With remote work being a career goal for so many people — and the “gig economy” becoming many people’s reality whether or not it’s a goal — many of us need solid info or examples of how to execute a smart transition from the office to self-employment. I’ve profiled about a dozen very successful niche experts who made the switch 10 or more years ago. But what does success look like in the first 3-5 years after leaving an office job?
To answer that question, I turned to writers on the ClearVoice platform, who held office jobs not so long ago and decided to go the independent route. A successful path can take many different forms, but there are some consistent waypoints and personal milestones that many successful self-employed people experience. In this conversation with Lauren Topor-Reichert, we’re going through what her path looked like, by way of the milestones and personal moments.
Some people didn’t choose to be in their work situation — but ideally, there is an element of personal choice. For Lauren, freelancing was a choice driven by instinct. She shares with us the moments she realized: It’s time to make a decision for my own happiness, and then a few months later, I can turn this part-time thing into a real career, and later on, Yes, a freelance life is the right one for me. She did it without being in New York or San Francisco, and without having a mentor — but she did have a couple anchor clients, and she did have ClearVoice to help connect her with opportunities from the start.
Let’s start at the very beginning, when you were working in an office and having thoughts about beginning to moonlight.
Work-life balance has always been really important and working in an office from 8-5 really didn’t fit with my lifestyle. I live an outdoor lifestyle. I mountain bike. I run. I like to be outdoors, and being inside at a desk all day wasn’t really for me.
I had heard about freelancing and I never really thought about it for myself. I did go to Arizona State University (ASU), and through college I had worked for magazines and some other publications but freelancing was never really a viable career option or so I was told. So it wasn’t something that I was really thinking about. But after I had had some conversation with other writers who had done freelance work, I really started thinking about it. And more and more it became something that I could see myself doing.
Was full-time freelance your goal when you started moonlighting?
I started freelancing to pick up some extra income, and it wasn’t something I was thinking of as a full career. But as I started to do it more and more, I realized that hey, there really is something to this, and I could make a full-time gig out of this.
Did you go from one client to two or three clients while still balancing an office job?
I went from one to two pretty quickly and then I picked up some other contract work that would be from 6 months to a full-year, and then others that were short-term. But once I made the transition from an office to working from home, I started with two clients.
You talk about jumping into the abyss of freelancing, which is something people sometimes struggle with for 6 months, sometimes for 10 years. Sometimes they go back and forth. So, what were the signs from the job-o-sphere that let you know you could do this?
I’ve always been a writer ever since I was young, so that was a skill set I could really lean on. But honestly I don’t have a good answer for that. I just wasn’t happy in an office job, and I knew I didn’t see myself working in an office.
Do you have a portfolio on the ClearVoice platform?
I have a portfolio. Examples of my work with ClearVoice and outside of ClearVoice are compiled there, and the clients see that and editors can see that as well. So if I’m a good match with a certain client of theirs, the editors can pair me. Or if a client sees my work, then they can reach out to me. From there, I have the control to accept that job or pass on it.
Everybody thinks that you have to be in New York, or Chicago, or San Francisco — to kick-start a career. You need to be in New York till you have 10 years in magazines, for example. But in your life, that’s been proven not to be the case. Can we talk about how this platform and this type of connection tool opens up other doors?
That’s a huge misconception that I had even through my college years. I had seen friends and other people from the same program I was in relocating to LA or relocating to New York to get that dream job, put in the work, and get a career at a magazine. And I believed it for a while. But as platforms like this come up and our access to digital technology like ClearVoice and all the digital tools grows, opportunities become more accessible. I think that it works like that for a lot of different freelancers. You don’t have to be in an office or in a certain location to collaborate with team members, to communicate with a client. Everything’s digital. There’s no strings; there’s no box that you have to be in anymore.
I saw that these days you brand yourself as a fitness and food writer. How much of the work that you get falls into those two categories?
I’ve done some freelance work for New Balance, which was a great working relationship. I also did some writing for Under Armour, so that was fun. I do a lot of food writing for a publication based out of New York that has outlets in most of the major markets. It’s probably 50% with those two industries. And honestly I do a lot of ghostwriting as well. I was doing some work for an apartment complex company based out of Texas — web copy and blog copy, just things like that.
Let’s talk about the balance between that very desirable work and the work that pays the bills. Also, bylined versus non-bylined.
A lot of the writing I do now, my byline is associated with it, but there’s quite a bit of work I’m doing without a byline. To me, I like to strike a balance between both. Having a byline is great, it gets my name out there, it really helps my brand — but the ghostwriting work is really the bread and butter of what can keep my freelance career going.
And where do you want to go in 5 years?
I see myself freelancing. I love the freedom that I have working from home. I can work remotely. All I have to do is take my laptop. A few years ago, I thought maybe I will transition back into an office, but that idea has really gone out the window for me, and I see myself continuing to freelance.