Leonie Canham

The Splendid Word

One of the things I loved most about life as a newspaper and radio journo was the element of surprise – the adrenalin-pumping anticipation of not knowing what the day might bring, where the next story might lead and how it might change my life. So when parenthood and the needs of three small children born in quick succession necessitated a change in career to the more ‘family-friendly’ freelance writing, I feared losing that buzz. As a journo, the stories you cover stay with you forever. Some are good, but so many are horrendously bad (and sad). In the seven years since making the switch to copywriter and PR darling, I’ve come to discover that the buzz lives here too – in this industry you never know what the universe will throw at you next. But for me there’s one glaring difference – choice. In the freelance world I get to tell the good news stories. I get to talk about the joyful stuff. These days I write about the light-workers– the miracle-minded folk out there working to change the world for the better. And it’s a good fit for me. It feels right. 16 years ago, on the back of a degree in journalism and PR, I cut my teeth as a newspaper journo with Fairfax media covering the politics, emergency services, education, business and sports rounds. I went on to specialise in court reporting, before jumping ship to broadcast media and working as a news reader at ABC radio - writing and presenting on all manner of subjects, at all times of the day and night. In later years I worked as a media adviser to two State MPs specialising in speech writing, media, public relations, marketing and advertising. On the side, and in between babies, I began establishing my freelance writing career. Two years ago, I threw caution to the wind and quit my day job to focus on nurturing my three darling heart boys and my busy communications consultancy - The Splendid Word (TSW) - with fellow freelancer Christy O’Brien. We’ve combined our media skill set and shared love of language to serve the causes, communities and people we believe in. Our consultancy delivers top class written communication collateral for SMEs, community groups and entrepreneurs seeking to raise their profile and share their unique message with the world. We turn clever thoughts into captivating copy and are engaged by businesses across the nation to assist with communication strategies, social media management, digital content creation, media releases, blog writing, website content, speech writing, corporate style guides, and scriptwriting for radio, television, promotional dvds and documentaries. We are passionate supporters and champions of businesses dedicated to leaving a positive imprint on their communities and loud and proud advocate of the doers, dreamers and believers who are using their skills and knowledge as a force for good.

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Q & A

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

Striking that elusive work-life balance… (okay that’s a lie – but I’m edging closer). Giving up the security of my day job as a political media adviser and devoting my heart wholly and solely to freelancing was a risk, but one that I had to take for the sake of my sanity and my family’s wellbeing. My husband works away three to four nights each week, and working in my politics role, running my comms business, and managing the needs of three little boys was becoming an increasingly difficult challenge. I love to live a full life, but keeping all those plates spinning was not sustainable in the long-term. Becoming a ‘full-time’ freelancer has enabled me to continue living my passion for storytelling, but in a way that allows me to prioritise time to value the gift of my family.

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

My working week starts on Sunday night with a non-negotiable ‘power hour’ to plan the week ahead, schedule meetings, interviews, writing time, collaboration time, and space for nurturing self and family. Given I still have young children at home, a large chunk of my writing time is scheduled for the evenings and early mornings. I also have three full child-free days per week where my three charges are in school and preschool, which allows time for meetings with clients and partners and to deliver training, workshops and the like.

Describe your working environment in a few sentences..

This is the best bit - location freedom! Some days (and nights) I write from my home office – overlooking the picturesque bushland that frames the majestic Murray River at Echuca Moama. Other days I set up shop with my laptop at the library, in a café, on the banks of the river or at a park when my kids are in tow. I tend to follow the flow and go wherever my mood and the words take me!

What sets you apart from other freelancers in your industry?

I love the crap out of what I do and I always strive to give more than my clients expect to receive. The other biggie is that I’m a socially conscious freelancer. It’s important that my work aligns very closely with my values and that I stand for something bigger than the service I sell. To me, words are THE most powerful vehicle for connecting, inspiring and creating positive change in the world. When we use our words to build up the people, businesses and communities we work with, that’s when they really sing.

What are the tools of your trade?

I would never say it aloud, but sometimes I love my Macbook Air notebook and Thunderbolt display as much as I love my own family. Honest. The notebook gives me the versatility to work from anywhere, anytime and when on home soil I just hook back into my enormous Apple display screen and fall in love all over again. The Cloud, Google Drive, Xero and Asana have also revolutionised the way I work as a freelancer. Naturally I wouldn’t leave home without a notepad, mobile phone and a stash of pens. I am also forever grateful for the tedious hours spent in shorthand training as a young journo – this dying art form is such a crucial tool for a writer – I think of it as my second language.

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

I work very closely with my TSW business partner – fellow wordsmith Christy O’Brien. We work separately on most projects, but speak on the phone almost daily and meet up weekly to talk shop. We also collaborate with a small bunch of awesome graphic designers, editors, web developers and media production specialists to assist with larger projects.

Whats been the biggest freelancing lesson to date?

Go with your gut. When starting out as a freelancer it can be tempting to take on every job that comes your way – even when they don’t necessarily resonate with you. Choose to work with clients and on projects that align with your values and passions and the results will be amazing.

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