Meet the Folk: Sara Benaissa

In the Meet the Folk series, I'm interviewing members of the Freelance Folk community to find out more about their freelance lives. Next up is Sara Benaissa, a freelance writer at Fraiche Ink.

What do you do?

I'm a freelance writer so I write think piece blogs, web copy and communications as well as poems and short stories. I love writing about identity, social movements, technology and urban perspectives. I'm also a successful coffee drinker and manc food enthusiast. 

How did you get started as a freelancer?

It was actually a bit of a fluke. I always wanted to go into freelancing and I was working on blog posts and my creative writing for a good 3 years before I took the plunge. But, the actual D day happened because my employee fixed term contract was ending and I decided I didn’t want to renew it. So I gave my notice in and started looking for a job. I remember thinking ‘I can’t believe I just did that’ but in the end it was the best thing I ever did.

While I was looking for a new job, my ex-colleague and good friend, saw an advert to be a writer for a French company. I applied, got it, but couldn’t move full time to France. They offered me a freelance position so I could work remotely.

I remember thinking ‘I can’t believe I just did that’ but in the end it was the best thing I ever did.

I was lucky because my first 6 months were really stable and well paid, which gave me the opportunity to work on side projects and make sure that my fluke became a full-blown career.

How did you go about finding clients or customers?

I hate the word but ‘networking’. I go to quite a lot of groups and meet ups and I’ve found a lot of clients by just chatting about what projects other people are working on. I try to find relaxed and easy-going groups where I can have genuine and interesting conversations with down to earth people. It’s a bit hit and miss though. I would say 1 in 3 are great the others make you want to poke your eyes out with your business card. But keep going, it really is worth it.

I also find quite a few jobs online, the dots and indeed are good. For freelancer writers the website freelancewriting.com is also a good one. I also research agencies and specific companies I want to work for and send my portfolio.

What do you love about being freelance?

This is an obvious one but the freedom. Sometimes the freedom can be scary, because it’s only you and your laptop and if you don’t make it work or don’t motivate yourself then it’s only your fault if you don’t make it. But on the positive side, my working life fits my habits. I no longer feel like I’m trying to fit a square peg into a round hole! I can also mould my work life and private life into what suits me and what makes me the most productive. I think through freelancing, I’ve found a real balance between the two.

Sometimes the freedom can be scary, because it’s only you and your laptop and if you don’t make it work or don’t motivate yourself then it’s only your fault if you don’t make it.

I also really love how supportive other freelancers are, there’s no competition. Everyone is just really happy that you’ve given it a go, and everyone is genuinely interested in what you do and how you got there.

What do you find challenging?

I think motivation. Sometimes I don’t feel like writing, but I need to. Pushing myself to put fingers to keyboard can be tough. I’ve definitely built it up over the last two years, so I am trying to focus on how much more productive I’ve become rather than all the spare hours I could’ve worked.

I also think because you feel like every single hour should be an hour where you work on making your business a success, the chronic guilt can sometimes get to you and you really need to learn to switch off, reboot and be kinder to yourself.

What made you decide to be freelance?

The cliché. I wanted to be my own boss and do things my own way. I just didn’t feel like I belonged to any role before I did this. I also always wanted to be a writer and thought that I should give it a proper go. When the opportunity arose, I grabbed it and ran with it.

Where do you like to work when you're not at Freelance Folk coworking sessions? 

I love working in cafes that have good chairs and tables (a rare find!). I really like the background noise and being in the thick of it. I guess it must remind me of the old open office spaces I used to work in. I also sometimes overhear conversations that I make into blogs or integrate into my creative writing so it’s also quite useful!

Leaving the house and working in a café, co-working space, library or rented office really helps me get into the flow because it makes me work at something for a lot longer.

How do you get into the flow of working? 

Sometimes when I feel de-motivated or I can’t concentrate I wack on some music. I like working in silence and with music, it really depends on my mood and where I am.

I think routine really helps, so in the morning I always spend time making a coffee and setting up my workspace, I feel like it prepares my sleepy brain to start writing.

Leaving the house and working in a café, co-working space, library or rented office really helps me get into the flow because it makes me work at something for a lot longer. I feel like I’ve invested time in getting to that place so I want to make it worth it.  I love discovering new places to eat and drink so writing from those places kind of combines two passions of mine. I also think it can stop your week feeling so monotonous and help freshen up some of your projects.

How do you keep your work and personal life separate? Or do you not? 

To be honest I don’t keep it very separate. I actually like that it isn’t separate, I feel like work should be part of your life, especially if you enjoy it.

I feel like work should be part of your life, especially if you enjoy it.

I would say the only things I keep separate are silly stresses with clients or projects. I think it’s important sometimes to forget about it and let go, then afterwards you have a better perspective on it.

What skills would be on your alternative CV? 

I have a good internal compass, once I’ve been somewhere I know how to get to it without my smartphone, I also sometimes guess the general direction of a place and end up getting there.

I’m quite good at guessing the origins of a word. I also know quite a lot of ‘fun facts’ about really common words we use. Probably because I studied languages but also because I love knowing why we say what we do, I think it forms part of our identity.

Who do you admire?

Trail blazers. I think because it’s their mix of bravery and talent. I really admire how they stick to their guns and are uniquely themselves despite social pressure. I especially admire women who are unapologetically themselves, I think because it’s harder for them to be seen as both feminine and empowered.

I especially admire women who are unapologetically themselves, I think because it’s harder for them to be seen as both feminine and empowered.

I also really admire my parents, they always brought me and my brother up to question the status quo, read and debate. I wouldn’t be half the writer I am if it weren’t for my parents.

If you weren't doing your current freelance job, what would you be doing?

Opening up a café, and only selling tartines (basically epic posh toast) and really good coffee. I’d probably still write though.

What top three tips or recommendations would you give to other freelancers? 

1. Never be scared to ask for help. Everyone’s been there

2. Get out of your house and meet other freelancers.

3. I’ve recently discovered the joys of Toggl. It’s an app that tracks your time but also categorises your projects and tasks. It’s great for invoicing, re-evaluating your pricing structures as well as working on productivity and prioritisation.