From lawyer to freelance copywriter - meet Libby Hakim
Libby Hakim is a quiet but extraordinary achiever - a former lawyer, Libby now works full time as a freelance copywriter, SEO writer and digital content specialist. She's an incredibly versatile writer and is just at home writing technical white papers as she is penning an article about how tidying may just change your life. I was so thrilled when Libby agreed to be part of this Q&A - she spills the beans on the benefits of writing for agencies, why she resisted writing about the law and her advice for those dreaming of being a freelance writer.
From lawyer to freelance copywriter - meet Libby Hakim
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your path to becoming a freelance copywriter?
I didn’t ever dream about being a writer when I was growing up. I was more interested in science and my best subject in the HSC (Year 12) was physics. I’ve always loved reading, though, and have always been one to delve into topics deeply and question how things work.
I ended up studying a combined law/science degree. I graduated from law with honours but never quite loved practising law. I worked in litigation for a few years but spent most of my legal career in jobs that also involved a lot of writing. I worked for a legal publisher as an editor and then spent more than a decade drafting legislation for the NSW Government.
I first started feature writing when I was on parental leave. I remember reading the weekend health lift-outs and thinking, “I’d love to write one of those articles. I wonder how the writers actually go about getting that work?” I asked Google that question and found the Australian Writers’ Centre’s 5-week online course in writing for newspapers and magazines (affiliate link). I enrolled in that and completed it during the third trimester of my pregnancy. My first article was published when my baby was 2 months old.
What kind of split do you have with the different types of writing you do?
When I started out and writing was a side project, 100 per cent of my time was spent writing for newspapers and magazines. That’s changed a lot since I got more serious about the possibility of writing for a living, and especially since leaving my job to pursue writing.
At the moment I’m working 2 days/week in government communications and the rest of my week is divided between content writing for agencies (mostly blog posts and white papers) and website copywriting for my own clients. I’ve started to dedicate time for pitching to newspapers and magazines again this year. Last year I became so busy with other writing work the pitching slipped away. I’d like features to make up about 20 per cent of my writing time. And I’m also hoping to write more for my own blogs. I have a business blog on my writing website and I’ve also started a new recipe blog, Cooking with Nana Ling.
I’m interested to hear a little bit about how you have used your law background in your writing, and whether you wanted to leverage your legal experience to write for law firms (and the like) or whether you wanted to move away from that entirely?
Initially, I did not want to write about anything even touching on law. I wrote about parenting, health and lifestyle topics.
As I started to realise it may be more than just a fantasy to actually write for a living, quite a few people suggested I use my legal background to get work. I was resistant to that advice for a while – I was just so burned out and disinterested in adding any more law to my life.
But it was inevitable that I was asked to write for law firms and about law-related topics given my background. And when I started writing content for law firms and the many legal tech companies that were springing up, I realised it was completely different to approach things as a writer with a background in law. Instead of focusing on legal technicalities and arguments, I was often looking at the broader issues affecting lawyers. Or I was helping them speak to clients in a more conversational way. Or I was helping make the law more accessible to people. I’ve also interviewed some very interesting people from the legal world.
I have a renewed enthusiasm for law as a writer.
I remember you writing some beautiful feature articles - do you have a favourite article or two that were published in a magazine or newspaper?
Now, this is why I love feature writing – I have so many pieces I’ve enjoyed writing so much. But if I have to pick just two, I’d say the first is an article I wrote about cooking as therapy which appeared in Mindfood magazine. It was an article where two of my favourite topics intersected: wellness and cooking. I also interviewed Maggie Beer, who was absolutely a delight to speak with, and it appeared in a beautiful glossy magazine.
The second is a profile I wrote for My Career. I interviewed an Egyptologist who personally took me on a guided tour through an Egyptian Mummies exhibition that was on at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney at the time. I’ve long been fascinated with Ancient Egypt and have visited Egypt twice. So, I could totally indulge my Egyptian obsession for this piece. I felt like I’d travelled to Egypt and back in a day when I worked on this piece.
Nowadays, what’s your favourite kind of writing job and why?
I like the variety of freelance writing, so it’s hard to give an answer for this one! I do love working with small business clients to revamp their websites. It usually involves a combination of helping them define their marketing goals and positioning, developing a “voice” for their business, writing the content and optimising for SEO. I love that whole process and it can make such a huge difference to their business.
Do you have a writing routine? What does ‘a regular week’ look like for you?
This year is the first one I have both my daughters at school, so I’m just starting to settle into a new routine. Previously, it’s been a case of squeezing work into any available moment and plenty of late night writing – a habit I’m hoping to break this year.
At the moment, I spend one day each week on-site at a government department in Sydney’s CBD. The other days, I do the school drop off most days and then spend at least 5 hours working while the kids are at school. I can get a lot done in that time. I do admin and lighter work sometimes for an hour or so in the afternoon or evening and also on Saturdays when the girls are at their dance classes.
From our chats, it seems that you get a bit of work through agencies. What has been your experience working with agencies?
Yes, I love working with reputable agencies. I like working to a clear brief and writing in line with a well-thought-out strategy. Working with agencies also means working with some big brand names and global businesses – so that’s always exciting, too.
I picked up agency work by registering via various agency websites and putting effort into writing my profile for those sites. And then by being patient – it took a while to get work but once I did it built steadily. I think being professional, reading and understanding the briefs well and delivering on or before the deadline helps get repeat work.
I’ve also picked up some agency work via Indeed and LinkedIn.
The disadvantages are that it’s never a sure thing. An editor who you’ve developed a great rapport with may leave or the agency may lose an account. Apart from that, there’s really no downside. The work also generally pays well!
What are your favourite ways of finding clients?
For copywriting and business writing, I like clients to find me! I absolutely hate the idea of cold calling. I focus a lot on SEO and this year I want to spend more time on my business blog. I also believe that if you do a great job and focus on existing clients, you’ll get great reviews and attract plenty of referral work.
When it comes to agencies, I do sometimes send a little check-in type email or let my contact know that I loved working on X project and have availability if they’re currently looking to commission any similar work.
What do you find most challenging about being a freelance writer?
Making decisions can be hard – I love this career so much and sometimes I want to do everything all at once. I have to be realistic about what I can do in the time available. Having a confidence crisis can also be hard as there are so many amazing writers out there and some days you read something brilliant and think, “Ok, I’m just going to give up today.”
Worrying about money and cash flow is something that happens from time to time, though I’m getting better at managing this. I hate bookkeeping and struggled with this for a while. This has improved in the last few months as I switched from another software package to Rounded which I definitely recommend for any Australian freelancers who want to look professional with invoicing while still keeping things simple.
I’m definitely not lonely as a freelancer. I work one day on-site and go to cafes to work or meet with friends to add some “people time” to my week. But I do like the solitude of being a writer, too. Some days I really enjoy just being alone for 5 or more hours straight.
And the best thing?
So many things. The flexibility is amazing, of course. I love having almost complete control over my work week. I can take a day off when I decide. I can ramp up my work for a few weeks to take on a great job.
I also meet so many lovely people every week – fellow freelancers, other writers, people who I interview, editors and more. I also feel like I’m the master of my own destiny in terms of learning and my career. I don’t have to wait and apply for a promotion, I can just decide I want to ramp up my earnings and my profile and work out how to do it.
Anything else you want to add?
I’d encourage anyone who is dreaming about a career in freelance writing to keep going. Keep following blogs like this one and just learn, learn, learn.
You may just wake up one day and think, “Hmm, perhaps this is not such a crazy idea after all. Perhaps I could make it work.” And then go about planning how you can make it work. It’s not easy to transition from being employed to freelancing – and I definitely recommend juggling to two for as long as possible – but it can be done and it’s so worth it.
Lastly, how can people get in touch with you Libby?
How good is Libby?! Do you have any questions for her or thoughts about her transition from lawyer to writer?