Pet writing and the abundance mindset
Q&A with freelance pet writer Kaitlyn Arford
It’s no secret that I’m kind of obsessed with my pets. (If you’ve been reading One More Question for a while, then you know Jackson and Claire!) So today I’m very excited to be sharing the wisdom of someone who spends their days writing about pets. How fun is that? Writers, meet Kaitlyn Arford, a freelance pet writer who has lots of excellent advice to offer fellow freelancers.
In today’s Q&A, Kaitlyn shares how she got established in the pet niche, what makes it work for her, and the importance of being picky about the work she accepts.
“I’ve gotten comfortable being uncomfortable asking for higher rates. I still feel that lurch in my gut every time I ask an editor for more money on a story, but that’s been crucial to my success. “
— Kaitlyn Arford
Britany: How did you get started writing about pets and how did you develop that expertise?
Kaitlyn: After I graduated college with a degree in journalism, I was working at a library and doing some freelance technical writing on the side. I started writing about dogs for the American Kennel Club after a friend from college working there reached out to see if I was available. (One reason why it’s important to let people in your network know you’re looking for freelance work!)
I realized that writing about dogs was way more fun and started looking for more opportunities. I started paying more attention to pet publications and animal studies and watching pet shows to soak up as much information as I could.
I positioned myself as a pet writer and started by sending letters of introduction to pet publications. I posted my work on social media and shared that I was available for freelance work. I actually got my next pet writing opportunity on Twitter.
It’s taken a long time for me to develop an expertise as a pet writer. But honestly, anyone can do it. If you’re interested in developing a niche, read about it and talk to people about it.
How much of your total work does dog/pet writing take up now?
I spend about 70 percent of my time writing and researching articles about pets (I’m blessed, I know!). I use the other 30 percent of my time to write stories that aren’t pet-related, write blog posts for my website, and do some book reviewing.
I’ll also occasionally supplement my writing with cat sitting or dog walking gigs, which pairs nicely with brainstorming new story ideas (though I’ve done less of that in the past two pandemic years).
Have you found pet writing to be a lucrative niche? What has been key in making it work for you?
Everyone loves four-legged friends. Everyone! Which means that while my niche is narrow my reach is broad. I can write about dogs for pet publications but I’ve also discovered that I can work a pet angle for just about anyone I write for. There are plenty of sites looking for quality pet content, and I’m happy to provide it for them!
Since I’m so specialized, I’m now known as a pet writer. I’ve been honored to have editors reach out after seeing my pet bylines and they’ve become some of my favorite clients. (Niches for the win!)
I’ve gotten comfortable being uncomfortable asking for higher rates. I still feel that lurch in my gut every time I ask an editor for more money on a story, but that’s been crucial to my success. I’m lucky to have been encouraged to ask for more from fellow writers and friends in my mastermind group.
Can you look back and identify a turning point between getting your start as a freelance writer and feeling confident that it was a stable career? Tell us about what helped you reach the stable career stage.
There was never a moment of confidence for me. I don’t think that moment was ever going to come. I was unhappy with the wages I was making as a library clerk and I was at the point where I had a few clients. I just jumped.
What does your pitching process look like?
I’m lucky enough to have a mix of assigned work from different editors so I don’t rely on pitched stories. Some editors send out calls for pitches and sometimes I’ll respond to those.
But I get my best story ideas from the world around me. I might get a story idea walking my roommate’s dog, cat-sitting for a friend, or by observing other dogs at the dog park. Or I’ll just have a question that I want an answer to. I may as well get paid for looking for those answers!
When I’m scoping out a new publication I want to work with, I’ll look at what pet stories they’ve published. I look for holes in their coverage and the overall tone of their website and brainstorm from there.
What do you hope or plan to change this year about your workload and/or pitching?
I have a horrible habit of squeezing work into my days off even when I tell myself I won’t. This year I hope to stop doing that.
Tell us about your mastermind group. How did it come about and how has it been most helpful to your career?
I participated in an #EFAchat on Twitter last January where we were speaking about accountability and time management. A participant reached out to see if I was interested in joining a mastermind group she was creating with other freelancers.
Every single person in my group brings new insights into building and running a successful business. Speaking with other freelancers has given me a sense of community in an otherwise fairly lonesome business.
Any advice for someone wanting to start their own mastermind group?
Be honest about your needs and the goals you want to achieve. Start by reaching out to other people who have similar goals or who do similar work. I’m the lone freelance writer in my group but that doesn’t matter because we’re all freelancers who face similar challenges.
Structure is everything. Have a purpose for every meeting you have together. My mastermind group has a Slack where we have channels dedicated to our long-term, weekly, and quarterly goals, which has been crucial for accountability.
You mentioned that you're working on turning a scarcity mindset into one of abundance. What prompted you to focus on that and how is it going?
I was super scared when COVID hit. I lost a client and lost income from other clients. I was suddenly hearing from old friends who were interested in freelancing for the first time because they had job offers pulled or lost their jobs. I dove into a scarcity mindset without realizing it. I was willing to take anything that came my way and accepted a lot of low rates. That scarcity mindset was detrimental to my physical and mental health, which is why I made changing it a priority.
So last year, I started turning down low-paying work. I became more discerning in what work I accepted and which I rejected. I started asking questions like Does this work serve my purpose? and Does this work align with my values?
To be honest, there were still a few times I backslid and accepted work I shouldn’t have. But every time I did, I regretted it. It left me feeling overwhelmed and burned out.
Turning a scarcity mindset into one of abundance takes conviction that you are worth more. Progress isn’t linear. It takes time and it’s honestly something I’m still working on.
I’ve also got to give credit to Wudan Yan and Jenni Gritters from The Writers’ Co-op and Tim Herrera of Freelancing with Tim. I’ve taken their teachings to heart, and it’s made me become a better freelancer.
It's so hard to embrace the abundance mindset when you just don't have enough work. What do you think is key in finding enough work that you can start to be pickier and feel confident that work will come to you?
First of all, I think you need to realize that people value your skill set. Not everyone can do what you do. When you’re surrounded in an echo chamber by people who do similar work (on Twitter, in your social circle, wherever) I think it’s easy to lose sight of that.
I highly recommend subscribing to newsletters like this one you’re reading and Sonia Weiser’s that gather job opportunities. Seeing a visual record of abundance reminds me that there’s lots of work out there and you don’t have to say yes to everything.
Last year, I started keeping a compliments folder on my laptop. It has everything from nice notes from clients to good feedback on first drafts. If you don’t have one, make one right now. Looking back at my encouragement file strengthens my abundance mindset when my conviction is low.
I also think that you have to aggressively and wholeheartedly go after what you want! If you see a publication or company you’d like to work with, reach out. You have absolutely nothing to lose.
You share a lot of helpful freelance writing advice on Twitter and through your blog. What is one piece of advice you've found or received lately that’s been valuable?
Your worth is not dependent on the work you do. I think writers especially have a tendency to feel like their work is precious and to attach a lot of self-worth to it. It’s a trap freelancers fall into as well. (I’m speaking from experience) Work is what you do, not who you are.
What did you accomplish in 2021 that you're most proud of?
Saying no. Constantly. I turned down opportunities that just weren’t for me. I said no to things I would have said yes to in the past. I also had a lot of fun writing about special dogs like Baloo and Aurora.
That’s all for today, friend. A big thank you to Kaitlyn for participating in a One More Question Q&A.
If you’re a paid subscriber, I’ll be back in your inbox tomorrow with lots of writing opportunities!