Interview with Annie Ridout – freelance author and founder of The Early Hour

Annie Ridout, 34, lives in east London with her husband and their three children.

Annie is founder and editor of The Early Hour, a freelance journalist (Stylist, the Guardian, Red Magazine, Metro), author of The Freelance Mum: A flexible career guide for better work-life balance and runs popular online courses for freelancers and business owners

How did your career as a writer start?

When I was 24, I moved to Somerset to live with my boyfriend. I’d (nearly) completed an MA in print and online journalism in London, but decided I’d like a countryside adventure so we shacked up together in a cottage, having only dated for seven months. I worked at the Western Gazette, a regional newspaper, while writing my dissertation.

Two years later, we were happily married but not enjoying our jobs so we moved back to London, where I’m from. I got a full-time job as a copywriter at a tech startup, writing about films. I loved it. But I fell pregnant and 40 weeks later, became one of the 54,000 women who lose their job during pregnancy or maternity leave each year in the UK.

What inspired you to launch The Early Hour?

Rather than take legal action or stress about it, I decided to instead enjoy being a mother to my baby daughter, and try freelancing. I wrote for some parenting magazines, and later got a job on one – two days a week. But it wasn’t well paid and felt unstable so I decided to bite the bullet and set up my own digital parenting and lifestyle magazine – The Early Hour.

I’d blogged for years so understood the online publishing world and how to use social media to share articles.The website was designed by a graphic designer friend and built using a WordPress template, with a web-whizz friend tweaking it and adding fancy features. Everything else, I did (with support from my husband and sister).

The idea was that articles would be published daily at 5am. I wanted to offer new parents who were up early in the morning something enlightening or thought-provoking to read.

I’d found myself scanning the web for interesting articles while breastfeeding my daughter in the early hours but there was never anything new (I’d have hungrily read all the Guardian articles I was interested in the day before).

And so for two years, that’s what I did: published an article a day, at 5am. Interviews with parents from around the world, from all different backgrounds and family situations. 

How did you spread the word about The Early Hour?

I started to grow a community on social media – and monetised The Early Hour through sponsored posts. It also led to other work: freelance articles for the Guardian, Red Magazine and Stylist; consultancy; copywriting. 

I’d never done any PR before, but soon picked up some trade tricks (like checking Twitter throughout the day for #journorequests – editors and journalists looking for people to feature) and got The Early Hour mentioned in the Guardian and the Sunday Times.

I was invited on to The Jeremy Vine Show to discuss parenting, and have done other BBC radio and TV. It was all going so well. But then I became pregnant with my son.

How did you balance your work with motherhood?

At first, I panicked. My daughter was only in nursery two days a week, so I wondered how I going to make it work with a newborn, sleepless nights and all my work.

Eventually, I compiled three months worth of content to go out after his birth, which gave me some leeway. However, the time whizzed on by and soon I was writing, editing and scheduling all the social media, while looking after a potty-training preschooler and a breastfed baby. 

It was stressful. 

Somehow, though, I got through. And a year later, I was offered a book deal by 4th Estate to write about being a freelance mum.

What’s your book about?

It’s my story, with loads of tips and advice, but it won’t shy away from the challenges that freelancing mums face. I think it’s so important to be honest about the tough bits as well as the successes. It was published earlier this year. 

What are you doing now?

I now put out articles more sporadically on The Early Hour, as my main focus is running online courses for freelancers and business owners.

There are courses on how to do your own PR, becoming your own boss and – off the success of those two – how to launch your own successful online course. These courses bring in £10-15k a month, and I run a Facebook group offering course participants extra support.

Having just given birth to my third baby, the passive income generated by these courses is incredibly useful. It has enabled my husband to quit his job and help me both at home, with the kids, and to grow the online course business.

We feel we now have the ideal work-life balance; working part-time, from home, and choosing the hours that suit us and our family.

How do you make freelance work for you now?

When I was first pregnant, I flitted between thinking I’d be a full-time mum, and planning to return to work full time, when she was just a few months old.

As it was, circumstances dictated a new path and being a freelance mum works very well for me. I drop and collect my daughter from school every day and my son from nursery. The baby is my sidekick; we are never not together. I may work evenings and weekends, but then I love writing, so it doesn’t feel like a burden.

What advice would you offer an aspiring freelancer?

My three pieces of advice for someone wanting to go freelance, after having a baby, would be this.

1) Picture your perfect life

First, envisage what the perfect life looks like: how many days are you working, how much time will you have with your baby? What are you spending your days doing? And keep coming back to this. Your priorities may change, and that’s fine, but make sure the balance isn’t getting you down, whichever way it’s leaning.

2) Start small

Don’t pay for a flashy website or desk in a posh shared working space. Just launch from your kitchen table. Get a free WordPress website, and use social media to spread the word. Call in favours. Email people who you’ve heard might be able to help. Be bold: you never know where it might lead.

3) Network

This can sound like a really daunting thing to do but as long as you arrive armed with plenty of questions, you’ll be fine because people love talking about themselves. Get their business card, then if you feel too shy to suggest a collaboration when you’re at the event, you can send an email later, instead.

Find Annie on social media