In this week’s Peep profile, we get to know Jackie Lam. We ask Jackie about her experience kicking off her freelance career, starting Cheapsters.org and writing about personal finance. Jackie is based in Los Angeles, California and is also a city organizer for Freelance Friday.
Read more to learn about her passion for helping people come up with creative ways to manage time and money, as well as her challenges and successes for taking the leap to freelance full-time.
Tell us about your career to date.
I am primarily a personal finance writer but also do copywriting and copyediting. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot more content marketing in the fintech and digital banking space. I love the challenge of conveying a brand’s message while writing engaging content.
I am a big money nerd and am passionate about helping people come up with creative ways to manage their time and money, and to balance their professional lives with their personal projects. To me, having a handle on your finances is a sort of game, and it plays a big part of having the freedom to create a life of your own design. I would like to do my part in supporting others to have the confidence and tools to strike out on their own.
As for making work decisions, I try to decide based on what I think would add the most value to my life, if I can add something different to a project or publication, and whether it helps me with my long-term goals.
Describe yourself in three words.
Diligent, curious, and obsessive.
How did you get into freelancing and why did you choose a freelance career?
I’ve been wanting to do freelance for a very long time and admired my friends who took the leap. I was curious to know what all the buzz was about around having the freedom and flexibility that comes with freelancing. I obsessively read blogs on freelancing and productivity.
Although I had been taking on one-off freelance gigs for several years, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that landed my first ongoing client and seriously considered pursuing freelance full-time. I quickly saw how much greater the earning potential was, and I really enjoyed the work. I kept my 9-5 while doing more freelance on nights and weekends.
Last summer, I left my day job for a one-year contract job doing exactly what I wanted to do: be a personal finance content writer. It was an extremely difficult decision. I was leaving a full-time job with benefits for a short-term contract gig. About a month into my new job, I received notice that the content team was overstaffed and my contract job was ending much shorter than anticipated.
While I panicked, in many ways it was a blessing in disguise. A couple days after I received notice I attended a conference and landed a handful of leads for writing clients. The month after my contract job ended was a bit of a whirlwind. I was meeting with a bunch of recruiters and ended up declining some contract opportunities, including a high-paying contract job to make a go of my own. I was building traction with a lot of my job leads and my gut was telling me that if I didn’t give full-time freelance a chance now, I would regret it down the line.
What inspired you to start Cheapsters.org?
I’ve been frugal for as long as I can remember, way before there was this explosion of personal finance content. I started Cheapsters back in 2009. It was initially created to help my friends during the Recession. I originally posted a lot about free events in Los Angeles, my personal cheapster heroes and ways to save a buck.
It was a way for me to connect with like-minded people who valued their time over their money. I’ve been made fun of a lot for being so frugal, and creating Cheapsters was a way to assert why I thought living within your means is so great.
A lot of my friends who freelance or are artists have trouble managing their money and come to me with questions, so a few years ago I shifted the direction of Cheapsters to help my freelancer friends out with their money questions. I also write a lot about balancing your professional with your personal pursuits and being a “minimalist freelancer,” as those are things I struggle with daily.
What have you learned about freelancer’s financial needs and questions?
I find that connecting with freelancers, there really is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing your money. Depending on the line of work you do, your income may fluctuate differently.
For instance, if you work in social media or content writing, you may have, for the most part, several steady, ongoing clients. If you work in tech or the entertainment industry, you may work intensely on a single project for a long period of time, then experience a dry spell. So there are different “systems” you can create to best manage your money.
Who inspires you most professionally? Why?
This is a tough question, as there are so many amazing people out there doing great things! I think we live in an interesting time when we don’t really have idols that embody our ideals of greatness, but rather have the knowledge and tools at our disposal to bring out our own potential. I guess anyone who is brave enough to strike out on their own, and is genuinely out there to help others succeed, inspires me.
What do you like to read, watch or listen to either while working or in your free time?
Oh, so many things!
Read: The School of Life Series, 99U Series, Zen Habits, anything by Ottessa Moshfegh
Listen: Wild Nothing, Beach Fossils, Fatal Jamz, Melody’s Echo Chamber, M.O.N.E.Y. Show podcast
What are your favorite freelance and/or marketing resources?
What’s your one piece of advice to those new to freelancing?
Be patient. No matter how prepared you are, the first few months are the most difficult. You won’t land the perfect roster of dream clients, make as much money as you hoped, have your productivity flow in place. You’ll come across challenges that have never crossed your mind. There is a ton of trial and error, so being open to experimenting with different approaches helps.
I know this sounds cliche, but it’s all about process, not perfection.
What are your top three places we should check out when visiting your city/town?
What a great question! L.A. is so vast, there is really something for everyone. Here are a few of my favorite spots:
1) Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook (Culver City): This park in city has some amazing views of the city at the very top.
2) The Bonaventure Hotel (Downtown L.A.): There’s definitely a futuristic, Logan’s Run-esque vibe at the Bonaventure. It’s a great spot for people-watching. Plus, there’s a revolving restaurant at the top with reasonably priced drinks.
3) Clifton’s Cafeteria: This newly renovated cafeteria is a big part of L.A.’s history and offers a really cool dining experience. There are different levels with a slightly different ambience on each floor. I highly recommend it!
Learn more about Jackie or hire her for your copy and content.
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