/  2024   /  Quick chat with Sara Howard

Quick chat with Sara Howard

You’ve been working with writers and running an agency for many years. What do you love about what you do?

One thing that’s surprised me is how much I enjoy collaborating with other writers.

We learn from each other and bring all these different ideas and approaches (plus it’s nice to know someone will catch your typos). Clients love it too, because ultimately the work is better.

I also love working on big, challenging projects for high-calibre clients – being a small agency has not held us back from working directly with some really impressive brands and seriously smart people. And I love the variety. Over the years, I’ve discovered that (despite being an introvert) I love running workshops, leading strategy, and coaching my team.

Plus I love that I don’t have to do all the work – I still write every day for clients, but can focus on the projects that interest me. And I can delegate a whole lot of stuff I don’t need to do.

What have been the highlights of your career so far?

I wanted to build a business that I would drop everything to work for, so we’ve worked hard to build a great culture. That’s attracted some absolute rockstars who, quite frankly, could earn more elsewhere. What we offer is genuine collaborative care, true flexibility, as well as wellbeing and development budgets, and birthday leave. And our alumni, who’ve gone on to do more amazing things in their careers, are our best advocates which I think says a lot.

Have you always worked for yourself? What do you enjoy about freelancing?

I never wanted to work for myself! My parents lost everything when their small business went bankrupt in the ’90s, so my goal was a regular pay cheque. I worked for a few big global retail brands after finishing uni, in London and the US. But when I was three months pregnant, I lost my job in the US and realised corporate job security was an illusion.

Freelancing gave me more control over where and how I worked, and what I got paid. I could flex the work around the kids when they were little, although I’ve worked full-time since my youngest started kindy. I’ve always had more work than hours in a day, so that’s why I decided to bring some more people on to help.

What skills do you think are the most important for freelancers to acquire?

1. Financial and commercial acumen – you need to know what makes you money, and have some discipline around time tracking, budgeting and quoting.

2. Network building and relationship management – this is the only way to attract and retain great clients. In my experience, working directly with brands is much better than going through an agency, unless it’s specialist work.

3. Tech for efficiency – this keeps evolving, so I’m always looking for new ideas on the best ways to use generative AI, workflow systems and communication channels so I can free my time up for higher value work.

4.Service extension options – how to solve more problems for existing clients, such as tone of voice discovery, strategic brand messaging or content plans.

Why do you think the Summit is important for freelancers?
The Summit is a great opportunity for freelancers to see their career as a business, and one they feel in control of. You can then work out what you want that business to achieve for you personally – take a step back from the busy-ness of client demands and put yourself first.

That’s even more important this year. The market has changed, and doing great work is no longer enough. An agency owner recently told me she’s realised she needs both the entrepreneurial mindset and a risk mindset to get through the next decade – and those don’t always come naturally to freelancers.

What are you hoping to communicate in your session?
Growth means different things to different people, and I’d like to share some strategies to work out what it means to you – and all the different ways you can get there. I’m also keen to hear about Brooke’s journey and what she’s learned along the way.

What learnings are you hoping that people will take away from your session?
It’s a tough gig being the last session of the Summit! I hope that Brooke and I can help you prioritise all the ideas you’ve taken from every single speaker before us, and work out what’s next for your business.

The conference theme is all about futureproofing your career. What steps are you taking to futureproof your own?

I’m not sure you can ‘future-proof’ these days, but you can be more resilient and adaptable. I suspect we’ll look back on this year as a turning point, when everything changed for marketing and writing.

As a business, we’re working on an AI strategy to embed the best of the technology into our workflows without losing our very human ability to write with empathy for our audience. We’re also taking a very hard look at our profit margins, because they have proven to be a little too lean for comfort when the tide turns in the market.

At the same time, I’m futureproofing my own career inside and outside the business. I’m working on a book, and am spending more time mentoring and coaching. I feel very strongly about protecting the craft of writing in a machine-augmented world, and I hope to help others find their path through this change.

Do you think the future is exciting for freelancers, and if so, why?

I think there are always exciting opportunities for freelancers. Right now, I’m seeing more creative agencies and brands be open to the idea of bringing on specialist talent for specific projects as it can be a whole lot less risk and hassle than hiring permanent staff.

And that’s the thing – freelancers need to make it as easy as possible to work with them, over and over again. That isn’t easy, I know.

What are you most looking forward to at the Summit?

I can’t wait to meet Austin L. Church; I devoured his book. I am also super excited to see everyone at the welcome drinks – from the minute I stepped foot onto that boat in Darling Harbour in 2023, I knew I’d found my people.


Sara is a panelist on Day 2. The panel topic is: Growing beyond solo: What’s involved and what models should you consider? Find out more about Sara on her profile page.

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