A lesson in being humble, presenteeism, and writers networks

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Katie Thompson is a freelance writer, trained journalist, and chartered marketer. She has run her own content marketing agency, Katie Lingo, since 2016. Offering 10 years’ experience, Katie has worked with clients all over the world in editorial, blogging, and digital marketing roles. She’s also a keen marathon runner and loves a power ballad.

Biggest fuck up?

I’ve got plenty of little ones, especially as a freelancer! I’d say it was back when I was 23, having landed my first job at a local magazine. I was bratty and thought I was the dog’s bollocks. I started to fall out with the other editorial assistant, who was promoted ahead of me, and things became bitchy. I thought I had the upper hand when I announced with pride that I’d got a job at another magazine – same terrible pay but with no commute.

Well, that was a fuck up. It turns out the ‘editorial role’ was a PA – the very worst Devil Wears Prada scenario you can imagine. The boss would send me out for coffee (something that bratty 24-year-old me thought she was above) and would talk down to me daily. Funnily enough, she tried to fire me on my second day. My crime? Having a blog that reviewed local businesses – totally separate from the magazine. She claimed it was damaging to the business.

Anyway, it soon transpired that she’d hired an apprentice, whom she’d told was going to be my replacement. She told this poor apprentice that she would fire her if she warned me about my own impending firing. I survived five weeks in total and took a job in a content mill to pay the bills.

What would I change? Well, I’d have been a lot humbler in the first magazine job. I should have appreciated that crappy pay or not, they took a chance on me, and it was my first job out of uni. I spent a lot of years really resenting the woman who made my life hell for five weeks. Now I look back and smile.

I learned to be respectful but also to value my own talent. I was rarely given the chance to produce copy for the second magazine, but now I know I’m worth so much more. I would advise anybody in that situation not to take the opinion of one person to heart. You only need to look back at how far you’ve come to realise you’re better than that. Remember – bad experiences help us grow.

Today I work for myself and earn four times as much. The only coffee I get is my own.


I no longer work in an office, but when I did, I would have said clock-watching culture. It sounds cheesy, but the whole 9-5 mindset is totally outdated. If you’re going to measure someone’s performance based on how many hours they’ve been in the office, you’re going to get nowhere.

I’d sooner measure the outcomes. It could take two hours with six hours of water cooler chat, or you could get it done and go home. What’s more effective? Having to log timesheets, or stay an extra half an hour because you arrived two minutes late, is archaic. Presenteeism is a huge problem, and ultimately, there’s no benefit to the worker or the business.

In my industry, I wish I could call people out for wasting time – stringing you along with pitches only to ghost you. Freelancers get treated pretty badly because they’re not in the office (in fact, I wrote a piece about this). That said, I also think freelancers should be more assertive sometimes – you have to realise when a client is not worth your time.

Useful advice 

Again, we go back to knowing your worth here. As a freelancer, it’s not about the number of words you write or briefs you complete. You need to value your productivity above all else. As above, if somebody is going to make a phone call out of everything that could have been an email, it will soon take up time that you’re not comfortable billing.

The worst is with pitches – I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to “come up with ideas” and have endless phone calls, especially in lockdown, only for them to amount to nothing. You might think it’s the best lead in the world, but sometimes you’re throwing good money after bad, giving away ideas for free. Take a step back and realise this person is never going to close. It’s their loss. Focus your energy on clients who value your time.

Now for some less angry advice. Barring all Corona craziness, try to meet people. I’m not talking about referral networking sessions (not my cup of tea). Look for events that are relevant to you – for example, I met new people by going to BrightonSEO. I learned so much and acquired three new clients just from a few informal chats. In the short term, try to join some social media groups. There are lots of people (strangers) out there willing to fight your corner – for example, I’ve ‘met’ lots of people through #ContentClubUK and @Write52.

Finally, remember everything is relative. There will always be someone earning more than you or seemingly doing better. You only see the highlight reels. Don’t let others judge you for how you work, whether that’s client comms, charging, or anything else. Don’t compete with anybody but yourself – trust me, it will only make you feel bad. In fact, those you deem to be competitors could actually be collaborators. Make friends with them, and they might just give you work. It’s a win-win.



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