Empowering the Freelance Economy

20 questions with… Sarah Townsend

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Freelancers and contractors are curious people. That’s why they love to hear how others broke into this weird and wonderful world of work and how they are improving their game and switching off when they aren’t working.

This week Sarah Townsend, freelance copywriter and bestselling author of Survival Skills for Freelancers, chats with The Freelance Informer. Sarah shares with us some of her golden freelancer coping strategies and how becoming an author has opened up doors and opportunities she never expected.


What’s your first name/what do people call you (on a good day)?

Hello, I’m Sarah – nice to meet you

What’s the best thing that happened to you this year? This month? Today?

This year… All the opportunities that have come off the back of writing Survival Skills for Freelancers. Much like writing the book, they’re all things I thought I’d never do, yet I’ve loved every minute.

This month… taking time out for a long weekend in Pembrokeshire. Time off is vital when you’re freelance. It helps you reboot and return to work refreshed and refocused. So powerful.

Today… a biggie! I found out I’ve been shortlisted for an IPSE Freelancer Award. It was the first award I’ve ever entered for, so I’m over the flippin’ moon!

How would you describe what you do for a living?

My day job is writing clear, compelling website copy for purpose-led businesses. Since publishing Survival Skills for Freelancers I’ve become a cheerleader for small businesses and freelancers, through mentoring, events, podcasts and speaking engagements. Not sure I’ve quite got the balance right just yet…

What was the main factor behind your decision to go independent?

I was working for a publishing agency in Bristol when I became pregnant. Long story short, I wanted part-time work that would fit around being a parent. Freelancing seemed like the obvious choice.

What do you love the most about being freelance?

I love the freedom, flexibility and fun. Oh, and the people I get to work with!

What do you dislike the most?

What don’t I like… after 22 years, that’s harder to answer. It would’ve been the isolation, lack of boundaries and having to do everything myself, but I’ve developed coping strategies for the challenges. It’s why I wrote the book.

What business structure have you chosen (e.g., limited company, sole trader, PAYE/agency contractor, etc.?). Any tips for budding freelancers on why you’ve chosen this structure?

I became a limited company about five years ago, for tax reasons. I wish I’d done it sooner.

Craziest/oddest request that you have had from a client, recruiter or customer?

Hmm… believe it or not, I can’t think of a single request that’s been out of the ordinary. Must try harder.

At which point did your freelance/contractor income validate your decision to go independent?

Pretty early on, actually. That doesn’t mean I’ve not spent many, many years being paralysed by “where’s the next job coming from?!” anxiety and working all the hours with zero boundaries for fear that the work’s going to dry up – that’s natural, I think. (Also, newsflash: aside from the inevitable peaks and troughs, it doesn’t.)

I was working for a publishing agency in Bristol when I became pregnant. Long story short, I wanted part-time work that would fit around being a parent. Freelancing seemed like the obvious choice.

If you had to accept a contract that was inside IR35, would it make you feel like an employee or something different?

That’s a hard no from me. I wouldn’t do it. I like the variety of working with multiple clients too much – plus I’ve been freelance way too long to be told what to do by someone else.

The question that recruiters/clients ask that makes you cringe?

“What’s your day rate?” Clients, there’s so much you need to know before you ask that question! Plus I advocate moving away from the traditional ‘time for money’ model. Don’t get me started…

What do you do to “switch off” work?

I’m a big reader – just finished my 43rd book of 2021, thanks to a small habit shift (last year I read no more than half a dozen books in total!). I’m a huge movie fan – you’ll often find me geeking out about cinema with my 18-year-old son. (Nerd alert: I keep a record of every movie I watch, with a rating.) I also love walks in the beautiful Cotswold countryside and bird watching.

In your inner circle what are you known for?

This is a tough one. I’m pretty sure the things I think I’m known for aren’t, in fact, the things I’m known for .

I’d guess, being a total bargain queen, being super driven and immediate (“Do you have to do it right now?!” “Why wouldn’t I do it right now?”) and my mood highs and lows (I’m either excitable and high-energy or parked up on the driveway on bricks – there’s very little middle ground).

Do you ask clients for testimonials and if so what do you do with them?

Absolutely, I do! Social proof is so powerful, and you’re missing a trick if you don’t ask for testimonials. As I say in this blog, positive reviews are the best free marketing tool your business has. Okay, asking may feel a bit ick when you’re not used to doing it, but it soon becomes second nature. I make mine into visuals (thanks, Canva!) to share on my social, but the power of knowing potential clients read them when they’re considering who to work with is immense.


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How do you determine/justify your rate to clients or recruiters?

25+ years of marketing experience helps.

Do you use social media to land new business/promote your services? If so, which site has worked best for you?

Yes and no. I’ve been freelance for so long that I no longer need to promote my business – most of my work comes through word of mouth. If I didn’t enjoy social media I wouldn’t do it, but the community – particularly on Instagram (I’m @thecopywritersday) is just brilliant. It’s a great way to deal with the isolation that goes hand in hand with freelance life.

Are you having to upskill to remain competitive? If so, what was the latest thing that you learned to do?

We ALL have to upskill to remain competitive. The minute you think you’ve got this, and you no longer have to try, is the minute you fail as a freelancer. I taught myself to be a Canva power user – it’s so helpful for producing social media content and webinar slide decks.

Social proof is so powerful, and you’re missing a trick if you don’t ask for testimonials.

Have you ever had to quit a client? If so, how did the break up go?

Not that I can remember – but I do say no a LOT. Over the years I’ve become good at recognising the red flags and the signs that clients aren’t the right fit with my business. It takes confidence to say no, but it gets easier with practice.

Proudest moment?

The launch day of Survival Skills for Freelancers. The freelance community was AMAZING. You couldn’t set foot on social media without bumping into photos, videos and reviews from people saying how much they love the book and why everyone should have a copy. Oh! And it hit #1 bestseller in three Amazon categories, including one in the US, which is slightly mad!

Over the years I’ve become good at recognising the red flags and the signs that clients aren’t the right fit with my business. It takes confidence to say no, but it gets easier with practice.

Which actor or comedian or famous person would best play you if your life became the plot of a major film?

It’d have to be my girl crush, Emily Blunt.

What are three things you can’t live without as an independent worker?

Curiosity, motivation, the ability to say no (see above!).


🤲 Share your freelancer story to inspire fellow or budding freelancers and get noticed at the same time by potential clients and recruiters. Everything you need to know take part in one of our Q&As can be found in the link below.

Never mind the fluff: The 20 question interview – Freelance Informer


Want to buy Sarah’s book?

Survival Skills for Freelancers – Sarah Townsend Editorial

You can also buy on Amazon.


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