Week 4

There’s no trying to hide it; I previously attempted to mask a fairly uneventful week by saturating it with my thoughts on the lessons that I’ve learned and reflecting on my progress to date. Yawn…

So, no more sugar-coating, let’s just get it all out of the way now and say that Week 3 was fucking shit. Not just shit; fucking shit.

Apologies for the profanities, but at least it’s emphasised the extremity of the point I was making and we can now move on.

And on that notion, I am very happy to report that Week 4 has been the polar opposite of my experiences over the previous seven days, and the productivity is all owed to a knight in shining armour that came in the most bizarre form.

You see, on Sunday, I was undertaking a spot of housework and needed to pull the clothes maiden out of the built-in wardrobe – a generally menial task in usual circumstances, but was rendered somewhat complex in this instance due to an internal overcrowding issue.

In the struggle that ensued, I felt a slight twinge and then a sudden rush of pain in the lower-back area… Shit.

When my girlfriend arrived back from the supermarket – having completed her end of the ‘you-nip-to-the-shop-and-I’ll-do-the-laundry’ bargain – she found me crumpled on the bed, writhing in agony with my duties still unfulfilled. To make matters worse, she extracted the maiden from the closet with ease. Typical.

That was that then, I’d put my back out and so spent Monday between the sofa and bed, unsuccessfully trying to ascertain how to assume the most comfortable position. However, there was to be a silver lining to my cloud.

As I had freed myself from all other non-back related distractions, I was therefore able to work my way through a number of articles which I had lined up for that week, thus providing me with a taster of what my desired lifestyle would be like.

The work was actually piling up; firstly, the betting agency that employed my services for the ten Melbourne Cup blogs asked for an additional four on top. Also, the staff relocation article was ready to complete, after the questionnaires/interviews had been returned. Then there was two or three blogs required for my football site through the week, so all-in-all, I had a lot on my plate.

However, in the space of one morning, I had completed six of the Melbourne Cup blogs – all I have to do now is get one posted every other day – along with the staff relocation article and for the first time, I was able to put an hourly rate to my efforts.

I was shocked to find that I earned $80 per hour for that morning’s work – motivating to say the least.

I have since received repeat business from the ‘staff relocation’ client, and coupled with the extra work which the betting company requested, I’d say that’s also very positive.

In regards to the pieces which I’ve undertaken purely for experience; I had a Skype meeting with the ‘what’s on’ guide client on Sunday and that will hopefully pick up over the next few weeks. Apparently, there a chance to earn some decent figures down the line too, but for the moment, I’m just happy to gain further know-how.

Also, my environmental client from back home did eventually get in touch; they loved the article and it has since been posted on their website.

The final thing to report for this week is that I’m putting the finishing touches to my travel blog pitch for The Guardian newspaper. My friend on the inside is helping me tweak it, so that should be submitted by the start of next week at the very latest. Please keep your fingers crossed for me. And your toes. And anything else that crosses.

At the point where things appear to be moving at a steady pace, it wouldn’t be wise to take a road-trip to Sydney with your family that you’ve not seen in two years. However, that is exactly what’s happening.

My family arrives in the early hours of Tuesday morning and whilst I’ll be lapping up every minute of their company, I’m still hoping to have the odd ‘Business Time’ in the morning to continue my progress.

But the thing is that I’m not expecting much, so you shouldn’t either.

Week 3

Decisions are a part of life and most of us face a whole host of them on a daily basis. They can be both big and small and we all have our own ways of dealing with them, depending on the magnitude of the particular problem at hand.

For example: choosing what clothes to wear because Melbourne’s weather is so unpredictable, or whether to have peanut butter or cheese on your morning toast (have both, with a splash of hot sauce too), or whether to have another beer when you know that you’re already going to wake up with a stonking hangover.

You get the idea; all very tough choices.

However, despite it being a life-changing moment, my decision to try to write for a living seemed to be a relatively simple one. Well, it took me 28 years, numerous shitty office jobs and a trip to the other side of the world before the penny dropped, but once it did, that was it.

So, now that the dust has settled on that easy- yet-gigantic choice, numerous others have since arisen which are probably going to require a dash of logic and sensibility to overcome.

Without delving into all of them straight away, as that would be boring, I’ll just focus on one that features quite prominently in my mind at the moment – what will my niche be?

This question was pitched to me from my mate at The Guardian and was more focused towards journalism, rather than writing in general. However, it has got me wondering whether I should carve my niche now, or not pigeonhole myself and to continue creating a rather diverse portfolio of work.

I then scanned over a piece from a blogger by the name of Damyanti, where she explored writing out of your comfort zone. Whilst the post was directed towards creative writing, I think it’s an interesting notion for anyone in the industry to ponder.

For me, writing out of my comfort zone would be taking on projects with alien subjects. So, although it’s important to find my niche (I already have an idea what that is), I should be taking on as many topics as possible, as this can only be beneficial to my development. I’d hate the thought of going stale and regurgitating old tripe over and over again. Decision made; don’t focus on my niche just yet and play the field a bit more.

Continuing on with this theme; one choice I made last week has been the determining factor behind a slight lack of activity over the past few days, and even though it was a bit of a mistake, it’s one which I’ve made at the right time.

You see, I opted not to apply for any further work, so not to over-face myself. However, with one project requiring input from others before I can continue and another client deferring that job for a week, my workload was suddenly depleted.

My experience in sales roles should have told me that you need a constant stream of leads, and that’s something which I can’t afford to forget when I eventually become self-employed on a permanent basis – another valuable lesson learnt.

So, after completing my ongoing assignment with the betting company, I then focused all of my attentions to the piece for the environmental company. After some initial struggles with the keywords not quite fitting the subject, I managed to alter a few of the variables and by the end of my Business Time (see Week 2) on Tuesday, it was finished and sent over for review.

I’ve still not actually heard back though, so I will chase it up this evening. I’m sincerely hoping that it’s just a case of the client being busy, but there’s the chance that this could be another first…

Anyway, back to this week; by Wednesday, I was scratching around for work and so I took to the job boards again.

From reading other tales of those who have been in similar situations to me, I’ve found that everyone seems to have their favourite online spots for finding jobs, and what works for me might not work for you.

Last month, I was reading one guy’s blog who was a staunch advocate of elance.com, so I signed up to there. But, for me, it just seemed ‘proper shit’ (as they say in Manchester). Now, that’s not to say that it won’t work for someone else; it’s just not for me.

Another chap recommended pro-blogger.com, but most jobs posted on there seem a bit too high profile for little old me at the moment, so that’s just one I’m keeping an eye on for the time-being.

I’ve then come across sites such as bubblews.com and postloop.com – both come across as being utter bullshit and just completely untrustworthy. They’ll be avoided like the plague from here on in.

So, onto the site where I’ve had most luck – Gumtree.com. Every application that I’ve put in on there so far has had a positive response (actually, there was one submission which didn’t get any feedback, but the advert was a few weeks old so I’m discounting it).

After finding one listing on Wednesday which seemed quite interesting, I put an enquiry in and received a response back today. It looks like it could be quite a meaty affair from what the client has said, so I’ve scheduled to call him over the weekend to discuss further, as per his request.

With other jobs, I’ve left the pay rates to one side for the time-being, as my priority has been gaining experience and I’m receiving income from other sources. However, going by my gut instincts, I definitely want to agree the fee up front in this instance.

Elsewhere this week; I’ve posted another piece on my football site and I’ve had some positive news regarding a travel blog pitch that I’m discussing, but I’m not going to disclose any more on that just yet as it’s still early days.

All-in-all, despite not been overly productive, I’m still moving ahead and progressing, so it’s just about applying a bit of patience with the projects that are currently out of my hands.

The slight respite has meant that over the last two days I’ve been able to revisit my novel, which has been neglected in recent weeks. Hopefully I can give it regular attention from here on in.

Week 2

Around three and half months ago, when I first started my football blog, South Stand Grumps, it was important to feel as though there was an ongoing progression with my work.

As it was just a hobby in the beginning, and I was simply a drop in the already saturated market that are unofficial Manchester City fan sites, progression came in the form of mere recognition and the chance to reach out to a wider audience.

Obviously, as an industry novice, I was also looking to learn as much as possible and so began reading other football articles from a different perspective, as well as lapping up any guides or advice that was readily available on the internet.

Naturally, I’ve applied the same logic since I decided to take my writing to the next stage. For example, at the end of every week, I find myself pondering: What have I learnt this week? What ‘new’ things have I done this week? Am I one step closer to reaching my goal?

I think this stems from spending almost a decade in sales environments, where you constantly have to adapt your pitch and styles in order to consistently improve your results. From experience, I’ve discovered that whilst a certain tact or angle might work wonders on more than one occasion, it can be dangerous to believe that it’s the finished article. You can never stop learning, as many wise people have probably uttered (I’m not too sure).

So, back to the point, in terms of productivity and progression from where I was this time seven days ago, I think that I can definitely tick both boxes.

If I had to break down my week, I’d say that Monday was probably my most constructive day. Firstly, I received an email back from an application that I posted last week. The client wants a piece on relocating staff, so feeling as though she was perhaps looking to bounce a few ideas around from the general gist of her response, I did exactly that.

I wasn’t sure whether this was good protocol or whether I should have just asked for the requirements, but it seemed to be received well and by Wednesday, we had a clear structure in place.

I’ve since started writing the piece, but got only as far as a rough intro, as I had to wait for the green light from her to contact some companies to retrieve a few case studies. I fired what I had over to the client this morning for review and received a ‘thumbs up’ along with the first interview contacts for next week, so that’s now moving along nicely.

Also on Monday: I published my bi-weekly blog for my first client, the national betting company; I applied for one voluntary position (experience is priority at the moment); I then pitched my services for free to a friend back home, who has an organisation in the environmental sector.

It’s probably good time to mention a rather bizarre fact at this point: seeing as though I’m on the other side of the world, I’ve had to pattern my sleep around Manchester City’s fixture schedule.

That might not seem too strange, but it has required a few 4am midweek starts, along with a couple of occasions where a game beginning at 1am has been sandwiched between two 3-4 hour kips. ‘His poor girlfriend’, you must all be thinking.

The weird part is that I now rise at 4am every single day. There is some sense behind this, as I’ve realised that it’s probably quite beneficial in my circumstance. You see, I’m not so much a night person, in that, after a full day of mind-numbingly repetitive office work, the last thing I want to do when I return home is engage my brain.

I therefore found that by waking up at this time, I have a full three hours before both my girlfriend and I get ready for work, and I’m more alert than I would be at 6pm (once I’ve thrown a coffee down my neck).

So, this is what I’ll now be referring to as my ‘Business Time’ – For the record, I’m aware of the Flight of the Conchords song with a similar title and what it’s in reference to. If I’m honest, that’s probably why I chose to name it that.

So, I’ve now got my ‘Business Time’ at the most optimum point for me, which means that I can give 100% to my writing and then whatever’s left can go to the monotonous work tasks. I’m finally sticking it to the man; the man who pays me though. Hmmm…

In Tuesday’s ‘Business Time’, I received confirmation that my recent Danny Tiatto Interview (see Week 1) was now published on a second site that I contribute to and had received a lot more positive feedback.

I also received emails back from the two voluntary applications that I’d submitted the day before, and both were keen to move forward.

For the first one, I’ve been liaising with my friend in the environmental sector over the past few days. I will be creating a blog which will have links to her site and I’ll be posting a couple of articles for her over the next few weeks.

The other job is for a ‘what’s on’ guide. I spoke with the client last night and we’ve agreed to discuss further over the weekend, but it certainly looks promising at this early stage.

So, that now means I have four clients currently on board (albeit only two of those are paid), with one other (a friend’s company in the finance sector) still tentative. The fact that all five companies are all in different industries will certainly help me build a diverse portfolio and as I keep saying, that’s my priority at this stage.

As I’m juggling a full-time job, as well my commitments to South Stand Grumps, I think this is the point where I decide not to bite off more than I can chew. I’m conscious about over-committing myself and not delivering, so whilst I’ll be keeping an eye on the job boards, unless it’s something truly spectacular, I won’t be applying for any more positions just yet.

Elsewhere this week; I’ve built a new spreadsheet to keep track of clients and payments. I’m a bit of an Excel geek, so any form of planning or arranging usually revolves around a new spreadsheet. I also thought it wise to create a template invoice, so that it’s readily available should clients request it. I’ve then assigned each client their own ID number for administrative purposes. ‘Shit just got real’, as Martin Lawrence once said.

Finally, I got two pieces of good feedback in the latter half of the week.

The first came from the betting company in regards to the pieces that I’ve working on for them – I posted my fourth out of the ten they assigned me on Thursday – it all seems to be positive, so I’ll just keep on doing what I’m doing for them.

The second was on South Stand Grumps from my friend who works at The Guardian in London. He was impressed and has mentioned looking into sub-editing as a way to earn extra cash, so it’s something else to explore down the lines which I hadn’t previously considered.

To answer the three questions I mentioned earlier: I can’t say that I’ve learnt anything new this week, I’ve just reaffirmed old beliefs; Bringing on my first piece of work from an advert is something new; I believe that I’m definitely closer to my goal, but there’s still a long way to go yet.

Before I sign off for the week, I’d like to add that if anybody would like to offer advice/feedback/criticism, then please do leave me a comment.

Week 1

First of all, this isn’t actually ‘Week One’ in the sense that on Monday, I didn’t just wake up and decide that I was going to try and write for a living.

If, at this point, you’re completely baffled about what I’m gibbering on about, please pop over to the ‘My Story’ page and have a quick gander there before continuing on and possibly creating further confusion. In fact, even if you see yourself as a bit of an intellectual and can probably fathom the essence of everything by my rather informative tagline, it might still be worth investing the time anyway.

Now, where was I? Ah, yes – this is not ‘Week One’. This is, however, the first week of me documenting my attempts to create the perfect lifestyle to return to, once I eventually arrive back in Manchester (which is currently scheduled for around November 2014).

Just for the record, Anne also has dreams and hers are to work in an environmental capacity, so we are exploring options for her as well. My posts may seem very self-centred, in that I’m only going to babble on about my progress, but I assure you that this is not the case.

So, in terms of a timeline of key events to date; it all escalated around three to four weeks ago, when I had the idea that I wanted to pursue a career in journalism. Anne and I started looking into courses and making a rough plan of how we could juggle university with starting a family. Initially, I wasn’t looking to jump into anything until we got back to Manchester, but to meticulously plot out every detail of my impending plan.

From there, I contacted Peter, an old school friend of mine who works for the Guardian newspaper in London. In his words of wisdom, he advised against the course, as he didn’t feel it would really strengthen my prospects and just recommended that I write as much as possible, whilst also trying to carve my niche.

For me, waffling on about football and travel for a living seems ideal; they are two topics which I’m passionate about and I’m more than comfortable in discussing either extensively, so to do that for a living would be a dream. Niche found and step one complete.

I knew that my prospects of landing a decent sports or travel gig right now are bleak to say the least, so it was back to the drawing board in terms of how I could position myself now in order to improve my chances in a year’s time.

Firstly, I have my football blog and have even managed to conduct my first interview with a Manchester City legend by the name of Danny Tiatto. My subsequent write-up received relative widespread acclaim for an amateur, so it was very much a success in my eyes.

Sticking with the football theme, my application to write for WhatCulture.com, a new and upcoming site on the football scene, was accepted in the last few weeks also. They have just received Premier League accreditation and so should this still be the case when I’m back in Manchester, then I’ll be able to attend football matches as a Press Officer. Once again, this is another good coup which could prove to be invaluable down the line.

The only problem with everything so far is that my projected weekly income is currently zilch, and which means I’d have to find alternative employment once I’m back home to support my family ambitions. This would inevitably be office work, as I’ve kind of pigeon-holed myself now, and I know for a fact that it would eventually kill all of my writing dreams, as juggling a 9-5, babies and writing would surely be nigh impossible.

Therefore, I needed a new plan and one which would ensure that I avoid re-entering the world of unsatisfying office jobs at all costs.

I was struggling to forge any concrete thoughts or schemes, but then up popped my Melbourne-based friend, Ash, who is an SEO Executive at a national betting company. He planted the Content Writing idea into my head and has subsequently assisted in finding me my first paid employment in my new career.

The job is to write ten pieces on the prestigious Melbourne Cup, which, for those Brits who didn’t know, is Australia’s equivalent to the Grand National. The blogs are to be written twice weekly for the next 5 weeks (I’m currently at the end of my first week).

Elsewhere, I’ve found numerous sites of people who have done exactly what I’m doing and it’s all very inspirational. Ash has also advised me to create a Google+ profile and given me an insight into the SEO universe.

I’ve signed up to elance.com, which I’m not too sure about just yet, I’m checking other job-boards such as pro-blogger and I’ve updated other social networking sites to reflect my new career position: Freelance Writer.

I’m still working full-time at present, and the ‘masterplan’ is to continue with this until March, when Anne and I will leave to do our final travel stint. Throughout this period, I will offer services for free to friends and contacts to build up my portfolio, whilst also taking on any other paid projects that I can find.

I will then try to secure some form of funding through regular blogging of our adventures in South America; surely going overland from the most southern tip of the continent, right through to Mexico City will be of interest to some people?

Once we arrive back in Manchester, it’s all systems go. By then, I’m hoping to have made a number of contacts and have a wide portfolio of work to showcase.

Hopefully, I will be able to give tips and hints to others in a similar position to me, but from what I’ve gathered at the moment; what works for one person, might not necessarily work for the next.

One other milestone that I’ve failed to mention; I’ve also started work on a novel. It’s very much in the early stages and has taken a back seat recently but I’m hoping to revisit it in the next couple of weeks.

This is the start of the transition, and I’m full of optimism with only a hint of trepidation right now. Below are links to the pieces that I’ve mentioned above:

Danny Tiatto Interview

Freelance Work on Melbourne Cup

Recent Piece for WhatCulture on Manchester City