Women Of The C-Suite: “Not every person is the right person to work with.” with Laura Pennington Briggs and Chaya Weiner
Not every person is the right person to work with. Turning down clients and saying no to people who don’t fit my ideal client avatar has helped me scale my business with a roster of only dream clients.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Pennington Briggs, a former teacher turned freelance writer, entrepreneur, coach, and public speaker. She is a two-time TEDx speaker and the author of “How to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business”, published by Entrepreneur Press.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I became a freelance writer in 2012 when I knew that I could not consider a career in traditional education anymore. While working towards my doctorate in public policy, I had taken a job as a middle school teacher in Baltimore City.
That job was exhausting and required a significant time and financial investment from me with very little support from the administration.
I started thinking about any of the skills that I brought to the table with my teaching career and felt that I might be able to adapt to working as a freelance writer. That was 7 years ago, and I have been fully booked since I left to go become a fulltime freelance writer.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I once landed a $50,000 editing gig based on a 5-minute phone call. The work was easy, the client was a joy to work with and he always paid on time. I was blown away that I earned more than my annual salary as a teacher in the course of a four-month period helping someone to ghostwrite a book and that it was so easy to sell him on working with me. That has always been one of my favorite projects that I’ve worked on.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the mistakes that I made is very common to new freelancers and that is charging way too little. I was on a phone call with a prospective client pitching myself, and the client said that I was too cheap for him to work with and he declined the opportunity to work together. It was a key lesson for me because I hadn’t had anyone ever turn me down because my prices were too low, but I realized that pricing also has to do with perception and that that client likely felt I wasn’t going to produce good quality for the rates that I was charging. I instantly doubled my rates.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As a working freelance writer, I balance that 20 hours a week with coaching intermediate and advanced freelancers grow and scale their businesses. Both of these help me be successful. For example, when a coaching client asks me about how to navigate a tricky contract situation with their client, I can speak from experience because I am still working as a freelance writer and very much know what it’s like to be pitching, negotiating, turning in work, and coping with challenges in a freelance business.
Working with clients also helps me be more aware of some of the weaknesses in my own freelance writing business and how I can improve. We teach what we need to learn, is a saying I’ve heard and it’s very helpful in assisting me with streamlining my freelance business.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I just published my first book with Entrepreneur Press, “How to Start your Own Freelance Writing Business” and I am working on a second book as well as a book proposal for a third.
My goal is to really help push the freelance economy forward by making companies feel more comfortable about outsourcing to freelancers and helping more freelancers make more money in less time. Already, it’s estimated that 20% of freelancers are earning more than six figures per year and many are choosing to stay fulltime freelance rather than being forced into it by an economic downturn or the loss of a job. My goal is to help people set up and scale these businesses effectively to avoid some of the most common challenges.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Never be afraid to use test projects to determine whether a person really fits on your team. As I have added new virtual assistants, online business managers, and project managers into my business, I always start with small test project so we can see what it’s like to work together and if we are truly the right fit in terms of communication. This has helped me avoid signing longer-term contracts with someone who isn’t a fit.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I think having a place to turn in all work and communicate is essential when managing a large team. Having a project manager is also key for streamlining what information is coming through to you as the leader.
Trying to communicate to a large team of people on your own easily gets overwhelming and you can spin your wheels the entire day trying to answer messages that have come in from the team members. Coming up with clear structures for other team members to report to a project manager and that project manager being the go between for you and the team helps to eliminate a lot of your communication responsibilities.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Two people who spring to mind. One person who inspired my desire to become an educator is a professor of mine who passed away a couple of years ago, Dr. Craig Leonard Brians. Dr. Brians was an instrumental advisor, mentor and friend to me during the time I had the opportunity to work as his teaching assistant. He was also extremely helpful during the early stages of my doctoral process.
Dr. Brians was an outstanding teacher who resonated with students well and even though I am not working in traditional education, I am often motivated by wanting what I do to make him proud and to deliver the kind of education and coaching to my students and clients the way that he would.
Another person who has helped me get to where I am is my original writing mentor, Yuwanda Black. Yuwanda Black has been a freelance writer for several decades and it was her courses and books that got me started back in 2012. She always answered all of my emails and has even become a partner with me on courses that we sell together now. It’s been a joy to get to follow someone else’s success through the freelance writing world.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It’s my goal to help as many people as possible realize when they are in a job that isn’t suited to them and help them feel the confidence to make the jump to something more suitable. I recognize from personal experience that this can be terrifying. So, I put out as many free materials as I can in the form of a podcast, my blog, interviews on other people’s podcast and free courses on places like SkillShare to help other people get their start and feel like it’s possible for them as well.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1: I need to charge more. Starting off at entry level rates meant that I attracted entry level clients.
2: Not every person is the right person to work with. Turning down clients and saying no to people who don’t fit my ideal client avatar has helped me scale my business with a roster of only dream clients.
3: Don’t be afraid to try new things. You can fail, but that doesn’t mean you are a failure. Along the way there have been many projects and businesses that I have picked up and then abandoned when I found out they weren’t for me. Not taking that personally and doing this as an opportunity to experiment has meant I have also tried out some really cool things that I loved.
4: You can’t do it all alone. Early on a mentor of mine told me that I was wasting my time by mowing my own lawn. It was a lightning bulb moment because it got me started thinking about the power of delegation. Since then I have delegated many projects, both personal and business, to help me focus on my true zone of genius and now I coach other freelancers on how to outsource to their own virtual assistants and digital team as well.
5: Growing will push you. Up leveling your business and going to a new level will be challenging and uncomfortable. It’s easy to want to give up and go back to the way things were, but this can keep you stagnant or even bored. Welcoming the uncertainty and level of discomfort that comes with growing personally and professionally is something that can help you get to new heights and achieve new things you’ve never even thought possible.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I firmly believe in being able to make a contribution to the world through my research and writing. I want more people to know about the creative opportunities available through technology, freelancing, and the gig economy.
So many people today are not suited to traditional employment, but I really believe that freelancing is also changing the way that even in-house employees and employers are working together. Raising awareness about how we can be most effective when working as a team, either digitally or in person, is something powerful that excites me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My childhood hero is sharp shooter; Annie Oakley, who is from my home state of Ohio. The quote below has inspired me for many years:
“Aim at a high mark and you’ll hit it. No, not the first time, nor the second time. Maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting, for only practice will make you perfect.”
Every time I had to step into something that meant I might be rejected many times over, I have remembered this quote. I was rejected by 30 literary agents, 33 publishing houses, and 91 TEDx events before I landed the opportunities that I did. I never gave up throughout that process and used it as the chance for me to get better and grow.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Rachel Hollis is a huge inspiration to me because of how she has bridged her lifestyle brand with fiction and non-fiction publishing. I love everything she creates and love her story of not giving up on her dream of selling books by choosing to go the self-publishing route first, which opened a lot of great doors for her.
Thank you for all of these great insights!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click here to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.