Ten years from now, I want to be working, full time, as a freelance writer and comms consultant.
It’s an ambitious goal and many have told me it’s not feasible.
But, I’d like to prove them wrong and I’m grateful for their feedback. It’s led me to design a somewhat unusual career plan.
I chose not to go to uni. Instead, I’m crowd-sourcing a practical, real-world education in branding and communications. I’m not following a cookie-cutter syllabus; I’m learning directly from those at the top.
These are six of the most formative experiences in my journey so far…
When I was 18, I emailed a reporter at the Huffington Post, hoping they’d write a human interest story on a charity comedy night I was organising. They couldn’t help me. But they loved my email and offered me a contributor position instead.
The article I wrote for them, “Losing My Mum To Cancer At 17 Gave My Life Direction” was shared hundreds of times. To my surprise, people even reached out to thank me for writing it.
The reception I received to that article made me realise just how impactful writing with emotional honesty can be.
Having seen the harm that emotional unavailability can cause, I want such honesty to underpin the work I do throughout my career.
The Reddit Job Search
Whilst building up my portfolio last January, I posted an offer to write copy on Reddit. One man replied. An El Salvadoran immigrant to Atlanta; he wanted to ease the integration of those coming behind him.
For three weeks, I worked on a donation letter for the non-profit he was founding. With Atlanta five hours behind the UK, that often meant starting work at 10pm and continuing well into the early morning.
Finding the right tone of voice for the letter was hard. In asking the people of Georgia to donate unwanted clothes and furniture to immigrant families, I was asking many to abandon their lifelong views on immigration.
But, after two weeks of false starts, I found a solution: using language that transcended politics. The language of the Bible. Through talking of love and acceptance, donating to the non-profit became a human decision, not a political one.
Whilst the non-profit isn’t yet active, I sincerely hope that my words will contribute positively to something greater than myself.
Having loved writing for the non-profit, last February, I shadowed a freelance copywriter on an ongoing charity project. With an annual income of over £850,000, the charity was trying to increase the number of British young people involved in youth social action.
For six weeks, I learned what it meant to write for the voluntary sector. Through designing writing tasks around a live client brief, the copywriter gave me an unparalleled insight into the industry.
I tried a wide range of exercises — from writing Impact Report case studies to editing campaign key messages — but found a deep love for one exercise in particular.
I was asked to report on the tone of voice used on the charity’s Twitter account and offer advice on how they could better engage with their young followers.
My report was sent to the clients. They loved it. So much so that I received two separate emails thanking me for the work I’d done and many of my suggestions were implemented.
It was the first piece of client work I’d ever undertaken and set a standard for my work that I retain to this day.
Keen to gain a taste of agency life, last July, I spent two weeks at a London-based writing studio. In that time, I gained experience of:
Strapline writing — through rewriting the strapline and website ‘About Us’ page of an Australian money advice service, using a brief the studio had already worked on.
Designing creative workshops — through helping to design and run a creative repositioning workshop for the managers of an indie publisher.
Brand story writing — through writing a story on what set an Australian technology company apart from their competitors, alongside another writer.
The two weeks I spent at the studio were invaluable to me. I saw firsthand the impact good brand writing can have - both on a brand and the many people employed by it.
I believe all good business writers hone their craft through non-business writing projects.
That’s why I write creatively in my free time; from 100-word stories inspired by photos (like my Seed Story) to rewriting the emails I receive in different tones of voice.
It’s also why I joined 26 Characters — a writing group for anyone wishing to grow their skills as a writer.
Last July, I was told about 26 Treasures: a project previously run by 26, in which 26 writers each wrote a 62-word ‘sestude’ on an object from the V&A’s British galleries.
Drawing inspiration from the project, I spent a blustery morning sat on a bench outside Tower Hill tube station, thinking about the Roman Emperor Trajan that stands there.
This sestude, Anachronism, is the result.
Last August, I was told about Dark Angels; ‘a safe space for business writers and communications professionals’ — a series of courses that allow them to improve their work through better understanding themselves.
Keen to do just that, I applied for a scholarship.
Writing the application was, in itself, a journey. It was the first time I’d ever sat down to ask myself why it is that I write. Why I do what I do.
Realising I feel a duty to write 'restoratively good copy and bring restoratively good products to the fore’, changed everything for me. It cemented my desire to work in branding & communications and, arguably, helped me to win the scholarship.
In November, I spent a week on their Foundation Course in the Scottish Highlands. The lessons I learned in those days will stay with me for life.
These six experiences are just a small snippet of my journey so far. I have many more behind me and many more to come.
I’m constantly plugging gaps in my knowledge and putting the skills I learn into action.
If you’re reading this, I’d love to work with you. To help grow your business whilst I begin to grow mine.