Copywriter and Publisher of Freelancer magazine, Sophie Cross, is the guest for the 374th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Kira and Rob asked Sophie why she decided to publish a print magazine in a time when many printed magazines seem to be struggling to find readers and advertisers. She shared what it takes to accomplish such a Herculean task each quarter. One of our big take aways from this discussion is that you may need to do something BIG to stand out in today’s competitive world. Publishing a magazine is that kind of big idea that stands out. And this episode may give you a few ideas that you can use to stand out in your own niche or industry.
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Rob Marsh: Want to build your authority? Then you need to be sharing your ideas, insights and content in places where your audience will find you. Linkedin. Instagram. Medium. Twitter. That’s good advice and it has helped hundreds of copywriters rise above the crowd and get noticed by the clients they serve. But if you really want to stand out… the way to do it is by showing up in ways that no one else has thought of before. Instead of posting on someone else’s platform, why not create your own?
Hi, I’m Rob Marsh, one of the founders of The Copywriter Club. And on today’s episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, my co-founder, Kira Hug, and I interviewed copywriter and magazine publisher Sophie Cross. Sophie is the publisher of Freelancer magazine, a printed quarterly magazine about the ins and outs of working on your own. As you’ll hear her explain, Sophie wanted to create a platform to help her get noticed. So she started her magazine and we wanted to understand what it takes to publish and mail a 100-page magazine 4 times a year. Turns out it’s a lot of work. We also talked about freelancing in the hospitality industry, creating courses and other assets, and Sophie’s advice for anyone working as a freelancer today. Stick around because this one is pretty good.
But first, this episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast is brought to you by The Copywriter Underground. It is truly the best membership for copywriters and content writers… let me just give you an idea of what you get for $87 a month… first there’s a monthly group coaching call with Kira and me where you can get answers to your questions, advice for overcoming any business or client or writing challenge you have. There are weekly copy critiques where we give you feedback on your copy or content. There are regular training sessions on different copy techniques and business practices designed to help you get better. And we’re adding a new monthly AI tool review where we share a new AI tool or a technique or prompt you can do with AI get more done. That’s on top of the massive library of training and templates. And the community is full of copywriters ready to help you with just about anything… including sharing leads from time to time. Find out more at thecopywriterclub.com/tcu
And with that, let’s go to our interview with Sophie.
Kira Hug: All right, Sophie, let’s kick off with your story. How did you end up as the editor of Freelancer magazine?
Sophie Cross: I ended up with the editor because I made the magazine and made myself the editor.
Rob Marsh: That is a very good way to start. Yeah.
Sophie Cross: I I was already making a magazine, had a little bit of experience in my backgrounds in hospitality marketing before. Yeah. Well, when I went freelance and went freelance, I had the experience making hotel brochures and collateral and things like that. You can only look back at the stepping stones, can’t you can’t sort of see where they’re taking you. I sort of didn’t think much of it at the time, but actually now realizing that I had this real passion for printed collateral and things like that, I then started making a magazine for quite a big hotel group in London. And that got pulled at the beginning of the pandemic. So I had a little bit of experience, but not from anything to do with journalism or anything like that. And yeah, I started making courses for freelancers, marketing courses when the pandemic started. And I was thinking about how to create content for freelancers that would put me at the forefront and would show me as an expert in freelancing and marketing. And I was thinking about doing a podcast or a blog. And yeah, I’m definitely more writing than speaking. I already had a newsletter blog that felt a bit past it. But then I went even more past it and went back to I thought, I know how I’ll get people’s attention. I’ll post it through the boxes. And yeah, I just suddenly had the thought that there wasn’t already a magazine like it for the community. I was part of quite a lot of freelance communities online. So I knew I would have heard of it, but that was also great to launch it because I was already quite a big part of quite a lot of freelance communities. So, yeah, that’s how the magazine came about.
Rob Marsh: I’d love to back up just a little bit and talk a bit about hospitality marketing before we come back to freelancing in the magazine. Hospitality marketing strikes me as a really challenging niche because it’s in so many ways, it’s a commodity. You’re buying a room or a restaurant and there are so many options. And yet, there’s also sort of interesting ways to differentiate. So will you just tell us a little bit about your experience there at the kind of work that you’re doing? how you helped the different brands and companies that you were working with to grow?
Sophie Cross: Yeah, sure. So my, I mainly worked with hotel groups before I went freelance, I mainly worked with hotel groups. And then even when I went freelance, largely hotel groups. It’s really interesting from the respect that you have rooms to sell, you have a bar to sell, you have a restaurant to sell, you have a spa to sell, so you have all of these different things. I worked with Hilton for a long time, I worked with Holiday Inn for a long time, I worked with Park Plaza, so I’ve worked for a lot of big hotel groups. And yeah, I think the challenge really is, I think the biggest challenge in hospitality marketing is getting marketing and operations to work together, because it’s really easy to put these amazing things in place. But if you haven’t got front of house supporting you with that. So I think one of the main things is the relationship building and the training between marketing and the front of house teams, because you can be doing as great a marketing as you like. But if people aren’t picking up the phone in the restaurant, then that’s not going to do you any favor. So I think Just making friends with the restaurant manager is always helpful. I think just getting back to basics and building your database. I just think that’s so important for so many companies, but actually, you know, hotels and restaurants and everything, they have such an opportunity to capture data, which they probably don’t take and then create a really interesting newsletter for their local market. And it’d be quite easy to target even if you have a business audience and a leisure audience. You can be creating two different newsletters. If you’re a restaurant, then you could be putting some really interesting stuff together about the local area to be making people open that newsletter. I think on top of that, you need to be creating events, you need to be creating packages. So whether you’re a restaurant or a hotel, giving people reasons to come and visit you. So with Hilton, we created mini breaks. So we would create heritage, spa, golf and theme park packages. And you’re going to other local businesses and asking to get a discount on bulk tickets. And then you’re creating a package for people to come and stay. But you could also do that if you’re a restaurant, you could do it if you’re a bar. I’ve seen some great things like hotel bars and bars and pubs even, turning themselves into co-working spaces during the day when they’ve got spare capacity. I mean, it’s just reminding people that you’re there and putting them at the forefront when they’re actually looking to book their birthday dinner out and things like that as well. So, yeah, hospitality marketing is still a bit of a passion of mine. I keep thinking about going back into it in one way or another, but yeah.
Kira Hug: I feel that passion and I’m excited to do it. So are you working in it now? It sounds like maybe you hit pause on it for now.
Sophie Cross: Yeah, I did. I hit pause on it when I started the magazine, actually, and really was focused on productizing like before. Before the pandemic hit, I already had half an eye on productising my business and I was really interested in not selling your time one for one. Know how you create, I didn’t know quite what it was, whether it was courses, or packages, or I wasn’t quite sure. But then yeah, the pandemic gave me the opportunity to go for it with the courses and really start from. I was making, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Canva in a lot of ways. I don’t know if you guys, do you guys use Canva? Are you familiar with it? Yeah. But I was using it quite badly to make courses. And yes, it gave me the opportunity to really test. Like, I think the content was good, but graphically and things like that were not good. And yeah, just really started from scratch. And yeah, started creating courses and then had the idea for the magazine. So it was then focused on creating this business that was productized and scalable and looking at automating it as much as I can really. But yeah, the consultancy and everything is like, I was actually thinking of starting a newsletter for the hospitality industry next year, but I’m not quite sure.
Kira Hug: Breaking news right here. Well, before we shift away from talking about this, I would love some advice because there’s a winery in my town that I think is adorable and I love their values and it’s family run. But it is a small business. And so how would you approach it? And maybe this could help other writers who want to approach a local business. Where there’s really not a huge budget for marketing, but you also know you can help them get people in the door. So how would you look at that approach, maybe step by step so that you could potentially work with some of these local clients?
Sophie Cross: Yeah, I mean, I am a big believer from a marketing perspective of picking your best social media channel, and having a newsletter from, I think that goes from, one person business to a massive corporation. they’re really great things for copywriters to help out with either creating content for social or and newsletters. So I think I would pitch it in that respect in some ways. And they don’t have to be massive budgets. It’s difficult, isn’t it, in terms of how many ideas you want to give away in your pitch. But I think just explaining the process of how they could grow their database and how in person, but also via a social media channel, and then how you could be creating a newsletter. And actually, instead of giving away the ideas, finding someone else that’s doing it well, finding an example of best practice and saying to somebody, hey, it wouldn’t even have to necessarily be exactly the same type of business, right? It could be a similar business or maybe a different business with a similar target market. And yeah, I would be pitching in that respect to say. And there’s exact deliverables then for the client as well, isn’t there? Because they know, OK, we get one newsletter a month, plus 10 social posts a month. So, yeah, that’s how I would go about it. You’re testing me now because I haven’t been going to work for a long time.
Rob Marsh: I feel it. Well, I feel like that. Yeah. And that advice, I think, applies to a lot of niches, not just hospitality, but that’s a need in so many areas. So I think it’s great advice. OK, let’s come back now to the magazine. A lot of people would say magazines are dying these days. I share your passion. My favorite thing when I go to Barnes and Noble or whatever the bookstore is, is to go to the magazine rack because there’s just so many new and different things there, so many different interests. But the economics of starting a magazine are not easy. So talk us through that decision. Why did you even decide to do something physical that shows up with all those extra costs as opposed to, say, an online magazine or something else?
Sophie Cross: Yeah, I mean, sometimes I question that myself. It was great because we launched on Kickstarter so we had funds to start with and actually by the Kickstarter we just sold copies of the magazine. It was a way of testing, but it was our minimum viable product to some extent as well because it was and you know it gave that sense of urgency. If you do want to get on board for 30 days to get on board with this campaign. So that definitely helped from the startup funds, I suppose I’ve just felt that. Yeah, the whole point of the idea was to catch people’s attention and to have, we do have a digital version of the magazine, but I suppose to have a purely digital version would have felt like a blog to some extent, right?
Rob Marsh: A lot less valuable for sure.
Sophie Cross: Yeah, exactly. There’s not the same tangibility, but also I just think as well that receiving it through your door. It reminded me of when you’re a kid and you get a magazine through the door and you feel like you’re part of a club, but obviously as a child, you couldn’t get in touch with any of those people. The beauty of the magazine is, lots of people are on social media together, they see each other, share the photos of the magazine when it comes, which is just brilliant for us because I don’t think that happens with a consumer magazine. Our target market is is freelancers small business owners who are looking for content to share they’re looking to make connections so it’s fabulous for us that people share the photo of the magazine and then they really do feel like part of the club but just a really simple thing as well which I didn’t really think too much about it kind of was an obvious thing to do but for every person that we have featured in the magazine they have their best social media handle so it just means everyone that’s always featured people that the readers really are connecting with each other and they really do start to feel like they’re part of the Freelance Magazine community and definitely are. We also have virtual coworking sessions three times a week, soon to be four times a week. We’re going to add an afternoon to the UK afternoon time zone. So we’re going to hopefully get more people from the States and things like that. So, yeah, so people can actually see each other in real life. Well, not in real life, in virtual real life. Yeah. So yeah, we had an in-person Christmas party this year as well. So that was our first proper in-person party. We do some coworking in person as well in the UK. So people are really genuinely connecting with each other, which is amazing.
Kira Hug: Let’s talk about the practical side, because I also am a magazine fan and so excited to get my copy of your magazine. I’m just wondering how you actually put this? How do you just get started when you had the idea and you were like, OK, I’m doing this during the pandemic? What are the first three to five steps to even make this a reality? I mean, I’m sure there are hundreds of steps, but maybe we can just talk through the first five.
Sophie Cross: Yeah, for sure. The first step was contacting Angela Lyons, who I’d been making the hotel magazine with. So she was the designer for that magazine. And we’d never actually met in person, but we’d probably been doing it for a couple of years and bi-monthly, and we’d got on really, really well, we’d become good friends. So I called her and I said, look, do you want to make a magazine? If I make a magazine, will you design it for me? She said yes. And then, you know what? I just started telling people straight away. I think I was on a podcast, a freelance podcast the next day. And I said, look, I’m thinking of launching this magazine. I started going on social media and saying to people, I’m thinking of launching it. I just didn’t keep it a secret at all. I started within a week or two because I didn’t really have much else to do at the time. So it was very, very quick. And it was like, you know what? I need to fail fast if this is not going to work. I don’t want to learn in a year’s time. I just need to know. This was January 1st. I came up with the idea and I wanted to launch the Kickstarter in January. But a couple of people said, look, you need a bigger pre-launch period for the Kickstarter. So I launched it in February. So I launched at the end of February, to be fair. Yeah, I just started telling people, I started growing a database. So we went out with what cover design do you like? If you want to vote, join our mailing list, and just asking people for their input on things so that when we launched the Kickstarter, we already had a mailing list to start targeting people with. Yeah, and we started, so The hotel group had left me and Ange to it. So we use a flat plan and then we use a Google Sheet. So the Google Sheet has all of our pagination in it. And then the plan features. And then I put the link or whoever’s the writer for that article puts the link to the copy in the images. And it’s that simple. And we work through it like that. So we already had a rudimentary process, really, but it does work. And Angela signs the article, she sends them back to me. We have a proofreader now, we have quite a big team now. At the time I think the first four issues, I mainly wrote all of them myself. And now there’s about, I want to say there’s about 15 people involved now—all freelancers, which is great. But yeah, we started making the first one so that In the Kickstarter, we give people as much information as possible. We could show them some of the layouts. We could show them what it was about. We made a video that told people, we’re going to launch a Kickstarter or a crowd funder. These are all what people will tell you on the checklist: do these things. And I think that’s really great, because even if you aren’t launching a business by crowdfunding. These are the things you want to be checking off your list anyway. You want to be building a mailing list. You want to be telling people early. You want to be showing people as much as you can about what the product is going to be like. You want to create a sense of urgency so that people maybe have a limited time to express their interest in it. Yeah. So that’s probably the first 20 steps.
Rob Marsh: And as you think about an issue, I know most of them are themed. There seems to be a theme for the articles. As you put that together, does that, and there’s a form on your website where you’re soliciting ideas for features. So I’m assuming that some of those ideas come from there, but do you start with the theme and then start looking for people to write articles or decide what you’re going to take on? Do you welcome pitches? Let’s say that Kira and I had a great idea for a theme for your magazine. So we said, hey, we’d love to write this article. How does that whole process come together as you decide what’s going to be in each issue and themes, that kind of thing?
Sophie Cross: Yeah, sure. So we have quite a few regular features and it’s mainly written by a freelance editorial team. So we mainly have the same writers and we maybe have, I want to say six to eight writers that write every issue and they might do the same features and then they’ll find appropriate people that fit in with the theme around that feature. So, for instance, one of our features is “do give up your day job”. So we always focus on somebody who has quite an interesting employment to self-employment transition story. And maybe sometimes we’ll get people or we’ll know people in the community that will fit in with the theme or that we definitely want to earmark for the future. We might get people pitching and saying, if you are going to pitch, check out the future themes and check out the regular features, because that’s the easiest place to start. If you have something that fits in with a magazine’s regular features, then they’re going to be looking for people to do that. We probably have a couple of writers or a couple of people each time or people that we interview that change. But yeah, it’s just a mixture of people that pitch and the writers on the editorial team finding people, me finding people, but we just never run out of ideas really. I think people often ask me “how do you keep getting ideas?” And I just think, you just can’t run out of ideas really, can you?
Kira Hug: I don’t think writers can.
Rob Marsh: That’s what writer’s block is, right? But I suppose if you’ve always got your ear to the ground, and you’re always paying attention to what’s going on in the community. Yeah, the ideas just happen.
Sophie Cross: Yeah, for sure. The ideas come from other people as well, right? It’s other people sharing their stories, which is great.
Kira Hug: So what would you tell yourself from the early stage? We can talk about how you scaled it and all that. But from those early stages, what would you do differently or what advice would you give yourself, especially if there’s someone listening who wants to start a magazine? What would you tell them?
Sophie Cross: Yeah, I mean, I think, without being too arrogant, we did do a lot of things right. And we moved very quickly from the Kickstarter onto a rolling subscription model and I see some magazines starting, first we just set up a website in Squarespace which had a subscription model, but do you see some magazines starting that And also via the Kickstarter, we sold annual subscriptions, so we had that chunk of money up front. And we knew we had to make the first four. And that’s obviously a commitment to make. But at the same time, I do see some magazines starting, they do issue one, and then they’re starting all over again, trying to market and trying to get people to buy issue two. And I just think, try and get people on, commit that you’re going to do this, even if it’s biannually. Get people signed up on a rolling subscription if you can because it’s hard enough already without having to start marketing every issue again. I think honestly I probably would have gone for a higher target in the Kickstarter. I think we raised about £18,000 but actually we raised it quite early. We hit our target a little bit early and actually I didn’t have a clue what to pitch . It seemed like an enormous amount of money to me. I probably started at about 10 and then two days before was no, maybe I should do 12 and then went up to 17 or 16. And we overfunded. But you it’s so hard to know, right? It depends on the size of your community. It depends on how much people want it. I probably would have got more people involved from the beginning because it’s just so easy to burn them up. It’s just so easy. You’re doing so much, trying to create something and market it and manage a team and there’s so many elements. I think one of the things and and this probably goes for lots of businesses and one of the things we can certainly do better and it’s probably a little bit of shame for me with a marketing background is, I think as creators, copywriters, whenever we create things, 95% goes into content and 5% goes into distribution. And by the time you really want to create this amazing thing. And of course, that’s really, really important. But I think by the time you’ve created it, you can be so exhausted and you’ve forgotten to leave that time for the distribution. So it’s something that I could get better at, that we could get better at. We’re so focused on making the best product we can. And obviously that bit always comes first, that the distribution takes a bit of a backseat and that is not good for business.
Kira Hug: So relatable.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, for sure. While we’re talking about some of the magazine specifics, I’m curious about continuing subscriptions or renewals, which is a challenge for memberships. It’s a challenge for all kinds of things. Obviously, having a great product helps. And the fact that it shows up in your home, it’s something that you love, you want. But how do you or what do you do to make sure that people are coming back for year two, year three, so that some of those distribution challenges are eased a little bit?
Sophie Cross: Yeah, so people are enrolling subscriptions, they can cancel at any time. So there’s no, well, we have two, we have an annual or we have quarterly. So people buy annual, obviously they’ve paid for four upfront and if they have quarterly, it will just roll into the cancellation, but you can just buy one and cancel, we’re not signing people up beyond that. So that definitely helps. But yeah, I think it’s still something we can get better at. And actually, we’re going to change our business model a little bit going into next year. And we’re going to create more of a make on demand model just for efficiencies for us, for the environment, so we can pass efficiencies on in other parts of the business, which means that at the moment for the quarter the subscription window is open so you can basically subscribe at any time and so if the issue drops in October if you subscribe October, November, December you’ll get that issue, but i’m gonna close that subscription window so we’re gonna it’ll the next issue will drop at the very end of January. But I will do a really hard marketing launch for the first week of January, which is a bit risky in itself, but I figure people are still around. And so we’ll know by the time we go to print exactly how many we’re going to print. And it will just mean a more effective marketing launch. You get to create that sense of urgency again. But actually, it just means we get to print pretty much exactly the right amount of magazines. So that’s a new thing that we’re going to try going into next year, because with the courses I do, they have enrollment windows like they’re all lifetime access they’re all on demand so you can do them anytime. I don’t leave them open the whole time for enrollment because there’s never really a marketing push then. And the same thing is happening with the magazine, like,”it’s out now.” But then it’s, “Oh, it’s still out, it’s still out.” So I just think from an environmental perspective to create efficiencies in every other way, and then also to get our marketing distribution better. And of course, you always have that thing in the back of your mind going, oh, but especially because people share that they’ve got it when it comes out. And that’s quite a big period for us. But I just think, we just want to create a bit more scarcity around it. So, yeah, that’s what we’re going to be trialing next year.
Kira Hug: I’m sorry, does that mean, OK, if I see it, the January issue, I see it in February because Rob posts about it and I want it. Does that mean I can’t sign up for February? I need to wait till the next window.
Sophie Cross: Is that what you’re saying? Yeah, you’ll have a few individual issues, but you won’t be able to subscribe. So we’ll overprint our normal amount of individual issues that we would. So you might be able to buy an individual copy. We have a couple of indie retailers as well. But in terms of actually subscribing, we’re going to close it. So, yeah, you will have to subscribe. Make sure to subscribe for the next one.
Kira Hug: I think that’s really smart. I mean, just listening to that, it already lights a fire under my tush to get in there in early January. Otherwise, I have to get on the waitlist, which is fine, but I’d rather get on there.
Sophie Cross: So I’m curious… I think we hear a lot of people say, “Oh I’ve been meaning to buy it for ages. I’ve seen it around and I’ve been meaning to buy it.” And obviously, if it’s just there the whole time, you can at any time. And we just want to change that because otherwise we’re overprinting. Yeah. And it just makes our marketing a bit lazy, whereas now I want to be, this is what you’re going to get. Make sure you sign up for it this week. And this is all the stuff you’re going to get. And then we can put the distribution face to bed, focus on the content bit, focus on making the next issue. And it just makes, I just feel it’s going to make it easier. Hopefully.
Kira Hug: It’s real scarcity. I mean, as marketers, we want to create as much scarcity as we can. And you’ve got real scarcity now, I think, working for you, which is cool. Okay, I want to step back a little bit more and talk more holistically about the entire business and whatever you’re comfortable sharing. I’m trying to think about you having courses and I think you have maybe some sponsors and ads and then you have the subscription. So how does it all work together? Are there bundles where you get the membership and you get a subscription and then maybe get a course and then financially… where does most of the revenue come from now is it from those advertisers or from the subscription or from a different part of the business?
Sophie Cross: So the magazine financially looks after itself, but it’s not driving loads of profit. I’m hoping one of the other reasons is that all of our subscribers come direct so they like a couple of indie retailers. We didn’t push for retail and there’s another reason for that—it just costs an enormous amount of money to go to the newsstand and you have to overprint. You have to print 30,000 copies and, A, we didn’t have the money and B, I wasn’t sure that whether this was really a publication that sat in WH Smith or something like that in the UK. So all of our relationship with all of our subscribers is direct, which is amazing because that’s the community that we’re building. But I think that it will take us longer in terms of, and also we wanted I always wanted it to be read. I thought some of the failures of the print publication industry were coming from the fact that there were full circulation figures. So you might be giving out a publication for free. You’re saying that you’re sending it to 10,000 people. You’re relying then on the ad spend because you’re telling advertisers that you’ve got 10,000 going out. But in reality, they’re sitting in cellophane on people’s desks. Then the advertising doesn’t work. So the advertisers pull their spend. and then you know what I would rather it was small and everyone was really engaged. We were charging people a decent amount of money for it so that’s the mag. Yeah we have advertising through the magazine as well so um that supports the production of the magazine and then yeah the courses are a nice chunk of revenue that that supports that a bit and helps me feed myself and pay other people so there’s just there’s an enormous amount of costs now. It is that classic thing of having a six-figure business but basically having six-figure costs and it starts to get scary in that respect. But yeah, the courses are really good. We try to target the things that are going to be most useful for the community and they get really good reviews. And yeah, we have one on LinkedIn. We have one on growing your own newsletter and then some other couple of mini courses. And that’s an area that I’m really going to look to expand in the next year or two. Yeah, and they’re great. I would advise anyone to consider setting up their own course. I think it’s a really good way of productising your business. Remember that you don’t have to be an absolute expert in that arena. People don’t want to learn how to cook like a cordon bleu chef. They want to learn how to cook like a personal trainer who is cooking quick, healthy meals. You don’t, you only have to be a few steps ahead of other people. You don’t have to be at the absolute top of your game in any kind of realm, I don’t think. So don’t think that you don’t have things to teach people. But I also found it really cathartic to empty out my brain and sort out how I would best teach people how to do things. And then you’re then allowing them to go and do that in their own time as well. And it’s scalable, because you don’t have to be there, do you? So yeah, courses are really good for us. And we quickly incorporated that as part of the magazine, but everything you buy individually. So you buy a course, some of our courses we bundle, but yeah, we don’t have an overall membership. You buy the magazine, you buy a course, you buy an ad.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, that all makes sense. So you’ve done something, Sophie, that I think is amazing. We all talk about building a business that lives without us or that doesn’t depend on our names. It’s hard to do when we’re working one-on-one with clients, but you’ve built an asset that is ultimately sellable. I’m curious, is that the goal someday to sell Freelancer Magazine to a big magazine publisher or conglomerate? Or is it so much a labor of love that you see yourself doing this until you’re 109 years old?
Sophie Cross: Oh, I mean, it feels a long way off if that is the case. It was never the intention, I guess. I mean, never say never. I suppose as a marketer, I was keen to create a brand. And again, I was always keen to have my own business. I was then really keen to have a product and that was never about, initially, it was never about being able to sell that one day. It was about creating a brand and having something to market that wasn’t yourself, if you see what I mean, just to see if you could, basically. But yeah, never say never in terms of the end goal. It’s difficult, isn’t it? People buy from people. So one of the best channels for the magazine is my personal LinkedIn. That certainly does a lot better than any of our company pages on LinkedIn, which I think is to do a lot with where LinkedIn puts its engagement. In some respects, I am happy to be the face of the magazine and in other respects, I do love the fact that it exists as a separate entity. Yeah, it’s about the whole team and the whole community. I suppose for the first year or so, my identity felt really closely attached to it. Am I the magazine? Especially because I was writing so much of it. And it’s really nice now to think that it sort of does exist separate to me. Even if it’s just my own mental health.
Kira Hug: Yeah it’s fun when—even with the copywriter club and having that separate brand—when I hear people talk about it sometimes and they don’t even know who I am. That’s amazing.
Sophie Cross: That’s a win. I mean I think as freelancers, to create that bit of separation and whether that’s what you call your business or not, I don’t know if I have a strong opinion that,,, if it should be named after you or it should be named something else. But I just think to get into a business mindset, it’s so difficult as a freelancer because you’re so personally attached to your business. And regardless of what business, it just feels even more difficult as a freelancer than if you own your own small business. But I just think yeah, to be able to create as much separation as you can in order to make business decisions and not feel like it’s always you doing everything or pouring yourself into everything or, yeah, just from pricing and marketing yourself and everything like that. I just think that’s really, really helpful as well.
Kira Hug: So I know I’m getting into the weeds with numbers, but I think it would be helpful to know roughly how, as far as you said, it’s self-sustaining right now, the magazine side and subscription side is self-sustaining. When is it at the point where it is truly profitable at scale? Roughly what number at your price point for a magazine? Cause it might be helpful for someone who’s interested to just know roughly, well, At this price point, it could be run on its own at this number. And then if I get to this point, it could be profitable. I think it gives me some hope.
Sophie Cross: At the moment we have around a thousand subscribers direct but we also sell copies in bulk a little bit to universities and things like that, co-working spaces and this is quarterly as well right so you’ve got to remember your times in that by four not by 12 if it’s monthly or something like that but god forbid You set up a monthly magazine. I think I’d considered it for about five seconds and then I was so glad we didn’t do it monthly. And then—I don’t know how to best describe them, I should really know better, but distributors that put us throughout universities worldwide and stuff like that and you get money and universities and libraries and things like that. So we get some money from things like that. I guess it just really depends. You’ve got to keep a close eye on your costs. I could be doing more of it myself and cutting down the writing team. But it depends if I want to make this sustainable. And also, it’s really nice to have the different voices. So I think we invest… it probably costs us more than it could. But maybe you want to aim to get to four or five thousand for an indie publication but we’ve been going two and a half years and we’ve got to a thousand direct subscribers and yeah it’s hard work, it’s really hard work.
Rob Marsh: Let’s hope that a few people listening to the podcast subscribe and maybe we can get you to 1000, 1500, or yeah, maybe 2000. Who knows? So earlier, Sophie, you mentioned burnout and even the talk of going monthly would probably kill you, kill your team. How do you deal with that when, I mean, a lot of us have this where we’ve got deadlines. We know we have to hit the deadlines, but when you’re leading that team, when you’ve just wrapped a magazine, it’s gone to print, you’re exhausted. And now immediately you’ve got to start the next one. Talk us through that, how that works for you.
Sophie Cross: Yeah, I mean, to be honest, because I did the first for myself, it just feels like a dream now. It feels so good to have people writing articles and sending them. So, yeah, I mean, that’s probably not my tip for burnout is to get through the first year and then everything else is to seem easier after that. That’s probably not the case.
Rob Marsh: It’s the reality, though, that that’s probably the most lived version of burnout that happens.
Sophie Cross: Honestly after, I mean there was, I just think the Kickstarter because it was probably a month having the idea, a month of the Kickstarter and making the first magazine in that time as well and honestly at the time I was doing 50 tweets a day during the Kickstarter, sending emails like I was just there. And you just do not realize how much adrenaline is searing through your body. I think about how much I like to get to a deadline, to get to a client project. I don’t know. Look, I’ve just moved house recently and I just think, God, you just have so much adrenaline. And then there’s this crash. And yeah, I had to get a business coach as soon as the issue one launched. I don’t think I even sent an email to say it was out. That’s the content versus distribution for you. So I literally had this business coach and I was like, just launch my dream business. I have to make another three issues because I promised people and I really, really want to, but I really don’t know how I’m going to do that right now. So I actually have just joined this co-working space today as well because I was working from home some of the time I’ve just moved to a different part of the country. So just think of surrounding yourself with other people, changing environments, just trying to recognise as much as you can. I just think we’re so good at knowing what’s good for us, like exercise, fresh air, good food, and being around other people. We have the virtual co-working as well, like I said before, so I just think I’m really bad at going, oh my God, I’ve got so much work to do, I don’t want to see anybody. And that is just catastrophic for me in a lot of ways, like a few days or a few weeks or something later. So, yeah, I’m still definitely trying to get better at it as well. It’s just that most people are deadline thrill seekers, aren’t they? But just trying to do yourself a favor in that respect in terms of, the magazine always gets done and that always goes quite well. I find it’s the other things that I really put off. So I’ll put off posting on LinkedIn and I’ll put off doing outreach for advertising because they’re not the things that either don’t come so naturally to me or they’re just the things that slip to the bottom of the list. And then I kind of feel guilty about those things. And that eats me up. And I just think if you have those sorts of tasks that you should be doing to try and do them first or, try and say, I’m going to do them on a Monday morning, because otherwise they’re just niggling and it’s affecting everything else that you do.
Kira Hug: Yeah, again just so relatable and thinking about the LinkedIn posts that I’ve written in my head but haven’t posted yet, and the job I want to run today, probably won’t make time for it so it really speaks to me. I want to shift and. cover maybe some advice for freelancers, more specifically copywriters in our audience. It’s been a tough year for so many of them with different layoffs and losing retainer clients and trying to navigate AI and figure out what role do we play moving forward. And so maybe there’s some magazine content or just some advice you could offer us: how do you think about the future for freelancers and for copywriters? How are you approaching it?
Sophie Cross: Yeah, I mean, so leading on from what I was saying, I’ve had difficult times, or we might have had a difficult couple of months, and it is easy to bury your head in the sand a little bit. And I just think two bits of advice to take control of your business as much as you can would be to keep talking to other people, you know, keep, I think The worry for me a little bit was that in the pandemic, everyone was buggered. Basically, everyone was a bit screwed and everyone was talking about it. And it was cool. And then especially in the UK… I know a lot of economies around the world are suffering a lot. But speaking on behalf of the UK, I know a lot of people were worried about their mortgage, their mortgages, their mortgage payments going up towards the end of this year and into next year. And at the beginning of this year, people were very vocal about it because it hadn’t happened yet. And the cost of living crisis and all of these things. And it feels a bit now that people have gone quiet about it because it is happening and people are burying their heads in the sand and people are scared. And that’s totally understandable. And I just think you don’t have to be going out on LinkedIn going, oh my god I’m desperate for work. No one really wants to be doing that. Keep chatting to people, even if it’s one-to-one, you’re going to local networking events or co-working spaces. Sometimes I find it a lot easier to talk to people and confide in people in person. So keep chatting to people, keep being part of communities. And then I would also say one of the most important things you can do before you do anything else is to do a cash flow forecast or to do your accounts to work out your costs going forward, because you can work out if there’s ways that you can save money, you can work out how much you really do need to earn. And that will give you some really clear goals going into 2024. I would consider how you can niche more, how you can do all the normal marketing advice that I would give people, but Yeah, I think if you’re going out there still being like a bit of a generic copywriter, it’s going to be much harder for you to target specific audiences. I would consider targeting a specific industry or something like that at the moment, because I think that just makes it a lot easier for you to be more efficient with your marketing, to be more targeted with your marketing. We talked about earlier, maybe you’re going to be pitching to people and things like that. I think LinkedIn is a great channel. I’ve seen people use it and get results very, very quickly. So I think as freelancers, we know that there’s going to be some short lead, there’s going to be some long lead, but if you are looking for work quicker, I would say that LinkedIn is a really good place to do it. Just the obvious things that we all forget to do, emailing past clients, emailing current clients, asking if they’ve got more work. This is the first thing you should be doing. This is something that we should have in our diaries once a month, pitching to current clients, emailing past clients and just saying, hey, have you got anything? And just making that a regular thing. And that’s the sort of thing that if you’re part of communities that you will see come up that other people will give you the advice to do. People can give you advice on how to cold pitch or if they’ve had success with cold pitching and things like that so i think those would be some of my best best bits of advice the AI thing tempted to wade in on it. I know very little about AI. I haven’t ever really used ChatGPT. But what I do think is it’s the people that get on with it that realize that it can be used for. It’s not going to replace certain functions, but it is going to be good to support certain things. I think I just worry that I see a lot of people complaining about it, and I just don’t think as a business owner that’s going to get you anywhere. It’s not going to change things. A few years ago, a lot of my community were on Twitter, and some people started using LinkedIn and it was like the real fashionable thing to do to slag off LinkedIn, and still is a little bit to some extent right, it’s a CV site there’s lots of humble brags. But some people started seeing the power of using LinkedIn and saw that maybe it wasn’ going to replace other channels necessarily, even though I do think it has to some extent, but actually just, OK, let’s take a look at this. Maybe there is some interest there. We’re almost early adopters to the second phase of LinkedIn and actually saw that while loads of people are sort of slagging it off and not using it, there’s actually an opportunity to stand out on this platform. So I just think actually there probably is an opportunity while lots of people are saying, Oh God, just fighting against it. If you’re the person that’s saying, Hey, I use it for this, this and this. And I’m actually getting ahead with it a little bit, even though it’s not the fashionable thing to do in freelance circles at the moment or copywriting circles, then I think you’re going to stand out more and you’re going to give yourself an advantage as a business owner, because we’re all using AI in some ways right now, right? And I think it’s just about trying to learn how it can support you and how it can help you and how you can stand out to clients by using it in certain ways. And yet I do not think we’ve been going, we’ve been trying for so long to get companies to speak like human beings and to write really, really nice copy. And so many companies are still so far off that, so many big companies, they still need help. And AI is just not going to be able to do that. AI is not going to be able to think and write like humans and people aren’t going to be able to tell it’s AI. So I think there’s still loads and loads of opportunity to stand out in that respect.
Kira Hug: My last question is really about leadership. And you’ve stepped into this role leading this organization now, which is different from being a freelancer and working solo. So do you have any leadership-related advice to any writers listening who are interested in building a team, even if it’s not necessarily with the magazine, but they want to build out a team, and they don’t think of themselves as leaders yet?
Sophie Cross: Yeah, for sure. I mean, to be honest, I always thought I was a really crap manager. When I was employed, I just didn’t really want to manage people. I don’t know. Now I think it’s getting the right people. I struggled with outsourcing at the beginning and I think there is a bit of trial and error and that wasn’t necessarily choosing the wrong people. It was more my fault that I didn’t know what I wanted to outsource. I think just trying to be as fair like you’ve just got to be a good client, haven’t you? You’ve got to be the best client you can. And I think I’m in a really really fortunate position now where I am friends with a lot of the people that work for us, all of them really. We have a close relationship. We mess about. I don’t like to do business in a really formal way at all. But at the same time, the deliverables are clear, the deadlines are clear, I’m going to pay people within seven seconds if I can because it’s just the easiest way to build good relationships. I just don’t get people paying late, to be honest. The easiest way to build a good relationship with your team or freelancers is to pay them as quickly as you possibly can. You’re going to have to pay them at some point, do you know what I mean? So, yeah, I think that’s what I would say. Be honest with people. I probably could give people better feedback. Again, I think as an editor, I was so delighted that I had these amazing writers writing for me that I’m just a bit like, OK, cool. Yeah, yeah, that’s great. And if I was making a couple of tweaks to it, I wasn’t going back to people. I was just telling them it was amazing, which it is. But I think to spend that time like that’s something that I want to work on more is to spend the time—it’s difficult when you’re putting together a hundred page magazine—to sit down and say to everyone okay, this is some really really constructive feedback especially when you’re just blown away by what people are doing so yeah I would say you don’t have to be super formal you don’t have to be this what this perception of business should be like that’s the whole reason I’ve set up my own business is because I didn’t want to be stuffy and formal and things like that anymore but I do think that you have to be fair and you have to give people time and give them specific deliverables and deadlines and people need to know that you’re serious about those things and you will get the right people. If people don’t stick to those things, you learn very, very quickly. So I think. Yeah, people will respect the way that you lead by example, right, so. Yeah, I would say that you want to be working the way that you want other people to work with you.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, more good advice. OK, Sophie, tell us about the next issue of the magazine. What’s coming out at the end of January? What can we expect and how do we sign up?
Sophie Cross: So the next issue is going global. So that’s really exciting. You can sign up through the website, which is freelancermagazine.co.uk. We deliver globally. We have digital versions so you can get it in your inbox straight away. So, yeah, it’s going to be out at the end of January. It’s 100 pages of freelance stories, features, knowledge, lots of advice for marketing yourself. It’s difficult to explain, but you will instantly feel part of the community. I promise you, you will. There’s so many details of different people to connect with. So yeah, if you’re not already in the freelancer magazine circles of the world’s loveliest, friendliest, most supportive freelancers, then get the magazine, start connecting with people, drop them a message, say that you’ve seen them in the magazine or found them in the magazine, start getting, finding other readers online as well, because this is the whole point of the magazine is that we were all working in isolation and actually in that respect. How do we know what to do? How do we know how to price ourselves? How do we know how to market ourselves? It leaves the clients in control of it more. And I think that for the good of us, but also for the good of clients, we need to be taking a bit more control over everything really. So yeah, surround yourself with this amazing community that you can help lift and they’re going to help lift you and let’s get through 2024.
Rob Marsh: There’s something magical about great magazines. I remember back in the 90s when Fast Company launched and there was this community that was around it and people talking about it. And I feel like there’s something similar happening with your magazine too, Sophie. So yeah, let’s hop on board and we’ll see how we can connect with more people within this community. Copywriters, designers, freelancers of all kinds.
Sophie Cross: Yeah, for sure. Oh, thank you so much for having me.
Kira Hug: Yeah, thanks for jumping in here. And I’m excited to sign up for my copy before the deadline. What is the deadline? Well, when is the deadline?
Sophie Cross: So if you sign up now, you’ll get the current issue. It switches at the end of December and then we’re going to close it. So we have a weekly newsletter called the Dunker. So if you go to the website forward slash Dunker, you can sign up for that and you’ll get all the emails so you will not miss it and you’ll get this awesome weekly business and creativity newsletter that we put out every week for freelancers. But yeah, it’ll be around the 8th of January, I think.
Kira Hug: All right. Thanks, Sophie. Thank you.
Rob Marsh: That’s the end of our interview with Sophie Cross. I want to add just a couple of other thoughts to our conversation, maybe to give you an idea or an insight to think about as you apply these ideas into your own business.
As Kira and I were talking with Sophie, Kira immediately messaged me and said, I want to run a magazine like Sophie’s. And I had the exact same thought. What she has created is really cool. And these are the kinds of things that make us wish that we had thought of them first. And as we were chatting about the idea of creating a magazine, Sophie said something that really stood out. She said one of the reasons that she started the magazine was that she wanted a way to get noticed. And by taking the lead as editor and publisher, she did that. She stands up and says, hey, I’m an expert in this thing. It effectively built her into an authority figure in the freelancing space.
We experienced a lot of the same when we started this podcast. It was a way to stand out from all the other copywriters in the world who weren’t showing up week after week talking about copy or persuasion or business. And it almost immediately turned us into authorities in the copywriting world. It’s one of the reasons that we were invited to the copy legends lock in with 17 other top copywriters in the world. And I’m not sharing this to brag, but rather to get you thinking, what can you do to stand out? What can you build that makes you different? There’s still lots of opportunities for things like podcasts or magazines or something entirely different from those focused on the niche and clients that you serve. If you want to stand out, you really need to be the only person offering something that your best clients want. So that was thought number one.
Thought number two is around our discussion of creating courses and We talked about, should you create your own course? Sophie suggested that it’s still a good business model. And we agree 100%. But as we talked about on last week’s episode, courses are often touted as a way to get away from one-on-one client work. They do work for that and they can be great. In fact, you’re going to find several courses on our website at thecopyrighterclub.com. Courses that teach you how to write copy, how to use AI to brainstorm and create copy and content, as well as a course on how to find clients and how to do pitching properly. But, and this is a big but, cue the Beavis and Butthead laughter there, there is nothing passive about selling courses. Just like attracting clients, you need to spend time attracting course buyers. And the economics of courses has changed over time. They are slowly becoming less costly to sell, but that also means that you need to sell more of them to make your monthly numbers which then requires you to spend more time and sometimes more money attracting the next set of course buyers. It can be a great addition to your offering, but it’s not a cure-all for a business that struggles to attract clients. You’re likely to have the same struggles attracting buyers. So just keep that in mind if you decide to build a course. It definitely helps to have an email list like Sophie’s, several thousand people who you can share your courses with on a regular basis.
Finally, Sophie’s advice on leadership and surrounding yourself with the right team is spot on. Having the right people around you is critical, especially if you are working with them to create whatever it is that you do for your clients. Even if you don’t have a team to support you, being part of a community that you can rely on can play a really big part in your business success. We talked a lot about how freelancers form a community and of course the Copywriter Underground that I mentioned at the top of the show is that kind of community as well. Supportive copywriters helping each other with templates and training and coaching and ideas and insights and even sharing leads. All these things to help you make more progress in your business. It’s definitely worth checking out at thecopyrighterclub.com/TCU.
I want to thank Sophie for joining us to chat about her business and Freelancer Magazine. Of course, we think you should subscribe to Sophie’s Quarterly Magazine. You can find it at freelancermagazine.co.uk. While you’re there, be sure to subscribe to her weekly newsletter, The Dunker, and check out all of the other free resources on the site. There’s some really good stuff there that will help you in your journey as a freelancer.
That’s the end of this episode of the Copywriter Club podcast. The intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter Addison Rice. The outro was composed by copywriter and songwriter David Muntner. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard, please visit Apple Podcasts to leave a review of the show. Don’t miss our other podcast at AI4CreativeEntrepreneurs.com. You can also watch that on YouTube or listen wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening. We will see you next week.