Annie Ridout is editor-in-chief of digital lifestyle and parenting magazine The Early Hour, and works as a freelance journalist for national news and women’s magazines and has written for the Guardian, Red Magazine, Stylist, Metro and more. She lives with her husband and her two children – a nearly four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son – in east London.
Tell us a little about The Freelance Mum and what led you to the creation of this book.
I originally pitched a different book to 4th Estate called The Truth About Parenting. And while I got on really well with Michelle, the head of publishing, and we were keen to work together – the idea wasn’t right. It was too broad (and had probably already been done). But alongside that book pitch, I’d suggested a potential column idea that could be pitched to newspapers/magazines once the book was out, called ‘The Freelance Mum’. Michelle came back to me six months later and said ‘The Freelance Mum is the book’.
It made sense as I’m freelance, have two kids and have had to find a way to make it work. Over the five years I’ve been working in this way, I’ve picked up a load of tips and tricks, and have also made mistakes. They are now all in the book. I wanted to say to women who are pregnant, or have a new baby or young kids and are panicked about returning to their 9 to 5, that there’s another way. It’s not easy, but it is flexible. And the feedback about the book so far has been amazing – from lawyers, cleaners, nail technicians, florists, masseuses, yoga teachers, writers, designers… people in so many industries have used it to help them launch a freelance career or move on to the next stage in their lives.
You have previously discussed the isolation involved in setting up a freelance business as a mum. Could you advise readers on ways to combat this feeling?
It can become really lonely working from home. I find it helps to spend at least part of my working day at a coffee shop, or in a public space. Even if you don’t have full conversations with people, it’s nice to be surrounded by a bit of bustle (rather than the silence of your home). Co-working spaces are great too, and there are more opening up with a crèche attached. But this costs money that you might not have or want to spend in this way. There’s also a trend emerging where groups of local freelancers meet to work together, taking turns to host each day/week. Getting out to networking events is good for both your sanity and your business.
Tell us about your digital parenting platform The Early Hour and why you decided to launch this initiative.
After my daughter was born, I found myself breastfeeding her in the early hours and looking for articles to read. I didn’t want to get sucked into the forums and had usually already done the Guardian articles, and all the other magazines/news sites I liked. So I felt there was a gap for content published early in the morning for parents, that told stories we don’t usually hear, alongside some advice pieces. After a brainstorming session with my sister, we came up with the name ‘The Early Hour’. I liked that it didn’t mention ‘mums’, as I wanted dads to feel welcome too. (Turns out they’re not that interested, though, as I’ve only ever had around 20 per cent male readers.)
I asked around and had friends help with the graphic design (logo, look of site), and prepared loads of articles for the first few months. At that stage, I had no childcare so worked on it while my daughter napped – twice a day – and in the evenings and at weekends. In September 2015, I launched and had over 10,000 views in the first month. People generously spread the word across social media. I then built it into a brand and made money through sponsored content. But a year later, my son was born and I felt I was putting in too many hours for the income it was bringing in. I reduced the articles to one a week and focused on building a freelance portfolio outside of the website – writing for the Guardian, Red, Stylist, Grazia etc. And then eventually I got a book deal.
In the end, I’ve moved away from my initial idea of creating the Huffington Post for parents – and selling it for millions – and have instead used it as a springboard for other opportunities. I still love the platform, and keep the content updated, but it’s no longer my full-time job.
What do you hope to achieve through the book’s publication?
To become very rich. Failing that, to sell enough copies for them to allow me to write another book would be ace (we’re currently in talks about both a novel and another non-fiction idea).
Could you describe your personal experience of freelancing? How does it compare to your history of working in-house as a copywriter?
I love freelancing. I like setting my day rate as high as I can and having the freedom to break whenever I like, work from wherever takes my fancy and stop working to pick up my daughter from school – or son from nursery. My ‘bread and butter’ work for women’s hypnotherapy app Clementine is very fulfilling – as of next week, I’ll be committed to doing this two days a week. I’m paid for these days, but also have shares in the business so feel very invested. Our mission is to help women feel confident and calmer, so I feel like I’m doing something that’s making a difference. That feels important.
However, it’s taken me a few years to start earning near to what I was earning pre-kids, and to feel financially stable. That said, I only work two to three days a week, compared to five, so I’m in a better position now.
What was your experience of writing The Freelance Mum as a freelance mum?
Easier than I expected but still hard. I started writing it before we’d even signed the deal – I like to be ahead of the deadline. So I worked my arse off – writing, interviewing (fifty) other freelance mums, editing – and then handed in the first draft about three months ahead of the deadline. I had quite a few late nights, but otherwise used the two days I had childcare and some Saturdays. Then there were plenty of edits to make, and a few months before publication the PR began, which takes up more time. But I love that stuff – I’ve become a big fan of public speaking and being interviewed is such a pleasure, as it gives you an opportunity to reflect on your journey. If you want to do the project, you somehow find the time. It feels good to be busy and motivated.
Click here to buy Annie’s book The Freelance Mum.
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