Content Strategist Kelly Wade: “I Decided to Use My Skills to Help People”

Kelly Wade is an independent content strategist and copywriter from Australia. Graduated in forensics and chemistry and holder of a PhD, Kelly worked for the Australian government before she decided to switch careers. Finding the balance between the demands of her writing and strategy business and her obligation as a mother of two young children is not always easy. Still, Kelly enjoys the freedom to dispose of her time, and to work with businesses that sell products and services that really help their customers. Read more in our interview.

Portrait of Kelly Wade
Kelly Wade

If you want to know how Kelly is making use of Ulysses, and which other apps and tools are essential to her workflow, hang on: Kelly will share information about this here in a couple of days.

Please tell us something about you and what you are working on.

I would describe myself as a creator. At the moment, I spend most of my time creating things with words — copy, web content, marketing strategies, epic fantasy, children’s picture books and gardening books. But my creative pursuits aren’t restricted to the written word. For instance, I also illustrated all three of my picture books, I create images for my patrons on Patreon, I took all the photos for my upcoming gardening book and in a past life I created new chemicals.

I’m working on a range of great projects at the moment. In terms of books, I’m nearly halfway through writing an epic fantasy novel and I’m working on the photos and illustrations for a new gardening book. And in terms of clients, I’m working on a diverse set of projects: an ‘ultimate guide’ blog post for a baby product brand, a one-page website for a cybersecurity consultancy and an integrated content and marketing strategy for an after-school-care services provider.

You’ve studied physics and chemistry and completed a PhD. What lead you to pursue a career as a content strategist and copywriter?

It’s a bit of a convoluted story. I originally did a PhD because I wanted to teach in a university and you pretty much have to do a PhD if you want to teach in an Australian university. After completing my degree, however, I decided I no longer wanted to work in a university (though I do still love teaching). So I worked in a few science areas of the Australian Government for a while.

While I was waiting for my supervisor to provide feedback on drafts of my PhD thesis, I wrote my first gardening book. I loved the experience and wrote a few more while I was working in my government role.

“It just never occurred to me that I could make a living from writing.”

My motivation for applying to work in government was to use my science degrees in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, I found my work tended to be undone whenever there was a change of government or even leadership within my department. And I was so far removed from the people who might benefit from my work that I often felt like my work wasn’t really making an impact. So when I went on maternity leave for my first child I took some time to reconsider the work I was doing.

When I thought about it, I realised I really loved writing — writing gardening books, writing children’s books (which I started doing after having my first child), writing novels and writing content and copy for ministers and the public — and strategy — whether it was developing Australia’s international science strategy or marketing strategies for my books — so I decided to turn those two loves into a career and take the opportunity to really use my skills to help people. I decided to start my own writing and strategy business because that meant I could work directly with the clients I wanted to help and I could choose to work with businesses that sell products and services that really help their customers.

Kelly also writes and illustrates children’s books

What is your job for you: a profession to earn your livelihood or a calling?

My job is both a calling and a way to earn a living. I realised later in life that I love writing, but there were so many clues earlier on that should have tipped me off to this calling. I wrote stories as a child, I adored reading for much of my childhood and I kept coming back to writing throughout school. It just never occurred to me that I could make a living from writing so I didn’t think of it as anything more than a hobby.

What are the pros and cons of working independently as a copywriter?

I love being able to work at times that suit me and with clients that I believe in. The freedom to take a holiday with my family without having to stress about asking for leave has also been really liberating for me (in my government job, requesting leave became a huge deal because we were too busy and understaffed and one person taking leave meant late nights or early mornings for the other team members).

There are two main disadvantages, both of which are pretty standard for all self-employed people. Firstly, there’s no one to fill in if I get sick or have to look after a sick child. I deal with this by building extra time into my timeframes. So far, that’s meant I’ve never submitted work late.

“I love being able to work at times that suit me and with clients that I believe in.”

Secondly, I don’t have the marketing budget and resources that an agency or larger business has. Thankfully, being a copywriter and strategist means I can get great results without having to expend huge amounts of money on ads etc. Finding time to produce my own content is the biggest problem because I have two young children so can’t yet work ‘full time’. Of course, this does enable me to show small businesses that it’s possible to get great results from a limited budget and investment of time.

Many independent writers struggle with the fact that income is often inconsistent, with a series of peaks and troughs being the norm. I don’t find this to be a problem for me because I naturally manage my budget so that ‘excess’ money from busy periods pays the bills during the troughs.

I believe there are many people out there who dream of writing as their bread and butter job. What does it take, from your point of view, to succeed in the field?

I agree that lots of people aspire to this career. A common misconception is that you just have to be a good writer to make it in this field. While you do have to have good writing skills and a talent for working with words is an advantage, the most important things you need to succeed in this field are a love of research (because about 80% of the time it takes to craft really effective copy and content is spent on research), a commitment to ongoing professional development (because our field is constantly evolving so the best writers keep on top of what works well and what doesn’t) and a penchant for strategic thinking (because creating strategically strong content and copy is one of the most valuable things a writer can do for their client to get the best return on the client’s investment).

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On Patreon, you can read the first chapter of Kelly’s novel

There’s a common prejudice that writing is easy, a thing that anyone could do. Is this something you have to deal with in your work, or do your clients respect your expertise? And has this changed over time?

I think there are three kinds of clients. The first group consists of those who think writing is easy and don’t understand the true value of well-written content. These are the kinds of clients who look for the cheapest content and usually buy their content from content mills. While I dealt with these kinds of clients early in my career, I thankfully don’t deal with them much now.

The second group consists of those who know they can’t write effective content for their business so realise that not everyone can write, but they don’t fully comprehend what goes into crafting effective content or how to make the best use of content in their marketing efforts. These are the kinds of clients that know the perils of sourcing content from content mills but can’t understand why market rates for quality writers are ‘so high’. I tend to see a lot of these kinds of clients and find some are open to being educated about the relevant issues and some are not.

And then there is the third group of people who fully appreciate the kind of skill and expertise it takes to create awesome, effective content. These people are willing to pay for quality content and do what is required to make the most of their investment. These kinds of clients tend to be found in larger organisations. When I find these clients in smaller businesses, they’ve usually discovered the true value of an expert writer the hard way.

“The most important things you need to succeed in this field are a love of research, a commitment to ongoing professional development and a penchant for strategic thinking.”

As web content has become more popular, the opportunities for writers have expanded but the numbers of people in groups one and two have also drastically increased. Content mills have proliferated in recent years in response to a desire for high volumes of cheap content. This, in turn, leads clients to expect cheap fees, especially when they’ve never outsourced content before.

At the same time, as our world has become more interconnected, clients have realised they can pay foreign writers amounts that end up being decent for the writer but cheap for the client. It can take clients a long time to realise that hiring foreign writers leads to less effective content, even if it’s well written, because such writers don’t understand the types of phrasing and styles that work best for local audiences.

Despite this, I think the tide is starting to turn. Changes in the way search engines and social media platforms prioritise content are leading to a shift away from producing massive amounts of low-quality content in favour of less frequent but higher quality content. This, in turn, is gradually leading to better-educated clients.

Which topics do you like to cover the most in your writing?

I love variety but my favourite topics are science, gardening/plants and parenting/family life. But it’s more important to me to work with businesses that offer products and services that truly help their customers. With these clients, it doesn’t matter what topics I’ll be covering because I get really excited about producing content that will really help people.

How did you find out about Ulysses?

When I restarted writing my novel, I wanted a better alternative to Word. A little research revealed that the best candidates were Scrivener and Ulysses. I ended up choosing Ulysses because one purchase granted me the ability to use it on the iPad and phone and I could use it for my other projects in addition to my novel. I definitely made the right choice :).

Kelly's Ulysses setup for writing novels
Kelly’s Ulysses setup for writing novels

What is a typical day in Kelly Wade’s life like?

My day starts early — typically around 5:00 am — when my youngest child wakes up for a feed. I check my emails while I feed him and once he’s asleep, I start work. I continue working until both kids are ready to get up. We then eat, go for a walk and then eat again. Then it’s nap time at which point I do some more work. My youngest often naps for an hour but then goes back to sleep while feeding so I frequently find myself typing one handed at this point in the day. After that, we go to the park and my husband makes dinner. After dinner, if I’m lucky, I might get another half an hour to work before it’s time to get the kids ready for bed.

I try to split my week so I do client work Monday-Thursday, business tasks on Fridays and I work on my books on the weekend. When I’m flat out with client work, I’ll use Fridays and occasionally the weekend to keep on top my to-do list. This sometimes means my blog and social media presence fall by the wayside a little (we digital marketers don’t always practice what we preach 😀 ).

Do you struggle with procrastination, the menace of the independently working creative professional? If so, how do you beat it?

I used to struggle with procrastination but I don’t have much of a problem with it any more. Because I don’t have the luxury of working an eight-hour day, every minute counts. Knowing that helps stop me procrastinating.

“Every minute counts. Knowing that helps stop me procrastinating.”

In addition to the right tools and apps, what is essential to keep you productive? As an example, do you work in a particular environment or follow a timely routine?

I can work pretty much anywhere and at any time so I don’t have little rituals that help me work effectively. The most important thing I do to keep me productive is create templates for as many tasks as possible. This helps me get started as fast as possible on new projects which saves a surprising amount of time. I also make sure I have a drink and snack on hand during each session because nothing makes me inefficient as much as being hungry while I’m trying to work.

Find out more about Kelly and her business on her website. Are you a writing freelancer yourself and would like to benefit from her best practices? Follow allong, as Kelly will share her Ulysses workflow here in a couple of days.

Rebekka Honeit

Blog-curating writing maniac and public relations person. Loves coffee, chocolate cookies and literature. Finds peace in tweaking press copy.