Iona is a freelance writer, speaker and founder of the Young Money Blog, on 28 June 2019 she was crowned the IPSE Freelancer of the Year 2019.
© Nisha Haq Photography
How did you feel when your name was called out as the winner of Freelancer of the Year 2019?
The main emotion was disbelief. I was in such a strong field, and for some time in the run up to the awards I was preparing myself for not winning, because that’s the sensible thing to do. I genuinely thought someone else would very deservedly win.
I was in complete shock when Lucy (Porter – event host) called my name, and then I realised I had to get up on stage! My brain was saying ‘come on Iona, you better get up!’. Once the disbelief subsided it was a case of wanting to show my gratitude and show that the faith placed in me by the judges was justified. Now I want to use this to not just help myself and my career but help other people too.
What inspired you to launch The Young Money Blog?
After graduating I was living in Glasgow, trying to make a living as a musician. It was very tough because being a musician is a very uncertain existence. I was having to find gigs here, there and everywhere and all the money I’d earn from these gigs I’d put in a piggybank in my bedroom. At the time, I thought that was very astute because I wouldn’t spend it immediately but instead save it up and spend it on something sensible in the future. There was about £500 in there but returning from a gig one night I found my room had been completely ransacked and the piggybank had been burgled. In that moment I thought: ‘I’m going to need a better saving strategy than this!’.
It wasn’t a sudden realisation that I might have to change not only my money management approach, but my career too. Instead, a few months passed when I wasn’t getting as much work as I wanted to – I was trying to work as a music journalist too, and if there one thing tougher than making it as a musician, it’s making it as a music journalist! I really struggled and had to move back home with my parents. I spent quite a few weeks and months wondering if I was ever going to be financially dependent and feeling quite despondent about my future really.
There were so many negative media reports about the prospects for my generation and I just didn’t know what my future held. That was when I spoke to my parents, who are very wise, and they told me I had an opportunity to do something different. Why don’t I write about money? I was very hesitant at first because I’m not very mathematical and I consider myself to be a more creatively-thinking right brain person.
I realised I had nothing to lose and it was surprisingly easy to set up a blog – anyone can do it. Once I realised there was nobody else writing about financial issues for our generation – and certainly not in a down-to-earth, accessible way – I thought I could do that. So, I did that and hoped that within a few months I might get some work writing for other websites. I never dreamed that seven years on it would become the cornerstone of my career and provide all these incredible opportunities. It was just something to help me, and I hoped would help a few other people too.
© Nisha Haq Photography
What does freelancing mean to you?
It means being completely autonomous and being able to make your own decisions and conduct your career on your own terms. When I first started out, I was quite open minded. With that mentality I would try to chase full time roles and a career ladder that I think now really belong to times gone by. The new way of working is one where you are managing yourself, you are setting your own goals and you are deciding what matters to you; then you fit all that into your life. To me it means being in control and making up my own mind. I’ve had a lot of advice over the years about my blog and how to run it like: adopting a commercial model or be more like someone like Martin Lewis. But I always think if you copy someone else you’re just going to be a pale imitation. You’ll never find that model that will work for people and be ground-breaking. I like to do things my own way and freelancing allows me to do that.
Are there any specific challenges you’ve had to overcome as a freelancer?
I work on my own but since setting up my agency with my father last year, I’m very lucky in that I work with family, so we can talk to each other in a very straightforward way and we understand each other in a way that may not be possible when working with someone else.
Freelancing can be isolating though, and you can sometimes feel as if you are working against the grain and some of your ideas are a bit too outlandish. That can be quite threatening, especially when you’re working in a traditional industry such as financial services. It takes an awful long time to turn around that ship and when you’re trying to really aggressively turn it around, you can get some push back. Generally, with freelancing there’s so much uncertainty but I’ve always relished that and I’d hate to be stuck in a rut. I see the disadvantages as advantages most of the time.
What would you say to someone considering entering IPSE’s awards?
I would say go for it! I had no idea, all those months ago when I made my application, that I would be here now. Freelancers can suffer from a confidence deficit, partly because we have to motivate ourselves and tell ourselves that we’re worth it. Especially at the start of your career, you don’t necessarily have the achievements behind you to justify the frequent moral boosts.
But If you don’t go for these opportunities you’ll never know whether you could have made the cut. Putting forward my application was very easy, and I had nothing to lose from it. To set out what my achievements were actually felt like a really positive process in itself. Sometimes we don’t take enough time to reflect on our achievements. Entering the IPSE awards allowed me to do that and then obviously being shortlisted and winning has had an immeasurable effect on my career. But you just don’t know until you go for it.
Learn more about the IPSE Awards and apply for the 2019 award.