In this episode of the Part-Time Money podcast, we talk with Stephanie Taylor Christensen. Stephanie is a work at home mom who runs her own freelance writing business. Stephanie left a corporate career when her son was born and has since been pursuing a freelance writing career in her spare time. She also teaches yoga once a week, which pays for her gym membership and child care. In the podcast, she spends some time taking about how to become a freelance writer, even when you have a child at home. Here’s more from Stephanie:
I am a home-based freelance writer and yoga instructor–all conducted on the side while raising my son! I also founded Wellness On Less, a site dedicated to inspiring people to discover their best lives when they prioritize both how they spend their money and time. It is quite a juggling act, but proving quite lucrative. I’d love to share my tips and experiences with your listeners.
Listen to the Podcast
Here are some of the questions I asked Stephanie:
What made you want to start making part-time money?
What was your employment situation before you started?
Financially, how were you able to make the transition so quickly?
Was having a child your catalyst for making the move home?
How did you decide on freelance writing?
What was it about freelance writing that was appealing?
How do you make time to write?
Tell me about your yoga instructing income?
How do you move from small writing gigs to big?
How much are you bringing in from your writing?
What’s next for your freelance writing career?
What mistakes have you made along the way?
View the full transcript by clicking show
Welcome to the Part-Time Money Podcast, Episode 9: Making Extra Money As a Freelance Write and Work-At-Home Mom. I am your host Philip Taylor, creator of PT Money Personal Finance.
Alright, today I am with Stephanie Taylor Christensen, and Stephanie is a former marketer turned freelance writer, all around happier wife, mom, and human being as a result, a regular contributor on business, consumer interest, career, and personal finance topics for Investopedia, Business News Daily, and some other publications. She also has been quoted in New York Times and Yahoo Finance.
Stephanie also does some yoga instructing on the side as well as runs her own website.
Philip Taylor: Stephanie, thanks for joining me today.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: Sure. Thanks.
Philip Taylor: What made you want to start making some part-time money?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: Well, actually really I guess it was kind of an offset of having my son. After he was born I went back to work full time for about 9 months and really just realized that from a quality of life standpoint, it was not working for me anymore, so I took the plunge and ended up staying home with him but always with the intention that I was going to try to do both, so it was not that I was trying to back out of the career world at all. I just was not satisfied in my marketing career and figured this was the time to try to see if I really could have the best of both worlds, stay at home with my child, and try to earn not only additional income but build a viable, flexible, and nontraditional part-time career.
Philip Taylor: Okay. Awesome! So, at the time you were full-time employed. What was the company again or what was the industry?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: I worked in financial services, so I used to work for a couple of major banks across the country in marketing, Then before I left full time, my final job was working in an advertising agency for a financial services client. As anybody who has worked in that industry knows, it is not great in terms of work-life balance, and you are kind of attached to the black bear at all times.
Philip Taylor: So, from that point making the decision to stay at home with your son and start these other projects, financially speaking (you can get as detailed as you want), how were you able to make that transition so quickly? Do you have a husband who works, or is there some other financial input into the family?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: I do. I was lucky enough to have a supportive husband who also works full time, but in addition to that I had way back when (I am 33 years old now), when I was 25 found myself $15,000 in credit card debt on a $31,000 a year salary and finally realized (this was during the housing market boom where everybody was buying, and to be quite honest with you, I felt like I was kind of behind the curve in terms of my peers and being saddled with this debt) I was never going to move forward in life. Basically for 2 years I really just cracked down, put myself on a really strict budget. I did not eat out. I did not go on trips. I walked dogs on my lunch break and after work. Eventually after 2 years I got rid of that whole debt.
Philip Taylor: Awesome!
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: From there I really just worked on building wealth, and that was my focus after that. So, I have never lived beyond my means. I saved anything that I could after that. So, I had built a pretty sizable savings relief fund not only for my own financial security for whatever the future would bring but also because I kind of always knew that at some point I was going to want to probably explore some type of different career option. I worked in marketing for 10 years, and to be quite honest I hated every second of it. It was kind of my flexibility fund I guess you would say where if that day ever came where I was ready to freak out and move to St. Thomas, I would have the money to do it.
Philip Taylor: So, was having your child sort of that freak out moment then?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: I guess, yeah. It was the catalyst. I never in a million years anticipated that I would want to stay home. That sounds terrible to say, but I am a career-minded person through and through or I guess business minded. I always said, “I can’t imagine why people quit working when they have kids, and I could never do it,” and all that, but once I was in the reality, I had a kid, and I saw what life was like working a full-time job with both parents doing it and not seeing each other much or our kid, I just realized it was not what I wanted for my life.
Philip Taylor: Okay. Awesome! So, how did you make the transition from that feeling (obviously that is the need) to then realizing, “Hey, I can probably do some freelance writing.”? What gave you confidence to go in that direction?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: Well, it definitely started off slow. I had done writing in the past. I worked for Highlights for Children which is a children’s magazine.
Philip Taylor: Oh yeah, I know Highlights.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: It produces a catalog too, so I had done copyrighting in the past. I had some writing samples and a background in writing, but quite honestly my writing samples were pretty outdated. I did not have anything online. It was a paper catalog. When I first started out, it was really just kind of a learn-as-you-go process. I will be the first to say in my full-time job I made a pretty decent salary, and it was humbling. I definitely had to take a step down and do a lot of stuff for very little money. I started out actually writing for a couple of websites like Demand Studios which pays like $15 an article. It does not pay hardly a thing, but it was a way to get some live, published work out there on the web to show people what I could do so that when I started pitching other websites, I had something to actually send them to show that I knew what I was doing and that I had writing talent.
Philip Taylor: Gotcha
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: So, I really just kind of took the plunge. Like I said, I did stuff for very little money, practically free, and then just started slowly, slowly building from there.
Philip Taylor: So, what was it about freelance writing that attracted you or I guess was appealing?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: Well, going back to my first job out of college I was laid off after a year. I worked at a recruiting firm called The Creative Group which is a division of Robert Half and basically places freelance talent in corporate marketing departments and ad agencies. It was a great kind of learn-the-business type of thing to get an idea for how much freelancers make, what they do, and what that whole side of the business looks like, but I always kind of wanted to be doing the jobs I was placing the candidates I was working with in. When I got laid off from that job, I actually dabbled in freelance writing for probably a few months but just did not have the financial safety net to do it, and I kind of got discouraged. It was a little bit of a stop and start, and then I walked away from it. I had always wanted to do it. I just did not have the guts I guess to start over, really walk away from the money, and do what needed to be done to start to build it.
Philip Taylor: I see. So, now that your son is older, how do you make time during your day if you are with him some? When does the writing take place?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: Well, I definitely tell everybody I work a million times harder now than I ever did when I worked full time. Honestly, I get up at 4:30 in the morning and do writing then. He wakes up usually around 7:30, so there is a 2-1/2 hour block of time when I get stuff done then. I am a morning person luckily, so it is not so bad. He takes an afternoon nap, and I get writing done at that time, so that is about a 2-hour block of time when I can get things done. Sometimes in the evening after he goes to bed, I get back on the computer and write some more.
Philip Taylor: Gotcha.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: All said and done, I probably do work a solid 6-8 hour day. It is just not your typical 9-5.
Philip Taylor: Gotcha. Yep. That sounds about right. So, you also do some yoga instructing. When does that take place?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: The beauty of the yoga instructing – I guess what I realized in terms of trying to make something out of a part-time career – is that you really need to focus on the ROI, not focusing so much on what you are getting paid per hour but are there other intrinsic benefits baked into that where you can maximize your time. So, the great part about the yoga instructing is I am able to do it at my gym which I go to anyway and offers childcare. So, I do it in the morning. My son is able to go into childcare there which they offer to me free as a benefit of teaching. My gym membership is also free. So, whereas normally I would be at home with my son, it gives me an opportunity to maximize that time, not have to hire a babysitter which costs basically $10 an hour and up, go do what I would do anyway, and get paid for it.
Philip Taylor: Yeah, and he gets a little social time, right?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: Exactly! So, it takes the guilt off of keeping your kid at home and worrying that you are turning him into a bubble child.
Philip Taylor: That is great! I like that! So, backing up to the freelance writing, how do you take it from starting to write for, like you said, publications that only paid you a small amount that you were just trying to get out there (I think you said Demand Studios is that company) to then being able to be featured on places like Investopedia and Business News Daily?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: I think it really just comes down to most people who are writers I think have a natural inclination to be strong information gatherers, inquisitive, and understanding kind of how to peel back the layers of the onion. That is really what it takes. You just kind of have to search around. It is almost like putting a puzzle piece together. If you go to one website, find out who is the editor for that website, and then figure out where it is that they worked before and kind of connect the dots. What writers are on that website? Look them up. Where have they worked before? This is where you can kind of figure out what types of publications hire freelancers. It really just is about being relentless. You might send out 200 emails and hear back from a couple people, and then those couple of people that come back to you might offer you very little money again to do something. If it feels like a good stepping stone to get you to the next level, maybe it is worth it. I think it is about using your time in again the way that is going to give you the most ROI. That might not be money. It might be about opportunity. I think it is important to carve out a couple days a week to do marketing where you are solely just pitching people, seeking things out, trying to connect the dots, figure out who hires freelancers.
Philip Taylor: Gotcha. I like it. So opportunity and ROI – I like that. But, speaking of money (and you can share as much as you would like here) how much are you able to bring in now that you seem to be working with some bigger publications?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: Yeah, now that I have a solid client base (once you establish a few clients, it gets easier because you can spend less time pitching and seeking, and they will come to you once they know you are a good, reliable, capable writer), depending on how much I want to take on or how much I can take on, it can range anywhere from $1000 a month to beyond $3500.
Philip Taylor: Gotcha! So, hey you are approaching at least, I would assume, a percentage of what you were making with your other career, and this is only on part-time money here.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: Exactly! Again, going back to that ROI, you know I used to spend $1200 a month to have my kid in daycare, so take that out of the equation. Take my commute time out of the equation and the tax benefits I can have from a home-based business and all that good stuff, and things start to look up.
Philip Taylor: Awesome! I love it! So, what is next for you in the writing world? I know you have recently started WellnessOnLess.com. Maybe you could share a little bit about that and how that is going to interplay with your freelance writing career.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: Yeah, so WellnessOnLess.com is really kind of a platform I guess for not only what I have learned but what I believe in and what I think would be helpful to other people. Like I mentioned, I have been in debt before. I have been there. I get it. I know what it is like to have this credit card debt where you think, “Oh my gosh! I do not even want to sit down and add up all this stuff that I owe because it is just depressing!” It is partly about sharing my experiences with that with other people to help them rid themselves of debt and then what to do once you get out of the debt. So, the other piece of that is you start saving, you start building wealth. Probably most importantly you think about, “What is it that I want to spend my money on that is going to bring me joy, and where can I eliminate things that I don’t care about?” So it is not about being cheap. It is not about being frugal. It is not about locking yourself in the house and not going out to eat. It is about if you love to go out to eat, then great, go out to eat. If you love great wine, buy some great wine, but then scale back somewhere else that you do not care about and find things to balance out. The other piece of it is really just my belief in the importance of health and wellness. I am a marathon runner, and as you mentioned I am a yoga instructor. Those things have just added so much value to my life in terms of stress relief, giving me focus, giving me time to just think through things. Some of my best writing and business ideas have really been when I was on a treadmill. The other piece of that is just educating people on the benefits of that and things that you can do. Again, you do not need to spend $15 to go to 1 yoga class. You do not need to spend $150 on a personal trainer. You do not need to spend $500 at Whole Foods in order to live a healthy and well life. So, it is really a hybrid of all those things.
Philip Taylor: I love it! There are so many connections between money and health.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: There are, aren’t there?!?! It is kind of amazing – the mind, body, money connection!
Philip Taylor: Yep. Well, that is great. Definitely everyone needs to check out WellnessOnLess.com. It is built on WordPress and on Thesis, which is the same setup I have at ptmoney.com, so definitely getting started in the right direction there, Stephanie.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: Good.
Philip Taylor: Let’s see, what did we not cover? What about mistakes? Any mistakes you have made along the way of growing this freelance writing business?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: I would say I have. I have run into some stops and starts sometimes. I think it is really about finding a balance between knowing your worth but not having a chip on your shoulder. There have probably been maybe some opportunities that would not have been bad things to do, but at the time I was just starting out, and I had maybe a preconceived notion in my mind of what I used to do or what I used to make and feeling discouraged if somebody came back and said, “Hey. We will pay you $100 to do this,” and thinking, “I used to make more than that in a very small period of time.” I think probably the biggest mistake is just not celebrating all the little wins. I think it can be easy to get discouraged and maybe beat yourself up if things are not moving quickly enough in the right direction that you think. I think that is something I have to give some credit for to my husband because I am kind of a crazy overachiever, and it can be hard to look back and think what I used to be financially versus where I am now. He is always a great cheerleader for celebrating the little accomplishments. Maybe I am not writing the cover story for Money Magazine, but I was on the homepage on Yahoo Finance. I think that is probably the biggest mistake that will derail someone from trying to get in a part-time situation. Do not freak out and assume that just because things are not moving quickly it means things are not going to pan out.
Philip Taylor: I love it! Good advice! Well, anything else we did not cover or that you would want to talk about?
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: No. I think hopefully I have shared some information that will be valuable to people. Again, I think the most important takeaway I can offer somebody is just to think about the ROI, and opportunity is as important as money when you are trying to make a part-time situation work, kind of seeing the big picture.
Philip Taylor: I love it! It is great stuff! Thanks so much for being on with me, Stephanie.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen: Sure. Thank you.