Insights from a freelance writer
Kate Portman talks about why she quit her job to go freelance, her love of writing, developing her craft, and offers some advice for the rest of us.
I first ‘met’ Kate via Twitter around the time Seth Godin’s book Linchpin came out in 2010. We both thoroughly enjoyed the book and had several conversations about how it affected us. And, for Kate, it led to a complete life change. She quit her job — and all the accompanying security — and chose to go all out in pursuit of her dream to work freelance, doing journalism, copywriting, and PR.
I was hugely inspired by her courage, and enjoyed reading about her journey as she shared it on Twitter and her blog. Over time we’ve become friends. Her passion and enthusiasm is infectious. Her willingness to not let fear, doubt, or risk hold her back in pursuit of her dreams is inspirational.
Kate’s boldness and her experiences are something we can all learn from. That’s why I thought she’d be a great addition to the ‘Inspiring Women’ interviews I’ve been doing occasionally over the last couple of years.
Since going freelance, Kate has also become a Mum for the first time; her daughter Elsie is now one-and-a-half. The challenges of raising kids while continuing to pursue your dreams is something we explore in part two of this interview.
We all have dreams and passions, and yet so many of us end up with them lying dormant while we settle for the safe, familiar, and comfortable. Kate bucks that trend, and I hope engaging with her story may just nudge a few more of us to step out, live boldly, and pursue our dreams.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Kate Portman? For those who don’t know you, how would you sum yourself up in a nutshell?
Wow, what a question! In a nutshell I would say I’m just an ordinary woman in her thirties trying to get to grips with juggling motherhood and a freelance career. I’m passionate about life and making the most out of every single day. I’m an independent dreamer with a big heart, occasionally feisty, always caring and a bit of a party animal too!
We saw in the introduction that you quit your job to go freelance. Tell us about that job you were doing and how you were feeling about it. In what ways was that not resonating with your career dreams? And at what point did you realise the job wasn’t going to fulfil your dreams?
At the time I was working as a marketing manager for the educational media company U-Explore. I enjoyed my job but felt unfulfilled because I knew I wasn’t achieving my dreams. Since being a young girl, I have only ever wanted to be a writer and so even though the job itself was great, for me, it was just never going to be enough. The turning point for me really was hitting the big 30! It made me evaluate so much of my life and so naturally I started to think more about my career, what I’d achieved and how much more I wanted to do. I knew I wasn’t happy and that I needed to do something and started to think about my options. It wasn’t long after that I decided to quit my job and pursue my dream of being a writer and working for myself.
We know that Seth Godin’s book played a part on helping you take the step towards your dream, but what do you think was stopping you take that before then? How did Seth’s book help, and what other factors helped tipped you towards taking that leap into the unknown?
I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t have been given Seth Godin’s book to read because ‘Linchpin’ literally changed my life and that is no exaggeration. My husband had actually ordered the book for himself but passed it to me to read when I started to have major life/career wobbles.
Prior to reading Seth’s book I’d been considering becoming a freelancer for quite a while but I was fearful, apprehensive and concerned about how it would turn out. I knew very little about what it meant to work for yourself and the thought of leaving a well paid, professional and enjoyable job although appealing was also terrifying! In my heart I knew it would be perfect for me but I was desperately trying to be ‘sensible’.
But ignoring my gut didn’t do me any good and made me a real misery to be around, which is why I turned to the wise words of Seth Godin. His book made me realise in an instant, that I needed to listen to my heart, be bold and make the leap!
Seth’s incredible book highlighted to me that both my life and my ‘art’ deserved so much more and that my natural talents were being overlooked.
I knew immediately that the only way to feel fulfilled and happy and be successful, was to follow my dreams and so just a couple of days after finishing his book, I handed in my notice! It remains the best career move I ever made and it’s all down to Seth.
What was the process involved going from the stability of employment to the unknown of self-employment? How did you prepare? What were the biggest obstacles?
I basically handed in my notice and then bought a couple of freelancing books to read! Four weeks later I was officially self employed. I registered with HMRC, emailed a few contacts and then began work on my website. With the benefit of hindsight I wish I’d done much more preparation but my nature is to leave things to the last minute and to often ‘fly by the seat of my pants’! I certainly wouldn’t advise it but it worked for me!
How hard was the transition to working freelance? What did you learn along the way? Were there mistakes you made, or things you wished you’d known?
The transition was much harder than I’d anticipated. The first few days felt incredible and then the truth dawned on me and reality kicked in! All of a sudden it became brutally clear that I was now very much on my own and that some way, some how, I had to start finding my own work and earning my own money.
With great freedom comes great responsibility and no more is this true, than when it comes to freelancing. The feeling of independence was and still is incredible but it is also terrifying! I can still remember the fear that I felt when the reality sank in and in fact, I still tell people now, that the fear never really goes away. You just somehow learn to become friends with it.
Luckily I thrive on challenges, so it definitely works for me but freelancing really isn’t for the faint hearted and certainly isn’t for everyone.
I also didn’t realise how much I would miss the social interaction of working alongside colleagues on a regular basis. That was quite a shock to the system and took a while to adjust to. I dealt with it by getting out of the house to visit people, using social media and listening to Spotify!
Working in journalism, copywriting, and PR, you most definitely have a love of writing and words. But when did you first realise this? And how did you discover that it wasn’t just something you loved, but something you had a talent for too?
*Smiles* I’ve always loved words and writing. For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed by the written word. As a little girl, I spent all my spare time reading books and making magazines. My Mum taught me to read before I went to nursery and school and I definitely think that sparked my interest but it’s just always been there. I don’t know what else I would actually do with myself because writing and reading really is a massive part of who I am!
Like most people I realised I had a talent for it very early on, I guess from primary school age. Teachers would always comment highly on my work and writing came easy to me.
From a career point of view, my first ‘writing’ job as a trainee reporter made me realise that whilst I still had a lot to learn, I was good at it and could make a career from it, if I applied myself and worked hard.
How did you go about nurturing that writing talent and turning it into an actual strength you could build a career with? Were there key people or courses that were key to that development too?
In terms of nurturing my talent, it’s been all about practice, practice, practice. The more I write, the better I become at it. Reading a lot of stuff by brilliant writers also helps and inspires me to do better.
There have been many key people in my life who have encouraged me to write, the main ones being my Mum, my Gran (who is sadly no longer alive), my English teacher at school and my husband.
In terms of courses, my English degree certainly did me no harm but I learnt much more about writing whilst I was training to be a journalist than I ever did whilst at University.
If you could give just one piece of advice to people who want to maximise their potential and pursue their dreams, what would it be and why?
Just do it. Give it a try! Don’t waste your life playing it safe. Pursuing any dream is never an easy task but life is too short to not at least give it your very best shot! And really, what’s the worst that can happen?
There’s a saying, that ‘fortune favors the bold’ and I have to say, I think it’s true. Too many people are afraid of stepping out of their comfort zone, but you HAVE to take risks in this life if you want to achieve greatness.
You can make all the excuses in the world why you shouldn’t or can’t do whatever it is that your heart tells you to do, but the truth is, if you really want to do it, you WILL find a way.