Freelance Writing: What’s love got to do with it?

It’s Valentine’s Day. If you’re paired up, congratulations! Hopefully you’re happy, and your Valentine will spoil you with a token of their appreciation – whether it’s a card, a box of chocolates, flowers, a fancy night out, or a fun night in.

I don’t have a Valentine, so I thought I’d mark the day by sharing a few thoughts about something I do love: words.

Love

After 15 years writing for a living, I still love words! 

2019 marks 15 years since I graduated from J-school and launched my career as a freelance journalist.

It’s hard to believe that in 2004 Facebook was in it’s infancy.  Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat had yet to be launched, and mobile phones were simply used to make calls. Today, we carry the world in our pocket and spend far too much time worrying about our virtual life.

The media landscape has also changed beyond recognition since 2004. In fact, my alma matter – Western University – no longer offers an MA in journalism. It’s been replaced by a Master of Media in Journalism & Communication , which is an interesting commentary on the blurring of the lines between actual journalism and PR.

Somehow I’ve manage to write continuously through all the upheaval.

Like any job, there are days that seem to drag on forever. But overall, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do. So in honour of Saint Valentine, here are three reasons why I’m still in love with freelance writing:

The variety.
I’ve written about everything from cheese to concrete. I’ve interviewed farmers, CEOs, artists, researchers, and the odd politician. Some weeks I’ll be working on a magazine article (or two), website copy, and social media posts for several different clients. Every day is different.

Some projects may be less exciting than others, but the brain-numbing ones won’t last forever and a great story may be just around the corner.

The flexibility.
I started a full-time communications job the day after I graduated from J-school. I was also a regular contributor to several different local publications – which have all since folded or eliminated their freelance budgets.

Once my son was born I made the decision to leave the 9-to-5. At the time, it didn’t make sense to return to work just to pay for day care.

I’ve been extremely fortunate that my freelance income never had to pay the bills. But it always provided me with my own money and a connection to the outside world.

I’ve worked early in the morning and late at night. I’ve brought my laptop to the hockey rink and to the beach. I’ve done interviews from my car (parked, of course!) Last summer was the first time I closed my office for an official vacation. No one fired me – and I’m doing it again this year.

The ability to set my own hours and control my work load is one of the big advantages of working freelance. I wouldn’t trade this flexibility for the world.

The opportunity to learn.
Writing a wide variety of copy for so many different clients means that I now know a little about a lot of different things. This career path definitely takes an open mind and a willingness to learn!

I’ve also learned a lot about the art of writing over the past 15 years.

When I went to school, I studied journalism. It was a great foundation. I was taught how to research, interview, fact-check, and tell stories. But it quickly became clear that freelance journalism was not where the better-paying jobs were at.

So, I learned about PR, corporate communications and copywriting. I read books, attended seminars, and took online courses. And guess what? I discovered that I enjoy this type of writing too. And people seemed to enjoy working with me.

Today, I’m still learning. I’m currently enrolled in two online courses and I’m sure I’ll take many more. As the world of corporate communications and journalism evolves, I want my skills to keep up. And besides, it’s fun.

So  from this grateful freelance writer to you – Happy Valentine’s Day! What do you love about your job?

Nicole Laidler is the owner of Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. She’s passionate about helping people tell their stories, build their brands, and grow their success one word at a time. Visit her website to see what she’s been writing lately! 

 

Advertisements

The top 3 of 2018

If you follow my blog, you may recall that 2018 was my “Year of Momentum.” And the last 12 months have indeed been a time of tremendous change.

I’m officially a free woman, successfully organized a meaningful and joy-filled bar mitzvah for my son, and shifted my mindset from being a mom-who-also-writes to being a mom-who-also-runs-her-own-business.

I have an accountant, a CMS, and an HST number. I’ve grown the copywriting side of my business and discovered that I actually enjoy writing website copy and (ghost) blogs. And while this shift means I have fewer bi-lines to share, it was still a challenge to narrow down my top-three favourite stories of 2018.

Here they are, in no particular order:

William Older
I actually got to write two stories about William Older for London Inc. magazine in 2018, and I’m sure I could write a dozen more. Originally from England, he purchased London’s long-neglected Lilley’s Corners in June 2017 with a plan to reinvigorate the entire block.

William Older - Photo London Inc Magazine

William Older at Lilley’s Corners. Photo: London Inc. 

I drive past this corner several times a week on the way to the hockey rink. At some point I noticed the sidewalks were being kept clean. Then the exterior was painted. I decided to do some digging, which led to this story about Older’s vision for an arts and small business incubator.

I watched the space develop over the summer, and by the fall I was able to write a follow-up, which you can read here.

As a long-time Londoner, it’s inspiring to meet someone like Older. He may not be one of the “big boys” in the local development community, but he’s been able to bring about a big change in a neighbourhood that’s been ignored for too long. I’m looking forward to seeing what he will do next!

The Old Stone House
This is another story about part of our local history. In this case the subject was an old stone house built by two brothers who emigrated to Lucan-Biddulph in the mid-1800s.

Old Stone House

If these stones could talk! 

An assignment for Our Homes London & Middlesex magazine, it’s not hard journalism. But it was fascinating to peek behind the doors of an original Ontario farmhouse and to see how its current owners – descendants of the builder – managed to bring the space into the 21st-century while respecting the past.

You can read about the transformation of the old stone house here.

Rick Gleed – Back to School
I first met Rick Gleed almost 20 years ago. He’s one of the most successful commercial real estate brokers in the region. So when he decided to go back to school for an EMBA at the age of 64 I thought: “That might be a fun story for the Ivey alumni magazine.”

intouch-rick-spring-2018

Rick Gleed. Photo: Ivey Intouch magazine

The editor agreed and I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick about his decision to step back into the classroom after 47 years.

Intrigued? You can read my story here.

A theme emerges
Now that I’m writing this blog, I notice a common link between my top-three of 2018. They are all about individuals with incredible vision, courage, and dedication.

And speaking of vision, I recently wrote my business plan for 2019. One of my goals is to blog on a monthly basis. I guess we’ll see how that goes!

For now, I wish you all hope, peace, and joy  – whatever you celebrate.

 

Saying ‘yes’ to women supporting women.

A while back I was invited to be part of a November 1 fashion show in support of Kellee Student Education Foundation Africa (KSEFA) – a volunteer organization that offers educational support for women in South Sudan and Nairobi, Kenya.

FAshion Forward

I’ll be walking the catwalk for this SOLD OUT fashion fundraiser.

As part of my commitment to say ‘yes’ to opportunities that come my way, I agreed. But being a journalist, I wanted to learn more about KSEFA and the women it supports.

Turns out, the organization has ties to my home town thanks to a friendship that developed between Kellee Jacobs and KSEFA founder Lino Madut Angok. Kellee is the daughter of London-based image and style consultant, Sue Jacobs.

Kellee and Madut

Lino Madut Angok and Kellee Jacobs.

Kellee is currently living in Nairobi where she works as a monitoring and evaluation specialist for the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM). We recently connected by email so I could learn more about how our evening of style will help women half-way around the world.

KSEFA doesn’t have a website. Can you tell me a bit about the initiative?
KSEFA was founded in Nairobi in 2010, but began operations under Lino  in 2012. The program supports the education of women aged 24-40 from South Sudan who may not have had access to learning. It also offers technical training, including sewing and tailoring. There are also elements of peace programming, a focus on women and youth, and counseling and coaching of what is sometimes a traumatized group.

KSEFA is registered as a non-government organization in South Sudan and is awaiting registration in Kenya. The cost of registration in Kenya is quite high, so any available funds have previously been prioritized for actual educational programming. With funds coming in soon, Lino hopes to be able to continue classes and pay the registration and legal fees for the formalization of KSEFA in Kenya.

How did you meet Lino?
Lino was a student at Sud Academy in Nairobi, a school originally for South Sudanese refugees who cannot afford school fees in the Kenyan school system. I met him there in 2008 when he was in the equivalent of Grade 11. We spent three years working together at the school to develop small, high-impact projects like building a science lab, creating a sustainable water access and purification system, and a scholarship program that allows students in Grade 12 to join a neighbouring school for their final year so they can graduate with diplomas.

How will the November 1 fundraiser help support KSEFA? 
All of the funds raised in London will support two learning locations helping South Sudanese migrants and refuges living in Nairobi, Kenya

With the funds raised, Lino would like to be able to provide small incentives to volunteer teachers at each location, as well as pay some small fees to the churches where classes take place. He will also purchase school supplies like chalk, pencils and books to be shared by the students.

Tell me a bit about the women who are supported by KSEFA.
Many have come to Nairobi from the refugee camps in northern Kenya. Others have come directly from South Sudan, displaced by the last 5 years of war and economic collapse in their country.

These women are interested in learning to help support themselves day-to-day in a fast paced urban environment – at the supermarket, with documents they are required to understand, on immigration and legal issues. They need to have a basic understanding of literacy, English, numbers, math, and their rights. This school is not a formal education centre that teaches the full Kenyan curriculum, but rather a stop-gap that provides otherwise unavailable opportunities to give people the knowledge they need in order to survive.

Lino teaching

KSEFA teaches literacy and math skills to help women in their day-to-day lives.

Of course, I’m not the only local entrepreneur involved in this fashion fundraiser. In fact, I’m honoured to be in the company of such an amazing group of sponsors and participants:

Sponsors2

Check out these incredible sponsors! 

We all owe Sue Jacobs and Allison Stephens a huge THANK YOU for being the driving force behind this amazing opportunity! Keep an eye on my Facebook page for photos….coming soon!

 

Stepping away to move forward

A few months back, I delcared 2018 my year of momentum. And now that I’ve reached the half-way point I can definitely say that this year is indeed shaping up to be one of momentous change.

On the work front, I continue to write for many of the same clients who have kept me busy since 2004. I’ve also forged new connections that are stretching my writing skills and expanding my accumulation of random knowledge. I still love my job and feel grateful to work with such a wide range of interesting people who seem to genuinely appreciate my way with words.

Since January, I’ve had the opportunity to do two speaking engagements. And I just rented a desk in a funky co-working space where I plan to finally get to work on a book project that’s been percolating for the past few years.

BakersWall

A funky wall for a funky co-working space.

I’m now confident that I made the right decision to focus on growing my freelance business rather than trying to enter the traditional work world when my marriage fell apart almost two years ago.

On the personal front, I’ve experienced the love and support of family and friends – both old and new. I’ve had the pleasure of being able to open up my home and feel that I am starting to build a community of people who care.

I’ve also started to take better care of my physical, mental, and spiritual health. For me, that includes finally having the courage to take time away from the office.

As a life-long freelancer, not working can feel scary.

Unlike a salaried worker who can occasionally get away with daydreaming on the job, if I’m not producing, I’m not being paid. In the past, I’ve always brought projects along with me whether I was traveling overseas or just to the (former) family cottage. Over the last 14 years, there has rarely been a day that didn’t include some sort of research or writing.

That stopped this year, when I made a commitment to myself to take one week off in June, July and August.

Last month, I took advantage of a child-free week and flew to New York.

Me and Klimt

Me and Adele Bloch-Bauer, at Neue Galerie. (The original is upstairs – no photos allowed.)

I was joined by a friend and we spent five days exploring. We went gallery hopping – the Guggenheim, Neue Galerie, MoMA, Cooper Hewitt, New Museum , – stumbled upon a Damien Hirst exhibition in Chelsea, and I discovered my new favourite perfume which was kindly shipped back to Canada since the bottle was too large for hand luggage.

Beach

And then – the beach!

Last week, my son and I escaped to a rental cottage on the shores of Lake Huron.  I think I must be a beach bum at heart, because sun, sand, and time spent with friends who came up to visit felt like my first real vacation in ages.

So – what did I learn from my time off?

  • Clients (old and new) are willing to work around your vacation plans.
  • I still love traveling as much as I did in my 20s, and it’s something I want to do more of.
  • I can more-or-less navigate the NYC subway system.
  • Beach time is good for my soul.

Today I’m back at the keyboard with several projects on-the-go. I am not sure what adventure August will bring, but I feel refreshed and ready to embrace the second half of 2018.

How’s your summer shaping up?

Three women to watch on International Women’s Day

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a woman. I recently realized that the past 18 months is the longest stretch of time I’ve spent single since I was a teenager. I’m OK with that. In fact, I’m kind of enjoying (re)creating my own life on my own terms, even if it can get complicated with a 12-year-old in tow.

As a woman, I know how lucky I am. I live in Canada, where my rights are well-protected. I managed to dig myself out from a suffocating common-law relationship with my dignity and bank account relatively intact. I’m surrounded by friends who check in to make sure I’m OK, make me laugh, and hold me accountable. I’m well-educated and have a job that I love.

International Women's Day

International Women’s Day got me thinking about all the fantastic women I’ve interviewed this year….

So, in honour of International Women’s Day 2018, I’d like to celebrate three women who I had the privilege of interviewing over the past year. Each left their mark on me for different reasons.

Phuong Pham – Owner, Fantastic Nails & Spa
I owe Phuong Pham an apology. I mis-spelled her first name throughout my story, and my editor didn’t catch the slip. Although I’m sure she noticed it, Phuong didn’t point out my mistake – even though it’s a cardinal sin for a journalist. (It was a first for me, but something that I am sure happens to everyone eventually!)

That’s just the kind of warm-hearted woman behind Fantastic Nails & Spa, one of London’s most successful nail salons.

Puong Pham - Fantastic Nails and Spa

Puong Pham (l), believes that every business can make a difference in the community. (Photo: Facebook)

If you think Phuong is running a small business, think again. Without divulging any numbers, I can say that this well-run salon and spa is undoubtedly one of the most successful businesses I wrote about last year.

Phuong is also a Buddhist, and it was her attitude towards money that impressed me the most.

If you read my story, you’ll learn that she came from very humble beginnings and arrived in Canada as a refugee with no formal education. So it would be understandable if Phuong was driven to make money for money’s sake.

Instead, she is using her hard work and good fortune to help improve the lives of others.

In fact, Phuong didn’t want my story to focus on the success of her salon, but rather on how it has enabled her to support many charitable initiatives – both here in Canada and in her native Vietnam. She hoped it would inspire other independent business owners to consider the good they could do in the world.

Something to think about this month as women around the world #PressForProgress.

You can read my story about Puong Pham here.

Stephanie Ciccarelli – Founder & Chief Brand Officer, Voices.com
As a former classical musician, how could I not love interviewing Stephanie Ciccarelli? She graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from Western University in 2006, where she studied voice.

Stephanie Ciccarelli

Stephanie Ciccarelli is a music grad turned entrepreneur. (Photo: Facebook)

Today, she and her husband run Voices.com – one of the world’s largest on-line marketplaces for voice-over talent. It’s a seriously big business, and only getting bigger.

I interviewed Stephanie about the launch of her new podcast, Sound Stories. Targeted towards the demand side of their business, Sound Stories features conversations with creative professionals speaking on a wide variety of topics. If you are in any kind of creative field, you should definitely check it out here.

Stephanie is also the mother of three young children. We did our interview at 7:30 in the morning at the Voices.com head office in downtown London. She had to catch a flight to New York and was already dressed for business with her carry-on packed and read to go. She’s another smart and ambitious woman who somehow juggles the demands of working with her husband, motherhood, and a big career, with grace, humour, and style.

You can read my story about Stephanie Ciccarelli’s Voices.com Sound Stories podcast here.

Jo-Ann Fisher – Founder, Hangar9
You wouldn’t think that women who call places like Toronto, Washington D.C. and New York City home would turn to a London, Ontario-based clothing boutique for fashion and styling advice. But that’s the kind of loyal clientele that Jo-Ann Fisher has built over 30 years at the helm of Hangar9.

Jo-Ann Fisher

Jo-Ann Fisher has been dressing women from Toronto to New York for more than 30 years. (Photo: Facebook)

While many independent retailers are crumbling under the weight of online shopping, Hangar9 is expanding, both in physical size and scope. What’s more, three out of Jo-Ann’s four daughters are actively involved in the company – and they’ll be taking over the reigns when Jo-Ann retires from the business side of her independent clothing store later this spring.

Jo-Ann doesn’t have a business degree, a diploma in fashion merchandising, or a family connection to the industry. She grew up on a farm and stumbled into the business through Mary Kay Cosmetics when she was approached to become a consultant at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.

What she does have is a strong work ethic, an engaging personality, a keen eye for fashion, and a genuine desire to help her clients look and feel their best. Her nine grandchildren are blessed to have a granny with so much style, energy, and zest for life. They may even have a hard time keeping up with her!

She’s setting a great example for the next generation of women who dare to dream big and want to  succeed in life and business without compromising their vision and integrity.

You can read my cover story on Jo-Ann Fisher and the next chapter for Hangar9 here.

Happy International Women’s Day 2018 to all the fabulous women I know, and to the men who love and support them….and I wonder who I’ll be writing about next year?

Nicole Laidler is a freelance journalist, copywriter and word strategist based in London, Ontario. She loves helping people grow their success, one word at a time. See what else she’s been writing at spilledink.ca 

 

Following their passion….while paying the bills

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: Do what you love and the money will follow.

If it were only so simple, we’d all be millionaires!

Unfortunately, real life isn’t so straight forward. You can’t pay your bills with enthusiasm, or fill your plate with passion. But recently, I met two individuals who are pursuing their business dreams without giving up their day jobs.

As the owners of Harris Flower Farm & Pastured Pork, Janis and Mark Harris are literally watching their business grow one flower and heritage piglet at a time.

Janis with the first bunch of tulips

Janis with the first tulips of 2016.

I drove out to meet Janis on a miserable snowy morning in April. Janis greeted me with a warm smile. She had recently picked her first spring tulips, grown in a hoop-house greenhouse on her family farm.

Janis explained that her parents still run one of the first organic farms in our area and that she inherited her love of flowers from her grandmother.

But instead of following her parents into farming full-time, Janis trained as an optometrist. She still works in the profession – when she isn’t looking after her three small children or tending the thousands of flowers she now sells every season.

Last year Janis hired part-time help to get her through wedding season; this summer her sister is moving back to the area to lend a hand.

Mark also works “off the farm” but finds time to help out with the flower crop and to look after a small group of pigs who feast on organic leftovers before being turned into tasty sausages and bacon available at local markets and directly from the farm.

You can read my story about Janis and Mark here.

Emilio Barbero is another entrepreneur who is dreaming big in his spare time.

Emilio

Emilio has a passion for geometric design.

By day, Barbero works as the creative director at a London interior design firm. In his off hours, he is the founder of Marbleknot Design Studio, where he lets his imagination run wild as a surface pattern designer.

Despite being a relative newcomer to the field, Barbero recently made his second trip to Surtex – North America’s largest art licensing show. If Barbero’s dreams come true, you’ll soon see his bold, geometric patterns on everything from gift wrap to coffee mugs. In the meantime, he’s producing a small range of consumer goods – including colourful hand made bow ties – all available from his online store.

You can read my story about Emilio here.

So what’s the moral of this blog?

You don’t have to give up your dreams when adult responsibilities hit. You just have to have enough drive to pursue them in your off-hours. And maybe one day you’ll be able to turn your passion into your full-time career.

What passions are you pursuing? 

 

On board with MainStreet London

I’ve been writing about downtown London for more than a decade. In fact, my very first cover story was about Kingsmill’s department store. Founded in 1865, this retail icon predated Confederation.

Store Exterior 001.JPG

    Kingsmill’s was founded in the heart of  London in 1865. (Kingsmill’s store for Francine Kopun.)

In 2004, when my story was published in Business London magazine, the family-owned retailer was an early adapter of online sales. In 2014, Kingsmill’s closed, marking the end of an era for anyone who grew up in London.

(Although I can’t seem to find a copy of my 2004 story, you can read more about the history of Kingsmill’s and its closing here and here.)

That cover story – penned as a J-school assignment – was the first of hundreds I have written that are in some way connected to the core of my home town.  So when some Londoners claimed that the closure of Kingsmill’s signaled the death of downtown retail, it got my blood boiling.

Luckily, I have a pen (or keyboard).  I pitched, and wrote, a second cover story on the new wave of independent retailers setting up shop in downtown London.

Declaration of Independance

I turned my anger into another cover story….

You can read the full story here.

Around the same time, I saw a Facebook posting about a board opening at MainStreet London – an organization tasked with supporting and strengthening all aspects of downtown.

I know that I am not the only Londoner frustrated by the snail’s pace of progress in the core. But being an optimist at heart I decided the time was right to join the fight for downtown at a more formal level. So I sent in my application – and was accepted to the board in January.

I am looking forward to seeing the revitalization process from another angle, and am hoping to learn more about the challenges of bringing meaningful – let alone transformational – change to the heart of my hometown.