People I Know: Karen Marston

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Karen Marston is a freelance copywriter and the owner of Untamed Writing. Karen’s personality-filled copy has put her at the center of attention lately as a “blogger to watch.” And, yes; that super cool streak in her hair is totally natural!

Karen Marston
Karen Marston

How I Met Karen

On April 29, 2014,Karen Marston wrote to me with a pitch for Be A Freelance Blogger. After weeks of nothing but terrible pitches (it was a particularly bad month!), Karen wrote in with a pitch that was dead-on for our niche and ended like so:

“…there will be an intro and a conclusion to go along with this one, and the bullet points will be padded out more where necessary.

So, them’s my pitches! I guess a little intro would go down well too, eh? I’m Karen, and I run Untamed Writing, where I do freelance writing for my own clients, while also teaching a course to help complete newbies get their own freelance writing businesses off the ground in 4 weeks. I’ve been running my biz since September 2012, mostly through outbound marketing methods. I’ve finally decided to switch to inbound, hence the guest posting  So far I’ve only had one guest post published, over at Location 180, so you can check that out if you want to see evidence of my guest posting ability. I’ve also had an idea approved by Tom Ewer, for when he launches his Paid to Blog blog

I was so delighted by her spectacular pitch that I asked her to send a draft immediately. And I was so charmed by her personality that I sought her out to be my new friend. And we’ve been chatting ever since.

I think you’ll love this e-mail interview with her. (Just don’t like the UK spellings throw you off!).

My Interview with Karen Marston

What do you do?

I’m a copywriter specialising in writing with personality, and I also teach people how to become freelance writers from scratch. I blog twice a week over at Untamed Writing, where I dish out bullshit-free advice on getting paid to write and the lifestyle that comes with it.

How did you start?

I started out writing simple SEO articles, which paid around £15-25 for 500 words. In fact, one of my first ever clients paid me less than £5 for 500 words, but I was just so excited that somebody was willing to pay me to write for them!

Back in 2012 I was working in a bar. Ever since I’d left uni several years earlier (I studied journalism) I’d been alternating between working in bars to save money and going travelling. I figured there must be a better way, but I didn’t want to ‘start a career’ because I didn’t want to get tied down to anything that would prevent me from travelling in the future. With barwork, you could just quit and find a new job easily when you got back. But fuck doing barwork forever, you know? (err, if I’m not allowed to say fuck, substitute with ‘sod’!)

I’d been procrastinating for a long time on starting an online writing business, something I’d learned about almost a year earlier. It wasn’t until my boss started being more of a prick than usual that I finally decided, fuck this, I need to get out of here. Then I sat down, created a basic website which I used to promote myself as an SEO article writer, and started hunting down clients. It didn’t take long before I was making enough to replace my income, so I quit my job. (Fortunately replacing your income isn’t all that hard when you’re earning minimum wage.) The original site I created is archived here. I use it to teach my students now.

After I’d been writing SEO articles for a while, I started getting proper blogging gigs instead, and then copywriting projects, and it all just sort of happened naturally — but only because I had the balls to dive into stuff without really knowing what I was doing. (This is something I see my students struggle with. They think they’re not good enough or that they can’t do it because they don’t know how. And I’m like, just figure it out as you go!) After I while I realised there were lots of people who wanted to learn how to become freelance writers but had no idea where to start, so I decided to create a course showing people how to do exactly what I’d done.

What’s your favorite part of what you do?

My favourite thing is the fact that I can work from anywhere in the world. That’s the reason I started this thing in the first place, you know? I recently spent a wonderful week in Berlin (LOVE THAT CITY), hanging out with friends and doing fun things like skydiving, and as you read this I’m on a three-week trip to the US to visit friends and attend the World Domination Summit. I love the lifestyle this business allows me to lead.

But uh, I guess that’s not really a part of my work. So, my favourite thing that I DO is working with my students. It’s so awesome to be like, ‘omg, I have actually helped people quit their jobs and make money for themselves.’ I still find it weird sometimes that this is what I do.

What advice do you have for someone looking into doing what you do?

Karen at work.
Karen at work.

Well, obviously the first thing I’d recommend is taking my course  But seriously though, it is designed for complete beginners who have no idea where to start. I give step-by-step instructions and personalised feedback on all coursework, and my students have a very active Facebook group where people are always helping each other out (love those guys!). You can get the first part of the course for free on my website by entering your email into any of the boxes on the site, which should help you decide if it’s right for you. (There’s a nice obvious box at the top of the home page.) And, of course, you can find out more about the course by visiting the registration page (the course is running again at the end of this month).

For people who can’t afford to splash out but are desperate to get started and willing to put the work in, I recommend researching the type of writing you’d like to do (SEO writing? blogging? copywriting? something else?), then creating a simple website — include a brief intro about what you do and how you can help your clients, along with a few sample pieces of your writing to show your skill — and then just start emailing companies you’d like to write for. If you email enough of them, eventually you’ll hit on somebody at exactly the right time and they’ll hire you.

Pro tip: emailing digital marketing companies is a great way to find clients who’ll give you a bunch of work, because they need content for all their clients and often hire freelancers. If you need helping with creating a website, check out this guest post I wrote over at Location 180 — it has step by step instructions that will help you get a basic site up and running.

What’s next for you?

Writing-wise, I’m tentatively thinking about getting into personal essay writing, because, although I enjoy copywriting, I much prefer writing my own stuff than stuff for companies (funny that, eh?). I took Amy Paturel’s essay writing course earlier this year and it was just fantastic — it really motivated me. (I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to freelance but doesn’t necessarily want to write for businesses.)

Teaching-wise, after I get back from the States I’ll be creating a bigger, better course for people who want to become freelance writers but want to skip the SEO article stuff and go straight into blogging and copywriting. It’ll be harder work and it’ll take longer, but it’ll lay the groundwork for people to build really successful freelance writing careers.

I’ve been teaching SEO writing for the past couple of years and I’ve helped many people make a living writing, but a lot of my students get stuck there, thinking that SEO writing is the only way they can make money as a writer, or that their work is only worth $0.04 per word. Yet I know that so many of my students are capable of more than that, and I want to show them how to do it. SEO writing is great if you need to get a bit of cash coming in quickly, or if you’re nervous about getting started, because the expectations aren’t super high, but it definitely has its limits.

This new course will be about what I would do now if I went back to beginning. How would I create a writing business from scratch, knowing what I now know?

Something else I’ve started dreaming about recently is running writers’ retreats in the Scottish Highlands, but that’s a way off in the future! Wouldn’t that be cool though? I’m thinking: cabin on a lake (or a loch, as the crazy kids around here say), campfires, walks through the woods, good food, laughter and mad brainstorming sessions about how to grow your writing business. It’s the dream!

Annnnd, I’m done! Thanks for having me, Lauren! S’been a pleasure.



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