International Freelancer Mridu Khullar Relph: “Write Like an Artist, Sell Like a Business Person”
By Susan Johnston Taylor, Freelance Writer
The People Who Aren’t Often Talked About
While living and freelancing in India, Mridu Khullar Relph reported on women’s reproductive rights, environmental issues, and other topics. Her byline has appeared in The New York Times, TIME, and various international editions of Vogue, Elle, and Glamour.
These days, Relph lives with her family in the United Kingdom. In addition to journalism, her work also includes fiction writing, content marketing projects, and an online writer’s community called The International Freelancer. She wrote the books Shut Up & Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Content Marketing.
Relph shared with us how she branched out into content marketing, why she surrounds herself with other successful writers, and more. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
The Beat: What do you love about what you do?
In terms of my own writing, I love that I get to tell stories about the things and the people who aren't often talked about. I love traveling and I love meeting new people and discovering new communities. My writing career has allowed me to do that.
What I like most about the teaching that I do and the communities that I create for freelancers is that I've been fortunate enough to create a life where I have the freedom of both income and time to be able to show writers how they too can do that. In a lot of the conversations in writing communities, they'll talk about the difficulty of being a journalist or a writer. That’s not my experience. I feel like there is opportunity and if you treat it like a business it's absolutely possible to make a good income as a writer. I've been able to do that in my own life. I love teaching that to writers and seeing them take that information and apply it to create that freedom.
Is there a project you're especially proud of?
When I'm working on something, it is the sole reason for my existence. I feel like when I'm done with it, I'm very pragmatic. I have this thing where I say, ‘be an artist in the studio and then be a business person outside of the studio.’ So, write like an artist and sell like a business person. When you're writing and you create something, just be totally and completely passionate about it, and then when you are done with it, step away from it. At the moment, I'm just wrapping up my second novel, and I am very, very excited about this project and very passionate about it. But if you ask me next week, I'm sure there'll be a different project that I'll be the proudest of at that point.
I like to think that every project that I'm doing is the best work I've done so far, and the next project will be even better, so I keep liking to top myself. I don't always succeed, but every project I do I hope to reach a new level.
What would you say is the biggest challenge you've overcome professionally?
Early on, it was this the mindset piece of not knowing or believing that it was possible to make money writing. For me personally, it was because I was based in India, that people in the US and the UK have more opportunities. Of course, people in the west have a lot more opportunity and a lot more resources. I think one of the things that I discovered in my career was that I could take that disadvantage and turn it into my specialty, which is what I ended up doing. I started seeing it as an exclusive thing. I'm the only person here; therefore, I have something to offer that your other writers don't. I could charge much higher rates than US and UK writers because I was offering something that editors couldn't get anywhere else. But for the first two or three years, I wouldn't mention that I was in India. When I started changing my perspective on that, I was able to turn it into an advantage.
Tell us how and why you branched out into content marketing.
I used to work in human rights journalism in India, and then I had a kid. When I was pregnant, I had this idea that I would just strap my baby on my back and go off to hospitals and landfills and do my work, because why wouldn't you? Once I actually had the baby, the reality hit home and I realized that I just didn't want to be away from him all the time.
As much as I love traveling, I no longer wanted to do that in the same way with a newborn, so I started looking at other things that I could do. I didn't want to be available at a moment's notice and I didn't want to go into those dangerous places anymore. I also wanted to make more money. I shifted my work in the first year of being a mother and doubled my income. Then I started looking seriously at content marketing. A lot of the work that I did in content marketing was exactly the kind of work that I did as a journalist: profiles and case studies. The moment I understood what it was and that I could be a good fit for it, I started looking for work and within a year I think I'd doubled my income again.
What advice do you have for other journalists who want to add content marketing to their toolkit?
The biggest thing for others who are trying to make that shift is to look at what it is rather than make assumptions. The truth of the matter is that there are a lot of journalists who are now looking at content marketing opportunities, and if you know how to keep the balance, if you can keep your specialties different, and if you know how to be strategic about it, you can actually do both really well and have them feed into each other also. I think it's a really unique opportunity for journalists now because content marketing is an industry that really respects journalists, and that really pays journalists well.
What do you think makes good content marketing?
Storytelling. Anyone can write a 10-step how-to article, and you see a lot of that, but good content marketing is all about storytelling, and that's where the money is as well. If you really want to make proper money with content marketing, you need to learn how to tell a story of the business. You need to learn how to tell the story of their customers, you need to tell the story of the industry. And if you can do that, you'll be in really high demand and highly paid as well.
Is there anything else that you'd like readers to know about you or your work?
It is completely possible to make a living and to have it on your own terms. But you first need to change your mindset. You need to surround yourself with people who are doing it, and your attitude and your mindset will completely shift automatically. You don't have to make such an effort to do it, because you're automatically up-leveled. I think that the most important thing you can do is to surround yourself with people who are not just trying to do it, but actually doing it.