January 2020 Consultant of the Month
Despite landing her dream job right out of college, it didn’t take long for Arianna Dogil to see that working in an office day in and day out wasn’t her style. As an English major, she had the chops for writing and began exploring freelancing, but struggled to build meaningful clientele. In addition to doing some serious networking, she reached out cold to agencies, and through that effort found a home with EM. Arianna specializes in long-form writing, and has been developing a mini-specialty in the red hot field of AI. Let’s take a look at her success story.
What are you currently working on?
Arianna’s Keys to Success
- Continual learning
- Finding networking groups
- Taking breaks in the creative process to recharge
- Filling gaps in client work through agencies
- Defining success on her terms
For the past two years, I've written for NVIDIA, which provides technology to speed up computing for AI. In addition to white papers and brochures, I’ve done about 10 case studies, which I love to write. You're telling a story but also showing why a product is useful. I'm also writing for Treasure Data, as part of an EM writing team.
I just finished up work on a series of use cases for a company called AEye, which offers technology for autonomous vehicles. Not previously knowing anything about autonomous vehicles, I learned about how cameras, radar, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and AI come together to tackle difficult challenges, such as a black bumper lying on the roadway at night. In use cases, it helps to be specific and write in a way that appeals to several layers of readers at once. I find satisfaction in taking a difficult-to-understand topic and simplifying it enough for a layman to understand, but also to be valuable for more technical audiences.
What I love about being a writer is that you’re constantly educating yourself. That's why I was driven to be a writer to begin with -- I want to continue to grow as I live. I don't want to stagnate.
What was your path to becoming an independent consultant?
I majored in English. After college, I moved to Washington with my then-boyfriend. I got my dream job with the Arts in Education department for the Washington State Arts Commission. We coordinated with community leaders, local artists, and elementary schools to bring artistic performances to elementary schools across the state. Philosophically, I believed in the mission, but I quickly learned that working in an office wasn't for me.
During this period, I looked for an alternative career path and read a lot of books about how to become a freelance writer. I practiced journaling and short story writing when I got home from work everyday as a way to gain skills and confidence. After several years moving around Seattle and Portland for my partner’s career opportunities, I decided I needed a new start.
At that point, I moved to San Francisco without a job. Luckily, a friend of a friend needed someone to write marketing materials for his education technology company. While doing that project, I attended lots of networking events. I signed up with local creative agencies where you only make $25 an hour, but never got any work with them. After a couple of years, I had won several steady projects through my networking efforts, but still I felt like I was scraping by.
What I love about being a writer is that you’re constantly educating yourself.
When I was offered a job at a local SEO startup, I was excited. For a couple of years, I worked as an editor of several websites, managing 25+ writers. That job not only taught me about SEO, it also gave me some real insights into how difficult it could be to work with writers. Many failed to meet deadlines and didn’t follow directions. Through that job, I became a very good editor because I rewrote a lot of their work. Plus, it gave me a good understanding of what I shouldn’t do as a freelance writer.
After that, I worked at a digital ad agency as a website content manager. Then the economy crashed and suddenly I was freelancing again. But this time, the networking I had invested in paid off. I used my contacts to get referrals and seek out new opportunities.
What do you love about consulting?
It is being able to define my own success and accomplishments in ways that are healthy. I can take half-days off on Fridays; I can take walks; I can travel. I have a really nice work-life balance. Those are measures of success that align with my values. I’m not naturally competitive. But in competitive environments, I become competitive, comparing my achievements to those of my peers. It can be stressful.
How do you market yourself?
When you're first starting out in consulting, projects can be hard to come by. I spent a lot of time attending networking events through IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) and WITI (Women In Technology). I volunteered for organizations like Taproot. I expected networking to pay off quickly, but it didn’t. Over time, I learned that networking is a long game. Eventually people get to know you and they'll send you work, but it can take a long time. The longer I've consulted, the more I find that work shows up like magic, just when I need it.
What has been your biggest challenge about being a consultant? How have you addressed it?
When work was feast or famine, I thought that signing up with agencies could help me fill in the gaps. So I checked out a couple directories from the library and made a list of around 400 Bay Area marketing agencies. Then, I wrote a cold email -- “I'm an experienced copywriter and I’m available.” I got two replies. EM Marketing was one of them. Ken Chen reached out and invited me to attend a networking event.
Everyone I've worked with at EM has been at the top of their game. It's the best situation I have had in my career. I get to work on teams with people who know me, so I’m never coming onto a new project cold. It’s both comfortable and new. I don't think that I could work at a company and write about the same product for years and years. I’d probably go nuts. So having a combination of a diversity of projects yet with familiar team members is a really nice balance.
Where do you work?
I usually work from home. Around once a week, I meet up with a small group of neighbors at a local coffee shop. They own their own businesses and I've gotten some referrals from them. I live close to a beautiful library and sometimes walk there to work.
I tried a coworking space, but it didn’t work well for me. When I’m writing, I need to take a break after about 50 minutes. At home, I can get up and play piano for 20 minutes, do some cleaning or just be active.
What are the things you like to do when the work slows down?
I’m learning to play piano. I also enjoy yoga and am an avid reader. I go out with friends around town and take hikes. Sometimes I'll take short breaks to travel and see friends and family, mostly on the West Coast.
What’s one tip you would give to new consultants?
When you're working on creative projects, occasionally there are times when you don't hit the mark. When you're in a job, you've got a history of getting creative projects right. Every once in awhile, if you get it wrong, you know it’s not a problem because your co-workers know you rock. Working as a consultant you can feel like you have to prove yourself all the time. So it really helps to have a network of peers that you feel comfortable getting advice from but can also cheer you on and provide support.