Pug in a banana costume - Copywriter Kirsty Fanton
The title may be unconventional - but so is Kirsty's story and what she does for her client's emails. From counsellor to copywriter via French farm hand.
Hear how Australian freelancer Kirsty discovered her skill, found her niche and figured out the business side. Still taking time for herself, finding wealth in life beyond money.
More from Kirsty Fanton
Who the hell is Steve Folland?
Steve's a freelancer helping businesses use and make video & audio content in much better ways. Find out more at stevefolland.com, track him down on Twitter @sfolland or lay a trail of cake and he'll eventually catch you up.
In 2015 is decided to create the freelance podcast (well, there weren't any others doing this then) where freelancers could learn from each other via their stories.
Check out Steve's Being Freelance Vlog that documents his weekly wanderings and wonderings as a freelancer.
Transcript of the freelance podcast interview - copywriter Kirsty Fanton, with Steve Folland
Steve Folland: Let's crack on and go to Australia and talk to freelance copywriter Kirsty Fanton. Hey, Kirsty!
Kirsty Fanton: Hey, Steve. How are you?
Steve Folland: I'm well. Thanks for doing this. So, how about as ever, we get started hearing how you got started being freelance.
Kirsty Fanton: Yeah, for sure. So I got started being freelance in quite a roundabout way. I work as a copywriter now as you said, but if we rewind a few years, I was actually working as a counselor. So once I finished high school, went to uni, undergrad, post-grad, did all those things, worked as a counselor for maybe five or six years, I think it was. Really enjoyed it, was having a great career, things were going well.
Kirsty Fanton: And then in 2014, my partner and I decided we wanted to pack our bags and go on a belated gap year. So we went and we did France for 12 months, which was amazing, and essentially spent that time doing anything that we wouldn't do here in our normal lives in Sydney. So lots of farm work, worked on a few vineyards, all those sorts of fun things.
Kirsty Fanton: And during that time away, I kept a blog, not for any commercial purpose, but just to keep friends and family updated on what we were doing and obviously keep them across all our funny stories. Because when you put two Aussies in France, who don't speak French, and also, I mean, my partner grew up on a farm so he had practical skills, but I can assure you I have none. So putting me on vineyards and foie gras farms and all those sorts of things was quite amusing.
Kirsty Fanton: So I kept that blog, and then by the time we got back to Australia, some of my friends had actually started their own business, and they were looking for someone to write their copy. So they approached me because they'd enjoyed the way I'd written about France on my blog. And things got started for me from there.
Steve Folland: Wow. So when was it, by 2015, is that when you got back?
Kirsty Fanton: Yes. I got back at the end of 2015, and then I was working sort of, just outside. So I got another counseling job when I got back because I was pretty broke after not earning money for 12 months. But was doing the copy on the side to start with. So about ten hours a week, I think it was.
Steve Folland: How cool is that? So if you hadn't have taken the year out, you might not be doing what you do now.
Kirsty Fanton: I know. It's like sliding doors.
Steve Folland: Yeah. So, what sort of counselor was it?
Kirsty Fanton: So I specialized in helping people that were affected by chronic and terminal illness. So worked, for example, in a big cancer charity here in Australia, worked at a hepatitis charity for a while. So those sorts of things. So quite a big change from doing that to writing humorous copy.
Steve Folland: Yeah, that's the thing, because so, I'd described you as a freelance copywriter, but more specifically, yeah, you do sort of hone in on making things funny and making, for example, email campaigns funny, right?
Kirsty Fanton: Yes, that's right.
Steve Folland: When you first went freelance, as a copywriter, that is, were you doing any copywriting? Like serious copywriting? How long did it take you to end up doing that particular niche?
Kirsty Fanton: Sure. So when I first started, it was a bit of a mixed bag, really. Because I had written my blog in my style, so it is my natural style, it's, I guess, hopefully quite funny, quite relaxed, quite conversational. And that's what my friends' company were looking for. I was writing in that style for them. But then the contacts that I got through that role, they were mainly in the hotel and travel industry, and they were a lot more corporate. So, it took me about a year and a half, I think, and it took me actually signing up to sort of, like, a think tank group called the Copywriter Accelerator before I was able to give myself permission to just hone in on what I actually enjoyed doing the most. And that was a big turning point for me, I think, in my freelance career.
Steve Folland: Wow. So what was the Copywriter Accelerator?
Kirsty Fanton: So, I was going through this phase, I think last September maybe, where I was just feeling a little bit flat about what I was doing because I think I left my counseling career with the idea of creating and shaping this lifestyle that I would love, that I would enjoy doing that work every day and I would create my days to make me happy, essentially. And there I was sort of out of momentum, feeling a bit lost, and yeah, writings and stuff, it was quite corporate, quite boring, not quite me.
Kirsty Fanton: And as luck would have it, I remember being on Facebook one day and Facebook suggested I join a group called the Copywriter Club, and I was like sure, Facebook, why not? And I got in there, and they were advertising this Accelerator group, which was pitched as a way to learn all the business facets, so not the actual copywriting. It wasn't to help with that, which was good. I didn't need help with that. I needed help learning about processes and payments and structures and packages and all those sorts of things.
Kirsty Fanton: And the very first module in that was about finding your niche and working at what you actually like doing and what you were good at doing. So that was the start of my transition, I guess, from do whatever to write funny things.
Steve Folland: Wow. So, you took a lot out of joining that group. Was it a course as well, or just a conversational type group?
Kirsty Fanton: So it was a course. So it was three months, I think, and they had a set number of modules to work through. I think they were two weeks long each, I can't remember. But they're on things like, finding your niche, like packaging, pricing, marketing, and the last one, I probably can't swear, but it was get the F out there. So, also on promoting yourself.
Kirsty Fanton: But there was also a slack group for the people in the course. So there were, I think, about 20 of us. So it was also great because it got me out of my echo chamber a bit. Because I do work from home, so some days, I would be tossing ideas around with no one to bounce them back to me, or hear calls in the middle of the summer when I joined this group. I was like, oh, this is great, real people who are struggling with similar things. So, incredibly helpful in so many ways.
Steve Folland: Wow. Okay. So, what changes did you start to make to your business off the back of that?
Kirsty Fanton: Yeah. So the very first change I make was my website. So if you go to my website now, it's a bit weird and a bit crazy. The homepage features a pug in a banana costume, so from the outset, you know that it's a bit different and you realize that what I'm doing is specializing in funny copy. But before the Accelerator group, my website was very bland and boring. It would not have stood out in any sort of lineup whatsoever. So that was the first change I made.
Kirsty Fanton: And then from there it was about seeking out different projects. So yeah, I think from there, I'm still doing that. I still have one client at the moment that is a little bit too corporate for me, so hopefully I continue growing and be able to maybe pass them onto someone else in the next few months. But aside from that, almost all my projects now are just, I love them. I love getting sucked into them. So I feel like I'm onto a good thing.
Steve Folland: And when it came to putting yourself the F out there, in what way did you do that?
Kirsty Fanton: So, I mean, that was a number of things to me. I have to admit, I didn't go full blown into that challenge, because my calendar was already quite full, which was great. So, I think one thing I've been very good at without really intending to, is putting myself in front of the right people to get better and to get more work. So for me, that's been getting myself in front of a few copywriters who are very well established and working with the kinds of clients that would be my ideal clients. So that's been one way to fill out my calendar.
Kirsty Fanton: So with that in mind, my getting the F out there was more about creating an Instagram account, looking for podcasts to pitch to, which I still haven't done yet actually. So you're my very first podcast, so we'll see how this goes. And just various things like that. Cold emailing was also something that I've earmarked for future. And I do need to start doing that soon. That's on my to-do list for sure.
Steve Folland: So you also touched on the fact that you work from home. You'd been in a business, quite a serious business, one would imagine as well, although maybe it helps having humor within it. How did it feel going from being a counselor to doing something so different from presumably, being parts of teams to working by yourself?
Kirsty Fanton: Yeah. So that was a very big change, you're right. I mean, to clear up one of your points, there's certainly a role for humor in counseling, even palliative care. And I think it can help with the right clients. So I didn't have a non-funny existence pre-copy. But I've certainly been allowed to bring that more to the forefront since I made the transition.
Kirsty Fanton: So, I mean, the biggest change for me really has been moving from an employee mindset to a business owner mindset. And I think it's something that every freelancer should do, preferably sooner rather than later. Because I'd spent my pre-copy career being someone's employee, so being told what to do, having a set role, having set responsibilities, having set work hours, and getting a set paycheck at the end of each month.
Kirsty Fanton: So to go from that into, I guess, being everything for myself, so being my manager, my supervisor, the person that approves things, the person who pays myself, you know, it's quite a big change. And I definitely didn't get that right, I think, until late last year. And that's certainly been something that's really helped me grow my business and made me a lot happier with how I'm spending my days.
Steve Folland: What things were you doing wrong as your own boss?
Kirsty Fanton: So I think, some things I was doing wrong, I was having a focus on just simply getting the work done, so getting the job done. And then when I switched from that to having a business ownership mindset, the focus became on my expertise and the value I could add to projects. So I became a resource and not just a worker, and was also able, I guess, to create demand for myself rather than chase it. And I think that's a really key difference between focusing on that employee mindset where you're sort of just used to doing what comes to you or waiting around to actually taking the reins and making what you want.
Steve Folland: Hmm, yeah, making opportunities for yourself other than waiting for things to be given to you. And also, I mean, going from that career to something so very different, were there skills that you took from that? Can you see things that you'd picked up through the years of doing that?
Kirsty Fanton: Yeah, absolutely. And I think I can see them more clearly now than initially, because copy is all about selling, right. So when I made the switch, I was very aware that having an insight into how people think and behave and feel would be very helpful in helping businesses make those sales. But beyond that, I think there's other skills that have actually come in very handy for me.
Kirsty Fanton: So, for example, if I'm interviewing prospects, so before someone signs their contract and signs on to work with me, I'm very good at making them feel heard and feel understood, which I think is a huge asset, because obviously people wanna hire someone that they think gets what they're doing and gets what they're aiming for. Not just someone who sort of comes along and railroads that conversation.
Kirsty Fanton: I think I'm also good at creating boundaries for myself and taking care of myself, 'cause those two things really are baked into everything about a counseling career, like right from your first uni subject and all through your work. You actually have a set time during the week to speak with a supervisor about how you're feeling, how you're going, what boundaries need to be strengthened or put in place. So that's just part of how I am in the world, and has been very helpful with how I am in business.
Steve Folland: Hmm. It's an interesting phrase there, interviewing prospects. So, does that mean sometimes people come to you offering you work, and then you turn it down?
Kirsty Fanton: Yes. I think I'm potentially almost a bit too protective of myself in that I think I probably turn down more clients than maybe I should. But just being aware, I mean, all freelancers talk about pita clients, which is pain in the ass, P-I-T-A. I hope I can say ass, sorry. I should have checked that first.
Steve Folland: Well, it's twice now, so.
Kirsty Fanton: So, I think something that's key when someone approaches you for work is to check in with where they are in their business and what their expectations are for the project. Because I think if they're going in to a project, so, for example, a launch project or something, and they have no email list, no existing audience, and they're wanting to sell 300 enrollments to a course, it's unrealistic and I think you're gonna be really up against it if you sign on to that. And I think being honest with them about what their expectations maybe should be, or how long it takes to build engagement and build a list and build out a product, that can make them reject you as well.
Kirsty Fanton: So it sort of goes both ways, I guess. But yes, quite protective of myself, so I do always speak with clients before I take on a big project. And it sometimes means that I let them know that I don't think we're a good fit, and if that's the case, if I do have someone else that I know that might be a better match for them, then I usually refer them on. So I don't leave them high and dry, it's a polite no. But it's a no nonetheless.
Steve Folland: When you work on a project, are you keen to get metrics, as in evidence, out the other side of it, to show what you've been doing has worked?
Kirsty Fanton: Absolutely. Which is one of the great things about emails and conversion copy in general, 'cause you can see what's worked, where it's worked, and what hasn't. So that's all great, too, because I think it's a big process in self-improvement. And without that data, you're sort of going in a bit blind, so yeah.
Steve Folland: Yeah. That's a good thing to have. So, let's go back to that whole taking care of yourself thing that you mentioned in there as well. So how do you go about taking care of yourself, like week by week or month by month?
Kirsty Fanton: So, I am very mindful of how many projects I take on at once. That's not to say that I've had a perfect record of never stretching myself too far, 'cause that has certainly happened. But I know the first signs of when I'm starting to feel burnt out, and when I feel those, what I actually do is just give myself the day off. Which can seem very counterintuitive, particularly if I'm very busy and very booked out, but I just know from experience that if I'm not feeling sort of sharp and awake and fresh, my copy's gonna be terrible. I'm gonna sit there for hours and hours and plug away at something that is not a good representation of my skills.
Kirsty Fanton: Whereas if I take the day off and come back refreshed the next day, then I'm probably gonna be able to get through it in half the amount of time and it's gonna be twice as good. So simple things like that. Aside from that, just taking time during the day to enjoy the fact that my hours are flexible. So I live near the beach here in Sydney, so I might be going for a swim at lunchtime, might be going for a run, listening to a podcast, reading a book, honestly whatever I feel like. And that's the beauty of self-care, you get to do what you actually enjoy.
Steve Folland: Yeah. 'Cause you did say you wanted, like, part of the thing of going freelance was the fact you wanted to be able to create days to make you happy.
Kirsty Fanton: Yes. Absolutely. Yeah, that was such a key thing, I think. Because it is such a privilege, I think, as a freelancer, as a business owner, to create something that feeds you in all the right ways. And I think there is maybe a tendency for people to get caught up in just thinking about the bottom line. So about how much money they're bringing in. And I certainly get that that's important and it's certainly a motivator to earn better money. But it's also not the be all and end all.
Kirsty Fanton: I think there's so much other wealth in life apart from money. So if that means just having a smile on your face all day, working in your pajamas when you feel like it, making yourself a lunch you enjoy because you're at home and you have access to a kitchen, little things like that, I think at the end of a long life I'll look back and I'll be like, yep. I did that right.
Steve Folland: You obviously found lot of value from finding that online community. How about people in real life?
Kirsty Fanton: Oh, no. No, I'm joking. I'm a bit of an introvert, and I actually like working by myself, as in, in my own space. I'm finally getting into a flow to write efficiently. So I do have a few friends who also have their own businesses, and I've tried a few times sort of working with them, but we just end up chatting, so it's not really an effective use of my time, I guess. I'd rather catch up with them on Saturday when I can actually disconnect from work and have fun.
Kirsty Fanton: But I mean, having said that, the online group that I joined, that business had a conference in New York in February, so I actually went to that. So I got to meet a lot of those people in real life, and that was amazing. 'Cause you already have that bond and it was really great to put a face to a name, to be able to poke everyone like they're real, they're 3D, yeah. So I mean, I feel connected, but I don't feel the need to do a whole lot of in-person networking. And that may change, I guess, down the track, but for the moment, it's working for me, and I'm happy.
Steve Folland: And are all your clients remote as well?
Kirsty Fanton: They are all, yeah, they are now. So I had one for about nine months, so I was actually working in an office two days a week here in Sydney, which was good because that was, I started out with them almost as soon as I stopped working my counseling job. So it almost helped with the transition a bit, I think. But yeah, most of my clients are actually based overseas now. So yeah, no chance of being in an office with them.
Steve Folland: And how do you find dealing, managing clients at a distance? Especially, I mean, I don't know, but obviously, being in Australia you're at the most extreme of the time zones, perhaps, when dealing with other people.
Kirsty Fanton: Yes. Yes I am. I think one of the good things though about the extreme nature of the Australian time zone is that we're ahead, so it's great for deadlines, because I almost have an extra day to finish off things and get them to the clients. So that when they wake up, say, on the Friday, it's there waiting for them. Whereas my Friday's been and gone, if that makes sense. So it actually works quite well.
Kirsty Fanton: And I've just started doing day rates as well, actually, as another service that I'm offering, and have had one U.S. client who's used a few of them. And that's worked really well. We both talked about how great it is that we have the time difference, because I can, yeah, like work on things while she sleeps, essentially. And she wakes up and they're done. So it's a good thing.
Steve Folland: Yeah, using it to your advantage. That's true. I had a client in New York, and I loved the fact that I could, on that particular project, I could take the afternoon off, like with my kids and stuff, not worry about it. Knowing that actually, my deadline for them wasn't until like, 10, 11 o'clock in the evening for me. So, while some people are like oh, but you're working the evening, I was like yeah, but during the day, I was in the park. So yeah, I quite liked having that client. The whole 10 PM thing was good.
Kirsty Fanton: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Steve Folland: I mean, we've sort of touched upon finances coming out, and packages, and maybe even earning huge sums not being the be all, be all-
Kirsty Fanton: It's all right, I know where you're going.
Steve Folland: Being the be all and end all, there it is. But how have you coped with that side of it?
Kirsty Fanton: So I think again, it's started to come together for me quite well since last year. I think before that, I made a mistake that I think potentially a lot of freelancers do, and I'm only saying this because I've talked to people who have done it, so I'm sure it's happening out there in the world. But because I changed career, and in my counseling career I was very highly qualified, I had lots of things to back me up, I was also lecturing at university, so I had things to point to to demonstrate my value, and then I moved into this whole new career without any sort of formal education for it, just talent, I guess, and a will to learn.
Kirsty Fanton: So to start with, my rates weren't super high, but once I realized, again, moving from the employee mindset to a business owner mindset, once I realized that I was actually in control of my rates, I didn't have to get them approved by anyone, I started increasing them quite quickly. And I found that that hasn't actually really impacted the demand I have, which is great. It just means I was probably undercharging earlier.
Kirsty Fanton: And I think, I mean, rates will be an ongoing question, I think, because I'm sure there's a point where you can't raise them anymore, because you're sort of overvaluing yourself. At the same time, given that you're constantly growing and learning and getting new skills and more experience, and hopefully also making a bigger name out there for yourself as you work with clients who are happy and they refer their friends or whoever to you, demand still increases. So, I think I will continue to increase my rates probably relatively regularly, at least for the foreseeable future.
Steve Folland: Hmm. Okay, so, that must help though. Do you base them on the amount of time that you spend on something, or because of the very metric-driven side of what you're doing, are you able to say, well, look at the value that it's bringing you, if you see what I mean?
Kirsty Fanton: Yeah. I see what you mean. Definitely, for most of my services, it's a value-based pricing system. So I was initially doing hours or words, sometimes, back in the early days of my freelancing. But I've moved away from that. The only time-based offering I have now is a day rate. And I mean, really, even if you break that down to an hourly rate, it would be a big hourly rate. So, even that is sold based on the value that my clients will get from it.
Steve Folland: If you could tell your younger self one thing about being freelance, what would that be?
Kirsty Fanton: Ooh. I would tell my younger self to get in the driver's seat much earlier and just take control and build something I love from the outset. So just get ballsy and don't ask for permission. Don't waste time waiting to be told what to do, essentially.
Steve Folland: Nice, yeah. Can you now sit there and think, would it be possible for me not to spend that first year doing general stuff? Do you think it would have been possible to go into what you're doing now?
Kirsty Fanton: I actually think it would have been, in all honesty, because I didn't, like, when I made the transition, I didn't do any special copy training to make that move. I just picked the thing I liked the best and went after it. So I think, I don't know, maybe I built up some competence and some client skills and that sort of stuff by then. But potentially possible. I don't know. I'll never know, will I?
Steve Folland: No. Well, excellent. Well, I'm glad to hear that business is going well and that work life, I mean, for somebody who just took a gap year and went to France, it sounds like you've got a pretty good tack on the life side of what life balance as well. So that's good to hear. But Kirsty, thanks so much, and all the best being freelance.
Kirsty Fanton: Thanks so much, Steve, this is great.