Escaping the 9 to 5 with Matt Drzymala
Matt is a freelance copywriter at Indelible Think. Mostly, he “writes content for businesses who just want to sound human and have their stuff sound really easy to understand.”
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
Join The Outsiders Business Incubator – This is your roadmap to transitioning from a corporate job into setting up a meaningful business that will bring you more freedom, flexibility and fulfilment outside of the corporate 9 to 5. www.onestepoutside.com/9to5
Anna: Okay. Hello everybody. Welcome back for this month’s Escaping The Nine To Five Series. I’m here with Matthew Drzymała. Matt and I met on LinkedIn actually, which is always a great place to connect. I’ve been following Matt’s posts with interest. He’s a copywriter. I’ll let him tell you in a moment, but his posts are always making me smile and really interesting insights about his business, which I’m now hoping to bring to you all. So, Matt, thank you so much for your time today. Why don’t you tell us in a few sentences what you were doing before and what you’re doing today?
Matt: Yeah, hello. Yeah, before I was a copywriter, I worked in payroll for 12 years and eventually, as I came towards the end of that career, I wanted to write a bit more because I was writing books and stories and I’d started a writing group, so I wanted to look for a job in writing really. So I trained to be a copywriter over 12 months, and then over the next year and a half, I worked part-time and eventually moved into full-time copywriting in 2018.
Anna: Amazing. Sounds like a very smooth, natural journey. So if we go back to that time, as you said, the career came to an end. What was happening then? What was it that triggered, I guess, first that you started the writing alongside that job and then ultimately, why you left?
Matt: Yeah, so I’m trying to think a little bit, maybe four years ago, I was made redundant from my job in payroll but I was given an 18 month leave period because the payroll system has been outsourced to an external company in payroll. That pretty much means that everything has to be run at the current company and the new company. So it has to go on for 12 months, 18 months. So I had a long notice period and I’d got to the point I think in my career in payroll where I just was hating every second of it, to be honest. It wasn’t a career I really wanted to get into. I was kind of pushed into it in a previous job and I just got to the point where I’d really want to do something that I enjoy doing, and I was writing stories, I’d taken creative writing classes and I was just loving writing so much.
I’d written a lot when I was younger, match day football reports for amateur football teams and fan fiction, and I’d always written but never really considered it as a career. So I think it just got to that point where I was so tired with working in an industry that I just had no interest in, that I need to find something and writing was the thing. And I just came across copywriting really when I was looking for careers to go into and that’s kind of how it happened really.
So yeah, it was that 18 month period that gave me the basis for me to train and learn that obviously, you could be a writer, it doesn’t mean you’re a copywriter. So just to learn what it took to be a copywriter and just all the different types of web copywriting, blog posts and brochures that are going out in print, just all the different types of styles and try to work out what it was I wanted to do. And yeah, that’s what happened.
Anna: And it’s interesting because it sounds like the redundancy and that great runway there was a fortuitous circumstance for you. I guess some people naively wished for redundancy because you get forced into making the decision you wanted to make anyway. I know it’s a theoretical question but do you think you would have come to that point of actually quitting or were you too comfortable there? Do you think you needed the redundancy to shake things up a little bit?
Matt: Yeah, I think so actually, yeah. I’ve never really thought of it that way, but yeah, I think I needed the redundancy. I was for a long time getting really tired and just fed up, but it’s one of them things, you just kind of keep going and, oh, well, I’ll just look for another job that possibly would have come up. But yeah, I think I needed the redundancy to really make me think, wow, suddenly, I was lucky that I had such a long redundancy period. Most people don’t get that. Well, yeah, pretty much nobody gets that. So it gave me time to think about what do I want to do? I had time to look at all the different aspects of writing work and decide what was for me.
I think if I hadn’t have had the redundancy, yeah, Maybe I would have continued what I was doing. I wasn’t really enjoying what I was doing. I know my work ethic was starting to slide, I wasn’t putting in the effort and it’s not because I had a bad attitude. It was just, I think, that tiredness of, I don’t want to be doing this anymore and I don’t want to do that extra hour, I don’t want to do overtime. I don’t want to go out of my way to go the extra mile like you’re expected of when you work in an office, just pulling your weight. You just start to let things drop a bit and yeah, I think definitely what you’ve said there, just something, like I’ve said, I haven’t considered before, but yeah, I think I needed the redundancy.
Anna: Well, it’s just interesting. It’s hard to take that leap for some people and we have a lot of fears caught up, and we’re just in that comfort zone, kind of trundling along but it sounds like you would have probably got to a point. As you said, you were losing interest and the motivation. I think if we don’t have that reason and it can really wear you down, like I’m here and I don’t want it to be here, it’s a horrible place to be, isn’t it? So going to work every day and not be interested in it, even if you’ve got the skills, you’re not very passionate and motivated to do your best. So you knew you wanted to do writing and it sounds like you discovered copywriting as a potential area you could monetize, I guess, make money with, and then you took some courses and so on, I know. So what were the challenges, I guess. Again, that sounds very, yep, I worked out what I want to do. I learned about it and then I launched my business, so what did you find most difficult in that process?
Matt: I think getting my head around that just because I could write a book didn’t necessarily mean I would make a great copywriter. I think that process, and luckily I had a great tutor who was a professional copywriter as well and made me realise pretty quickly that just because you’ve written a story or you can write books, that it’s a completely different skill. And getting my head around that initial, oh, right, yeah. Because I think when I first started [Trade Ed 00:06:39], it was like, oh, yeah, it’s writing, anyone can do it. And it was writing in that different style and my tutor very quickly put me in my place to say, look, this is a different skill. And I think just getting my head around initially the differences was quite difficult, but was also really enjoyable as well.
In terms of starting a business, I think the most difficult thing I would say in terms of to start a businesses is what ever one at the beginning, trying to find the clients, to find clients that will pay you for your services. And especially when you start out, everyone, it’s can you do it really cheaply? And yeah, I think that was the biggest struggle when I started I think. I’m sure everyone goes through it. You start taking work that maybe you shouldn’t be taking or taking it for barely anything. I think like most writers, I started out on content mills for a few months going on Upwork and Fiverr and doing stuff that really should have been better paid.
I think it was that realisation that I needed to actually start charging more, and just having the confidence to do that as well I think, again, was another difficult part of becoming a copywriter and just running your own business, just coming to that realisation, actually I am worth more than this. I’m trained, this is my time and my energies that I’m putting into this and I’m getting very little far it. And I think the biggest challenge was upping my prices, but overall, just having the confidence just to go, I’m going to miss out on a lot of work here but I am going to reach those people that value what I do, and it has worked.
Anna: So that’s so interesting. I think, as you said, the fact that you are a good writer doesn’t make you a good copywriter, and then the fact that you’re good at your craft, in this case, copywriting, doesn’t mean that you know how to run the business, does it? And I guess copywriting for your own business is different than copywriting for your clients as well. And as you said, there is that kind of early phase I think we all have to go through. We don’t have the confidence yet, we don’t yet know which clients we should be saying yes to and probably feel like we should say yes to all of them because I should be so grateful that I have any work.
I like to hear that you very quickly realised then that that wasn’t going to work. That doesn’t work as a business model. You knew that you were good at what you did, you had the value and then you were able to increase your prices.
Okay, so you mentioned your mentor, tutor who helped you out there and sort of helped you find the way. Where else did you get the support to overcome some of those challenges you talked about and ultimately set up a successful business?
Matt: Yeah, I think initially from my wife was the greatest support I had. My wife is a teacher, she’d been a teacher for 25 years so she’d gone far enough into her career that she’s on a decent wage, so we looked at like, okay, what money do we need to have coming in for us to pay the mortgage and pay the bills and everything else that needs to be paid for? And we worked out, yes, we could survive on her wage, as long as I brought in X, Y, Z amount every month. So just that initial support to be able to go freelance full time and know that, yes, we weren’t going to be in financial difficulties, we could pay the mortgage every month. And just having that safety net was a big boost for me. And it’s not something that everybody has when they go freelance and I know I’m very lucky in that sense to have had that support.
And I think just from other writers as well, the support I got at the beginning as a new writer. The writing community is a really inclusive one and everybody supports each other and if someone can’t take on any work, if they’re overwhelmed with work or it’s just something that they don’t want to do, they will hand you work and it’s just an amazing community. And that support that I had, I got so many jobs in my first year. When looking back at them, were they the best paid jobs? No, but they were jobs that I needed just to keep learning.
And yeah, so I think my wife has the biggest support, then the writing community is just an amazing one, and I worked with so many brilliant writers at the time who were handing me work.
Anna: And how did you discover those? How can people build that kind of community with the writers? Did you connect with them online? Via course?
Matt: Mostly Twitter I think at the time. LinkedIn, although it’s a great resource, I think when I started out, it wasn’t as big on as many copywriters, I think, in the community, and so I found a lot of them on Twitter and I couldn’t even remember how how I found them. I think it’s honestly just looking for hashtags for copywriters and I just came across a lot of them, and I Googled local copywriters and I spoke to some that were local, just for advice. And every single writer I’ve ever spoken to has always giving me advice on pricing or how to approach a client. So it was mostly just through social media. In my experience, it was Twitter, and then as I think LinkedIn has grown a little bit more, it’s a lot less overly professional and stuffy as it used to be, so I think more and more copywriters I found on there over time.
And I think especially when I started about maybe four years ago that LinkedIn wasn’t quite as busy with copywriters then, which I think it’s exploded now. But yeah, I think for me, it was Twitter mainly, but I also joined Pro Copywriters as well and got familiar with some faces on there and contacted them. So it was just me literally trying to find these people that I’d seen on the internet and just try to speak to them. And eventually, it’s grown into a huge community. I’m now on a Slack group that is made up of freelancers and copywriters, and it’s just an amazing place to go because people are posting on there a lot. I’ve got this job in, it’s not my thing. Maybe you’d like to do it, Matt, or somebody else. And you can just go on there and ask them all sorts of questions.
People are now coming to me and asking me for my advice, which blows my mind because I look back a few years, I think, those are the questions I was asking three or four years ago and people are now asking me. So it’s great for me to pay forward the advice and to pass on work, which I do. I pass on work all the time. I recently got a thank you card from a couple of writers that I had passed work on to. One of them sent me a pair of stripey sucks as a thank you.
Matt: Another one sent me chocolates.
Anna: Perfect. Chocolate, I’d go with the chocolate myself.
Matt: It’s just amazing just to get that support. I think if you are a copywriter, I can’t obviously say what it’s like for other people but if you’re a copywriter listening to this and you’re so stuck for work, just contact copywriters, get on twitter, find them, find me, find lots of writers and just get involved. I think what has helped as well is an event on Twitter every Tuesday now called Content Club UK. That takes place Tuesdays at 11:00 AM and it’s just full of freelancers that just, you answer three questions and it’s just a great place to network with people online. And that has kind of been a big help for me as well, just to meet so many people through that.
Anna: I love that so much. The community I think is so important, especially that you can do online of course in the year has been necessary. But always, we feel we need to meet people but it’s fantastic to hear that you can meet people that way, and I think that community, sorts of people who understand, who get it as you’re going through the difficulties and I love that you’re able to pay it forward. As you said, you start out not knowing anything, asking all these, how do I do this? And then within just a couple of years, you become the master that they look up to, don’t you?
And then the fact that you were even able to pass off jobs, and again, I think someone starting out might not imagine, gosh, I can’t imagine getting to a place where I have too much work or work that I would say no to, but again, as it’s a bit of that abundance mindset as they call it that, hey, there is enough work for all of us. If it’s not a fit for me, it could be a fit for you, and then I trust that you will either help me in the future or you’ll help someone else or someone else will help me, and I love that. So really great to hear and some really good concrete tips there, and thank you for your offer.
And then coming back to your wife, I think that’s fantastic of course having a supportive spouse, but also as you said, doing the maths and sitting down and going, okay, well, this is the run rate we have. As you said, I need to be owning X, maybe not the full salary right away, that’s not realistic, but at least you know. I think it’s always good to have that sort of black and white to know the situation with the mortgage and everything like that. So paint the dream for us now. You painted a bleak picture of the payroll world, you didn’t want to go to the office, you weren’t motivated. So what does your life and your work look like today?
Matt: Oh, I love it. It’s not that I disliked having colleagues, but I just didn’t like the office atmosphere. I’m not into gossip and didn’t ever really watch any of the programmes that my colleagues watch, so I never really-
Anna: You don’t watch Love Island?
Matt: Absolutely not. I always liked to just work on my own. It makes me sound like I’m really miserable and I wasn’t. It’s just, I think when we all leave school or college, university, whatever stage we go into work from, I think we’re all conditioned to, this is your workplace and these are your colleagues and this is the piece of carpet you walk around, and you must all get on and you must all want to speak to each other. And for me, even from when I went into my first job when I was 18, I just didn’t like, well not that I just didn’t like work, but I just didn’t feel like I enjoyed the forced community, which is what we are. That’s the workplace and that’s just the way it is. That’s just life.
But I think there are lots of people out there who are like me that are a bit more of an introvert, that do you know what? I just want to get on with my work. And yes, I might want to speak to the odd person, but I just want to concentrate on what I’m doing. And I think that’s what I’ve always been like, I’ve always been someone who wanted to just get on with my work and just be left alone, I suppose. And I think that’s what being a freelancer working from home does for me. I can just get on with my work and I enjoy what I do. But I also speak to people like yourself or I can speak to another writer, I have clients that I speak to on video calls or phone calls and email, Twitter. So for me, that is just as much as being my colleagues and speaking to people as speaking to people face to face. Not seeing people every day doesn’t bother me so much.
I know it’s an issue for some freelancers, that they miss that community. And absolutely, if you need the coworking space or you want to go work back for an agency or anything like that, or take on staff and become an agency yourself, that’s absolutely fine. I think just for me, and I’m sure there are a lot of people out there thinking, God, he sounds a bit weird, but I know there will be people out there who think, I would just love to work for myself and work on my own. It’s not that I disliked people, it’s just I never liked the office atmosphere and never liked the gossip and the small talk.
And I had lots of friends at work. It’s just, I think, my own personal preference. And just being able to get up now whenever I want and start work when I want, I can set my own hours, if I want to work from 6:00 AM till three in the afternoon and finished early, I can. Or I can work 10 till seven, just having that option. If I literally need to catch up on some work, I could do it, just do in an hour on a Sunday. Just to get myself ahead of myself on Monday morning, I can do that. It’s just having that freedom that I would never do working for a company. Yes, I would do overtime, but I wouldn’t really enjoy it. Or I might go in on a Saturday now and again, but you just feel like, oh, I’ve got to go in and work.
And doing that for yourself, there’s just none of that kind of reluctance to put in that extra effort, which I think especially towards the end of my career in payroll, I was struggling with, I just didn’t want to do the overtime. But for myself, I’ve just… Yeah. You know, I don’t work 15 hours a day but if I’ve got to catch up, I’ll go, you know what? I’ll work from half seven till four most days but a lot of the time, I might work on sort of six but I don’t feel, oh, I’m working another two hours. I’ll be like, yeah, let’s get this job finished and that’s out of the way for tomorrow. And I’d never thought I’d enjoy overtime, and working for myself, I do. I’ll happily do it and it doesn’t feel a stress to do it. It doesn’t feel like, oh, I don’t want to do this.
Anna: I want to print that out on t-shirts, “I never thought I’d enjoy overtime” is quite a good slogan. Can you use that in your copy? But I think that’s so interesting. The freedom, flexibility, the autonomy over your time that you can choose. It’s not that we now love our work so much that we want to work all hours, but it’s a different thing, isn’t it, to work for yourself and to know that that means, hey, tomorrow I can maybe take the whole day off or a few hours and so on. And I’ve got to say, I’m a bit like you. I’m sort of introvert, extrovert, somewhere between the two. But I wouldn’t say I hated the office, but certainly, I’m very self-motivated, I love working for myself. And as you said, I love connecting with people like you and I talk to my clients, I have my group calls, I have my one to ones, I’m writing. I feel like I have all these friends and colleagues and I have that social energy without having to commute to the office.
Of course, now there’s all this talk of the hybrid office and the hybrid working, so it’ll be interesting to see that extra flexibility. Maybe I’ll be out of a job and nobody will need my support because everybody will love the new office environment. Let’s see, but I think that maybe remains to be seen. But yeah, that’s lovely, and the fact that as you said, you now enjoy it and you want to do the work that you’re doing is a really beautiful thing and it’s the way it should be I think, really.
You’ve given us some really great concrete tips but any other advice you’d like to share for somebody perhaps who has been stuck in that career for a long time that they haven’t quite dared to leave? Or even now facing that redundancy, how can they reframe it to see as an opportunity maybe to retrain and look for something else?
Matt: I think I would say that be prepared that it won’t be an overnight success thing. I think I’ve been contacted a few times when other freelancers, writers saying, I want to go freelance, I want to be self-sustainable in six months. If you’re very lucky, very, very lucky I would say, then, yes, that could happen. But for me, my main piece of advice is that be prepared for it to take years to grow your business. I’m now into my third year and it took around about two years to really start getting repeat clients, start being able to get work that meant I could make a living.
My main advice would be to make a plan. Be prepared that you’re going to have times, especially in your first year, where you’re going to have weeks possibly where you get no work. And it’s obviously going to depend on the industry and the type of work, but I went through weeks where I had no work so when I had those quiet times, I worked on my own business, I tweaked my website. Because at the beginning, Google is still crawling, you’re still trying to work out who you are, what you’re offering, what your tone of voice is, what your ideal client is, if you’re not sure from the beginning which a lot of people aren’t. I wasn’t. I knew a little bit but I wasn’t sure who I was really targeting.
Just use those quiet times to work on your own business. Write blog posts, show up on social media. Social media, such a huge thing that you’ve got to show up all the time, post daily if you can. Or if you can’t, at least post, especially on maybe LinkedIn, at least three times a week if you can’t do it every day. Just keep showing up, just keep offering good advice to your target audience, and never be afraid I would say to repeat yourself, because someone who read it yesterday, that’s fine and they might read it today that you post something similar or similar advice, but there’s someone who didn’t see it yesterday and there’s always someone who hasn’t seen what you’re saying. So don’t be afraid to repeat yourself but also, just keep being helpful, just keep showing up. Just show your personality, whatever your personality is, whether you’re quite dry and sarcastic or whether you’re very professional, it doesn’t really matter. Whatever suits your business and your audience, then just keep showing up.
I think just be prepared that it will take a while, because I think so many people want to be an overnight success and it happens for very few people. And I know there will be one or two people out there thinking, well, I managed to be self-sustainable in six months and I think that is amazing, but for most of us, you’ll have times where you’ll have a load of work and your think, oh, wow, I’m a success, and then suddenly, those clients disappear. And you’ve got to build those relationships, not just with the clients that you’re working with but on social media because people will think, oh yeah, I really like that tone of voice, they sound like they know what they’re doing but I’m not sure whether I need them yet. And if you keep showing up and you keep being consistent, those people will remember you.
Because I have a client who really likes what I was doing on LinkedIn a few years back. And she got in touch, she was like, “Oh, I really like the tone of your stuff, love for you to write for me, but I’ve only just started my business and I’m not sure I can afford you yet. I’m not really getting the clients.” And even back then, maybe three years ago, I was too expensive for her and I wasn’t that expensive a few years ago, but she remembered me and I kept showing up on LinkedIn and it kept reminding her, yeah, I must contact Matt. I must contact Matt.
And eventually, a year later, she’s like, remember me? I contacted you a year ago, randomly. I really want to start getting your insights. One of my clients needs a copywriter, because she was an agency, and it’s kind of worked from there. And I work with her, I’ve worked with her on and off now on various projects over the last three years, and that’s just purely come from building a relationship online. And just keep showing up and people will notice you, and there are people that will work with you in five years time who’ve seen you now. It’s just that they might not be able to afford you and they don’t need a copywriter at the time. And then circumstances change or they’ve got a writer in house and then that goes a bit wrong and maybe it works out cheaper for them to outsource it. Just keep showing up, keep being helpful and just expect it to take a while.
And don’t get too downhearted in the downtimes, because there were times when I was looking at taking in temp jobs, these jobs where you fill in for a day. You get a phone call at 8:00 AM. Can you come in and fill this office job for half a day or two days while someone’s gone off sick? Luckily for me, it never happened. I seem to get work in just around those times, but don’t feel like you’re a failure if you have to take part-time work, whether that’s evening work, even if you’re working in a supermarket, if you’re stocking shelves or working in the backroom or working just in an office filing for two days a week, don’t feel that if you have to go back to a job, it’s not something to be ashamed of, you have not failed.
You’re making sure you’ve got money to put back into your business so you can pay your bills, so you can carry on being freelance I suppose. If you have gone full-time and work is slow and you’re struggling to pay the bills, take that temp job. There’s no rush at the end of the day. There’s no one keeping a timer on when you have to be successful, so whether it takes you a year or five years, it doesn’t matter. As long as you get there in the end, that’s all that matters.
Anna: Do you know what? So many nuggets there but I think the key messages that you’re in it for the long haul so as you said, manage expectations, it will take longer. If you need to or want to take a part-time job temping or even some projects that aren’t exactly the client you wanted in the meantime, do what you need to do knowing that you’re working towards that goal. And in a handful of years, you’ll be in that position as the guru advising other people and you’ll have those clients. And I love that example, I’ve had that too, of a client who has got in touch and hasn’t been able to afford you or it wasn’t working and then they come back years later. Obviously, hopefully all clients won’t take that long to work with us but it’s nice to know that people are watching. They might not be liking and commenting, but they’re there. And when they’re ready, if you keep showing up consistently as you do, then you’ll be in the right place at the right time and they’ll remember you.
Also, as you said, the personal brand, being yourself, having the tone of voice that fits you and that people will either love or not love, but you’ll attract the people who love you. I do also want to refer back because you mentioned the co-working space and that’s such an important piece too. If you’re not like you and me and you do want to be surrounded by people, that’s really important too. Don’t give up on the idea of being a copywriter or working for yourself because there are ways to, as you said, join an agency, be in a coworking space, have a team, and so it’s always about bringing to life the business in a way that suits your preferences, your personality and so on.
So Matt, I’m definitely going to link to your LinkedIn. Where else can we find you? How can we read more about you and hire you if you’re available?
Anna: Nice. Number one, number one copywriter. So thank you so much, Matt, for your time. Really enjoyed hearing your story. I’m really happy for you and your success and look forward to hearing and following you of course on LinkedIn as well over the next few years to see what’s next. Thank you so much for your time.
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