I first met Matthew through the online Facebook group, Copywriter Cafe. His advice to other writers was always sound and reflected his hard-won experience with writing and in particular, blogging.
Matthew is the owner of the website, Build Your Own Blog and also runs a community for those who want to learn more about the marketing power of blogging. According to his website, he’s seen companies and sole proprietors reach a wider audience and meet their business goals by implementing his blogging and content marketing tips.
I’ve also thought it was important as a writer to maintain a blog (as you can see from my own site). For a copywriter, it’s a great way to demonstrate your writing and marketing skills. It’s a challenge at times to come up with great topics but I have a feeling Matthew could help you more in that area, if you’re looking. Make sure to check out his website!
So without further ado, here’s the interview:
When you were a little boy, what did you want to be when you grew up? Were you always a writer?
I started out interested in animals and science. Through grade school, I wanted to be a zoologist or a conservationist or a vet. But I excelled at writing, reading, and spelling from an early age. I was in the top 2 percent of reading and writing skills.
I didn’t begin to think about writing as a career until maybe 6th or 7th grade. By high school, I knew for sure that’s what I wanted to do. In 9th grade, I wrote my first article for the school newspaper, was trained in HS journalism in 10th grade, then joined the newspaper staff my final two years and continued writing for publications well into college. I also enjoyed writing Sports related “Letters to the Editor” for the Kansas City Star sports section.
A third-grade assignment sticks out in my memory as an early indicator of my love for writing. Each student had to write a story. I really got into it, and I recall the teacher put everyone’s story up on a bulletin board. Mine was twice as long as anyone else’s.
It was a story about a lion and an alligator having a battle over who would be king of the jungle.
If you weren’t always a writer, how did it develop?
I was fortunate to have good teachers growing up.
I didn’t have a “writer” role model as a kid. I think my own natural inclination to reading and writing subjects along with some role models on television pulled me in this direction. Majoring in English and Communications came naturally to me.
Later on, my development as a copywriter came about thanks to AWAI and a two-year apprenticeship with a mentor named Demian Farnworth during my time as a staff writer.
Another important person in my development has been Steve Roller, who owns the Facebook group, Copywriter Café. We met online, and then developed a friendship over time. He was my “freelance writing coach” for about a year and his advice was invaluable. In 2013, I attended his Vermont writing retreat. Money well spent, that’s for sure.
Did you write for any of your jobs before launching your own freelance business? When did you launch your writing business, by the way?
Back when I was working in mental health, I created monthly newsletters for the school I was based in. Also wrote some articles for my employer’s company newsletter.
I also designed a sign for the school with a logo and slogan. That was one of my earliest forays into branding. It wasn’t stellar, but a start.
Later, I became a staff writer for a well-known television ministry. The internal media division was set up to work like a modern ad agency. I wrote all sorts of things: ad copy, blog content, ghostwriting articles, marketing campaigns, public relations pieces, product descriptions, sales copy, a coffee table photo book…lots of different things.
They had an approval process that normally included 7 people…from the editor to the marketing manager, media CEO, all the way up to the President. So that’s where I developed a thick skin and learned to be flexible when it comes to writing for a living.
I did that for five years.
This experience was beneficial because freelancers doing client work must be collaborative. You are not an island that always gets to create whatever you want. Your clients might want to change what you create. They may not like your ideas. That’s not always a bad thing necessarily. If you keep an open mind and allow yourself to brainstorm with other people, you can end up creating something even better than you originally envisioned. And learn a lot, too.
To be collaborative (and ultimately successful), freelancers must be flexible. All writers have to be flexible and collaborative unless you only write poetry for your cat at home.
To answer your second question, I began my freelance career in July of 2012. Called Kaboomis Copy, I did copywriting and content creation projects for clients both locally and overseas.
Has your background in mental health therapy helped you in doing what you’re now doing? Or has anything in your background come into play with what you’re now doing?
Well, majoring in Communications and English molded me early on. All those studies on literature and media laid a good foundation. I took a few fiction writing classes which taught me a lot about writing and provided feedback on what I was capable of doing. Much of the studies I did for the Communications degree are now outdated (like the VHS video class). I did, however, take some great theory classes along the way that helped me develop a critical eye for media related projects.
Today, freelancers have to educate themselves because the media business keeps changing at a fast pace. The internet is an awesome tool for learning and it takes away our excuses.
As for working in mental health, I think that experience taught me to “stay calm and carry on.”
When was the first time you realized blogging was a big deal and you wanted in on it?
Blogging became a big deal to me when I started freelancing in 2012. Before that, my blogging was purely for fun (I blogged movie reviews and wrote for another blog in a political niche). Suddenly, I had to market myself to earn income, so blogging immediately became crucial. As someone wanting to make a living as a writer, this made blogging even more important.
Blogging shows off your writing skills. In fact, your blog reveals your media skills, design knowledge, creative direction, layouts, use of photos, video production, audio abilities, and so on. Blogging is such a no brainer today for freelancers, today. Even those not in the writing field, like designers, IT, photography–even straight business—should blog.
Blogging provides them all a competitive advantage. The only time it doesn’t work is if someone blogs so poorly that it turns people off.
Blogging today is how most businesses find leads and make sales. Including solopreneurs, freelancers, whatever you call yourself.
That’s how I got interested in the “how to blog” niche and why I started Build Your Own Blog.
What are some of the things you know now that you wished you knew when you first started?
Well, I think it’s sometimes good to not know too much before you jump into a new adventure like freelancing. In many situations, if we knew up front everything that was going to be involved, we would never do it.
If you want to be a freelancer, I suggest you learn “hands on” as you go along. Don’t think you have to know it all first or you need to wait until you think your knowledge level is where it should be. Like I mentioned earlier, things are always changing and there’s always new stuff to figure out, so let your initial naïve enthusiasm carry you awhile.
Making mistakes is the best way to grow.
How did you find clients? (Always a fave topic for freelancers!)
I’ve learned that the most effective way to find clients is to build relationships. For example, thanks to a local networking group, I met and became friends with one other member in particular who referred several projects my way. I also connected with a couple of others who became good friends and they sent me work.
What new freelancers need to understand is it wasn’t joining the group itself, it wasn’t due to my amazingly designed business card. The networking group worked because I made a few strong connections. Not a bunch of superficial acquaintances.
The same has proven true as far as making “online relationships.” You have to get past your insecurities and reach out to people you’ve never met in person. They all don’t have to be “big names.” Some might be at your same level. That’s okay. You never know who is going to refer a great client to you. Don’t let fear keep you from contacting some “big names” though. Start leaving comments on their blog or shoot them an email asking them if you can help them with something.
Another tool for finding clients has been social media. Clients have reached out to me via social media on their own, without me contacting them first. This is not something happening all the time, but it can if you use social media effectively.
I find LinkedIn and Facebook to be the most helpful for attracting clients. What I did was simply work those platforms consistently, making posts relevant to my niche, showing my expertise, posting blog articles I did and sharing other people’s articles, which is part of relationship building. Now and then someone will notice my posts and contact me.
I personally have not found Twitter to be a good source for finding clients, although I still use it and want to keep learning. Also, I’ve met many great contacts on Google Plus, but that platform has also not been strong for me personally when it comes to actual business.
What are some of the traits you think are valuable to have for a writer/freelancer?
Self-discipline is one trait you need. There is nobody supervising you. You have no external accountability making sure you’re coming into work every day and putting in the effort. You might have the desire, but do you have the self-discipline long term?
People have told me straight out they know they are not cut out to work alone from home. So they stay employed. That’s okay. Freelancing is not for everyone.
Perseverance is another valuable trait. Like a sales rep, you’re going to get some “no’s.” And like anything in life, you’re going to face some obstacles. A freelancer needs to persevere through the tough times.
What question do you wish I asked that you’d like to really answer?
I rarely discuss questions like “how much money do you make?” although here I want to make an exception. I wish you had asked me “Are you making a good living as a freelancer?” because I think your readers want to know if what I’m saying holds water.
Although nowadays I’m not technically a freelancer, my previous freelancing brought me to where I am today as a “solopreneur”, or “online business owner.” Those who have copywriting skills should, later on, consider applying those skills to their own business, like I have done with Build Your Own Blog.net.
I won’t get too specific on my earnings, but I can tell you that each year I’ve worked for myself from home has been better than before. This past June I had my first five figure month (net, not gross) and 2015 is shaping up to be the best year yet.