The Infinite Wisdom of Others: Susan Johnston

Welcome to week 2 of the Infinite Wisdom of Others! This week, I’ve branched out, and have a subject who is not in any way related to me. Bonus! After the jump, Susan Johnston — an extremely prolific freelance writer — subjects herself to my questions.

1. First of all, please explain to our readers what your freelance business is, and how much of your time you devote to it.

I am a freelance writer who covers career and lifestyle topics for magazines, websites and, occasionally, newspapers. I also take on copywriting projects such as press releases, web copy, and ghostblogging. I’m a sole proprietor, so most days it’s just me and my laptop in an empty apartment for 8-10 hours a day (with breaks for blog reading, of course). 🙂

2. Why did you choose this particular set-up for your freelance business? How is this the ideal set-up for your lifestyle?

I may set an up LLC someday, but right now being a sole proprietor makes sense for me because of the clients I work with and my cash flow situation. I like the flexibility of freelancing, but some days it still seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day! I’m still working on time management.

3. Why did you decide to freelance in general? What drew you to this type of work?

I like that you don’t have to pay your dues in a traditional sense. And I like the variety. I can pitch stories according to my interests and use that as a way to explore new topics. I love learning from other women and entrepreneurs, so whenever I interview someone for an article, I usually find bits of advice that are applicable to my own life.

4. Do you find that past experience in staff positions help you with the freelance work you’re doing now? Do the two worlds overlap in any way?

I did not work on staff at a publication, but I freelanced on the side for several years while I worked in marketing and PR. It was good training for writing query letters and understanding how PR people work. And since I write about career issues, I can draw from my fond memories of office life for, er, inspiration.

5. How do you see your business growing in the future?

I want to focus more on essay and magazine writing. Obviously, there are tons of opportunities and demand for writing online (and that’s how I earn the bulk of my money now), but there’s nothing quite like seeing your byline in a favorite magazine. Even though web content is convenient (and the quicker publishing process is nice), I hope that people continue to enjoy the tangible quality of reading magazines. I’m trying to devote one day a week to essays and querying dream markets, but sometimes I have too much else going on! That’s probably a good problem to have.

6. What are your favorite resources for the burgeoning writer (or other freelancer)?

I’ve been a member of Freelance Success for over a year now, and I can’t say enough good things about it! The forums are a huge help, and their weekly newsletter has landed me several paying assignments. I just got back from the first-ever Freelance Success conference in Tampa, which was a blast.

7. What are the toughest aspects of freelancing, and how do you deal with them?

Getting people to pay me on time. But I’m persistent and I keep a paper trail, so everyone has eventually paid up with one exception. That publication went bankrupt, so there’s not much I could do. All the more reason to be careful with small startup pubs!

8. If you could purchase anything for your home office, what would it be?

What office? Right now I’m sitting on an Ikea chair in the living room! I try not to do too much work in my bedroom because a) it’s bad sleep hygiene and b) the wireless signal is spotty in that part of the apartment. But I have a scanner/copier/printer that was a very handy hand-me-down from my boyfriend, and I fantasize about having a real home office someday! I’ll probably have to move out of the city first.

9. What are your favorite guilty pleasure magazines and websites out there?

I read lots of girly mags: Glamour, Cosmo, and I even have a subscription to Seventeen. Strictly for research, of course, since I’m trying to break into more of those markets. Actually, I like reading them at the gym or on airplanes. I’ve subscribed to SELF magazine for ages (my first clip was last June!), but that’s less fluff, so I wouldn’t call it a guilty pleasure.

To get a taste of Susan’s work, read her Women’s Health quiz on dealing with office drama (apparently, I’m a crisis coordinator), or her WomenEntrepreneur piece on how to turn setbacks into successes. She also manages The Urban Muse — a blog about “reading, writing, and the creative life.” Keep track of Susan over at LinkedIn.

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