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Emma Gannon

Author, Blogger and Podcaster

Emma Gannon is a freelance writer, a social media consultant, a blogger, a podcast producer and now an author. She defines this new generation of young professionals who are carving and customizing a career path for themselves. Having followed her on Twitter for some time I loved the positive and upbeat tone of her tweets, Emma is someone who really has a handle on personal branding. When I saw she was about to launch her first book I reached out to do an interview and had the pleasure of catching up with her a week ago. She shares what the past six months have been like being newly self-employed, great insight into the book publishing process and candid thoughts on what the work of content creators really looks like.

You’re a blogger, you produce a podcast and just launched your first book. I’d love to know what’s taking up the majority of your focus at the moment?

Right now, as we talk today, it’s definitely the book promotion and everything that goes around marketing a book. That’s taking up a lot of my focus in terms of the time I need to dedicate to it. The podcast I launched two months ago has also blown up into something bigger than I thought it would ever be. It’s a separate thing but ties in with the book at the same time. At the moment I’m working on monetizing my podcast, I’ve just got a sponsor, a large European coffee brand who will be sponsoring it. I didn’t really intend to monetize it, especially whilst promoting my book and doing panels, talks, events and workshops, but it’s great that I’m able to. I’m a curator at a big book festival coming up, which means I’ve had to do about five different panels and workshops. So it’s all different kinds of work but very much focused on the book.

I’d love to know a little more about what your role looks like in this career you’ve built for yourself. What does that look like on a weekly or daily basis?

I’ve only been self-employed entirely for six months, so I’m still figuring it out and don’t have a set routine. I don’t schedule my days very rigidly. I do the most urgent work first, stuff that can’t wait and needs to be done. I don’t check my emails throughout the day, I just check them in the mornings and evenings - unless I’ve got something scheduled.

The middle part of the day is very much about creating content because that’s what I do. I’m writing a second book and working on a project with a TV production company currently, so it’s either bulk writing, writing a proposal or doing some copywriting for brands. Then the beginning and end of my days are general life admin. I also try to schedule an actual meeting or event every day so that I actually leave the house. [laughs]

Working from home is amazing for me because I always felt very distracted working in an office. I am a very sociable person though and I love meeting new people. The podcast has been great for that because it’s given me the opportunity to meet so many incredible people.

“There’s a balance of how much you want to share. So sometimes there’s a misconception between what you see someone doing publicly and everything else that’s going on behind the scenes.”

What’s a major aspect of the work you do that you don’t think most people realize is part of the job?

I think you have to have so much on the go at once because only a handful of things happen, so for me, I have so much more that I’m doing that I can tell you about now because they haven’t happened yet or might not happen. No one else sees that stuff. As a creative self-employed person you have to have so many balls in the air, and juggle so many things at once.

For example, I got an email this morning about a piece of work that might or might not happen, but it’s important to manage your workload between actual work, and new, potential pieces of business. You might not get them, but it’s still important to spend time working towards them.

I know some of my YouTuber friends, for example, get frustrated when people say, “well you just put up a YouTube video every week, that must take you like half a day, what do you do with the rest of your time?” They are doing so much! This particular friend, she has her own beauty range and a million other things going on, like massive projects that are in the works. There’s a balance of how much you want to share. So sometimes there’s a misconception between what you see someone doing publicly and everything else that’s going on behind the scenes.

Let’s talk about your book. What was the process of creating that like, and what were some of the biggest surprises or lessons you took from it?

The biggest surprise was both how quickly it happened and how long it takes to come out. I’ve had loads of ideas for books, this is the only one that has happened. Loads of proposals have been rejected before, and this one just happened. I sent my idea to an agent who follows me on Twitter, we became pals over Twitter. I had met with some other literary agents and realized I liked her the best. She pitched the idea, and then about a month later I got a book deal. It happened within a few months which is really quick. So that surprised me. If someone likes your idea, it happens.

The other surprise was how much of a collaboration it was. I thought that you’d write a book and the publisher says, “yeah, thanks, that’s what we wanted.” Then they publish it. It was very much a collaboration though. I thought I would have total say on what the cover would look like for example, and I didn’t. They didn’t at all make me feel like it wasn’t my book it was just a collaborative effort. I needed to be happy and Penguin needed to be happy. They’re the ones that are going to promote it, put it on their roster and hopefully be proud of it too. That was a lesson, but my editor helped make it the best book it could be, so as much as it’s my book, it was a team effort.

“I think it’s important to focus on a few key things, I would go nuts if I was just doing loads of tiny little things every day. It’s good to categorize and compartmentalize the different tasks you’re doing daily into your larger goals and projects.”

Overall what would you say is the most challenging part of the work that you do now?

I think the misconceptions around paying bloggers, and online content creators good money is a challenge. The education process just isn’t quite there yet. It’s content, and people are listening to it, and often getting more eyeballs than more traditional outlets. I think we’re moving towards a better kind of understanding of what content creators do and the benchmarks but it’s not quite there. People ask why they’d pay a YouTuber to review their product, it’s only when you make them aware that, that YouTube video would get the same amount of views, if not more than an ad on TV, that they finally get it.

It’s a shame that we have to cross reference other mediums for them to understand. So the hardest part is that in addition to doing the work, I have to explain the work - that’s kind of exhausting. We’re just not there yet, I think a lot of brands are still scared and they just want to put their money where they feel it’s safe. The irony is that it’s not really safe anymore because there are quite a few brands that are ahead of the curve already.

When you’re already working on so many different things, how do you know when it’s the right time to start something new? How do you keep the balance?

I think we all know what our limits are, it took me some time to understand what mine were, but now I just know when I’m full. I know when I’ve reached capacity and I couldn’t possibly take on anything else - even if I wanted to. If tomorrow someone asked me to go interview Obama - okay that’s a bad example, I would definitely do that - but the point is I just know when I have to start turning stuff down. If it’s upsetting me that I can do all these shiny new things, then I know I need to re-jiggle my priorities and let something else go.

It’s a personal decision of what you think is enough or what your barrier is. Right now, I feel busy, but I’m also happy because I’m still remembering my family’s birthdays and I have time to water my plants - oh god, I sound so sad [laughs]. I have time for myself. I think if you’re so maxed out that you don’t have time to have dinner with your partner, or friends, then there’s an issue somewhere. That’s only something I’ve learned recently, previously I would spend any spare minute on work. I loved it but I was obsessed, I wouldn’t go out to events or do anything that wasn’t work-related. It’s dangerous.

The other thing is when I tell people what I do they say, “oh so you’re like a jack of all trades, you must be spreading yourself quite thin.” It’s not quite true because it’s not like it’s a million little projects, they’re all quite substantial. There’s the blog, the book, the podcast and the events. Most of what I do falls under those umbrellas. I think it’s important to focus on a few key things, I would go nuts if I was just doing loads of tiny little things every day. It’s good to categorize and compartmentalize the different tasks you’re doing daily into your larger goals and projects.

“So overall I think it’s good to embrace the busyness, roll with it, get up early and smash it, and know that you will have a quiet spell, and don’t beat yourself up about a quiet spell because you need it. ”

What are the main tools that make up your workflow at the moment?

Google Docs - I have a one pager that is my to-do list. When I do something I just delete it off there. I also keep a list of the podcast guests, quotes they’ve said so I can make little quote cards.

Paper Diary - I keep track of everything I’ve done in this.

Evernote - I use this for ideas, and writing things down whenever I get a wave of inspiration.

Are there certain tasks that make you feel more productive than others?

There’s two things that spring to mind. The first is reading other people’s work, and catching up on the news. I have a Twitter list of cool media people who I think are innovative, and doing amazing stuff. I like to stay aware of what they’re up to because whatever they’re doing is likely part of the next big thing. I just like to keep my finger on pulse. That doesn’t feel like work but it’s a nice way of feeling like I’m on the same page. It is work in a way, anyone who has a job needs to read up on the industry.

The other thing is email. I can email someone in bed from my phone, it’s so quick and easy that I almost don’t want to treat it as work. Some jobs I’m sure are just email, but I don’t like wasting too much time on my emails. It’s something I like to do quickly in the morning and in the evening, the rest of the day is spent actually creating things, reading things, and writing.

“I get to experiment with things, and connect with people - that’s at the heart of everything I do. There’s an audience, there’s people listening, or watching, or reading, and it’s that I crave as well. It’s not just the creative aspect, it’s the fact that it connects with people.”

Do you ever find yourself disconnected from your work, or burnt out? Have you experienced that since being self-employed and how to do you deal with it?

Yes, definitely. The way I combat that at the moment is I treat my work in waves, or highs and lows. At the moment, I’m on a massive book-book-book wave, and insanely busy, but I know at some point soon I’m going to have a dip. You have to understand that’s the way things go, so when things go quiet in a few months, that’s okay, it’s a good thing, it’s time to refresh and relax. It’s a time to do bare minimum work, rejuvenate and come up with some new ideas. I get my best ideas when I’m just not thinking about work.

I got the idea for my book on an airplane when I was going on holidays with my family. I was just so relaxed and that’s when it came to me. So I think holidays and breaks are so important. I used the Headspace app on holiday recently, I was skeptical about it at first, but it did work really well.

So overall I think it’s good to embrace the busyness, roll with it, get up early and smash it, and know that you will have a quiet spell, and don’t beat yourself up about a quiet spell because you need it.

Why do you do what you do? What do you love about it and find meaningful about it?

I think, to be honest, I just love learning. I never stop learning with what I do, and I never have the same day twice. The industry is changing so much, and I get to be a part of the change which is really exciting. I get to experiment with things, and connect with people - that’s at the heart of everything I do. There’s an audience, there’s people listening, or watching, or reading, and it’s that I crave as well. It’s not just the creative aspect, it’s the fact that it connects with people. I love doing events for example because I’ll come away having met 13 new people and that’s just amazing.

On top of that, it’s that I’m maybe even making a difference in some small way. The book is for teenagers, and I hope some teenage girls read it and feel better about themselves. There’s something about this generation, so many people are activists and campaigners, they just want a little more control in what they’re doing in their jobs, they want it to fit into their personal lives more and they want their identity to come out through their work. I think historically your work and your job was not you. You went to work in your uniform, and then you’d come home and take it off and you’d be you again. Now we make money by being ourselves, which is crazy, and it’s very cool to be a part of that.

Who would you want to see us interview on Ways We Work?

Ashley C. Ford - She is really cool. She's done a lot of amazing Tweets recently about work and identity, and not investing too much in a company, and investing a lot in yourself, so she's really cool. I really like what she says.

Lena Dunham - I don't know she hasn't given much away, really, about how she manages her life. I'm just nosy, but she's so impressive, I love her so much. I just want to be like please give us advice.

Also Ryan Holiday or Seth Godin.