In this month's Writer Spotlight, we talk to Scripted writer Michelle H. Michelle is an entomologist, finance Ph.D, mother, grandmother, motorcycle enthusiast and has been a top writer on Scripted for over 6 years. We discuss freelance writing, what she's experienced as an African American woman in her career and what the recent protests for George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement means to her. In addition, Michelle shares some great advice for new writers trying to break into the business.
It's a really insightful interview and we thank Michelle for taking the time. Without further ado, here's Michelle.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Well, let’s see. Hard to know exactly where to start and how to keep it short and sweet. Okay, so I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio. My parents were high school sweethearts and are still together to this day. I married, had kids young and we settled in Columbus, Ohio (Go Bucks!). While my kids were still young, I ended up divorced and raising three grown sons primarily on my own. Today, I have nine of the most adorable grandchildren and the sweetest furchild ever (a pitbull).
My educational and professional background is diverse, as I took many different paths from the one originally intended. When I was in junior high school, I fell in love with science due to my favorite teacher Mr. Richard Fisher (he recently passed away). I’ll never forget the excitement of dissecting frogs in his classroom. From that point, I wanted to grow up and be a surgeon. Over the next decade or so, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in pre-medical biology from the University of Toledo, was chosen to participate in several internships and worked various jobs in the medical field.
My jobs, whether as a lab technician, a therapy aide or an emergency medical technician, just didn’t pay enough once I became a single mom. So, having already taken quite a few fine art and advertising design courses at the Columbus College of Art & Design, I created a graphic design portfolio and landed an entry-level job at an emergency medical products company. I worked as a head graphic designer for three years, and then I worked 10+ years at the State of Ohio as a graphic design coordinator and web design marketing specialist.
During this time, I received a master’s degree in marketing and communications from Franklin University. I also worked towards a master’s in entomology (the study of bugs) at the University of Florida and a master’s in zoology with a focus on environmental education at Miami University. I established two companies, Shel-Shok, LLC (marketing) and Green Matter, Limited (environmental education). Once I left the state job, I focused on my businesses. Currently, I’m a Ph.D. candidate in management with a finance specialization at Walden University. My dissertation research involves the study of biology-based decision-making models in venture capitalists.
Where are you from and where are you operating currently?
As mentioned previously, I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, and now all of my family resides in Columbus, Ohio including my parents and sons’ families. While in Columbus, I was very active in the entrepreneur community. I had a small office in the Dublin Entrepreneurial Center (DEC), an organization that supported entrepreneurs and small businesses. There I headed up a networking group called Startup Columbus, where I facilitated weekly and monthly meetings, seminars, workshops, roundtables, etc. When all of my sons moved out to start their own families, I decided to relocate to the gulf coast of Florida. After my first beach vacation as a young child, I always promised myself that I would move to Florida. In fact, when the Internet and email came into existence, my first username was “colsbeachbum”, which stood for Columbus beach bum. People always used to say there’s no beach in Columbus. I always laughed and said, “I know. I’m a displaced beach bum that needs to move to Florida.” So, since 2014, I have split my time between Ohio and Florida. Right now, I have a small office located in Sarasota, Florida. While I have had a few local clients, most of my clients are online and located all over the world.
How did you become a freelance writer and how long have you been writing for Scripted?
I started as a freelance graphic designer while working for an emergency medical product company. I worked with a company that created personalized newsletters for real estate agents. When I left that job because the family-owned company was having financial difficulties and laying off employees, they didn’t have a replacement to take over my position. I didn’t want to leave them hanging, so I offered to work on a freelance basis until they find someone else. Although I was labeled as a graphic designer, my job entailed everything from graphic design and photography to writing and trade show marketing. While working for the state, I was limited to performing the tasks as outlined in my classification, which didn’t include writing. I’ve always loved to write, so being a freelance writer was a way to tap into that passion outside of work. I primarily worked with clients on freelance marketplaces, including Scripted where I’ve been writing since at least 2014
What is your approach to proposals? What have you found that works best?
My approach to proposals hasn’t changed much since I first began working on freelance marketplaces. I have found that most writers and other creatives tend to send cookie-cutter types proposals that are merely copied and pasted. While this does save time when bidding on dozens or even hundreds of projects, it’s just not very effective. This holds true even more so if you’re a new freelancer trying to build up a track record with a long list of clients and positive reviews. The key to winning proposals is to customize each one to show exactly how you can meet the needs of the client. If it’s an article, provide an outline that details how you plan to map out the topic ideas. Don’t simply state that you’re a good writer and they should pick you. Show them what you can do and why they should choose you. Adding in a little summary of your credentials and links to a portfolio of works helps bump you up to the top of the list.
While customizing your proposals gives you an edge, you also need to be careful of how you price your projects. This can be tricky because some clients seek out the cheapest writers. However, you don’t want to sell yourself short. Bid what you believe you are worth based on your experience, education, complexity of the job, type of client, etc. There are plenty of clients who want to pay top dollar for high-quality work. These clients are more likely to respect what you have to offer and are usually easier to work with. If you’re a brand new writer without any reviews, it’s okay to place lower bids just to get started. But once you have a few products and reviews under your belt, increase your price. If you have special expertise in a particular topic, use that to your advantage so that you’re paid what you’re worth. The best clients to work for are those who understand you get what you pay for.
For me, I set myself apart by specializing in serving clients who are in the medical, business, marketing, technology, science and finance fields. When proposing to these clients, I point out how I have experience and advanced-level education in those areas. For example, when bidding on medical articles, I indicate that I have a degree in pre-med and worked various medical-related jobs. Similarly, for finance articles, I point out my master’s and nearly-completed doctorate in management and finance. I’ll also often include samples of my work that is a good representation of my writing in that topic. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Lastly, sometimes it helps to win a bid if you can turn projects around quickly. Simply state your estimated timeframe, but be sure you can deliver as promised. Over time, if clients like your work, you’ll find that they’ll mark you as a favorite and invite you to bid on their projects. This makes keeping a steady flow of work much easier than spending time going through the entire list of available jobs.
How have you been able to balance your work as a freelancer with the rest of your life? How is the current state of things in the world affecting you?
It can be difficult to balance life and work as a freelancer. Being a freelancer has its advantages because you can make your own schedule, you can work from anywhere, you don’t have anyone micromanaging you and you can control how much or how little work you take on. On the other hand, it can be more difficult than working for someone who hands you stuff to do and where you receive a regular paycheck. As a freelancer, you’re responsible for marketing yourself to bring in work. If you don’t, then you don’t get paid. The other challenge with being a freelancer, is that its very easy to get distracted. When you work from home, it’s tempting to spend time on social media or do housework or procrastinate by running to the fridge every few hours. To be successful as a freelancer, you must treat it like a job. Set up a work schedule and stick to it. Incorporate breaks and lunch but resist the urge to do anything unrelated to work. If you have children, then you’ll have to be a little more strategic about your schedule while also being able to be flexible. Either way, it requires discipline that many people don’t have.
The Coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the lives of many. Friends and family have lost jobs, can’t pay bills, find it hard to afford basic necessities like food and are facing eviction. As a freelancer, I haven’t found the quarantine to negatively affect my job. In fact, during the beginning of the panic, I was inundated with requests to write articles about the virus. Clients from technology companies offering scholarships to home inspection companies looking to educate their target audience while taking advantage of SEO opportunities.
In more recent news, we’ve been witnesses and uprising of protests in response to the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer. As an African American with black sons (one of whom happens to be both a police officer and an ordained minister), I’ve experienced racism at many different levels, so the Black Lives Matter movement has hit home with me. I hope that people and businesses begin supporting change through writing. Now that I’ve mentioned it, it would be a good idea to add that to my profile in case clients who need articles related to racial justice, police brutality and similar. I believe that regardless of what is going on around the world, writing and other marketing will always be needed. We have that advantage over many other professionals.
I'm sure your son being a police officer at this time is challenging for you and your family. How has your experience as an African American woman impacted your career as a writer?
Although there has been some speculation as to race being a reason that I haven't received corporate jobs or promotions in the past, it's not something that I could substantiate. A few were writing positions, but others in my department who weren't considered either were women but not racial minorities.
A good example of racial discrimination in the workplace happened to my dad decades ago. My dad went in for an interview for a high profile position in Washington, DC. When he arrived for the meeting, the staff looked confused when he told them he was there for the interview. His name is Milan, and he talks very articulately, so they had no idea he was African American. They blatantly turned him away.
As for me, I'm not aware of any racial issues that have been roadblocks to my freelance writing career. It has been something that I've grappled with, though. For instance, places like Scripted require pictures for online profiles. While some sites allow logos or other imagery, I've always felt that it's better to use an image of a person to give it a human touch. It makes your company or services seem more personable and approachable. Being African American, I've often wondered if I was hurting opportunities by using a picture of myself. I'm sure that I may have been passed up just because I was black, or perhaps if someone was tossed between two writers, they might be more likely to choose someone who is white. In the end, I figure I'd rather be transparent. If someone chooses not to work with than because of the color of my skin, then they're not a good client for me.
I could be wrong, but I know how biased people can be even if they don't consider themselves racist. Some of these biases are subconscious and ingrained into their psyche, whether they realize it or not. We all have biases. I hope that the newfound awareness of racial disparity and the coming together of people all over the world will help people understand racism and motivate them to uncover their own biases and work towards change.
What tips would you recommend for writers who are new to the Scripted platform?
It’s never fun being new, but with the right knowledge it’s possible to excel pretty quickly. Here is a list of tips that I would offer new Scripted writers:
Complete Your Profile
- Your profile is very important, so you must fill it out in its entirety. Include all details about your experience, education, hobbies, interests, etc. Especially use keywords related to the project topics that you’re most interested in. Your profile is how clients find you and send invites to submit a proposal for their projects. In addition, clients will review your profile to determine if you’re a good fit for the job. This is your time to showcase all that you have to offer. Don’t forget to upload writing samples!
Customize, Customize, Customize!
- Never use generic proposals. Start with a template but modify it to show the customer how you can meet their needs better than anyone else.
Highlight Only Your Relevant Education and Experience
- Pick out details about you that best equips you to complete the specific job. Eliminate those that don’t strengthen your case, as people are busy and don’t want to have to read a lot of fluff.
Provide an Outline
- Take some time to research the topic and create a tentative outline for the blog, article or other type of writing. Include additional details on how you’d approach the job, such as conducting keyword research or using only research-based references. You can take it a step further and generate an introductory paragraph to give the client an idea of writing style.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
- Price your writings based on your worth. Even if new, consider everything you have to offer. Good clients are willing to pay for the best. The only exception where you might want to bid a lower price is if you’re having trouble getting new clients or the clients are new to Scripted and just trying things out.
Treat Your Job Like a Business
- Freelancing is a business but with more flexibility than if you had a boss. Take advantage of the freedom of working from home, but be mindful of productivity-zapping distractions. Make a schedule and stick with it. Then reward yourself.
Keep Your Promise
- Scripted clients are often repeat customers. As such, you want to give them the red carpet treatment, so they keep coming back for more. If you offer to complete a project within a day, do so. Deliver more than is expected whenever possible. Keep the lines of communication open and develop long-term relationships with many who will see you as a favorite writer.
Is there anything you’d like to plug?
I’ve tried to give a taste of what I’m all about, but it’s impossible to touch upon everything. When I’m not working, you can find me spending time with family, hanging out on the beach, learning how to play guitar, taking nature photos of bugs, doing belly dance performances, drumming at drum circles, riding my motorcycle and more. I’m always strategizing on new ventures, so it’s easiest to keep up with me on social media.
If anyone would like to learn more about my marketing business and environmental education companies (warning, I focus on how cool bugs are), you can go to the following links:
I'd love to connect with other Scripted writers whether seasoned or newbies. I’ll gladly help anyone or answer questions about creating their profile, bidding on projects, pricing projects, etc. or simply become friends with similar interests. I spend the most time on the following social media accounts:
(And of course, you can hire Michelle today on Scripted to write for your company.)