Ellen Seccombe


The Juicy Stuff

The best freelancer is the one you don’t have to think about. The copy comes in, on time, on-target, and with i’s dotted and t’s crossed. If I have a question, I ask early. If you have a question or need something changed, I respond straight away.

In essence, you're probably asking: who is Ellen? And can I trust her? The short answer is: I’m still figuring that out; and yes you can. My particular speciality is grant-writing, tender-writing, proposal-writing or any other form of written application. I have a decade or so of experience in management positions, with an interest and focus on business development. In short, I also write advertising and promotion copy, but I’m always keen to understand the strategy behind the words. For this reason, I am particularly good at gigs that need a balance between brain and brawn – annual reports, corporate newsletters, strategic communications etc.

I’m good at writing because I love it. It’s somewhere between a dance and a wrestling match. Ideas float around, and it’s my job to pull them down from the sky and pin them to a word, a sentence, a paragraph. It’s a grounding exercise, and it is the life-force of our social world.

The Background Stuff

So, how did I get here? I studied a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Fine Arts as an undergraduate. I turned myself inside out to reach the ‘First Class Honours’ holy grail. I reached my goal, but it also taught me a few important lessons about self-care. As a student I was the sole employee of a small not-for-profit arts collective. I did everything from vacuuming the floor to writing the grants. Again, I learned a lot (and we got a lot of grants!).

My partner and I decided to build a house, so after I graduated from Honours I got a job as a lowly admin person at a University. Part luck and part smarts, I found myself in much more senior positions after a year or two. I ‘cut my teeth’ in management as Business Manager for the School of Pharmacy, during which time I completed a Master of Business, specialising in business development. I was then upgraded to the Business Manager of the School of Medicine. I was good at my job, but also eager to pursue new frontiers, so I initiated a number of more exciting side projects.

I got an opportunity to jump sideways and took on a Program Management role for a major Commonwealth-funded hospital change initiative facilitated by the University, and I also took on a PhD as part of this project. I am currently in the final year of my PhD, and to pay the bills I run a small consultancy business, taking in health system reform gigs and copywriting work.

my core skills

business development

tender and grant writing

advertising and promotion copywriting



Q & A

Whats the best thing to happen to you in your career to date?

Three words: work life balance. I've had many career wins. I've risen the ranks. I've landed big gigs. I've won clients $40k grants, $500k tenders, and been part of application-writing teams that have scored $4mil contracts, and $12mil program funding. I've managed a $32mil budget for a University department, and, after inheriting a mid-year $500k budget deficit prediction, I've even managed to get them back in the black. Some gigs or weeks or months, you've got to pull out all stops to meet the deadline, and I am happy to do that, but by far the best thing that has happened to me in my career, is the realisation that to stay 'top of my game', I have to balance those times with stillness.

What does a typical work week look like for you?:

My work week can vary dramatically. I like it that way. I might be reading and researching a topic over a cup of tea at a cafe, or I could be armpit-deep in papers in my 'writing-cave' at home, working to a deadline. If I can, I like to work more days, less hours. So in a six-day working week, I might work only six or seven hours each day. That way I can fit in a yoga class, or an extra-long dog walk. But it depends on the job and the deadline.

Describe your working environment in a few sentences..

My desk is tidy when I start a gig, and descends into some form of chaos after that. It is an outward portrayal of the inward creative process. As my research and thinking deepens, so do the piles of messy scribbles and orange highlighter strokes. And then, after the conclusion comes crashing in, the chaos lifts, and the cycle begins again.

What sets you apart from other freelancers in your industry?

Strategy. I've lived and breathed the worlds of my clients, so I have a very good understanding of why I am being asked to write, or I make it my mission to understand that, very early on.

What are the tools of your trade?

The concept of 'why-what-how'. If I can align the 'why' of my client (i.e. their mission) with the 'why' of their intended audience (i.e. their desire or envisaged benefit), and then model this into a 'what' and describe the 'how' in clear, simple, language, I know I'm on track. I always begin with the 'why'.

Do you collaborate with others? If yes, how does that works?

Yes, I collaborate with my husband who is also a writer. We do a lot of editing for each other, and bounce ideas back and forth over the breakfast table. I also sub-contract for another boutique consultancy firm in the health reform field. I am the designated writer, and as a sub-contractor they are essentially my bosses. When I first put pen to paper, I usually write out the entire piece in dot-point form and then send this to my bosses for checking. This allows us to agree on structure and content, before investing in the more time-consuming job of writing. Once we are in agreement, I then launch into the writing. Sometimes, when appropriate or if requested, I send my bosses a document that is in progress, which allows them to check the content. In these instances, I find it is important to have really good systems in place for document version control. I am very happy working alone, or with others.

Whats been the biggest freelancing lesson to date?

Invest in the brief and don't make assumptions. I always make sure I am crystal clear about what I am being asked to do before I start writing. This is an important step involving mutual exchange and understanding. I am quite adept at teasing out this process.

examples of my work

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