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Freelancer Spotlight: Jackie Johnstone

Jackie Johnstone is a social & digital strategist at who helps passionate entrepreneurs build their tribes and create communities they can be proud of. She’s not a social media “guru” or “ninja” and isn’t selling the quickest way to get 1000 likes but if you’re an entrepreneur with an important message who genuinely wants to connect with your community online but aren’t sure how to start, she can help. This interview is a great look into the life of a freelancer and a ton of great tips on using social media in your business!

Jackie & I met through an online business program and as we are both expats living in France, we had a lot in common (like the struggles of understanding crazy French biz structures!) so I am super happy to introduce her to you today.

Welcome Jackie!

Jackie Johnstone Quote

What kind of freelancing do you do and how did you get started?

I’m a social & digital strategist which is a fancy way of saying I’m all about online communication, and specifically creating online community. I do social media consulting & training and some community management (day-to-day social networking).

My story, like most, is a winding one. I actually started out in weather forecasting! Yes, I have an actual degree in meteorology and friends & family still ask for personalized forecasts from time to time. 🙂 But as I got to the end of my undergrad, I realized what I loved most was explaining the science of the weather to people — not actually doing the science itself. So I made what I thought was a logical step into a graduate journalism program with the intention of becoming a science journalist. But after graduation, in my first ‘real’ job as a meteorologist & producer for a news network, I realized what I enjoyed most was the digital and social media aspects of journalism–not specifically the science. Creating the first Twitter account for the network’s weather center, training the other meteorologists on how to get the most out of it and watching a brand-new line of conversation open up between the journalists and the people in the audience was energizing.

I’ve been following that feeling ever since. I worked in a more corporate environment (at one of Canada’s largest universities) after leaving the newsroom to broaden my skill set and learn more about the PR/marketing side of the communications coin but again, the stuff I loved best was interacting with our online community and trying new things like liveblogging.

And then my husband (a cold atom physicist) finished his PhD and accepted a job offer in Bordeaux, France. So I left my 9-5 and moved from Toronto to Bordeaux with very little idea of what I’d do for work.

As a journalist, the first thing that came to mind was freelance writing, I’d done a few articles on the side of my full-time gigs while I lived in Toronto, so it seemed a natural choice. But even with my days wide open, I couldn’t manage to complete even one article for a travel editor friend… a clear indication my heart wasn’t into it.

I reached out to a friend who was a Naturopathic Doctor whose business wasn’t doing as well as she liked, I saw that her website and social media could use some help. So I started helping her for free. And then I found Marie Forleo’s B-School (online business training) and everything started to shift. I realized there were a lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners out there who could use some social media help, and especially help that was 1) delivered in plain English (no jargon and simple enough anyone could understand) and 2) focused on authentic community building, not the ‘fastest way to hit 1000 Likes’. And voila. My business was born!

(And no, unlike trying to force myself to write that travel article, I don’t have to coax myself to sit down at my desk and get to work. And writing blog posts to help my community is a pleasure!)

Are you freelancing full-time or on the side?

I’m full-time, although I try not to work 40 hours a week. Some weeks I’m better at this than others– I’m struggling to avoid the feeling I should be working roughly 8 hours a day when my husband is at work even though if I’m honest with myself, I’m really productive for about 4-5 hours a day max and the rest of the time I’m wasting time on Facebook. So I’m trying to set more limited work hours, be super-focused and productive during that time and consciously spend the rest of the time doing things I love, without feeling guilty for not being “at work”!

How long did you freelance on the side before you made the jump?

Since we moved for my husband’s job, we knew–and planned for–a transition period where we’d be living on one income. This meant I was able to dive into working for myself without too much financial pressure, something I’m super thankful for. Although I wish I’d given more thought, and time, to freelancing on the side of my 9-5 back when we were living in Canada, it would have given me a big head start and I wouldn’t have spent those first few months here feeling pretty lost career-wise.

What is your favourite part of working for yourself?

My favourite part of working for myself is knowing I control my future. It’s up to me to dream it, and then make it happen.  I’m rewarded for my initiative, my creativity and my action in a way that would never be possible inside a traditional job.

It always frustrated me in my 9-5 that even if I was more efficient and effective than a co-worker, we would be paid the same and I still had to sit at that desk for 8 hours a day. There was no concrete reward for hustle.

(Of course conversely, I still got paid even when I decided to spend most of my work day pinning recipes on Pinterest, which is not the case when you work for yourself!)

I love the feeling of being completely self-reliant and in charge of my work.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in working for yourself?

Perfectionism and fear of putting myself out there.

My mom once offered to pay me to get Bs instead of As. True story. I’d been complaining other friends got paid $100 for every A they got and as a straight-A student, I felt I was due. But my clever mother saw a better way than just saying no and offered me similar compensation for Bs. I never earned a dime.

So I guess I’ve always been a natural overachiever. But I’m not sharing this to brag. As a business owner it’s an ongoing struggle: my desire for “it” to be perfect, which feeds my fear that it won’t measure up and I’ll fail. All of which leads to a lot of stuckage and not a lot of actual shipping.

I look in awe at those business owners who go from idea to execution with amazing speed!

Walk us through your typical workday.

I’m still working on getting into a regular schedule I really love but I usually get up around 9am and take it slow in the morning. I’m not a morning person and living in Europe but working with mostly North American clients, this works perfectly for me. I have my coffee, check my emails on the couch in my PJs and then do some yoga or go for a run.

Jackie JohnstoneI usually start working around 11am but what I’m working on changes day-to-day, week-to-week depending on how many clients I have.

On Mondays right now I spend about 4 hours prepping my Facebook from Scratch group class: fleshing out my outline for this week’s class, testing any techy stuff I’m going to be demonstrating and writing the homework questions.

Then I usually take a break around 3pm to run some errands and do some dinner prep.

At 5pm I’m back at my computer, checking email and catching up with social media and I teach my class online from 6-7:30pm (lunch time in North America).

Once the class wraps, I put away my computer to finish making dinner and spend the evening with my husband.

I’m a social media addict so even when I’m not officially “at work” or at my desk, my iPhone is never far away. I probably spend way too much time on Facebook and Twitter but I really enjoy it so it doesn’t feel like work.

What advice would you give to someone a few steps behind you in their freelancing entrepreneurial journey?

Two things:

  1. Work for free and try out your chosen freelance work.
  2. Invest in the training & support you need to be successful.

One of my favourite business mentors, Jenny Shih, says “Clarity comes from taking action” and it couldn’t be more true! It’s so easy (and safe) to be all up in our heads, trying to think out the solution but you’ll never know if you really love or are good at something until you actually do it. Working for free is a great way to do this without any real risk–I learned so much from working with my ND friend and later a whole bunch of fellow B-schoolers as I tried to figure out what I had to share that would really help people.

That said, I’d probably still be stuck up in my head if wasn’t for B-School and working with an amazing business coach like Jenny. I had no previous business training and was pretty clueless about running an online business. Investing in my education helped me to see what was possible and the steps I needed to take to get there.

Why is engaging in social media so important for freelancers?

When we first moved to Bordeaux, we didn’t know anyone. And since I wasn’t working at an office, I wasn’t make “work friends” and the important connections that come along with that. But through Twitter I met a fellow female entrepreneur and community manager. After chatting for a bit we went to lunch, something we now do semi-regularly. Now not only do I have someone local to bounce business and social media ideas off but we’ve become friends!

Being a freelancer or solopreneur can be lonely. Social media is an incredible way to meet like-minded peers and potential clients: it’s like the water cooler, networking events, and meeting new friends for a chat over coffee all mashed up in one place. It allows you to meet, converse and form real relationships with people you’d never otherwise bump into in real life.

If you aren’t sure how to start on social media, or you feel like you are just wasting time yelling into the void and getting no response, here’s my (not so) secret: it’s about REAL relationships (not tools, not which network to choose–although these things have their place once you get started) and being of service.

For those social savvy freelancer readers, what advice do you have to get started offering social media as part of their services?

Like any facet of business, there are so many different angles to look at social media: strategy development, training and teaching, content creation, community management (replying to and engaging with fans). And each lends itself to a different set of talents and experience.

There are TONS of opportunities for social-saavy freelancers all over the world because let’s be honest, these days everyone knows they should be on social media but not everyone has the expertise or time to do it properly. And that’s where you come in!

One of the best resources I’ve read on creating your own social media freelancing gig is Alexis Grant’s ebook How to Build a Part-Time Social Media Business. (Alexis is a former journalist who built her social media business on the side and when she finally went full-time, surpassed her day job income after less 3 months–she knows her stuff.)

Thanks Jackie!

You can, of course, find Jackie all over the social web but she’d love you to come say hi on Twitter  @jackiejohnstone or on her Facebook Page!

Jackie is one of the most giving and helpful people I’ve seen on social media. If you have a question, she is sure to answer it (trust me, she’s answered quite a few of mine)! Although you can pick up tons of great info on her website and facebook page, she’ll be hanging around here the next few days to answer your questions about social media in the comments.

So here’s what she’d like to know:

What’s your biggest social media struggle?

Let her know in the comments below!



Leah Kalamakis Leah Kalamakis is the founder of The Freelance To Freedom Project and a web designer/developer for brilliant entrepreneurs. When she’s not hanging out in the FTF Community, you can find her people watching on the streets of NYC. Come say hi on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Lauren

    Jackie, thanks for replying to my tweet! I love that quote. I guess my real problem with social media (I understand how it works and am fairly active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & use Pinterest for fun) is that I post things I think people will respond to as far as new blog posts, sales for my business, etc. and just don’t see much response. Or if people have clicked or viewed, I don’t get much interaction. Any thoughts?

    • Lauren, that is a great question! Of course it’s slightly different from network to network in terms of what will work best but the short answer, I find, is asking myself–every single time–will my ideal client find this so helpful/entertaining/inspiring that they will want to Share it? (Or Retweet it? Or Repin it? etc.) — this is usually easier to do with the non-self-promotional content that should be making up >75% of what you are sharing on social and much harder with the more advertising-y content BUT consider how you are teasing your blog posts or how you are positioning the sale and see if you can tweak it to get a YES to the ‘will they want to Share this?’ question.

      When your audience is small, you might not get tons of interaction, and that’s ok. Some people like to be more passive social networkers and are clicking & viewing but never feel compelled to engage. As your audience grows the amount of active, participating members of your audience will grow too! Keep on eye on what is working and keeping tweaking & experimenting, no two audiences are alike and while there are general ‘best practices’, they are no substitute for figuring out exactly what makes your audience tick 🙂

      Hope that helps!

  • Jackie knows my issues because she already very kindly and patiently responded to my questions! Her site is awesome and people should check it out, it really helped me.

  • Like Michele, Jackie knows all about my Facebook issues because she is my social media therapist, ahem, I mean teacher. I’m in her inaugural Facebook From Scratch class which is brilliant and it’s getting me to really uplevel my game.

    Jackie, it was great getting to know you more on here. Thanks Leah for having such a savvy lady on your site. x

    • Aw, thanks Elloa! It was such a pleasure having you in my very first class of Facebook from Scratch-ers 🙂

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