15 Minute Freelancer

42. Emma Cownley on using side projects to grow your freelance business

December 10, 2021 Louise Shanahan Season 1 Episode 42
15 Minute Freelancer
42. Emma Cownley on using side projects to grow your freelance business
Show Notes Transcript

It's a freelancing podcast–YouTube crossover! Emma Cownley is a freelance copywriter, heavy metal hobbit (her words), and host of the irreverent freelance writing show on YouTube, Kiss My A's.  On this episode, she shares her experience of building an audience on YouTube, the ups and downs of creating a side project, and how a side project can help you attract freelance clients who really get you.

Bonus! We also recorded a video for Emma's channel. Head over to Kiss My A's for a special ep on how to use social media to grow your freelance business.

Find out more about Emma:

Say hi to Louise:

Louise Shanahan is a freelance health copywriter and health tech white paper writer (and a big fan of finding your freelance niche). She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.

LinkedIn: Louise Shanahan
Twitter: @LouiseShanahan_
Instagram: @Louise_Shanahan_
Website: thecopyprescription.com

Wanna send Louise a voice note? Go to memo.fm/15 and leave a question or comment.

Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.

Louise: Hello, and welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer. My very special guest today is Emma Cownley, freelance copywriter and host of the irreverent freelance writing show on YouTube, Kiss My As, where she brings the As to your Qs about freelance writing. Hi, Emma. 

Emma: Hello, thank you for having me. 

L: Thank you for joining me this morning. So your YouTube show is actually what I would like to talk to you about, and more specifically, the ups and downs of launching a side project and how a side project can benefit your freelance business. I would love to hear about your experience of building Kiss My As, and maybe I'll chip in as well. So why did you start Kiss My As and why YouTube specifically? 

E: In the early days, it was purely selfish. I'm going to be completely honest. When I went freelance, I felt really, really lonely because I'd come from a very bustling young company where I had a lot of friends. And I was really, really missing that. So I was watching a lot of YouTube in those early days. It's kind of like a lunchtime companion, I would watch mukbangs and kind of just started consuming a lot of YouTube content. And after a few weeks, I was like, “wouldn't it be fun to do this? Like I wonder if I could.” And my new freelance business was kind of the perfect opportunity to just give it a try under the guise of “oh, as a business owner, I'm going to give this advice to potential clients, like how to do better business writing and neat little tips.” And I was like, “people going to see this and they're going to hire me because they want my expertise.” After at least a year, I realised that the videos that were actually getting the most traction were the ones targeted at freelancers. So I kind of pivoted my content and started making more freelance things. And then it became kind of a way to help newbies because I remembered how difficult it had been when I was researching how to go freelance, how difficult it was to find information from people that weren't gurus and growth hackers and thought leaders. I did not identify with those people. And I was like, “ok, well let's change this, then, let's make this channel to help newbie freelancers or people thinking of going freelance, and to sit as almost like a touch point for existing freelancers to have companionship,” which is what I was looking for when I first started. So that's kind of why it happened and how it evolved. 

L: I think you managed to find that balance between sharing your freelancing experience in a way that's really accessible and helpful for people who are brand new to freelancing, and still making it hilariously relatable for people who've been freelancing for a while. So I guess it's not exactly geared towards getting new clients, now, but has it done that, have you found new clients through the channel? 

E: Kind of. It's a funny old thing. Because originally, for me, it was going to be very cut and dry, I would make those videos for potential clients, they would see it, they'd be excited, they'd hire me. And that's how the how the funnel would go as it were. But nowadays, it tends to generate work and opportunities in a different sense in that freelancers who are already quite prolific are watching me, and because they can hear me and see me, they feel a connection or a para-social relationship. So when an opportunity comes up, that they think I'd be good for, they feel comfortable to refer me because they can tell that I know what I'm talking about. They feel like they know me, so they're happy. And so I get kind of more peer referrals through YouTube. And also, people asked me to guest on their podcasts, I've been asked to talk at events and stuff, because people are like, “ok, well, she's happy to chat away. So we'll get her on and just turn her loose, to chat to people.” And in that sense, you kind of grow your network even more and get even more referrals. So in a way, obviously, it has been beneficial to business, but not necessarily in the way I expected it to be. 

L: And obviously, they're getting to see a bit behind the scenes as well, aren't they like on your YouTube channel, they can see your office, they get to meet your cat, they get to see what you're about and your style and things like that. So it's a great way to show off your personality, and that's how you attract the kind of leads that you would ideally like to work with. 

E: Yeah, I'm a very acquired taste as well, but the people that really do like me really do like me. So I'm able to own that share of the market by just being unabashedly myself. It is beneficial, yeah. 

L: And when the goal isn't solely about attracting our ideal clients, do you think that also brings a kind of freedom to be yourself and to create the content that you want, that isn't solely geared towards generating leads? 

E: Yeah, absolutely. And I do think it's really, really important to have that additional outlet, because you spend all day long working to someone else's brief, tailoring your approach to fit someone else's objectives. And I think that when it's your job to be creative, and to have amazing ideas, you can't help but do that yourself and just have them. So it's really nice to have a platform where you just think, right, this is just me, it's all my agenda. It's whatever I want to do. And you can really just go off and kind of test yourself. I mean, my editing skills have improved ridiculously since I first started, and that's all stuff that I've just learned from watching other videos and thought, “oh, that that's really funny, I'm going to put that in my video, I'm going to try that.” And kind of learning new skills that I never would have gotten, no one's going to hire me to edit their videos, or you know, learn about recording audio, so if I want to dabble in it, it's up to me to create those opportunities and kind of stretch my legs. So I think it's all very valuable. And also, I don't know if you find this, but the more you create, the more creative you become. So if you can create more opportunities to be creative, you'll be even more creative than you were before. 

L: Yeah. And I think when you're talking about topics related to running your business, it also helps you see, it helps you really pay attention to how you're running your business. So if you're doing an episode on how to write a proposal, it makes you look at well, how am I writing the proposal? And what is working? Where could I make it even better? So there's a payoff in that regard as well. 

E: Absolutely. I do like to come on and kind of just bring my insecurity and vulnerability to the table as well. Because, as I was saying, before, there's a lot of people on YouTube that like to be the kind of thought leader or the kind of strong figure and show other freelancers like this is the aspiration. I much prefer to show that vulnerability and sit down and record a video and say, things aren't going well, at the moment. This is what's happening. This is why I think it's going wrong, like what do you think, let's have a discussion, and kind of open up the floor for those important discussions, and also show people that you can have a YouTube channel and look relatively successful and still not have your stuff together. And it's important for people to be able to see that I think as well. 

L: Yeah, I think it takes the pressure off feeling like you need to be really polished and have everything done perfectly. A side project’s quite good way to create a safe place to experiment. And for me, I always think like, I don't know how to edit podcasts to be honest. So I just want to get them out there. It's more about not letting perfect get in the way of done. And when it's your own side project and it's not somebody else's business, and they're not paying for it, it really takes the pressure off. 

E: Yeah, that's exactly it, it gives you the space to kind of just go for it. And also, it's a good lesson in thinking, right, I want to do this thing. What's my plan right now, let's just do it. And kind of letting go of all of those fears and concerns around perfection. Because otherwise you're never gonna get anything done. And you're giving yourself huge body of evidence that you can actually do things that you set your mind to. 

L: When we talk about side projects they kind of get lumped in with this idea of side hustles. And hustle culture tells us that we should be monetizing everything that we do.

So do you think a side business needs to have a businessy goal? Does it need to have some monetization element? Or do you feel like the other benefits are enough? 

E: I think it's nice if you can earn a little something from what you do. But for me, personally, I don't think YouTube monetization will ever be within reach. I'm not quite at those numbers yet. But beside that point, I swear for too much. And you instantly get demonetised by YouTube if you use foul language, so I'm out. Definitely out! But also, if you start to monetize, because as freelancers we are our business, right, we are the brand we are the business, our social media becomes about business. And so if you monetize absolutely every creative endeavour that you do, you're kind of bringing in that external pressure to perform in a way that earns that money. Like “oh, well I have to do this because advertisers are paying on this channel or wherever, and now I need to tailor my content to be palatable in order to earn that money.” And I just don't want that burden. I've put a link to Ko-Fi on my videos now just so if people feel like they would like to donate in a monetary way, they're free to do that. But there's absolutely no pressure on it. And it's nice to get a little something every so often for your efforts. 

L: That's a buy you a coffee link, rather than an affiliate link for a coffee brand. Right?

E: That would be great. If any coffee brands or wanted to sponsor, here's an idea.

L: I think when you if you were to think about monetizing the platform, there's a feeling that you would then need to grow this empire, you'd need the newsletter, you'd need to be trying to feature on other shows, have multiple social media accounts, like, build this whole thing, which might be a bit overwhelming. 

E: You have to put a lot more effort in, I think, and I'm just not willing to do that. Yeah, it's not fun. If it becomes a burden. 

L: Yes. And it's a capacity thing, right? Time management, energy management, like, even without the added pressure, it's still a lot of work already. How do you fit it all in alongside everything else you already have on your very busy plate.

E: It's not, I don't really find it that difficult. I am pretty organised. And I work quite far in advance, I never leave it till the last minute. So I'm usually always at least a month ahead of where I need to be. I alternate blog posts and videos, you know, every single week. So I've always got something coming out every Friday. And yeah, I just work in advance, I usually film my videos, at half eight in the morning. My husband goes out for his morning walk and I quickly set everything up, bash out the video and have everything put away by nine o'clock. So I'm ready to start the day. And then editing is just a process of like kind of dipping in and out of my editing software, whenever I've got kind of a little pocket of time in my day. It gives me the opportunity to switch my brain to a different set of skills and helps me keep things fresh, because I tend to work better when I'm able to swap between a lot of different tasks throughout the day. And it's just a really nice fun thing that you get to kind of reward yourself with at the end of the day, like “oh, if we get this done by three, we can go on and kind of do some editing and mess around in Wondershare Film Aura, put some filters on your face and have a laugh. So yeah, it's not really that difficult. I shedule everything as well on YouTube, and also on my website. So I don't have to think about it. I use Buffer for my social media. So I queue everything up and everything was ready to go. So I'm never in a position where I'm caught out or under pressure. Because again, that wouldn't feel nice. And that would make it less enjoyable and more stressful. 

L: And as soon as it becomes a burden, it's not fun anymore. 

E: Why bother? Don't do it. 

L: Have you got any tips for anyone who might be tempted to start their own side project?

E: First and foremost, do you have the gumption to start this thing and continue it consistently? Because if you don't, don't bother. I've thrown my weight behind so many people's projects, because I'm like, “I'm going to show up here, I'm going to support you said you're doing this thing, I'm here for you. Let's go.” And they've dropped off after one or two. And I'm like, “well, in the future, if you come at me with a new project, I'm going to be a bit more cautious because I only have so much energy to support you. And if you've betrayed me once…” So I just think yeah, make sure that you really do care enough about it that you want to do the work that is hard work, that you want to do the work and you want to keep doing the work to do the project. 

And also what is your goal? Why are you doing it, you need to understand what you want the outcome to be before you start the journey to get everything together to get it done. As I was saying with my thing, I had one goal when I started and realised that actually, it was something completely different in the end. I would say definitely work ahead. It's really the only way to be consistent and stay organised. Really, I'd say my final tip is to not be shy about promoting it. Because I was way too shy to tell anyone that I had a YouTube channel for at least two years. And when I finally started shouting about it, everyone showed up for me and everyone wanted to help promote me and was there watching the videos. I didn't realise how just you know a couple of tweets or just saying on LinkedIn, “oh, I've got a YouTube channel, did you know? Like, come and find me over here.” And just not being shy to promote your own stuff as though it's a client thing. Like the same amount of sass and strategy that you would use for a client thing for your own stuff. It makes such a huge difference to how successful it's going to be exact

L: You have to treat yourself like your own client, don't you? 

E: Yeah. 

L: Yeah, I think the point about being clear about your goal is crucial, isn't it? Is this just for fun? Is it to learn a new skill? Are you trying to get noticed? Are you wanting to make some extra money? If you're trying to build a community and connect with other people, then like you say, you're asking for their trust. So you do need to keep showing up. And yeah, batching and getting organised in advance is definitely something that I need to improve on. So thank you for that reminder.

E: But it was like you were saying before, you've done an episode on monkey metrics, and I think your side project definitely feeds into that as well. Because if you're being side-tracked by monetization, or by this or by that, you have to think, “well, actually, no, I'm doing this for fun.” I'm doing this because I like it. Why am I pouring so much energy and effort into this? One particular aspect of it, when that's not my objective? That's not why I started. You can lose so much time and energy on your side hustle if you're not keeping clear on why you're doing it, and where the joy comes from.

L: Yeah, if it stops being fun, and it starts to become a source of stress that's always looming in the background wanting attention, then yeah, it's definitely time to regroup and revisit what you're trying to achieve. Well, thank you so much, Emma, I think that's probably a good place to wrap up. It's been a lot of fun chatting to you this morning. And I appreciate you sharing your YouTube journey. I'm sure that's inspired a lot of people to go and get their cameras out. Where can people find out more about what you're up to?

E: I’m on Twitter, at EJ Cownley, that’s C O W N for November L E Y. And you can also find me on YouTube, just type in Kiss My As and hopefully I'll be the first one that comes up. I'll be over there guys. Come say hi. 

L: And shall we do we teaser for the episode of Kiss My As that we're about to record? 

E: Oh my gosh. Yes.

L: I'm super excited. I'm nervous about turning my camera on!

E: Yeah, hopefully, hopefully these coincide nicely. And by the time this comes out, it will already be over on Kiss My As. 

L: So we're going to record an episode for Kiss My As about using social media to grow your freelance business. So if that's something that you're curious about, and I'm sure it's something that most freelancers have in their business somewhere, go and subscribe to Emma’s channel. 

E: Yeah. And it should be up there ready for you to watch straightaway, hopefully. 

L: So head over there now. Okay. Thanks so much, Emma. 

E: Thank you. Take care. 

L: And thanks to everyone for listening. I will see you next time. Bye.

You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.