Kate Williams (PhD ’15) took the skills and knowledge she developed pursuing her doctorate in English at The University of Tulsa and transformed them into a career of bountiful opportunities as a professional writer and communications business leader. In fact, ValiantCEO recently profiled Williams in its series on inspiring entrepreneurs.
While early in her undergraduate studies at Oakland University, Williams already knew she wanted to pursue university-level education beyond a Bachelor of Arts. Around the same time she arrived at TU in 2009 to pursue a Ph.D. in English, Williams also started content writing. “This was a time when blogs and content writing were just sort of starting to become a mainstream thing and a way to make money,” she noted. “I had young kids, so I followed a lot of mommy blogs and was inspired to create my own!”
These blogs gave Williams an outlet for creativity outside of graduate school and allowed her to make extra money on the side. Writing blog posts also helped her learn a great deal about building and managing websites — skills that are helpful to her current job as a professional business writer.
Blogging as a segue to professional writing
While attending a conference for bloggers in 2012, Williams was introduced to the idea of writing professionally for other companies. “I immediately dropped the idea of mommy blogging and started freelancing in my spare time over the breaks,” she recalled. Through freelancing as a writer, Williams found she loved the medium of writing more than academic writing: “It was so concise and short, plus I could write on really fun topics, like food and traveling.”
After graduating in 2015, Williams went on the hunt for a professorial job in academia. Knowing it would take her a full academic year to get hired, she sought other forms of employment. Through connections, Williams knew a CEO who was looking to experiment with hiring in-house writers. “I was freelancing still and we made a deal where I could come on for six months as a contract worker and then we’d decide if I’d stay or not,” she recounted. “I ended up staying there full time for three years building and managing a content team.”
Through this experience, Williams learned skills about product placement and promotion, website development, search engine optimization, sales and leadership. Most importantly, Williams learned the fundamentals of building a business, which has helped her tremendously.
Building a thriving business
In 2019, Williams had the idea to build a business specifically for companies that needed exceptional content but did not have the bandwidth or budget to hire in-house writers. She started freelancing again to see if there was a market need for this specific business model.
“After about nine months, I had enough clients — and enough money saved up — that I felt confident going full time with my business, People First Content,” she explained. Her business provides writing services for small businesses and individuals who value accurate, quality content. She and her employees specialize in writing non-fiction books, blog posts, articles, papers and social media. Through this enterprise, Williams noted, “we’ve written for everyone from Emmy Award winners to one-person operations in niche industries.”
Since 2019, Williams has expanded People First to bring on two more employees, including another TU graduate. Her business is looking to expand more in the next 12 months and to continue hiring.
Advice for getting into freelance writing
For anyone who wants to start freelance writing, Williams gives five pieces of advice.
- First off: “You’ll have to get humble. Businesses want to pay writers who have proven track records of success. You may not get paid much in the beginning, but, if you’re talented, it won’t take long for you to build up a portfolio and be able to make what you’re worth.”
- Williams also emphasizes that you have to read tons of online content in order to get a sense of how to write online content. “Writing online content is way different than writing academic papers. It’s a lot more casual and to the point.”
- She stresses that freelance writers must prepare for rejections. Even the most talented writers will get rejected from time to time. “I’ve learned to accept rejection as a sign that I’m not a good fit for a particular client, not that my writing is terrible.”
- It is important, as well, to look for companies that hire freelance writers. “I started getting paid to write with a company called Verblio. It’s on a tiered system, so you can make more money as you gain experience and it’s flexible.”
- And Williams’ final piece of advice: Put together an online portfolio. “If you’re serious about freelance writing then I highly recommend putting together a website that showcases your best work. It also helps you to write original content and learn search engine optimization to write blog posts and website content.”