Football Writers' Week: Secrets of a Freelancer's Success by Kristian Sturt

Kristian SturtSpecial to Bleacher ReportSeptember 23, 2014

INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 21:  General view of the press working room at the Goyang Stadium prior to kick off of the Men's Football Group D match between Nepal and Japan at the Goyang Stadium during day two of the 2014 Asian Games on September 21, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
Kristian Sturt, @FootieWriter

It's 'Football Writers' Week' at Bleacher Report and Tuesday's offering comes from freelancer Kristian Sturt, best known to many as @FootieWriter on Twitter.

Catch up on Monday's feature—Duncan Castles on the dark arts of the transfer window

Six years have passed since I started as a freelance writer, and it has been some journey.

Nowadays, every morning has the potential to bring a career-changing opportunity right to my inbox. This has not always been the case. In fact, at the start of my ‘journey’ I spent many hours in a dark room in the feotal position questioning my decision to leave a full-time job and pursue what I believed to be ‘the dream’.

As I sit here writing a piece for 'writers' week’ at Bleacher Report, I’m reminded of a time when I spent many hours of my life seeking out any site that would accept my work, even loosely related to the beautiful game.

With absolutely no profile, no advanced education, and maybe most importantly no social media account with 120,000+ followers, simply getting one of my pieces on a site of any size seemed like an insurmountable task. The scariest thing was that I had taken such a leap of faith that I needed it to work not only for monetary reasons, but also to keep my sanity intact.

So, what do you do when faced with adversity, a situation that was every bit as terrifying as it sounds?

Many choose to seek an all-powerful deity, while others just hope that everything will naturally start to fall into place of its own accord. Me, well without wanting to refer to my book of cliches, I told myself that I simply couldn’t fail. I worked every hour possible to ensure that I could first of all make writing a short-term income stream, before looking at turning it into a long-term sustainable income source, i.e. a career.

I started to pick up work on whatever subject I could other than football to ensure I had an income—all the while working on pieces that I could get published on football sites, to build my profile in the field I actually wanted to work in.

The issue was that when I was asked if I had any experience, I had two options. I could tell the editor that I didn’t have any, or I could tell them the truth, which was that the last paying piece I had drafted was on how to convert a PSD file to HTML, a riveting 200-word piece that would have potentially earned me a little over £3. I say potentially because the editor took the piece, published it, and then didn’t pay me.

Any full-time freelancer will tell you that they are fed up of hearing people say that they get to choose the hours they work, and that they can lay in every morning. When faced with this response when I tell people that I work as a freelancer, my answer is always the same; “it’s great, I get to choose which 16 hours of the day I work."

While I always said it like it was a joke with a smile on my face, the crushing reality was that this was my life; 16-hour workdays for much less than minimum wage.

Up to now it all sounds very negative, certainly not a story that would encourage others to make the switch to become a freelance writer. However, as time passed I started to see small, but noticeable improvements in not only my ability, but also in the jobs I landed.

All the graft I had put in earlier for what seemed like no reward started to pay dividends. From my hours of sourcing football blogs that had once rejected me, I had built a portfolio of potential websites that might be, and indeed were, happy to consider me again. This time when asked if I had any examples, I could present higher quality pieces on more reputable sites.

My price started to increase, my work reached a wider audience and I had started to build my own reputation. Everything seemed to be falling into place, but I quickly found out that I had only succeeded in part of my battle. In fact, the next obstacle is still one I am trying to overcome.

It is no secret that the number of people that follow me on Twitter is one of my main attractions to businesses. However, this brings disapproval from those who label me as an ‘overnight success’.

In many ways, it's much like a watered down version of the loathing that ‘real music’ artists feel towards those who have found success through a reality show. The ‘real’ artists feel a sense of injustice as they believe that these ‘frauds’ have had everything handed to them on the proverbial silver platter, but the reality is much different.

The real truth is that many of the artists you see on reality shows have been grafting for a number of years and are using the tools at their disposal, i.e. the reality TV show, to showcase their ability. Twitter has allowed me to become well known, but people did not see the years of work that not only went into building a Twitter account of that size, but also the number of rejections that motivated me and increased my determination to make the account as successful as it has become.

In an ‘exchange’ with respected BBC journalist and broadcaster Ben Smith, I questioned his information that Wayne Rooney would leave for Chelsea in exchange for David Luiz and Juan Mata (in 2013). His reply was a common one. "Footie Writer, or whatever your name is, stop embarrassing yourself. Story is correct. 100% correct. You’re 100% wrong. Troll someone else."

This was just one in a series of messages, which would lead to me being blocked for simply questioning a well- respected reporter. This has since happened several times with other well-known reporters, and it happens on a daily basis with Joe Public.

This battle remains on-going.

Six years down the line, I have my own content writing company, get to choose what jobs I take on, and also co-own a football site alongside a good friend I came to know through Twitter. Now, I have the chance to offer those seeking a career as a football writer the opportunity for their work to be showcased on a site that has the social reach to bring in over half a million unique page views every day.

I am also working alongside companies like Heineken, Warrior and Citroen, and have just finished an interesting project covering the transfer market with a fantastic team at Ball Street for Virgin Media, my first live appearances as FootieWriter.

They boast not only a number of ex-professionals on their team like Ray Parlour and Ian Wright, but also some great media names like The Redmen TVs presenter Paul Machin, and highly coveted writer Andy Brassell. These are the types of people I aspired to work with, and now have had that opportunity.

I also keep a close circle of contacts on my Twitter account. I speak regularly with a number of high profile accounts, including journalists, radio presenters and other media personalities, and have even spoken with Bleacher Report's very own Guillem Balague a number of times about working on an upcoming project.

A common question I am now asked is how have you managed to go from earning next to nothing to having multiple ventures and working alongside big names?

My answer is once again a bit of a cliche, but it’s the truth. There has not been one day when I’ve woken up and thought about just doing the work I had scheduled for that day. Even today, as well as writing this article, I am also working on my site launch and have a press release scheduled to go out to a number of high-profile clients. I’m still working some ludicrous hours, but I enjoy it.

My advice to any aspiring football writer is always the samebe able to take constructive criticism on board and use the advice to benefit your own style.

I’ve received dozens of rejections in the past, and while I could have lost it with the editor who rejected an article that took me hours to complete, or just ignored their comments, I used it to make my next piece just a little bit more informed than the last.

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