Editor’s note: In this month's installment of freelancer profiles, we talked to Annie Ridout, a champion of freelance moms who, quite literally, wrote the book on how to juggle motherhood with the demands of freelancing. Read on to find out how she managed to turn a professional setback into a successful entrepreneurial and freelancing career that capitalized on her new life passion: motherhood.
London-based writer Annie Ridout has two small children and a third on the way in August. But there’s no slowing her down. After the birth of her first child, Ridout channeled her love of motherhood into a successful parenting blog The Early Hour, which would gain the attention of editors at publications like The Guardian, The Telegraph and Grazia. When she’s not writing about parenting, freelancing, business and family life, she’s being interviewed as a foremost expert on the topics by publications like Stylist and The Sunday Times, Business Insider and The Daily Mail. Between work on a wellness app, teaching and writing, Ridout took the time to answer a few questions on how she gets it all done.
Can you provide an abbreviated version of your career trajectory that brought you to the world of freelancing?
I studied for an English BA, followed by a journalism MA but then left London — where all the work was — to move in with my boyfriend in Somerset. I did a stint on the Western Gazette newspaper before moving into another field.
Two years later, we were back in London and I was freelancing but it wasn't going so well, as I hadn't learned the art of pitching. So I accepted a job as a copywriter for a film streaming company. The pay was good, and I was still self-employed so had flexibility.
However, after announcing my pregnancy at work, I discovered my contract would be terminated when I gave birth. I felt totally unsupported and now know that this was maternity discrimination. But I kept my mouth shut and just hoped I'd be able to return a few months later.
I gave birth, fell in love with my daughter and decided that actually, I wanted to stay close to home so I started writing a few freelance articles before launching my digital parenting platform when she was one. I published articles and interviews every morning at 5 am for parents who were up early.
It took off and I started making money from sponsored posts. But I was also offered freelance commissions from The Guardian, Stylist and Red Magazine as I was growing an online profile in the “parenting world.” So I started to take on more of this work. After my son was born, two years later, I was offered a book deal to write The Freelance Mum: A flexible career guide for better work-life balance.
I now write freelance articles, have a novel in the pipeline, I'm co-founder of Clementine App where I head up the content, and I run online courses helping people make the leap from employed to self-employed. And I'm expecting my third (and final) baby in August.
What was the big break that helped launch your freelance career?
I wrote a piece for The Guardian about how losing that copywriting job lead me to creating a new career for myself that worked with being a mother. That was a big moment. Also my book deal has created lots of opportunities for public speaking, and to being commissioned by The Telegraph and Grazia.
Can you share one of your favourite freelance pieces?
I was proud of the shared parental leave piece I wrote for The Guardian, as I'm really interested in the division of labour between parents. My husband and I have recently started sharing the childcare and I'd love to see more of this happening. It's good for the whole family. I pitched it to Guardian Money and they were up for it, as it's such a current topic.
Can you also share an anecdote of a lesson you learned the hard way in your freelance career?
I've had so many pitches rejected but I've learned that if no one else wants it, and it's a good story, I can publish it myself. So I will publish it on The Early Hour. When it's then shared hundreds of times, that pretty satisfying.
Your recently released book The Freelance Mum is meant to help working moms realize that a freelance career is not a pipe dream, but within their grasp. Can you describe a typical day in the life of Annie Ridout and how you fit in motherhood with working from home?
We're up between 6 and 7 am every morning, depending on when the kids wake up. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I leave home at 6:45 am for a morning swim (when not pregnant I go for a run every morning). I spend Mondays and Fridays looking after my two-year-old, while my four-year-old is at school. He sleeps from 12-2 pm(ish) so I use that time to catch up on emails or write.
Tuesdays and Thursday are my Clementine App days, so I start work— at my kitchen table or in a local coffee shop—around 8:30 to 9 am. I usually have a phone call with my business partner, Kim. The app is all about helping women to feel more confident through hypnotherapy so we spend a lot of time talking about women, gender inequality, the workplace, motherhood, friendships, dynamics.On these days, my husband looks after our son.
On Wednesdays, a childminder comes from 9 am-12:30 pm to watch my son. I pack up my laptop, drop my daughter at school and go to the coffee shop to work on my own stuff. That might mean giving feedback to the freelance mums on my online course, or writing an article. When I'm not doing paid-for work, I write short stories or poetry. I might also spend time engaging with followers on Instagram
Weekday evenings are currently spent in front of the telly, as I'm pregnant and tired. When not pregnant, if I have a big project on—like writing The Freelance Mum, or my yet-to-be-published novel—I might work every night of the week, from when the kids go to bed at 7 pm until I go to bed at 10 pm to 11 pm. I enjoy this work, so it isn't too difficult. I set myself a target of working for an hour then relaxing but it inevitably extends to two/three hours once I've begun.
Weekends are usually work-free now. When my son naps, we usually stick a film on for my daughter and I'll either read the papers, or a book, or do some creative writing.
What are some of the biggest myths you'd like to debunk about becoming a freelance mom?
People sometimes think that the freelancing mom is not actually working and so is available for coffees or playdates. Having set work days helps, as does setting boundaries. I rarely invite people round on weekday mornings, as I need to work as soon as my son sleeps and some people don't get it. So we have friends round in the afternoon instead.
I'm also not sure if employed people always realize how stressful it can be setting up as a freelancer. You don't have a monthly paycheck land in your bank. And it often takes a few years to earn the same—or more—from freelancing than you were earning when in employment. But I always advise people to secure their repeat work (same client each week) so that at least the bills are covered. And to cut down costs wherever possible.
What kind of tips can you offer mothers-to-be (or mothers full stop) who are preparing to make the transition from 9-5 to full-time freelance careers?
When I discovered my copywriting job wouldn't be kept open for me, I asked for a pay-rise. They upped my day rate from £185 to £250 (USD $241 to $325) and I banked the surplus for my maternity leave. If you can save to prepare for 'making the leap', this will ease financial pressures and general stress.
Also, be prepared to work really hard. Work is very unlikely to land in your lap. You'll need to pitch (and learn to accept rejection), network online and in the “real world,” and maybe do some part-time work to keep yourself afloat while you build your dream freelance career.
Make sure your day rate is high enough. Ask your freelance male peers what they're earning and set your rate accordingly. As women, we often undervalue ourselves. As mothers, even more so. Know your worth—and demand it.
Lastly, believe in yourself. If you want to do this, you absolutely can. Hard work and determination are the key ingredients.
What are the most common mistakes you see moms make when they enter the freelance world?
Setting their day rate too low. It needs to be financially viable from the get-go. Also, doing too much portfolio work for free. Instead, offer a reduced rate when you're starting out.
What's your pitching success rate?
No idea but there are definitely a lot more rejections than commissions. This can be hard to deal with at first but I'm now hardened to it. And a rejection isn't always a polite “no.” It's usually being completely ignored.
What's your strategy for cultivating a strong relationship with editors so that you don't get ghosted?
I make sure that I understand the brief by asking questions and checking in. I thoroughly proofread my work before sending and often get my husband to read it too. I get it in before the deadline, with any images I've agreed to send. And I share it on all my social channels to help it to reach more people.
What's your strategy for writing a successful query or cold pitch?
Write a killer subject line. This should be a line that could be the headline for the article so that you're making the editor's job really easily. I pitched a piece for Metro UK with the subject line: “Stop typing. Say hello to the elderly person who just sat next to you.” It was about elderly people going to coffee shops for company and being ignored by our screen-obsessed generation. I got commissioned and that same subject line became the headline.
Then write a short intro to your idea about why it's timely, followed by your previous experience. A line about the editor and some work they've recently done might help. They are real people and enjoy flattery like the rest of us. And tying the pitch in with a news story is always sure to pique their interested.
In terms of following up: if it's in response to a news story, I'd email once first thing, then again a couple of hours later. If it's not, I give them a few days—or a week—before following up.
How much of your annual income is pure freelance stories for media vs branded content vs blog income vs consulting etc?
It varies each year. This year, I've had some good commissions because of my book. But currently, my main income comes through Clementine App and my online courses. My book deal brought in a nice chunk with the advance that I put straight into savings. And consultancy and ad-hoc freelance articles are a smaller percentage of my annual income.
Overall do's and don'ts you can offer freelancing moms as well as general freelancers?
Don't expect anyone to help you for free, but do try your luck. If someone emails me asking for advice and I don't like their tone, I ignore the email. But someone else might catch me in a good mood and win me over, and I'll offer what's basically free consultancy.
Do get proper childcare as soon as you can. It's a big cost but it will give you the space to do proper work and start to earn money. Don't assume that you'll be able to work while the toddler is entertaining herself. The moment you open your laptop, they'll want your undivided attention. Sleepy newborn babies are easier to work around, if you're not too tired.
Be professional. Get a proper website. Proof the copy. Get a designer to do your logo. Get an email address that looks professional, not [email protected] Get [email protected] And get on social media, as it's such a good way to grow an audience. Though it takes time and effort. (Don't buy followers, ever).
Ridout’s book The Freelance Mum was released earlier this year and features tips and advice from successful working moms including Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post and Thrive, and prolific parenthood writer Robyn Wilder. She also hosts a four-week online course on transitioning from the 9-5 world to self-employment at http://annieridout.com/online-course/.