Freelance Writer Errol De Jesus on Owning Your Story

 
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Errol De Jesus was done with holding herself back:

It was time to become her own boss. 

So, after starting a blog about multilingual parenting, Errol decided to also dive into freelance copywriting and translation—mere months before the pandemic hit the U.S. 

Follow Errol’s journey: from taking the risk to start freelancing, to discovering how to own her story, to the crucial learning of when to say no to toxic clients. 

We also talked about the importance of BIPOC representation, why learning Japanese as a 12-year-old Black girl changed her life, and how Acuity is helping her land clients, even during the pandemic..

Sarah: What's your entrepreneurial story?

Errol: Looking back on how I first started my blog, I remember googling how to leave my job. I found a mommy blog that painted this wonderful picture of being able to blog for a living and spend more time with my family. I was sold. I invested in a domain and host to start my own mommy blog: !

Then I went down several rabbit holes and got stuck in many different sales funnels trying to figure out how to monetize my site. It was like diving in new territory. How do I work this damn thing!? 

In November of 2019, a newsletter from a successful blogger appeared in my inbox. The subject line read: 

Why are you holding yourself back?

I felt like this badass blogger was talking directly to me. (Technically, she was—that’s what good copy does!) I remember watching her videos while I was on my break at my office job: I loved her story about going from getting laid off to earning thousands of dollars writing. It seemed almost too good to be true!

I kept telling myself that I didn’t have enough experience to earn hundreds of dollars blogging. But here she was talking about how she was able to land high-paying clients just a few months after leaving her job! I had left my office job only four months before seeing that email. My husband was working two jobs to keep us afloat. I had thrown money at various services trying to help me niche down, but nothing quite worked. I was ready to give up and just let my blog sit there collecting dust. 

When I went to that blogger's sales page for a course on cold-emailing, it was full of testimonials, social proof, and screenshots of participants landing clients—I knew I had to sign up.

I didn’t even have money at the time. The very little that was left in my account was for paying bills. But I set myself up on a payment plan and used the money from my baby’s monthly assistance. When my son Chris was born, a representative from a research team approached me and said that I qualified for a program that would give us a monthly allowance for the baby until he turns three. Until that point, I had only used that card for diapers, baby clothes, and groceries. I felt selfish using it to start freelancing. But I remember telling myself: If I’m doing this to be able to provide for my family, how could that be selfish?

(I later told the research team what I did, and not only were they okay with it, they said that that was the whole point of the card: to see if allowances could improve quality of life for mothers and babies.)

So, I did everything the course instructed me to do: I updated my social media accounts, I started making a list of all the companies that I wanted to pitch to, and I even signed up for Acuity Scheduling

At first I thought: I’m not ready to use a scheduling tool. I don’t even have any clients!

But New Year’s came around, I pushed myself to finally pitch my copywriting and translation services to businesses—and CEOs and Creative Directors were not only opening my emails, they were responding to them! 

Yeah, some of the responses were, “Sorry, not interested!” but one email from a CEO was, “What time do you want to meet with our marketing director?” 

I literally flipped! It was the first time I’d sent someone a link to my Acuity Scheduling page. I got goosebumps when I received my confirmation email!  

And as I continued to stumble and tumble through my career as a freelance creative, I learned to set myself up for success using tools that would streamline my process, like building in Acuity. 

S: Was there a particularly influential moment that you view as a turning point for your career? 

E: When it comes to storytelling, there’s a lot of pressure to be unique, quirky, and charming all at the same time. It’s hard enough trying to do that for someone’s product or service, but when it’s on a personal level—such as writing about your own personal life and tying it into a product or service—the challenge is different. 

When I wrote my first blog post for a popular language learning company, I expected to gain a million followers. I thought the whole world was going to come looking for me and ask me what it’s like to be a Black woman raising a child multilingual. When that didn’t happen, I felt that my story wasn’t impressive enough. Did I market it right? Why did the other blogger get like 50 kudos and I only got 10? I know—I’ll put the link on literally every social media platform I can think of! 

Someone on a message board told me, “Here are some other polyglots you should follow!” and told me the names of two white cisgender male polyglots who run their own businesses. It felt like a slap in the face. I was like, This is my story! Did you not read the headline? 

But I also thought, well, if this is what people want, I guess I gotta mention those other polyglots to make my language learning journey sound more interesting. So in my next post draft, I started off talking about those polyglots. How awesome they were and how much success they had with learning languages. 

My editor came back and said, “What is this? I don’t care about those guys—I want your story!” 

And I realized that I had been so caught up in thinking about what other people wanted, I was willing to change my entire narrative based on what one total stranger on social media had told me! 

I told my editor, “You know what, I was thinking the same thing. I just wasn’t confident in myself.” 

From then on, I told myself to not bend over backwards for anyone. If you’re not paying my bills, I’m not paying you any mind! 

I love being authentic and unapologetic. I don’t do it for show and I don’t do it for follows. I do it because there’s not enough representation for Black women out there—in copywriting, in blogging, in language learning. Basically any industry you can think of! 

Being true to yourself and your story will always make your talent stand out. That’s what creative directors tell me when I reach out to them. They’re not looking at how many views or likes my posts have. It’s all about the ability to own your story. 

 
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“I love being authentic & unapologetic. I don’t do it for show. I do it because there’s not enough representation for Black women out there.”

 

S: What's one of the most surprising and/or challenging things you've learned as a multilingual copywriter?

E: I’ve learned to ask myself not what the client wants, but what the client’s audience wants. You really have to leave your ego at the door when doing copywriting and focus on the customer base or community. 

As a copywriter, the biggest mistake you can make isn’t a grammatical one—it’s conveying the wrong message to your client’s audience! It’s not enough just to know a language. It’s about knowing the culture and your client’s audience. If you get too tied up in being perfect, you may miss out on conveying the message that your audience really wants to hear! 

S: We’ve chatted about a lack of BIPOC representation in copywriting. I'd love to hear more about your thoughts on the importance of representation in any industry.

E: I used to believe in the outlier fallacy: If a Black person is successful, then that means all Black people have the same means to achieve the same level of success. But the reality is that not all Black people have access to the same opportunities. Just because we have wealthy Black entrepreneurs out there, doesn’t mean that poverty in Black communities has been solved—and it certainly doesn’t mean that racism is gone. 

Representation is just the means to the end. 

Spaces made exclusively for BIPOC are essential. This is because in every industry, BIPOC face so many microaggressions and have to constantly filter and translate their experiences and feelings so it’s palatable for white audiences. That’s incredibly difficult to do day in and day out. 

BIPOC don’t have the luxury of not thinking about race. We’re hyper aware of it. And when industries can be just as aware as we are of systemic racism, only then can we truly start to dismantle it. That is what representation aims to accomplish: raising awareness. It’s a start. 

Representation means diverse ideas and perspectives from different cultural backgrounds. It means that a team is not only socially conscious, but they care about being inclusive. This shouldn’t be a one time thing. And this shouldn’t be sparked because of the death of a Black man at the hands of a white police officer. It should always be on the minds of leaders. 

S: What’s a recent project that excites you?

E: This year, I was a panelist for a conference for multilingual Black womxn. It’s an opportunity for Black womxn to embrace their love for language learning and to look at language acquisition from a non-Eurocentric viewpoint.

I’ve always longed for socially conscious language learning or language justice. My decision to learn Japanese when I was twelve years old changed my life. I did not have the means to go to Japan, but I worked my ass off to win a speech contest that paid for my first trip there. 

From the bottom of my heart, I believe that it’s important for Black children to embrace other languages and culture—this is the idea I had in mind when I started Morenita Mommy! When people say, “Oh, I’ll never get the chance to use another language,” I like to give them hope and show that language learning is not something that just white people do! 

When I first started writing for language learning companies, I couldn’t ignore the lack of representation for Black language learners. There’s no denying that a white person learning a language doesn’t carry the same weight as a Black person learning a language. 

Look at Spanish in the United States: Heritage learners talk about their parents not wanting to teach their kids Spanish so they’d fit in at school. Meanwhile, white people can teach their kids Spanish and be celebrated for doing so. The roots of racism are so deep and go much deeper than just overt racism. It affects many different aspects of our lives, especially our language! 

So, I’m excited to promote language learning and language accessibility. 

 
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“I believe it’s important for Black children to embrace other languages & cultures. Language learning is not something that just white people do!”

 

S: How has your work been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? What's helped you to stay resilient? 

E: Working out of desperation is something I never anticipated as a freelancer, but there were definitely times when I felt that I had to compromise my integrity for the sake of being able to cover bills. When it got to the point where I was stressing out and doing way too much, however, I had to stand up for myself and eventually end some toxic client relationships.  

The scary part is not knowing where your next source of income is going to come from. 

During the height of the pandemic, all of my marketing efforts to find work were definitely seeing some impact! Out of fear, I kept pushing myself to fit someone else’s standard. I was suffering on the inside—I knew that part of why I decided to start my own business was to be my own boss! But here I was trying to please someone out of fear they wouldn’t want to work with me. I was even tempted to lower my rate and accept bizarre payment terms, like payment every 60 days. (But rent is every 30 days!?)

Connecting with other successful freelancers during this period was inspirational. After I fired two clients, I was scrambling to find work. Then, on a copywriting group message board, I saw someone mention how doing a podcast was one of the best ways to generate leads and even land clients! 

I had an idea to start a blog series called where I’d interview creatives of color about their experiences. I wasn’t sure about turning it into a podcast, but I knew that I wanted to expand my network. So I got on social media and started sending connection requests to any BIPOC copywriter I could find. Some didn’t respond. Some were on board! It was then that I decided that I would add a new appointment type to my Acuity calendar: networking calls. 

I ended up using the scheduling link to do networking calls almost daily. There was no pressure to sell or to pitch. It was just me connecting with other copywriters and learning more about their background and experience. Some of the interviewees would message me later asking for my contact info to forward to their colleagues who were looking for a copywriter! 

It wasn’t the same as cold-emailing a client, but it definitely made me feel more in control of my career to know that I wasn’t alone. The mistakes that I had made with contracts (or not having contracts!) and managing client expectations, scopes, timelines—these were all things that every freelancer is going to struggle with at some point in their career. The important part is that you learn from it. You grow. 

This is the thing about this kind of work that I’ve always been proud of: It’s not about how many clients you land, or how much you're invoicing for every month. It goes much deeper than that. It’s about building the right business connections with people who value your work and appreciate you showing up as you are! 

So yes, it was scary letting go of clients in the middle of this pandemic, but I knew that even during times like these, I could find work with companies who valued me. And I did!

S: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other Black women entrepreneurs? 

E: Invest in a very good marketing and freelance course. 

Trying to do everything on your own is very difficult. My only caution: Make sure to shop wisely. I think of it as like buying a computer: I want to see the reviews and know how other people have benefitted from it before making an investment. The internet is saturated with so many self-made billionaires who want to share their secrets with you (at a cost, of course). It’s not that they’re not good coaches, but only you know if they’re the right mentor for you.

Also, I want to share some advice I learned long before I fully understood what freelancing meant: A freelancer once told me that it’s perfectly normal to get rejected for your rates. In fact, it would be odd if you weren’t getting rejected every once in a while. Even though I wasn’t freelancing yet when I heard this advice, it stuck with me. So, when leads started turning me down for rates that were out of their budget, it didn’t come as a shock or even a disappointment. If anything, it was a reassurance that I was doing something right! If everyone is saying yes to your rates, then something is wrong! 

Most importantly: Track your time! When you do client work, your hours become billable. Playtime is over. You’ll want to clearly outline the project scope and timeline in your contract, which should always be signed before you start working. Even when you’re eager to get started on your next project, it’s important to stay grounded and to remember that you’re not someone’s employee: You’re running a business that’s helping another business. 

Draw good boundaries and command respect. 

 
 
acuity customers, independent business owners, writing, covid-19