Nov 19, 2020
Today’s guest is Satta Sarmah Hightower. Satta is a journalist-turned-content marketer who lives in Boston. She produces content for agencies and brands in the industries of technology, health care IT and financial services. She previously worked for AOL and the Tribune Company and holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University and a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School.
Satta became a full-time freelancer in August 2014 after her second layoff in five years. She realized early on that she could make more money writing B2B content than doing only journalism. Then, she realized she was good at, and enjoyed, writing about B2B technology.
In 2016, Satta hit her goal to make six figures, during her second full year of freelancing. It had been a goal after she came close to that mark in 2015.
Satta believes it’s important to balance higher-earning client projects with your own passion projects, such as coaching, essay writing or podcasting. For Satta, that means developing her fiction writing by taking online fiction writing classes through GrubStreet in Boston.
Satta won’t work for free or do unpaid tests. In fact, she doesn’t like to do any test projects because her resume, clips and experience should be enough for a client to assess whether they want to work with her.
It’s difficult to earn six figures if you’re focused on lifestyle journalism and content (parenting, fashion, health and wellness). The niche is saturated with writers, which brings down the rates. You can still write on these topics, but Satta suggests mixing them in with other, higher-paying niches, such as technology, health care or financial services.
Be easy to work with. As someone who also assigns articles for her clients, Satta has come across too many freelancers who miss deadlines, are hard to reach and/or difficult to work with. Be collaborative with clients and communicate in advance if you run into challenges.
Satta struggles with turning off work at the end of the day. To be present with her young son, it helps her to physically separate herself from her workspace and her work tools. This means sometimes leaving her cellphone in a different room.
Satta is a very early morning person. She often starts her workday at 4:30 a.m. She does this partly to get her work done early so her husband can watch their son in the morning before she takes over in the afternoon. She also knows that she can write easily very early in the morning but struggles to write late at night.
She works about 5–6 hours a day and reserves Fridays for administrative work, recognizing that her brain is tired from writing by the end of the week. She also tries to reserve personal errands and chores for the start or end of the work day, not the middle of the day.
Satta doesn’t work for hourly rates because they penalize her for being efficient. She works for flat fees or retainer agreements. But she does have an “internal hourly rate” that she aims to earn. Tracking her hours and having an internal hourly rate helps her know how to price projects and know whether a proposed fee is fair for her.
Ongoing marketing is crucial to keep the work coming in. You can’t start marketing only when work dries up. Satta gets a lot of work through referrals, including from other freelancers. Working with agencies is helpful because one editor can refer you to other editors at the same company.
LinkedIn is also a good way to get clients. Keep your profile up to date with relevant keywords, and post your work on LinkedIn so potential clients can see that you know certain topics or have worked with certain clients.
Satta tried having a virtual assistant, but it took time to train the person, plus she realized she didn’t want to be anyone’s boss. She prefers the “consultant model,” in which she outsources tasks to third-party services like a transcription service or payroll provider.
Biz Bite: Use an email scheduling tool.
Book: “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng
ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors)
Temi transcription service