Claire, Writer and Editor

 
Claire Guavabean
 

Hi, I’m Claire, and I’m from the Philippines.

I was born in what I still think of as the sleepy town of Arayat in Pampanga, Philippines - the place where the solitary Mount Arayat majestically stands. It's about two hours away from Manila (depending on traffic). We moved to Angeles City (same province) when I was almost 10 years old so I finished high school there.

My dream was to become a doctor, and so I enrolled in a BS Biology in Baguio City. Unfortunately, due to financial difficulties, I was unable to continue on this course and went on to switch to Mass Communication. My hope was that the photojournalism class on that programme would allow me to follow my other prospective career path in journalism. Bad luck struck again, however, and the teacher of that class decided to resign and dedicate his time to fieldwork.

In the end, I opted for English Language Studies and Communications, both of which I was very successful at. When I fell pregnant, I started applying for work while waiting to graduate. By the December of the year I gave birth, I already had a job waiting for me in Manila. I graduated in March the following year and proceeded to work in my first post as a writer for a greeting card company in the Philippine capital.

I’ve worked as an editorial assistant, creative writer, and as a college instructor for about nine years. I worked for Gulf News in Dubai from 2006 until 2014 as a proofreader/sub-editor and freelancer. From 2014 until the end of 2016, I worked as a marketing manager for a major real estate firm in Dubai. I left the United Arab Emirates in December 2016 and have been in the Philippines ever since.

What do you do?

Currently, I work as a full-time content editor for a Dubai-based British-owned free zone company involved in digital marketing. I am also a writing reviewer (contractor) for a New York City-based firm that's been around since the 1990s. I started working for both in 2017.

I also write for Ananke, a Dubai-based women's e-magazine I helped set up in 2014, and am still the features editor, although I haven't been able to publish much on there lately because of my current workload. And, of course, I still freelance on the side and volunteer.

How did you become a freelancer?

In 2009, I was hard hit by the global recession, just like everybody else. I was still working at Gulf News, but I found myself short on cash because all incentives got canceled. There were no salary increases after the GFC hit, and debt was mounting.

Our manager advised me to check if Friday Magazine (also a product of Al Nisr Media — owner of Gulf News) would take me on-board as a freelancer, so I emailed the features editor, and he gave me a simple assignment. He liked what I wrote and it got published.

From then on, I was either assigned a story or I would pitch a couple of ideas and he would choose which one I should work on first, and so on. The pay wasn't huge but it was still something, and I realized I had to start growing my professional portfolio if I was to ever make a career out of writing.

With my writing portfolio growing, I grew confident and started posting on Dubizzle. I started looking for editing work on the side. Luckily, I got two clients who had books for overseas distribution, and so I also began to edit professionally as a freelancer. One other CEO I interviewed hired me to do copywriting work for them and then another company owner hired me to do web content work for his real estate company in the US.

There were others, but the bulk of my freelancing work was with Gulf News. Not just with Friday Magazine, but with classifieds features as well. I haven't stopped freelancing since I started in 2009.

Why did you become a freelancer?

The most obvious motivation for most would be money, of course. That was secondary to me, although our manager pushed me to try freelancing because she knew I had kids to provide for back home. But for me, what I was really chasing was my passion.

The time my first story got published, I went through a "eureka" moment. I realized I had better invest in my lifelong passion: writing. It made me more determined to keep writing and growing my body of work over the years. Doing what I do makes me happy.

Where did you find your first paid freelancing job?

The first ever article I got paid to write as a freelancer was published by Friday Magazine in Dubai, UAE.

What expectations did you have going into this kind of job? And how has it been the same or different from what you expected?

Frankly, I had no expectations except maybe to get something published while earning a little extra on the side.

But more than the money, there's the growth of one's professional network. Every now and then I get referrals or have old clients looking me up for more work. That's always a big deal, and makes the effort worth it.

What’s your favorite thing about freelancing/working from home?

The freedom to manage my own time and be with my kids, do my own thing and run :)

What's your LEAST favorite thing about freelancing/working from home?

I think my social skills are becoming a little rusty. I also never get to wear my fancy clothes anymore because there's just no point in dressing up.

How long did it take for you to feel like a "successful" freelancer? Until you were able to pay your bills regularly without worrying?

I take writing very seriously. Even when I had been writing for Gulf News for a couple of years already, it took me about 3 or 4 years to call myself a writer. I do feel successful now, though :)

How did you price your services when you were just starting out?

I used one source at first. I read the article "How Much Should I Charge?" by Lynn Wasnak. It's pretty dated now, and I also had to adjust my prices to the market, but it provided me a fair idea of what was considered reasonable in the UAE.

What was your biggest struggle when you were just starting out?

Marketing myself and finding clients was extremely challenging, though it helped that Gulf News was/is a well-known company in the UAE.

I had to make a lot of sacrifices finding contacts and scheduling interviews, but it was all worth it. It took time, a little money and effort to get things done. One CEO I interviewed even asked me how I managed as a journalist without having a car; I simply said, "There's always the bus and cabs."

What do you know now, that you wish you knew back then?

Never compromise your value. Over time, I learned to value myself. As an Asian, I got and continue to be discriminated against in the workplace — virtual or real. People don't expect much even if you call yourself a writer/editor/whatever... if you're a non-native English speaker. They expect to pay a pittance for quality content work.

But I have learned to set my standards. I am fortunate to be in that place in my life when I can say no to a project that doesn't promise fair compensation.

What's your favorite way to find new clients and job opportunities? What worked best for you?

I am registered with Indeed USA and subscribed to the Morning Coffee Newsletter. Sometimes clients find me on LinkedIn, too.

What are your favorite tools for work? Any apps or programs you love?

No particular favorites but I use Google Docs a lot, Trello, and Slack. Then, of course, there's MS Word.

What's one BIG lesson you learned the hard way on your freelancer journey?

Get everything documented and, whenever possible, get an advance or some form of security. One client still owes me about a thousand bucks, but I have since moved on.

Through the years, after having dealt with all sorts of clients, I learned a lot of things — the importance of professionalism, negotiation skills, safeguarding one's interests (I never used to ask for a deposit or advance payment), service delivery and discipline.

I used to think that a handshake was enough of an indication of agreement and commitment, but there are people who will take advantage of you given the chance. Since then, I’ve learned to not blindly trust would-be clients no matter how well-off or stable they seem. I get everything documented so everyone goes away happy.

How do you stay motivated when work is tough or there aren’t enough jobs coming in?

Life is a wheel; I must go on, and keep it turning.

If you met a new freelancer who wanted to get into your line of work, what advice would you give them?

Join freelancer groups, register on freelancer sites, network (without seeming desperate), and register with PayPal or a similar platform. It's free and you'll need it when you get a client from overseas, which is highly likely in this line of work.

One more thing, and this is important: you have to keep learning — not just to stay updated but also to keep getting better at what you do.

Any tips or tricks for working with difficult clients?

Let them know you won't/can't start work if they have no clear-cut goals and instructions.

Now that you've experienced all the ups and downs of being a freelancer, would you go back to a regular 9-5 job?

No.

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