Today on the show we have a very special business mom and friend, Courtney Westlake. We’ve actually gotten the chance to meet and hang out in person, which was super fun! I met her sweet family and she met Holden; we just had a great time together!
Courtney has been blogging since 2011 at CourtneyWestlake.com. She shares a lot about her story of being Mom to Brenna, who has a very rare skin condition and special need.
Courtney is a blogger, published author, and now a very successful freelancer. I know you’ll learn a lot from hearing her story!
1:15 – Courtney’s Unexpected Beginnings As a Blogger
The majority of people will know of Courtney via her blog, which she began to document her daughter Brenna’s birth and early days in late 2011. Her daughter was born with a rare skin condition and accompanying special needs. (You can watch Courtney’s family story here…major tissue warning!) She originally started her blog to update family and friends, but the circle of readers quickly grew. The more Courtney wrote, the more people read! Courtney had no end-goal in mind with her writing, she was just processing being a mom to a child with an unexpected diagnosis.
In 2014, Courtney got a chance to meet a literary agent and she signed with her. And in 2015 she signed a book deal! A Different Beautiful came out in 2016.
2:55 – What’s It Really Like Publishing a Book?
I’ve had the pleasure of reading Courtney’s book and absolutely loved it. She is a very talented writer! I know many of you are thinking about monetizing your writing platform, and Courtney has some great book publishing insights.
Of course, there are a lot of ways you can go about book publishing. Courtney self-published a children’s book in 2014; her non-fiction book was traditionally published two years later.
She says the two experiences were so different! Courtney’s advice to help you choose your path? Think about your goal.
Courtney’s purpose in writing was to get her message out. Traditional publishing isn’t a super lucrative endeavor. She did receive an advance (an amount the publisher anticipates the author to sell in the first year) and once her book sold the amount of that advance, then she could start earning royalties. And to make sure there are no rose-colored glasses on, royalties are only about 15% of the sale of the book, not a lot!
It really is easy to look at big time authors on best seller lists and glamorize their success. But most first-time authors don’t earn very much money.
If you choose to self-publish with e-books or something like a print-on-demand service, Courtney says you can expect to make more of your own money, but your book may not get as far of a reach. For example, Courtney’s traditionally published book could be purchased at Barnes & Nobles in the US, Australia, and Canada. (Isn’t that so neat?!)
I can tell you from the outside-looking-in, Courtney’s book launch looked so cool! She has a sizeable following and has built great relationships with her readers. Courtney’s publisher was really happy with her launch, which of course made her proud!
There aren’t many ways to slice it: launching a product is a lot of work. And that’s just how launches go. During my most recent big launch, FB Brilliance, I really appreciated having my team to delegate to. And Courtney, also, had a launch team that did some of the work for her. Automating as many processes as possible is another great way to lighten the launch-time load.
7:05 – Transitioning from SAHM to Freelancer
One reason I wanted to have Courtney on the podcast is because she recently told me that she’s been able to do about 15 hours of freelance work a week, and replace her full-time job income! HOLY COW! I had to know how that’s working!
Before having kids, Courtney worked in a Public Relations department at a local university. After her first child – a son who is now 8 – was born, she started staying home. (Isn’t that true of so many of us?) She freelanced here and there, trying to see what would stick, but the jobs didn’t pay much.
With the birth of Brenna, her daughter’s special need was very consuming for a long time.
Now that both Courtney’s children are school-aged, she’s got the chance to do pursue more formal work again. She started writing pieces for different publications, and then eventually scored some business clients.
Those corporate clients are what have potential for high income. Last January she decided to maximize the growth and really go for it! It’s been going really well. To date Courtney keeps four really great regular clients, and a few others who provide less regular work, but are clients she really wants to work with.
With her kids now in school she can take on more work, and the increase has been a total blessing to her family. She can use her creativity and passion to earn a decent income
What does it look like writing for a business? Content marketing is a buzzword these days, and the jist of it means is writing blogs, email newsletters, and website pages for any business.
For her clients, Courtney has provided the content – the written words – for entire websites before! She also has created sitemaps, going through the pages on their website they want revamped and so on.
For her regular clients, she almost acts as a marketing consultant in addition to providing the writing. Courtney’s clients can bounce ideas off her, and she loves learning what’s latest in marketing, writing, sales, and online media. It’s a win win!
10:33 – Kinds of Businesses Hire Freelance Writers?
I love that Courtney does writing for a variety of businesses. Included in her portfolio is: a construction company, a mid-sized bank, a content marketing agency that specializes in education writing (working with schools through them), and a nonprofit.
11:15 – Getting That First Writing Gig
Back in January, Courtney decided she would really go for the freelance work. She stared out by emailing different contacts locally, people she had worked with before or had some prior connection to. In those initial emails, she outlined why she thought the managers should hire her, ideas she had for their company, and so on. As cold outreach goes, she got back a lot of “Thanks, but no thanks” messages.
But – finally! – a yes came.
Her first big gig was a company wanting help with their website.
It snowballed from there. The last few months she’s tried to take the initiative and focus on people she really wants to work for.
12:12 – A Personal Touch Makes All the Difference
Going the extra mile to make a personal connection in those initial outreaches makes a huge difference. The content marketing agency she’s currently working with Courtney found on a freelance forum. The agency posted their need to have a writer who could take occasional jobs. Most of the commenters on the thread wrote back with a generic reply we’ve all seen, “Send me a PM!”
But Courtney went a step further.
She went to the agency’s website and got to know the firm. She found a direct email address and wrote a kind message to the agency director. Courtney got back a message almost immediately. The agency was interested!
Courtney took the next step to go directly to the director via email, which made her stand out from all the other commenters!
(And trust me! As a business owner who gets unsolicited pitches all the time. I can tell right away who took time to be personal and who didn’t.)
13:50 – When Charging Your Worth Makes You Go ‘Eeep!’
It can feel so uncomfortable to share your rates! I totally struggle with this on the odd-occasion I accept a coaching call for a high rate. And Courtney has struggled with that same feeling, too. In fact, the morning of our interview she quoted a job and didn’t land it because of her price. But at the end of the day, as mamapreneurs we have to stick with our prices! We know what we’re worth, and we know our clients and customers will get what they pay for. One person may not see your value, but that doesn’t mean many others won’t see it.
Courtney agrees it’s much easier to be choosy with jobs when she has a fuller load and not that urgent NEED for income. It’s certainly more fun to pick jobs that you’ll enjoy and know will bring a good income!
She’s been able to reach this ability to choose who she wants to work for (and be confident in her rates) by slowly and steadily building clients and sticking to her rate. “It takes time,” she says, “But you’ll get where you want to be. You have to know what your work is worth.”
And let’s be honest, ladies! Taking time away from our family or errands we need to do isn’t easy. Our time is valuable.
16:55 – Raising Rates and Regular Clients
Has Courtney raised her rates since building out her client portfolio? Her short answer is yes, but the change is hard to quantify since her writing projects are so varied. For some jobs she still gets paid hourly, though her hourly rate is high enough she’s happy with it.
Other jobs pay per project, and she certainly has raised the project rate the more jobs she’s gotten.
How does Courtney decide which jobs to take? She trusts her gut. When she meets a client and hears about their project, if her first thought is a ‘Heck Yes!’ she’ll go for it. And if not? She gives herself the freedom to pass.
18:18 – What Does A Writing Project Look Like?
Primarily, Courtney writes for websites, both updating the content of entire sites and writing new blog posts.
When she’s crafting the content for an entire site, she’ll make a site map of the different pages and what content needs to be on those pages, and then she writes the content.
For blog post writing, sometimes clients give her an idea of what they want and let Courtney do most of the work and research. Some provide talking points and she will build a post from the client’s initial work.
All of Courtney’s writing is what’s called ghostwriting. That means she tries to adapt her voice to match the client’s to make it seem as if the client is actually the one who wrote the piece. That means Courtney doesn’t get credit for her work, but she’s okay with that! It’s like she gets to put on a different costume each day and pretend to be a different person!
One project Courtney is currently loving is a case study she’s putting together. She’s gotten to interviewing her client’s client and write about their experience for marketing purposes. It’s like a journalistic piece, super fun!
20:10 – Is Courtney Still Building Her Personal Blog Brand?
With this new freelance schedule, is Courtney still blogging and building her personal brand? She admits did take a break from blogging over the summer, which allowed her to settle into the freelance schedule. Courtney has a new idea for an ebook, and wants to keep blogging to see where else it will take her.
At the same time, Courtney is confident that she’s finding her stride writing for others. She really likes the business to business model, rather than business to consumer.
22:22 – Do What You Enjoy
It’s natural to look around at the leaders in your niche and want to copy their steps for success. In Courtney’s experience (and my own!) there really isn’t one, clear path. She knows what success looks like for herself, how she wants her days to run, and knew that freelance business writing is the way to make it happen.
25:30 – Scaling a Service-Based Business
It is hard to scale a service-based business. You personally only have so many hours a day and finite resources to work with. Unless you hire additional people to provide your service, service-based businesses really can have some limits!
But Courtney has found that freelance copywriting works so well for her. The income she makes suits her goals. She doesn’t have to hustle all day long, she can just do her work on her schedule and bring in a decent income.
(The potential for a copywriter income is huge! Seriously. I’ve seen some charging $1,000 an hour! Copywriters Courtney knows are making $100,000 or more a year.)
26:50 – Taking Off The Rose Colored Glasses (Downsides to Freelancing)
We’ve been really talking up how great the freelance life can be…buuut, what’s the downside? Has Courtney ever had a total client disaster!? What’s the tough part of being a freelancer?
Years ago Courtney worked on a small project for a client referred to her by a friend. Courtney wrote a few press releases for this client and, as you do, billed for the work. And…crickets. Courtney send a few more messages, but never got a response. The client had gone totally off the radar, and Courtney didn’t get paid! Courtney says, “I felt really dumb to have not gotten some sort of deposit or something.”
Since then, Courtney has been extra careful with payment measures. And thankfully this lesson wasn’t learned on a huge project.
29:30 – Adorable Mom Moment
Courtney’s son Connor talked so much about how he loved the tacos at school, so Courtney made burritos for her family. Of course, he hated Courtney’s burritos!
She asked him, “How are these different than the ones at school?”
“Well…the school’s are good,” He responded.
Oh my goodness!! We work so hard for these kids! And at the end of the day, they just want cafeteria food.
Stay in Touch With Courtney
Facebook: Blessed by Brenna