Studies of how men and women behave in the workplace suggest men are more likely to ask for what they want than women. Our Rocket Women posts shine a light on women who have asked for something in their professional life that has had a significant impact on their career. We hope they fuel your resolve to ask for what you need to get on.
Jo began her career at 21 as a researcher on a supplement at the Mail on Sunday where she was later a Junior Commissioning Editor. She’s since had posts at Bella, Good House Keeping and Woman overseeing celebrity content and securing the cover star each month. She now freelances and works on titles including The Lady, Fabulous, Waitrose Love Life and Sainsbury’s magazines and is turning her hand to a spot of ghost writing. If she wasn’t a journalist her alternative fantasy career is floristry.
Jo, Please tell us about your memorable, game-changing ‘ask’: When I became a full-time freelance journalist last year, I had to get used to approaching others for work very quickly. It was vital that I could sell myself and my skills, and not be afraid to chase commissioning editors up for answers or to offer my ideas. Going freelance also coincided with my husband and I moving away from London and settling in Newcastle upon Tyne. From several hundred miles away, I had to continue to convince editors and PRs alike that distance made no difference to the standard of my work or my ability to be available whenever they contacted me.
What difference did asking make to you? I realised that, for the most part, people are happy to be approached. Also, by remaining visible, making a few trips to London and having meetings with former colleagues and prospective editors I believe my new location hasn’t impacted on my job. For the first time in a long time, I feel as though I’m perhaps not following a prescribed plan but it’s very liberating and allows me to fit my work around my life rather than slot my life into my career.
If you hadn’t asked what would/wouldn’t have happened? Quite simply I wouldn’t have got paid! About 80% of what I earn has come from me approaching others.
What made it difficult? Why is it a note-worthy ‘ask’? You can sometimes feel a bit “pushy” when you’re calling and requesting to speak to the same editor or sending yet another email of ideas to a features desk. However, as soon as you put things into perspective any worries evaporate. When I first began to freelance, I would excitedly tell my husband about a commission I’d received. His only question was always “But how much will it pay?” As irritating as this was when I wanted him to be excited for me, his view makes a lot of sense. Ultimately, whatever I’m doing has to pay the bills and I am learning to view myself and what I do as a business.
What did you do to give yourself the best chance of getting a yes? In my previous roles as a Celebrity Editor on national magazines, I always had to employ tenacity in order to secure exclusives, guarantee cover stars and to make sure I wasn’t losing out to any rival publication. The same skill is something I rely on in my freelance career too. As my mother-in-law would say: “Shy bairns get nowt.” And as a freelancer who isn’t based in the capital, it’s a case of if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I’m working mainly from my desk at home, not in a busy editorial office so in order to remain visible and to gain commissions, I need to stay in touch with my editors regularly and send in usable ideas.
What would you have done if the answer to your ‘ask’ was no? Sometimes an idea or a pitch won’t generate the answer you want. That’s the same for a staff writer on a title and a freelancer like myself. However, since going freelance, I’ve had experience of doors being closed when I really think I could offer something to the people involved. In this scenario, pure tenacity, remaining visible and sounding enthusiastic, has helped to change their minds.
Have you got an example of a missed opportunity to ask for something? On a couple of occasions I’ve had what I considered to be great ideas but I haven’t pitched them with much belief. This was much earlier in my freelance career and I let inexperience get the better of me. The fact is, if you don’t believe your idea for a feature is any good, you won’t push it forward with much enthusiasm and thus it’ll be trickier to sell to an editor. Now, I always try to have a very clear view of a possible feature and sell my ideas with conviction and I appear far more confident.
Jo, thank you for sharing your story. You’ve made a clear and compelling link between asking and getting when you told us about 80% of your work coming about because you asked. When the link isn’t so clear I imagine there’s more room for doubt and sitting back. I hope women reading your thoughts whether employed or freelance are moved to ask for more of the things that will rocket their careers.