I fell in love with writing many years ago and actually majored in Communications in undergrad with hopes of one day working in journalism. Unfortunately, it was my fear of failure that persuaded me into pursuing a different career. Since graduating from undergrad, I have always loved my career in management, but a part of me still longed for picking up a pen and letting my thoughts flow (while of course collecting coins - hey, a girl's got bills to pay).
Now fast-forward to almost five years out of undergrad, I have recently started a side gig in digital media. Prior to refocusing on my career in journalism, another dose of self-doubt came over me after I realized how over-saturated the blogging world was. No matter where you go or where you look, you will find a blogger. Because of that reason, it became discouraging to start seriously blogging and pursuing my dream. This is why I had to sit down and chat with Alexis Bennett, journalism pro with a background in freelance writing and editing. Alexis has done amazing work with Vibe Vixen, Essence, InStyle, Real Simple, and now SELF magazine. From starting her career from the bottom with unpaid internships to now having an editorial career with a mainstream, international medium, Alexis’ plight to perseverance and confidence is something that anyone can learn from that is trying to find their self and prosper in the journey to success.
During our chat, I was able to personally learn so much from Alexis in regards to networking as a freelancer, being motivated, and how to know when to charge for freelance work (and what to charge).
Here are my 8 takeaways from our chat:
You have to be fearless and persistent
I am a Southern girl from South Florida and went to college at Florida State University. After undergrad, I had dreams of moving to New York to work as a writer in the fashion industry. I didn’t have a job waiting for me in New York and the cost of living is outrageous, so I knew that the only way I could move without a job was to go back to school. So I went ahead and got my MBA at LIM college in Fashion Management and from that point on, I interned as much as possible to get my foot in the door. Interning and networking was important to me because I didn’t know anyone at all when I moved to New York so I really had to start from scratch. It was honestly tough because although I already had a Bachelor's degree under my belt, I felt like I should be able to get a job easily, but it did not work out like that. So between my internships and networking like crazy, I made the decision that no matter what I was going to do what was needed to work for a fashion magazine. I stuck with that decision and didn’t give up - no matter how hard it got or far my dream seemed.
[Tweet "Stick to your dreams even when it seems like they are falling apart"]
Sometimes you have to work jobs that you don’t want to get the career you want
Even after receiving my MBA, the fashion editorial jobs were not coming my way like I imagined. So what did I do? I did what I needed to do and took internships. Of course I would have rather had a full-time job, but if it was unpaid internships that I could get, that’s what I did. No, it wasn’t easy, but I feel like I made the right decision. I feel like at the end of the day if you know exactly what you want and an opportunity comes your way that aligns with that end goal, you should do it, no matter what it pays or if it is an internship. Because in the long run it will pay off. It may not pay off financially in the beginning, but you will gain experience and knowledge. Before now, I interned with Vibe Vixen and I worked for free. I pretty much worked wherever I could get a job. I worked at Bed Bath and Beyond folding towels (yes, even with a MBA, but I wasn’t bitter about it because I knew that the job was temporary and I knew I would get the opportunity that I’ve always dreamed of - it was only just a matter of time. So I worked at Bed Bath and Beyond, I worked at Barney’s as a Sales Associate, and then I landed a full-time position at Real Simple magazine as a fashion assistant. While I was interning for free, I was also doing little jobs to pay for my rent and other things. You have to always remember, no job is beneath you.
Know your worth as a freelancer
As a freelancer, you have to know when to charge, when not to charge, and what to charge at times. It’s really important to know your value and find opportunities that align with what you desire in the long run. After receiving my first paid gig as a freelancer, I used that as a starting point and did research to see how much freelancers normally get paid in my field. Also, when you look on certain freelance job sites, some companies will note how much they pay, so that is also another good resource to get an idea of how much you should charge for an article. After I started getting paid for freelance work, I realized that there were so many publications that paid, and I also started to realize my worth. Once I realized my worth, I communicated that when taking freelance jobs. Too often, I think that people don’t voice their value - they are afraid to negotiate. Fear of negotiating and not realizing your worth will keep you from receiving the most out of opportunities.
[Tweet "Know your worth. Don't be afraid to negotiate."]
Stay in touch with people, even when they don’t hire you for the job
Before I worked at InStyle full-time, I applied for an internship there but didn’t get it. Even though I didn’t get the opportunity when I first applied, I stayed in contact with the person that interviewed me and some of the employees there. During my internship interview with InStyle, there was a moment during the interview where the interviewer took me around the office and introduced me to several people. Immediately, I remembered their names and decided upon myself that I would reach out to them. Even though I didn’t have an email, address, or phone number, i found a way to connect with them. If you didn’t know it is so easy to figure out a professional’s email address. Most of the time, businesses have the same email structure - first name.last name and then “@” the business name. I simply just tried different combinations of each person’s name until I figured out their email address. When I emailed them, I didn’t send them anything creepy, I was polite and sent something like, “Hey it was so nice to meet yesterday in the office and I would love to stay in contact.”
To be totally honest, everybody that I emailed didn’t respond, but there was one person that did. I took the opportunity to stay in contact and build a relationship with her. After she responded to me, I scheduled a call with this person a week later and we talked and she gave me really good advice. About two years later, she reached out to me to see if I knew of anyone that would be interested in working with InStyle. At that moment, I reminded her that I was still interested in working with them and landed the job. I fully believe that this opportunity wouldn’t have come into existence if it wasn’t for me staying persistent by following up, sending random emails, and really just staying in contact.
I think that’s really important because often when people interview for jobs and don’t get them, they don’t send anything back. By sending messages back, even if that is just thanking them again for the opportunity to interview, you will be remembered by the hiring manager. Even more so, by staying in contact with them, it is more likely that they will remember you when they are hiring again. For example, I have done this to various people by sending them emails of how I saw their work in XYZ magazine, or I would casually email some writers and say things like, “Hey, I saw you on the Today show, talking about XYZ,” - literally just sending random emails and staying on their radar.
If you don't have a degree - networking and ambition can take your far
Even though almost every job in most industry says you have to have a bachelor’s degree, I don’t think it is 100% crucial. I really think that in most industries (especially the writing industry) it is more about who you know. 90% of the opportunities that I’ve had occurred because of the relationships that I have built. If you don’t have a degree and want to be a writer - don’t be discouraged or think it will break your chances of being successful. Just network, be fearless, and believe in yourself. I honestly feel like that is more valuable.
Do not sleep on LinkedIn
I recently just got a new job working at SELF magazine and I will be the new Assistant Style and Beauty Editor. The way that I got this new opportunity is an amazing story on its own. I was really happy at InStyle magazine and wasn’t looking for a new job. SELF magazine actually reached out to me on LinkedIn and that’s how I secured this new position. I think this shows the importance of having an updated and active LinkedIn account and a presence online that accurately reflects your work.
Take some time out of each day to focus on yourself
I love quotes and right now the background at my desk is “raise the bar higher.” Whenever I do something, I am always trying to outdo myself. Not necessarily looking at other people and what they are doing, but focusing more on myself. I always try to push myself further.
I also love to meditate and be centered with myself. At the end of the day, you have to learn how to listen to your own intuition and be able to make the best decisions for yourself. Motivators like mentors are great, but no one knows you better than you. If you are not in tune with yourself, your vision can be clouded by the influence of others.
I am currently reading the The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and the section today discussed how important it is to plan ahead. When you plan ahead and can foresee that you will have a busy day, that is when you should already make time to spend the most time for you in the morning. You should at least try to spend one hour to yourself. Those days that you feel the busiest is when you need more time for yourself, to refocus on you.
The universe will give you signs -- pay attention
My favorite book of all time is The Alchemist. I read this book right after I moved to New York and I really connected with the main character. Similar to the main character, I was on my journey of finding myself and my treasure and I had to figure my way out through it all. Just like the book said, there are so many different things in life that unconsciously speak to us. Unfortunately sometimes when we don’t pay attention to the signs of the universe, life knocks us upside our head to get our attention.
Just as Alexis says, we have to remember to stay centered and focused in our careers - especially as entrepreneurs and freelancers when times get tough. Also, even when we apply for opportunities and are rejected, remember that there is power in following-up and networking - Alexis is a perfect example of the outcome of it.