Alexandra Frost is a journalist, freelance writer, and mother who has a passion for teaching and training young journalists. Her self-motivation and ability to achieve work-life harmony are just a couple of ways that she inspires us. She’s also grown her freelance business from $300/mo to $25,000/mo in just three years!
We asked her to share her experience growing her freelance business and building her dream career.
Building a Dream Career and Business
1. What were your goals when you first started freelancing?
My first article was published in my local paper at age 18 for $15, and it was a news brief about a local American Idol competition. Through college and my 20s, while I pursued a career in education, I used freelance writing as a side hustle, a passion project, and something to do for fun.
While I loved teaching, especially teaching journalism, I still had a hunger to write more. When a news event would flash across the TV, I’d feel out of the loop that I wasn’t covering it. So I started freelancing with our city’s news station and newspaper, taking a story per week.
My goals expanded and I started my own business doing freelance journalism and eventually content marketing. I wanted to cover the news and feature stories/trends, but I also wanted to get involved with the company’s missions, help them achieve their content goals, and feel like part of their direction and success.
During the pandemic, when I switched to virtual teaching, I had much more time and greatly expanded my business- helping other businesses pivot their content to be pandemic-relevant. Shortly after, I had my fourth son and quit teaching, going full-time freelance, thriving in the flexibility of my new schedule and the creativity it allowed.
2. Did your freelance goals shift over time?
Yes. As my sons grew, and joined sports and needed cool shoes, and as I save for their colleges and prioritize date nights and short trips with my husband, money became a much larger factor. I went from making $300 per month freelancing a few months ago to my first $20,000 month this August while working part-time hours.
I continue to be shocked and excited about how my business can support my growing family and the security it provides, in spite of the bad rap writers and other small business owners have for not having financial success (a myth!). Making more money than I could as a teacher was always a goal, and is now a reality.
Many people think money is not an indicator of success, and while that is true, it’s wildly helpful in supporting my family and doing things I want to do in my life. Additional indicators I pay attention to, and prioritize as goals alongside that, include:
- Working with companies and publications I believe in, who I think are making a difference or have strong ethics
- Working with editors and project managers I find pleasant, challenging, and excellent to collaborate with
- Finding a variety of interesting work that keeps me looking forward to sitting in the chair each morning and opening my computer
- Proposing stories that matter personally to me
3. You work part-time and have seen your business grow exponentially, do you have any scheduling tricks and tips to share?
I set my schedule around the amount of time I prefer to work and parent, which for me is 50/50. I work Monday through Thursday, after spending time with my kids for breakfast, from 9 AM-12 or 1 PM. Then I have lunch with my kids and put them down for nap time.
Having that time to run my business without them at home is essential to being able to Zoom and interview in peace. From 2-4 PM I do tasks that don’t require phone calls, such as writing articles, responding to publicists and sources, pitching, and research. Sometimes on busy days, I work until 5 PM.
I reserve Fridays for fun outings with my family or professional development for my business that I don’t consider work, such as learning through reading my favorite writers’ articles, listening to a podcast while on a walk, or following interesting leads on social media. This results in approximately 20-25 ish hours of work, depending on the week.
My biggest tip is to combine your availability for calls into a narrow window to give the rest of the day more flexibility. I also have a pretty hard rule against working weekends, evenings, or during vacations, though if I decided to go to the pool all afternoon with my kids, sometimes I’ll fit an hour in later in the evening instead.
4. Were there any pricing and packaging shifts you made as your business grew?
I have raised my rates throughout my career, as I am able to offer more prestigious clips and work experiences to new clients. I went from that original $15 story to recently a branded content piece for $3 per word. I believe in constantly reassessing rates (we have to pay our bills, after all).
A mentee in my earliest years taught me to always negotiate, and that’s a rule that has served me incredibly well over the years. There have been a handful of times I didn’t negotiate rates, but overall it’s a process for me that ensures there’s no money left on the table for the work I’m providing.
I also expanded to offer media consulting to publicists, helping bridge the gap between publicists and journalists. I realized they often feel they are shooting out pitches without much information on what would most benefit journalists, so I decided to work with them.
I also provide freelance and business coaching to new and mid-level writers, helping them pursue this career path, and I mentor young journalists. This is one of my favorite parts of my job, as I still love teaching.
5. What advice would you give freelancers just starting out who can’t clearly see a path to more money and a sustainable career?
First I would identify what barriers you perceive to be in the way. Here are a couple of challenges the writers I coach and mentor talk about and some I’ve been through myself.
“There aren’t any clients/publications interested…”
This is very tough. I’d look at this as a five-year goal rather than something that will be solved next month. And every year within that five years, you will be surprised to have more clients coming to you than the previous year. Make pitching a hobby, a way of life, and a go-to activity that you do when you need a break from your other tasks.
I truly believe my business’s success is because I love the chase, I love reaching out to new clients or publications and learning what they want and how to pitch that, or provide that to them. Constantly pursuing new opportunities (daily, weekly) will result in many no’s, but eventually many yes’s.
“I don’t know how to do XYZ…”
Fake it til you make it has never been more true. If you know how to communicate, research, and write, you can figure out a lot more than you think. I didn’t know the first thing about medical devices, and now I contribute copywriting to a major health tech company. I didn’t know much about fashion, but then I was writing blogs for a top NYC stylist and a well-known fashion line.
If you are confident you can do the work, do a ton of research to educate yourself, and make it happen. I’ve also built a community along the way, from freelancing friends I text with regularly to online communities, chat boards, and coaches I’ve paid to learn from. All of these help along your journey of self-education and collaboration.
“I don’t know my niche.”
Well, neither do I. I highly disagree with people who say you have to have a single niche, because I don’t, nor do I want to. I definitely have areas I focus on and am passionate about, such as health and wellness, parenting and kids, and education. But I’ve also written about dog food, medical claim denials, camping, and sustainability this month. While it helps to narrow down your passions, don’t count yourself out for projects that aren’t your typical path. This also helps keep every day fresh and exciting – ultimately preventing burnout.
“I’m not sure where to find opportunities.”
Sign up for newsletters where people post jobs, such as Sonia Weiser’s and Write Jobs Plus, along with following editors and marketing leads on Twitter and LinkedIn. Every piece of junk mail you receive via mail or email came from a marketing team. Reach out to them and introduce yourself, and share a few relevant links to projects you’ve worked on.
Finally, consider the connections sources themselves have. They might have a friend at a similar company looking for a blogger, copywriter, etc. Ask editors and marketing professionals you love if they’ll pass your name along to others in their network. Gather testimonials as you go to display them on your website/portfolio. Finally, speak confidently about yourself, your business, and your services, and others will be attracted to that confidence.