Below, Ashley reveals the roots of her interest in entrepreneurship and offers tips for freelance writers, journalists, social media managers, and entrepreneurs.
Did you get your bachelor's degree in journalism knowing that you would then get a master's in entrepreneurship? How do those who fields work well together?
I had no idea that I would be interested in business or entrepreneurship later in my career. I studied journalism because I always loved to write. A few years after college, I started working for a statewide business magazine. It was then that I began learning about start-ups, business models and leadership. Soon, I developed a real interest in entrepreneurship and decided to study it through a master's program.
Having worked as a freelance writer for a broad range of clients, can you think of any specific type of client or industry that paid better rates than others? If one were to become a full time freelance writer and support oneself exclusively from writing income, what would be the best niche to address?
Absolutely. My best paying clients have been a custom publishing company and a financial services company. I love magazines, but magazines were the least paying clients for me. I would recommend developing an ability to write about financial services, law, real estate and health care. Consider writing for trade journals and associations. Learn how to write white papers and about highly technical concepts, and you can tap into more lucrative markets.
How has your income changed over time? Do experienced journalists/freelance writers earn significantly more than new upstarts, or do higher income opportunities level off pretty quickly?
I was lucky to have had a few jobs in journalism prior to going into freelancing full-time. I was able to leverage existing relationships with my editors to obtain work right away when I began freelancing full-time. If you some experience and contacts, I do think you are at an advantage in the freelance marketplace. After the first year, I was able to filter out some of the lower-paying gigs and focus on better-paying opportunities.
What lead you to become a founder of Chatter Buzz Media, a company that provides everything from corporate branding services to SEO, website design, and social media management?
I founded Chatter Buzz Media with a long-time friend, Shalyn Dever, who is an electrical engineer. Shalyn started a website company in 2006, and we worked together on projects every now and then. Sometimes she would get website clients who knew what they wanted their website to look like, but had trouble coming up with the website copy. That's where I came in. I became fascinated by social media and began attending social media conferences as a blogger. In 2012, Shalyn approached me about renting space with her. We thought we'd be 'business roomies" so to speak. Well, that led to more conversations ... after one night of too much wine, Chatter Buzz Media was born!
Is Chatter Buzz Media at all reflective of an independent online entrepreneur's need to have a wide variety of talents? Or would you say that there are more opportunities for those who specialize?
I think that the recession taught me the importance of becoming a one-woman band. To become indispensable, I had to continue coming up with ways to offer value. In the creative world, we know the difference among branding, PR, marketing, social media, content marketing, etc. But to the general business owner, these are all one in the same. We found our niche in helping clients tell their story online. For strategy sake, we offer a variety of services, but we definitely still support fellow colleagues who specialize. For example, we have a freelancer who is our go-to person for technical writing. We have a video freelancer we hire all the time, too. We found that if we can be a knowledge hub and connector for businesses, they continue to come back to us.
Much of your present work involves content marketing and content creation. How do you sell content marketing to clients who might be dubious of its value? How do you measure its ROI to make a strong business case?
We definitely explain the difference in paid media, earned media and owned media to clients. We show them statistics about the rise of inbound marketing as opposed to shout marketing. We show them stats and studies demonstrating that brands that offer useful information are able to position themselves as experts in their industry. We show them the benefits of blogging through Google Analytics and conversions. We talk to them about their specific customer acquisition cost, and demonstrate through hard numbers how cost-effective content marketing is compared to advertising. Thanks to technology and social media, a company can be less dependent on a traditional news outlets to carry their message to consumers. Now, a company can have its own newsroom, blog and resource center. A company can commission its own research studies, white papers, etc (hiring freelancers to write it!). We demonstrate all of this information through detailed proposals to clients.
You have been involved with an incredibly broad range of organizations and charities. Where do you find the time for it all? Has your involvement with various organizations helped you along in your career?
I definitely believe that being involved in the community helped me in my career. I felt fulfilled after a layoff from a magazine, and was able to make new contacts in lots of different industries. I was able to learn new skills and gain exposure to ideas to leverage in my own business. Since starting the company, I have had to taper off some of my involvement. Now I serve on 2 boards and sing in the choir at my church, but that's it.