“I used to keep diaries as a teenager and when I was reading through them, I found that I negotiated a pay rise at 13. I cleaned the floors of a delicatessen and they were going to pay me £2.50 an hour and I asked for £3,” she says. “Where’s that girl? This is the girl I need now. It’s so important to try and negotiate and think about what you’re worth and why you’re the best person for the job.”
Earlier in her career, when working as a staff reporter, she discovered that she was being paid less than a male colleague. “The response was that this male colleague negotiated at the outset – it was a big lesson to learn. And later, when I was freelance, I heard horror stories of American journalists being commissioned for a project and then being turned away because they asked for higher rates – I don’t think this happens as much in the UK. Don’t undersell yourself.”
Rachael spent 18 months living and working in New York, initially for ETF.com, a website providing insight into investments, and later for The Independent, covering the 2016 presidential election. When she moved back to London in March 2017, she continued to work for The Independent and moved to their Voices desk to work as a freelance commissioning editor. “When I started out for The Independent, I was the second reporter they hired in New York so it was only myself, my colleague and my boss. Having such a small team gave us lots of freedom and it meant we had a hand in everything. I covered pretty much any subject you can imagine and really managed to widen my scope. It’s got it’s pros but it’s also good to have a niche.”
For Rachael, her niche is finance. After graduating from Durham University in 2011 with a degree in French, Italian and German, she did a 12-week diploma with PMA, a journalism school which merged with the Press Association in 2013 and is part-owned by leading national and regional newspaper publishers.
“We learnt shorthand, how to edit video and we published a student magazine called Seaside Business. The aim was to get most of our class into trade magazines and B2B publications after graduation – arguably much easier than walking into The Guardian or Cosmo – but it was where we could cut our teeth, build contacts and work our way up. I wouldn’t have the career I have now if it wasn’t for my course, so I would recommend it – but choose wisely because they can be a lot of money.” Courses at the Press Association cost between £400 and £1,600, a Masters in Journalism at a University in London can cost between £10,000 and £11,000.
Her first job was Citywire’s New Model Adviser magazine, a weekly publication that provides news and fund manager information to help people make better investments. “I was thrown in the deep end – on my first day I did my first ever interview with a fund manager. Within the first week, I was given my contact list and I called about 100 people, letting them know I was taking over the beat and starting to build those relationships. There wasn’t formal training but a trade mag is the best place to learn new skills and move up quickly. You had to get out and do it and use your gut instinct.”
“I’m really glad I started in finance,” says Rachael, who continues to write for financial publications and companies. “There’s no shame in writing for companies or corporates and having retainer jobs can give you financial freedom and therefore headspace to be more creative. Very few freelance writers make a decent living from journalism – most supplement their income substantially with copywriting, proofreading and other work. So, as a result, my workload is varied. I often run the Voices desk for The Independent on weekends, commissioning and editing things, and I freelance around that. I don’t have any contracts, most of it is through pitching and building good relationships. You have to hope that the work keeps coming in, but there are no guarantees – it’s not for the fainthearted.”
The lack of transparency around rates can make pitching even more difficult when you’re starting out. For Rachael, her rates “totally depend on the publication or project. I think in terms of how much time something will take me – remember that it always takes longer than you think,” she says. “It’s only in the past year that I’ve joined Facebook groups where everyone is very transparent about their rates. There are also websites to help you know you’re in the right ballpark. I have friends who are journalists and friends on the corporate side and I ask them for their opinions.”
When it comes to organising her money, Rachael has three bank accounts: a sole trader account, a savings account and a personal account. “Whenever I’m paid for anything, I put 30% away for tax, national insurance and student loan and 10 to 20% into a separate savings account. And I make a note of everything that comes in on a spreadsheet.” Starling Bank offers sole trader accounts and sole director accounts for limited companies that can be set up in minutes, all from one app. The Goals feature is ideal for keeping money for tax or savings in the same account, but separate from their everyday balance.
Rachael is often more productive in the afternoons and evenings and she works better with background noise. “When I’m writing I like the feeling that I’m surrounded by real humans,” she says. “I like to get out and about and go to cafés or work with friends in a shared office space. I could be better at managing my time but I always have my diary on me – it’s so old school, I know, but I love it and wouldn’t change it for the world.”
For Rachael flexibility is one of the best parts of being a freelancer. “It’s really hard to imagine going back to full-time work – as a freelancer you find there’s no micromanagement, nobody breathing down your neck. I’ve also found that more opportunities come my way by not having one full-time job. I’ve spoken on a couple of panels in the last year, one on Sex and the City’s feminist legacy following the show’s 20th anniversary, and one on Justin Trudeau’s politics at the Battle of Ideas conference. I’ve also been able to contribute to several books including essays on how New York plays a big part in the fiction of Edith Wharton and one on Sheryl Sandberg’s legacy as part of a book of feminist essays from Toucan Books, published in early 2019.”
Plans for 2019 also include launching a newsletter and working on her novel. “I’ve always been a goals person and there have always been obvious stages of progression at school and university, or in your first job. But when you’re a freelancer, you can’t promote yourself or give yourself a pay rise, you have to define what success is personally. A lot of people talk about making more money but for me there’s a bigger picture and it’s about striving for self-improvement.”
As a freelancer, her milestones include getting into new publications, learning new skills, such as editing a podcast or a video to stay relevant in the industry, and negotiating higher rates. “The more you build your brand and portfolio, the more you can ask for,” she says.
Other than negotiating from the outset, Rachael would advise her younger self to stop thinking that everyone’s better and more qualified than her. “We all have skills in certain areas – big them up and do it shamelessly.”
She feels that this is particularly important for women. “Journalism is a competitive market, so we need to compete. I often see men on Twitter talking about their accomplishments, but I rarely see women doing the same thing. I’m not advocating that we brag about ourselves all day long, but we should be building each other up to make sure we are taken seriously and are seen as a voice of authority in whatever field we work in.”
To find out more about Rachael, have a look at her portfolio. If you’re a sole trader or registered as a limited business, have a look at Starling for Business – our mobile-only business accounts can be opened in minutes and have no monthly fees.