Pam Foster is the kind of Barefoot Writer who exudes a certain joy for living — and is fully in charge of her life-path. The first time I met her, I instantly wanted to be her friend.
At conferences, she’s often the life of the party after the presentations wrap up, yet is always bright and focused the next morning. Though refreshingly modest, she consistently proves herself an expert within the Barefoot Writing community through her exceptional commitment to living a productive life doing writing projects she thoroughly enjoys.
Pam’s writing background is as colorful as her personality. It blends over 29 years of marketing and communications experience from different industries, including insurance, nonprofit, biotechnology, utilities, supplemental education, veterinary care, small business, and direct response — just to name a few. Beyond that, Pam brings some unique communications experiences to the table, having also worked as a DJ for a college radio station and as star of a local TV commercial — not to mention a stint as a singing telegram professional! (It makes sense. Pam confesses even now she’s likely to break into song at any given moment.)
Her road to get to where she is now is inspiring. Not only did she turn toward freelancing so she could focus on her family, but she’s also made it a point to build a freelancing career that brings her personal satisfaction. Pam took a step back from her life and did some soul-searching into what kind of writing would make her happiest and settled on something so unique, she’s since become one of the go-to writing experts for that industry. Outside of that, she constantly gives back to the writing community and spends a significant amount of time helping new Barefoot Writers find their own paths to niche-specific, writing-bliss.
I connected with Pam on a chilly Thursday morning from her newly set-up and highly-portable office in South Carolina. She had plenty of wisdom to share (worth listening to given that her work has generated over 100 marketing awards and countless satisfied clients!).
Read the following account of Pam’s path to becoming a successful Barefoot Writer. Plus, discover the easy-to-use social media tool that brings Pam a lot of her biggest writing projects, her surprising double-Beatles connection, why she grew up with lambs underfoot while making dinner, and how her love for her dog drives her projects, her vacation schedule, and even her physical health.
Good morning, Pam! Now, I heard you just finished a 3,500-mile cross-country road trip. Tell me, what was the best part of that adventure?
I did, yes! The best part was seeing the many beautiful and varied landscapes while listening to music, and having my own peaceful time to think. It was a very good break for me, because I tend to spend a LOT of time writing and I couldn’t do any of that while driving. One evening, I stopped in New Orleans for a very fun dinner with a fellow copywriter friend, Janis. She’s a hoot. We had a great time.
You clearly enjoy your freedom! Is that why you became a Barefoot Writer?
I was a Broadcasting/Film major and always planned on working in communications. I started in the 80s, working in cable television, then moved up through a local NBC affiliate TV station, radio, and corporate communications. I also worked at an ad agency at one point.
Back then, I wore a lot of hats, from copywriting to production to project management. In the 2000s, I worked for a short while at LL Bean as their LL Home catalog copywriter, and then my final full-time corporate job was Senior Copywriter for a veterinary diagnostics company. 25 years or so altogether … and then I finally made the leap to freelance!
So you’ve had your thumb in the writing world for quite a while. What prompted you to ultimately go freelance?
It was a combination of corporate burnout and my then-teenage daughter having some medical issues. My employer became my first freelance client for a while until they replaced me with a full-timer — I was lucky.
I know quite a few freelancers who were able to back their way out of their jobs like that. I’m glad it worked out so well. What did you originally think you’d do “when you grew up”?
I wasn’t sure, but entertainment and creative writing were always big interests of mine. I also loved animals. My college major, at first, was History because that’s a big interest of mine as well. But there wasn’t much of an inspiring career path there, so I switched to a Broadcasting/Film B.A. I had a blast with that, working at the college radio station and a local TV station way up in northern Maine.
I can just see you jumping and jiving to the beat of the music! Tell me Pam, what’s the most unusual writing project you’ve ever worked on?
Hmmm. Many come to mind over the years. I’ve worked on promotions for “pet fecal swab” solutions (for the vet industry, obviously), sludge and nonhazardous waste-removal solutions (that was B2B), maple syrup bottle labels, song-rewrites for client conference presentations, a local TV commercial where I was “camping” in the median area of heavy traffic, a radio commercial where I was a singing telegram professional, and mostly a lot of projects requiring me to translate technologies (and their benefits) into plain-English, persuasive sales copy — where I’d be talking about things like, “Quicker answers for diagnosing immune-mediated thrombocytopenia” but making it sound understandable.
I’ll bet you never get bored. What are you working on right now?
I have a wide range of client projects at the moment, including an email autoresponder series for a pet company, some advertorials for an equine products company, web content for several clients, and my accountant’s client newsletter. But my biggest project is finishing up a marketing how-to book that I’ve been working on for months with a partner. We’re planning to roll out the book in March, available on Amazon and Kindle. The community we’ve discussed it with is very receptive, so we’re excited and nervous at the same time.
How exciting! I bet it’ll be great, if your past work is any indication. That makes me wonder, though… You manage three businesses — web content and consulting, pet-industry copywriting, and B2B copywriting — plus book-writing on top of that. How do you balance it all?
My main focus is pet-industry copywriting, so that gets most of my attention. Through that website and my promo efforts, I talk about web content and consulting for the pet world — so it’s connected to ContentClear Marketing, which has been my core business and the foundation of the others. I keep on top of that one in a less active way — just to make sure the info isn’t dated and such. The pet world is now my main business. The B2B website is pretty old, but it still helps me get found in Google and brings me new business. So I check on that every now and then. In fact, you’ve just reminded me I’m about due for another look at it!
I love that your writing pursuits are built around your personal interests, and that you can take a relaxed approach while still bringing in paying clients. Is that how you would describe your approach to the Barefoot Writer’s lifestyle — relaxed?
Sometimes. But it depends. There are plenty of days where I’m all business — as well as part detective and part wordsmith. For example, in my B2B work, I write about businesses that offer really valuable solutions to other businesses. I may not know anything about those products when I begin, but that’s where I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and dig in to find the right words.
Such as … ?
Let’s see … just a few months ago, I wrote copy promoting a new line of pet surgical equipment. I had to figure out exactly how it benefits veterinarians and their patients — besides the fact that it sounds cool. In the end, I was able to write about how it dramatically reduces pain and complications, and improves recovery time.
Impressive. And I say that as a pet lover who now hopes her veterinarian buys that equipment.
It’s fascinating work. You get to dig for interesting nuggets that set your clients apart in astounding ways, which means they attract more business. It’s a fun way to earn a living as a writer. And it’s lucrative. Seriously, the pay is excellent. And, it’s a blast.
What’s been the hardest part about writing, as far as you’re concerned?
Balancing momentum, especially when you get busy promoting yourself, working on client projects, and working on your own projects that will lead to bigger things (like my book). Someone recently told me to take a month to work on the book, and just focus on that. But I can’t … I have too much client work to do! But you make it all work somehow.
What’s the easiest?
For me, it’s diving into web-page optimization. Once I have the keywords, the target audience, and the unique benefits for a page — I can fly.
Tell me, Pam, what’s been your proudest moment so far as a professional writer?
So many! Being part of AWAI and creating products … winning their $10K Challenge in 2009 and being asked to speak at their conferences — HUGE! Also, it will be very exciting to see my book on Amazon. I’m very proud of the work I’ve done for clients in helping them achieve their marketing goals. Nothing is more gratifying than when I get a thank-you email or update from a client telling me how well my content is working for them.
Share three things about you the writing world would never suspect …
Hmmm … First, I’m apt to burst into song at any moment — with anything, from random songs that pop into my head to the old 1970s “I’m stuck on Band-Aids” jingle to really bad pop songs of any era to TV show themes such as the “Mister Ed” show song. It cracks me up sometimes. How did I happen to think of THAT old, obscure song? It’s fun.
Two, my grandparents lived on Penny Lane in Liverpool, England. The Penny Lane of Beatles fame. And one of my cousins lived down the street from Paul McCartney’s mother. I’m an absolute Beatles freak — I’ve been to England many times to visit cousins and see The Cavern and the Beatles museum.
And three, my dad has a farm in Maine, with sheep and ducks and goats. When I was young, every winter we’d have a bunch of lambs running around in the kitchen. Didn’t everyone?
Too funny! That explains a lot, from your love of animals to your love of singing (which I enjoyed watching you demonstrate during karaoke night at a recent AWAI Bootcamp). Now, besides the Beatles and farm animals, who has had the biggest influence on your writing life?
I have two. Bob Bly and Heather Lloyd-Martin. I have a lot, actually, but these are the biggest. Bob astounds me with his business and where he’s taken it. He’s shockingly prolific (how many books now?) and yet he manages to answer every email and take time to be kind to other copywriters. I admire him greatly and try to follow his model of giving back. When I worked at LL Bean, his book, The Copywriter’s Handbook was a mandatory read for us. And then I met him at my first AWAI Bootcamp and he was wonderful. We’ve been friends ever since.
And, Heather is a pioneer in Search Engine Optimization and so smart, yet so down-to-earth and fun. I’m so grateful that she’s following the bigger SEO picture every day and reporting back to us copywriters who have our heads down, working away on projects. She also takes time to answer emails and help out. I admire her spunk, her brilliance, and the way she communicates. Again, someone to follow who has a made a huge difference to my career … and who has become a friend.
I think that really speaks to the camaraderie in the world of Barefoot Writing — that you can genuinely connect with the biggest and brightest no matter what level you’re at yourself. Although Pam, it’s safe to say you’ve achieved many great things already. How do you measure your own success?
Three ways: “Is my work working? In other words, are my clients benefiting in ways they expected and more?” The second is, “Am I balancing a steady flow of work with self-promotion?” Finally, I ask myself every day, “Am I making money while bringing in new potential money?”
Do you have any pre-writing rituals?
Not really. I’m just very organized and I have a daily task-list. Client work comes first, then self-promo, then other stuff, like my book.
What tools or habits do you use to keep organized?
I use these excellent tools on my computer and phone: DropBox to store all my files and to share certain folders with clients and colleagues; Wunderlist to keep on top of my daily tasks and goals (replacing the many Post-It notes I used to have all over my desk), SnagIt! to take screen shots of websites for various purposes, such as creating Site Audits that “show and tell” my clients what’s working and what can be improved. I use Apple Mail for email, and I organize everything in various Mailboxes — by client, plus AWAI, Copyblogger, and so forth. Then I have plain old file folders on my desk for current projects and blog ideas, etc. from magazines. I LOVE magazines such as Entrepreneur, Inc., Website magazine and Success. I use them for inspiration, the latest how-tos, and stories of cool businesses and trends.
Great tips, thank you. Can you also describe your home office?
It’s not very interesting. My dog is usually in it.
Do you have anything nearby that inspires you?
Not so much. I keep my desk and work area very clean. And it’s in front of a window, so I look out at a beautiful view. What inspires me are my projects and DEADLINES!
In what kind of work environment do you do your best work?
Just me, my music, my dog, and my work. And reliable Wi-Fi.
How do you factor social media into your freelancing business?
Many of my biggest projects in 2011 came from my LinkedIn connections. It’s been the #1 most effective marketing tool. Second is my blog (considered social media), which is tied to my optimized website and fed to my LinkedIn and Facebook pages. I find Facebook to be nearly 100% a conversation area for friends, family, and colleagues. I do occasionally get great info from my peers there, but no business to speak of.
Now a fun question … what superpower would you want, if you had your pick?
I wish I could just cross my arms and “blink” to be in another place like in I Dream of Jeannie. Right now, I’m in South Carolina for the winter, and I’m usually in Oregon. Like we talked about before, I drove six days across the country to get here, because I brought my dog, and all my work essentials. I could have flown, but then I wouldn’t have had my car for three months. So, I wish I could blink me, my car, and my dog anywhere at a moment’s notice.
Are you doing anything in particular to improve yourself — physically or mentally?
I keep in constant contact with a wide circle of copywriters and industry friends. These people inspire me, push me forward, encourage me, partner with me, share ideas, etc. It keeps me looking forward with excitement. Also, I joined Weight Watchers and I’m halfway to my goal. And my dog keeps me from becoming a complete hermit-workaholic. He says, “Hey Mom — it’s time to get out of that chair and see the outdoors! Let’s go, already!”
Congratulations on being so close to your goal! Tell me, what Glicken or favorite goodies have you gotten from clients?
Some of them send me their products so I can see them first-hand, such as a wonderful set of foam steps for my little dog so he can get on our bed. I’ve also received a beautiful, silver, St. Francis Pet ID Tag for my dog, a basket of skin-care products, Maine maple syrup, books, and a big box of all-natural, organic house-cleaning products. And I’ve received a free pass to a major veterinary conference, free travel and accommodations and pay for speaking, plus thank-you gift certificates for free consulting or work I’d done. Pretty good, huh?
Definitely! With your successful track record, what are the first three things you would advise a new freelance writer to do to be successful?
I’d say choose an industry you LOVE or have an affinity for — something that excites you, so it won’t feel like work. Then, immerse yourself in it 150%. Write about it, join organizations, connect with people in the industry, be generous with helpful information, become known as a writer in that world. And finally, every day, try to do something that gets you in front of professionals in that niche market; people who may hire you or refer you. This may be attending an industry conference, writing a blog post, starting a discussion in a LinkedIn group, reaching out to a web company to see if they use outside copywriters, etc. Many of my projects lately have come from niche-market agencies and web companies that don’t have a copywriter on staff.