesses and authors communicate effectively, with a no-bullshit, practical approach to their writing and branding.


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

I’ve been freelancing since 2001. I didn’t really decide to go freelance, it was thrust upon me when we moved to the north of Scotland with my husband’s career. There was no work for an academic librarian, and no childcare, so as I was also a trained genealogist I went freelance. I retrained as an indexer and editor, and then as a copywriter, specialising in history and heritage. I did decide to stay freelancing as a genealogist though, I’m too passionate about it to totally let it go.


What strategy do you find most effective for attracting new clients?

Talking to people! Living in a remote area, I rely on social media more than in-person conferences and meetings – getting to them can be difficult. And I’m rubbish at marketing myself. Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful ways of attracting clients.


What app or social media platform could you not run your business without, and why?

Twitter! Working with words it’s difficult to use platforms like Instagram effectively, but as I’ve been on Twitter for over 12 years I still love the chat. Talking to peers, such as the weekly #ContentClubUK meetings, or chatting with anyone and everyone helps me feel less isolated, while also making myself known.


Do you research prospects before a call or meeting? If so, what information do you look for?

Sometimes. I’m a trained researcher so it can be difficult not to. Depending on the work, I might look at their website or social media to see how they like to put themselves across to the world. If it’s a business client I want to make sure that we’re on the same wavelength, and if it’s an author I also want to be able to put them at ease. It’s also highlighted some pretty big red flags in the past!


What do you do to help maintain positive mental wellbeing?

After being freelance for so long I’ve realised that sometimes you just have to say no. I now only work with the clients I want to work with, who I feel are a good fit, and I say no to the rest. Positivity also comes from realising that if something isn’t going as expected it’s not going to last forever. I also rarely start work before 10am, because I know my brain doesn’t wake up until then, and tend to do no more that 5 hours a day client work– working with words can be mentally draining so I need to protect my mental health.


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

When I started I didn’t know what to expect as it was an extension of my passion for history. I work way more than I should as I have a tendency to work on the business outside of office hours. But with the peaks and troughs of freelance life I do have downtime every now and then.


What are the most common objections you’ve had from potential clients? How did/do you overcome them?

Price. It’s almost always price (with the time it takes to complete an edit or piece of writing coming a close second). I try to overcome the objections by explaining my years of experience and expertise. I’ve also reached the top tier of my Institute’s membership grade so can demonstrate that when a client works with me they’re in safe hands. I explain the benefits of working with a professional to enhance their product or project.


Have you ever turned a prospect away? If so, why and how did you do it?

Lots. Sometimes it’s because I’m booked up, and sometimes they just aren’t the best fit for me. I always try to frame it in a positive way and direct them towards someone who I know would be better for them. The editing and copywriting community is a close-knit one, so there’s always someone I can direct the client towards.


What do (would) you do when a client ghosts you?!

My research superpower comes into play – I try to figure out why (sometimes it’s a really simple explanation, like life running away with them, illness or holiday), and try to get back in touch. Then, if there’s still no contact, it depends if they’ve paid or not. I ask for a 50% non-refundable deposit before starting work, so if they’ve really gone for good I’d probably cut my losses, unless it was a big amount. I’m covered by my insurance too (With Jack), so I’d get in touch with them for advice.


Are your motivations now the same as they were when you started freelancing?

No. Back then it was a means to an end (of a career). Now I’m more confident that I’m doing the work I love, on my own terms.


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

The freedom and flexibility. It allows me to work with lovely clients all over the world, and be in charge of my own workload and schedule.


What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?

The uncertainty of no pay cheque and the self-promotion. Feast and famine is a thing, and I’m terrible at marketing myself.


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

Imposter syndrome never goes away. You have to fight it head on or it will devour you.


What is your ONE top tip or piece of advice you would offer to other freelancers?

Just be yourself. It will attract the people you’ll want to work with. Don’t be afraid to stand out.


You can connect with Sara and Northern Editorial on Instagram and Twitter.

Visit our other Featured Freelancers here and, if you’re a UK freelancer and would like your profile in our freelancer directory, access to all our events and workshops each month, plus more, then sign up and get your first month free.

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Sara Donaldson

Sara Donaldson