How did I get here, at this point in my life, from being a nerdy kid to becoming a freelance copywriter and blogger? I thought this might be an interesting one to share, both for my clients who are curious about my background, but also for anyone else looking to do something similar. I’ve already got a short (and an extra-short) version of my story on my website, but I thought it might be worth going into some more detail, because I love talking about myself and all that.
Entrepreneurship is something I fell into quite by accident, but looking back, the signs were kind of there all along.
Where do I begin? I could go way, way back…
My first newspaper article
When I was quite small, probably about 7 or 8, I can remember creating three copies of a newspaper to distribute to my siblings and parents. I created it during “rest time” after lunch one weekend. There was (I think) an article or two, a few scribbled images, and probably a classifieds section. Mum probably still has a copy somewhere!
I was always a bit of a bookworm, and loved to read big, long novels from quite a young age. I think I read Lord of the Rings when I was 8 for the first time. Nerd much? That was basically how I spent all of my school holidays. So it naturally followed that my greatest strength at school was writing… stories, reports, essays… you name it, and I was quite happy to create it, especially if it involved researching/reading.
Early dabbles in online marketing
I think it was sometime back in Grade 8 at school when MySpace first appeared. It wasn’t long before I was spending my evenings coding awesome backgrounds and themes for mine and my friends’ pages. For many kids of my generation, this was our first experience of html/css coding.
But then Facebook came along when I was in about Grade 11. I can remember thinking that it looked really boring compared to MySpace! Here is where I really started to grasp the importance of personal branding and online marketing, watching the platform evolve from its earliest stages.
Towards the end of high school, I also started my first blog. It was a personal blog and very random. I think I posted recipes, pictures of my pet budgie, and holiday snapshots in there. If I’d bothered to figure out blogging back then and did it consistently, who knows where it could have gone? But not many people back then, myself included, realised how powerful blogging would become.
Searching for a career
When I got to the end of school, I was a bit stuck. I knew that I wanted to write, but didn’t know how to go from writing assignments at school to getting paid to write other stuff in an actual job. I considered (very briefly) journalism, but I knew that this wasn’t really for me, so I opted to sign up for a Communication degree at uni, majoring in PR. Honestly, I had no clue at the time as to where this would lead, career-wise, but it seemed like the best available choice at the time. That and my favourite school teacher (hey Mr G!) recommended it to me. I wonder if he remembers…
While at uni, I pumped out a lot of assignments and did well overall. I completed two mostly irrelevant internships and came out the other end of a three-year degree with not much more than a piece of paper and $16,000 in student loans. Hmmm.
Fast food life
At this point, I was still working at my part-time uni job, as the drive thru chick at McDonalds. I didn’t feel too great about myself, honestly, especially after having applied for about 100 jobs in the 4 months that had passed since graduation, and hearing nothing back.
But I will say that this job was a fantastic introduction to work, business systems/efficiency, and definitely helped to refine my customer service and interpersonal skills. I am naturally a quiet person, but you have to learn to be loud when you are communicating with hundreds of customers and a busy team every single day!
My first big break
Amazingly, I got my first big break while working in Drive-Thru one day. One of my regular customers stopped at the window and in between ordering his usual sausage egg muffin meal, he asked me what I was doing with my life, clearly concerned that I had no aspirations further than McDonalds. I told him (briefly, because the cars are on a timer, guys… 2:45 or less!) about my recent graduation and lack of job offers.
As it turns out, he was a local businessperson looking for an employee that fit my skills and qualifications (and peppy Drive-Thru voice, clearly!). He gave me his email address, I went to the group interview, and then within a week, I had kicked off my first proper gig as a marketing manager… I could not believe it!
Side note: employers looking for fresh talent… you could totally do the same thing. Go round to your local drive-thrus and hire the most cheerful order takers you can find. Poach those kids and they’ll be forever grateful!
This kicked off almost a year of nonstop learning on-the-job. I found myself immersed in the world of online marketing, and spent all of my evenings and lunchtimes reading everything I could about websites, social media, and everything in between. Those first few weeks, I felt like my head was going to explode!
Luckily, I loved it. I loved that I was able to create new things every day that were genuinely helping to move the business forward and kick goals. And I was doing it all behind the scenes, making my boss look awesome to the clients, while saving him loads of time so he could focus on building the business.
But after about 8 months, I started to get a bit twitchy. I wanted to try new things that weren’t part of my role. At the same time, I felt the pull of online marketing, and knew that I needed to make a move if I was going to keep up with it all. I also knew that I wanted a role where I could put my writing skills to work every day.
And so, I quit. At 21 years of age, I was unemployed and looking for my next big thing. I applied for a few local jobs that looked promising, but in the interim, I started freelancing online. I offered my services as a copywriter for a crazy low price on a freelance website, and produced copy for over 40 clients in my first 2 weeks. It was a crazy time with not much sleep. I didn’t make much money (certainly not enough to sustain me!), but I quickly learned what good copywriting looks like and I confirmed the kind of writing I loved to do. My absolute favourite gigs were blogs, and I didn’t really care about the topic either, because I loved the research process.
Then suddenly, things started to fall into place. My previous boss, who was quite connected in the business world, started referring a few of his business friends to me for marketing help. And I had a few of my freelance copywriting clients request to work with me ongoing. I realised that I’d accidentally created a business!?
So, I withdrew my job applications and decided to roll with it. Big Idea Marketing was born, and I quickly threw together a website, business cards, logos, social media, services, the whole lot! There was a lot of crazy decision making on the fly, but I was excited to be doing the work and very grateful to have found a way to earn some income and work on my own terms from home.
The business took off very quickly in the beginning, and I learned so much, so quickly. I also made a LOT of mistakes, as most people in business do. The two key mistakes I can see, looking back, are my resistance to charging what I was worth and managing the finances effectively, and offering too many services instead of focusing on what I enjoyed and did best.
As a result, when I had my first baby, just less than two years later, the business slowed to a halt. It wasn’t a model that I could sustain while caring for a (very) demanding baby. Reality really hit… and I had to say goodbye to what I’d lovingly created (the business – not the baby!).
Finding my vision
By the time my first kid was about 6 months old, I was slowly working my way back into business, but this time as a freelancer. Although my first attempt at business wasn’t sustainable, I was still the same entrepreneur at heart. I spent most than a year quietly blogging for small businesses and creating content.
At the same time, I realised that I wanted to be more myself, and more of a personal brand, instead of promoting a business. People do business with people, and I didn’t need to hide behind a brand or third party.
And then, just when it felt like thing were levelling out, baby number 2 came along when my first was just 20 months old. More than anything, having another baby helped me cement my vision for how I wanted (needed!) my work to support my family and to focus on creating a sustainable business model.
Early 2018, I spent every waking moment either caring for my kids or working on my business. It was a hectic time, with a two-year-old, a baby, and a growing business. And a husband who worked looooong hours on the other side of town. But fortunately, it paid off.
Around March, he was able to quit his job to care for the kids and I suddenly got full-time hours (just about) to focus on work. Ah-mazing!
But I had to quickly scramble to make it work, as the sole income earner for our little family. And although I wasn’t caring for the kids all day, I still had night-time parent duties with the baby to do, which meant working on very little sleep.
This year was a tough one, but we survived it. We made it through the the second most toughest transition ever (apart from becoming parents). And I can see that things are only going to keep getting better as the business matures and the kids do too.
My dream for the future? Keep things rolling, keep being a better writer, work more efficiently, spend more time with the family. And one day move us to a location and home where we can live our best lives. It’s a pretty simple plan, but that’s what drives me, and I’m flexible on how it pans out.
I’m thrilled to say that I love the work I’m doing, I’ve found my thing, and I can see myself doing it for a long, long time. Maybe forever.
It’s anyone’s guess. But hopefully it ends with me writing in a quiet room on top of a mountain, with a cup of tea beside me and my kiddos playing outside somewhere, having adventures.
Thanks for reading my story! I’ve loved unpicking the highlights (and lowlights) that have got me here and hope it helps you feel inspired to go after the kind of work you want to do… whether you’re a mum, a student, struggling to find a job, or just ready to ditch the office and go solo.
It might not be easy, but if you keep learning and trying, you’ll get there in the end! :-)