Quick chat with Michelle Bowes
You’re an author, writer and content creator. What do you love about what you do?
The most important thing for me is variety – I’m someone who gets bored quite easily – so wearing the multiple hats of freelance journalist, ghostwriter, content writer and author, and working across everything from traditional articles to whitepapers, social media posts to video scripts for a variety of clients means I never get bored!
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Landing a coveted cadetship at the now-defunct national business magazine BRW straight out of uni and having the opportunity to interview ASX 200 CEOs at the tender age of 21. In some ways the achievement was wasted on me at the time, but when I look back on it now I realise it was pretty incredible.
But I’d have to say turning years of accumulated knowledge of personal finance into my book, Money Queens: Rule your Money, which is an explainer of all things money for teenage girls is my biggest highlight. I’m passionate about the power of journalism to cut through the jargon and improve the financial literacy of all Australians, but as an avowed feminist being in a position to give the next generation of women a leg-up is incredibly satisfying.
In a similar vein, writing a ground-breaking article in the insurance trade press about the flood risk in Western Sydney is another highlight. It was widely referenced by local councils and circulated in the halls of government, leading to raised awareness about the risk and better flood mitigation in the area. Like my book, it shows the power of journalism to affect positive change, and also potentially to save lives.
Wearing the multiple hats of freelance journalist, ghostwriter, content writer and author, and working across everything from traditional articles to whitepapers, social media posts to video scripts for a variety of clients means I never get bored!
What skills do you think are the most important for freelancers to acquire?
To be successful as a freelancer it’s crucial to tap into the thing that drives you. Because you are your own boss, there is no one else to keep you on-task, motivated, chasing work or leads and meeting deadlines and it is much easier to do this is you are driven by a passion. I truly believe the sky’s the limit as to how successful you can be as a freelancer, but you need to keep showing up and pushing yourself forward every single day.
Why do you think the Summit is important for freelancers?
As a freelancer it can be easy to isolate yourself. But we all thrive off the energy and inspiration of the collective so coming together, hearing new ideas and meeting new people all present the opportunity to unlock something which could be of huge benefit to your freelance business.
The conference theme is all about futureproofing your career. What steps are you taking to futureproof your own?
I’ve watched the business of writing change so much since I was paid for my first freelance article in 1999. It’s important to keep pace with change and embrace the new, or else you’ll get left behind. During the five years I lived in London in the early 2000s I launched an editorial content business with a fellow journalist, writing newsletter content, whitepapers and reports for corporates. This was essentially content marketing before content marketing had a name. So, whenever I see a new trend or technology that could affect my business, I read up on it, or even invest to put myself through a short course so that my skills always remain relevant.
To be successful as a freelancer it’s crucial to tap into the thing that drives you. Because you are your own boss, there is no one else to keep you on-task, motivated, chasing work or leads and meeting deadlines and it is much easier to do this is you are driven by a passion.
You have written both corporate (b2b) content and a non-fiction book. What different insights has that given you?
There are similarities and differences between the two, essentially both corporate content and non-fiction books are educational but the outcome each is trying to achieve is entirely different. Most corporate content is essentially marketing serving a soft sales function, whether that is to attract new customers for the business or retain those they already have, while a non-fiction book exists purely to teach the audience about a topic.
The ‘voice’ is also entirely different, in the world of corporate content the emphasis tends to be on writing in the brand voice, whereas when writing a non-fiction book you need to write in a voice that will ultimately appeal to your target reader. As a corporate content writer you also exist in the shadows without a byline, whereas in the world of publishing the profile of an author matters as much (if not more) than the content of their work when it comes to selling the book.
I’m pretty bullish about AI, I think it presents a huge opportunity and I’m already using many AI tools in my business…I’ve done a course to upskill myself about ChatGPT and use it to compliment background research I conduct for topics I’m writing about.
What are your thoughts on AI / ChatGPT?
I’m pretty bullish about AI, I think it presents a huge opportunity and I’m already using many AI tools in my business, such as otter.ai to transcribe interviews, hunter.io to find email addresses to pitch for business, grammarly to check for readability and copy.ai for SEO keyword generation. I’ve done a course to upskill myself about ChatGPT and use it to compliment background research I conduct for topics I’m writing about.
But tools like these are only as good as the person using them – without the right prompts ChatGPT will only produce something that is bland and homogenised. I think it does have the potential to put mediocre writers out of business and as a freelancer writer it’s important to sell your overall value to clients rather than just being seen as someone who writes words. You need to explain that you are up-to-date with trends in their niche, understand what topics their audience wants to read about, how to conduct research and make sure information comes from verified sources, how news hooks work and what make a piece readable, how SEO works and can be incorporated seamlessly into writing and the role of social media in amplifying the content you create. In the age of ChatGPT-type tools, anyone who pitches themselves as a writer needs to re-invent themselves as a content consultant.
I’m excited by the future, and I love being my own boss and the freedom that freelancing facilitates.
Do you think the future is exciting for freelancers, and if so, why?
I’m an optimist by nature so I’m excited by the future, and I love being my own boss and the freedom that freelancing facilitates. That said, change is always on the horizon and it is vital to keep pace with it. I’m saddened by the demise of much of the traditional media but confident that whatever continues to pop up to replace it will need freelancers providing we keep reinventing ourselves as a solution to a problem.
What are you most looking forward to about the Summit?
I’ve been a part of this community for a while but have met so few people in person thanks to the pandemic years. I’m looking forward to networking to put faces to names, as well as attending as many sessions as I can to ensure I remain at the cutting edge of what’s happening in the freelance business. When it comes to my work in financial literacy I love the phrase ‘knowledge is power’ and I believe it also applies when it comes to running your freelance business.
Michelle is a panelist for ‘The business of freelancing’ on Day 2 of the Summit.