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Get to Know: Mel Barfield – Freelancer Magazine’s Features Writer and Book Club Host

Get To Know - Mel Barfield

What do you do?
I’m a creative copywriter, specialising in short stuff. I love naming projects, brand voice/verbal identity work, and packaging copy. I write interview-based features for Freelancer Magazine, which satisfies my inner nosy bastard.

How long have you been freelancing?
My last day as “an employed” was 31st December 2021. I intended to spend time setting up the biz, etc., but then we all got COVID (again). Typical. I started paid freelance work around late Feb/early March 2021.

How did you get into freelancing?
The Freelancer Magazine Kickstarter just kept on winking at me. I was overworked in my local government role, and then in lockdown we juggled work and homeschooling our two young daughters. I still feel triggered when I think back to that time. It was rough. When we were summoned back to the office, I missed working from home and felt like there had to be a better way. Pals on Twitter were living the dream and eventually FOMO won out, and I handed in my notice. I’m lucky my husband was able to cover the bills as I got established. I’d already built up a network of freelance copy mates, which was invaluable for referrals and support.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?
Everything’s on my terms. I don’t list my phone number, I don’t work outside the school day (unless it’s super lucrative/exciting), and I pick and choose my projects and clients. I have more colleagues now than ever before. The freelance community is just incredible. I can’t imagine going back to an employed role now because the flexibility is priceless. My eldest has hearing loss so she’s had lots of hospital appointments, including two operations. Being freelance means I get to plan work around my life, not the other way around.

What have you found most challenging about freelancing?
At first, it was saying no to work. It’s hard to turn down the money! But then I interviewed Alastair Thomson for the Freelancer Magazine Book Club, and he highlighted how important it is to ringfence time to work on your business. He said if you’re overbooked, you’re robbing your future self. That really stuck with me, so I’m pickier now. The other major challenge is managing my ambition vs my responsibilities.

When are you most productive?
Around 4pm. Unfortunately, I finish work at 2.45pm for the school run. I love a Sunday morning work sesh. It’s how I worked on my copy skills when I was still employed. Instead of sleeping in, I used my lie-in to study.

How did you find out about Freelancer Mag?
Everyone kept wanging on about it on Twitter, so I backed the Kickstarter despite being employed at the time.

What have you enjoyed most about working with Freelancer Magazine?
Meeting awesome people, for sure. Both colleagues and interviewees. I love finding out how other people balance their home/work lives. I especially enjoyed interviewing digital nomads; it made me realise it’s not quite as relaxing as people think. I still dream of spending the summer holidays on a Thai beach though.

Which Freelancer Magazine article are you most proud of writing?
You never forget your first. I interviewed Dan Nelken on a live group Zoom for the Book Club but thanks to tech errors (it wasn’t me, I swear) the recording didn’t work. It meant I got a 1:1 with Dan for the article, and he was such a nice guy (Canadians, eh?). He’s been really supportive of my freelancer journey ever since. A relentlessly helpful human; go follow him.

If you could be another freelancer for a day, who would you be and why?
I can’t choose a man, or I’d waste most of the day getting used to my temporary penis. I’ll go for digital nomad Rachael Pilcher. She’s ace. But specifically Costa Rica Rachael, not eggy burp travel bug Rachael. Or Emma Cownley. Maybe some residual coolness would stick after I swap back to my normal life.

What is success for you?
Materialistic goals, sorrryyyyyy. I want a campervan plus one sunny holiday and one snowy holiday every year. Our fixed-term deal ends soon so success might include “keeping up with the mortgage”. On a less materialistic level, success is being there for my children and keeping the school holidays work-free (ish… I love my job).

What piece of advice would you give to someone starting as a freelancer?
Make lots of friends. Be yourself.

Cats or dogs?
Cats, but my husband’s allergic, so we have a dog.

Who is your inspiration and why?
Our editor Sophie Cross. She lives life on her own terms and has created an ace community by being her whole wholesome self. I’m not just kissing her arse coz she’s our boss. 😉 Also, #CampervanGoals. And my children inspire me to set a great example. Raising girls is hard, trying to prep them for this mean world *sigh*.

What’s your favourite biscuit?
TUC cheese sandwich biscuits.

Work from home, cafe or cowork?
From home, because my workday is so short I don’t have time to travel to a workplace. Virtual coworking for the win, though. I normally go to three different cowork sessions each week, hosted by Freelancer Magazine, Bonnie Harrington, and Steve Folland (Being Freelance). Molly Scanlan’s in every one of them. Love her.

What scares you?
People not liking me (I’m a middle child).

What’s your hobby?
I adore skiing but only go to the indoor ski slope about once a year. And I haven’t been on an actual mountain since about 2003. Must rectify.

Print or digital version of Freelancer Mag?
Print, always! But I don’t normally open it for a few weeks because I still can’t believe my face is inside.

What’s your favourite podcast?
I’ve got the attention span of a gnat so I don’t often get around to listening to pods. I adore Kathy Burke’s Where There’s A Will There’s A Wake, Louise Shanahan’s 15-minute Freelancer and Steve Folland’s Being Freelance podcast. I need to listen to Doing It For The Kids, heard great things.

What book are you reading at the moment?
I’m re-reading 4,000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. This time with the audiobook alongside the physical book. I find it hard to stay focused (damn you, social media plus lockdown burnout hangover) and this way I’m less likely to get distracted. H/t Helen Hill for that tip.

Sunrise or sunset?
Sunset. Which is why I never make it to Sunrise Club.

Tea or coffee?
Coffee. Strong, lots of oat milk, and in my Le Creuset flask cup so it doesn’t go cold.

What’s your favourite film?
Lord of the Rings, specifically the second one (The Two Towers). Director’s cut, of course.

How do you start your day?
Grudgingly, if my children have woken me up before my alarm. I’m about to rejoin the gym for the first time since COVID so I’ll be out of the house by 6.20am a couple of times a week. Sharing for accountability…

What other area of freelancing would you love to try?
I loved graphics in year 10. I can still hear Mr Gamble telling the naughty kids “Schit doiyn! Noiy!” (if you can’t tell from my terrible impression, he was from N. Ireland). So perhaps a graphic designer. Reckon I’d get RSI though.

What’s the one thing you’d like to achieve by the end of 2024?
Booking a sun holiday and a snow holiday for 2024. But work-wise, to complete my brand strategy course and work with more food/drink brands. I should be specific – work with THREE more food/drink brands. Even more specific – packaging copy for an artisan cheese brand, verbal identity work for a drinks brand, and, erm… a naming project for a new plant-based meat alternative.

Find Mel Barfield on LinkedIn /MelanieBarfield. Read Mel’s writing in Freelancer Magazine.



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