Meet Christina Jane. Christina embodies the word hustle and she does it with grace. During her relatively short tenure freelancing, she has shot straight up the ranks as a travel writer publishing stories with a host of different publications including Fodor’s Travel, Lonely Planet, Insider, XoNecole and others. On top of that, she also runs her own platform and blog Being Christina Jane where she’s working on monetizing her site as a micro travel blogger.
Christina’s freelance path is a little different from previous interviews. Why? Because freelancing isn’t her full-time career. When she began freelancing, she was a full-time student using freelancing as a way to fund her way through her studies. Now, she’s diving into a career as a U.S. diplomat, though still freelancing and managing her blog at the same time. While The Freelance Outdoorswoman mostly features full-time freelancers, freelancing doesn’t have to be a primary career and it’s worth celebrating that choice as well.
In this interview, Christina shares how she got into freelancing as a virtual assistant, how she created her stunning website and blog, and her experience writing for some of the top travel publications.
Year started freelancing: 2021
Age when started freelancing: 20
Preferred Pronouns: she/her
What is your “about you” elevator pitch for what you do?
There’s two different pitches that I give: one for virtual assisting and one for freelance writing.
For virtual assisting, I launched a company called Your Personal VA in January 2021. That’s where I help busy business owners and brands take control of their time by taking on their tasks, so that they have time to focus on the more important aspects of their business. I do a variety of tasks like email management, calendar management, social media, writing blog posts, I have travel services where I can give them a list of destinations and other things like that. While I still have writing clients at the moment, my virtual assisting has definitely taken a back seat now that I have a ful-time job.
As a freelance travel writer, I usually say that I get paid to write for notable publications like Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, and Business Insider, and I help private clients keep their blogs consistent and up to par if they need a writer to do so.
What did you do before freelancing?
From the time I was 16 when I could legally start working to my freshman year of college, I did so many random jobs—working at a supermarket, at the shoe store, pizza shop, random catering events at my university, and more. However, I would get so frustrated with their inflexibility and having to clock in and out.
Later on in college, I ended up getting a part-time work-from-home job with Amazon, which was my first taste of working remotely. I liked it because I didn’t have to commute but it still had restrictions. I worked with them for about a year until the end of my contract.
That was when I decided I wanted to do something on my own that would give me more control and freedom. I found virtual assisting and that was my first real freelancing job in 2021, which replaced my income from Amazon.
What was your education/experience before starting freelancing?
At the time I began freelancing part-time as a virtual assistant, I was a full-time undergrad student majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies with a minor in Disaster Management. Three months after obtaining my Bachelor’s degree, I moved to Ghana for two years and got my Master’s in International Relations.
My educational background really has nothing to do with my freelance endeavors. My experiences are more targeted to fit in the International Affairs field.
When I was interested in becoming a freelance writer I spoke to many other travel writers and took Travis Levius’s Travel Writing Course, which taught me the fundamentals of the freelance writing industry, specifically tailored to travel writing.
What were the biggest questions you had about freelancing when you first started and how did you answer them?
One thing I struggled with at first as a virtual assistant was how to turn hourly clients into retaining clients. When I first started, I was charging for the virtual assistant on an hourly basis, but I quickly realized that that is not sustainable or realistic because as you gain experience, you become faster at it.
If you keep the same hourly rate while getting faster, you’re basically getting a pay cut for being more efficient. In reality, it makes more sense to have a consistent rate. I had to figure out how to tell my clients I wanted to switch to a consistent rate so that it makes sense for both parties.
To answer that question, I spoke with other freelancers who helped me navigate it and have that conversation with clients months in advance so it’s not a sudden change.
Another question I had was paying taxes because it’s so different from paying taxes as an employee. As a freelancer, you are essentially your own tax person. You have to set money aside and have deductions.
I did my research on what taxes would look like for me as a freelancer, saved all my receipts, and got a tax preparer who knew how to file taxes for business owners.
You started your blog in 2018, is your blog now something you’ve been able to monetize?
When I started in 2018, it was more for fun. My blog was actually completely centered around lifestyle topics like mental health, dating, etc. I started traveling (mainly solo) in 2020 and just started to post and write about travel a lot.
2022 is when I actually started to get the most direction with my brand and created a clear path for where I wanted to go with my blog. That’s when I started travel writing for publications. I started to gain exposure for living abroad in Ghana and being a travel blogger l on social media platforms. People started associating me with that title so I made a lot of progress in 2022.
I revamped my entire blog at the beginning of 2023. I had it redone, which took four months, and now I am working towards monetization whereas before that wasn’t even a goal.
I have been able to monetize through affiliate marketing and getting sponsored stays and experiences, but most people monetize their websites through ad agencies. That is the biggest goal for me at the moment. So far, I have seen amazing results though and I am very happy with where I am, especially as a micro blogger.
How did you make your website?
When I first started, the first ever company I went with was Wix because it was easy to use and navigate.
I designed it myself and it was nice. It looked decent for doing it myself and I was fine with that for a while, but my blog never looked exactly the way I wanted it to.
Eventually I switched over to WordPress because I heard WordPress is the best place to have your blog. I did that but I hated the pre-made themes on WordPress. I saved up every single penny I made freelance writing to hire a custom web designer to create a custom website for my current blog that I love. In general though, WordPress is very difficult. I don’t think it’s beginner friendly and there’s a very big learning curve.
It’s definitely been a journey to get the blog I have now.
What guided your decisions with how to design and structure the website now?
I definitely went in knowing what I wanted my website to look like. Basically, I wanted it to be a good representation of who I am and what I do. As I evolve, I plan to continue updating my website. I really wanted it to be “clean” and have everything on there to serve as a “one-stop” shop of who Christina Jane is as a blogger and freelance writer.
The homepage, I wanted to showcase everything in one place and direct people. I wanted to have a really good About Me section to explain what I did. Of course I needed the blog section. The work with me page is important so people know how to work with you and what you offer.
And then I have the shop, the portfolio, and contact. The shop I wanted for my E-book and templates I plan to sell. I had my portfolio on Contently at first, but I wanted it on my website. Basically I wanted every part of my work to be on my site as opposed to third-party websites.
You have a virtual assistant ebook available for purchase, can you tell me a bit more about that?
I’ve been a virtual assistant for two years and a lot of people would message me saying they wanted to become a virtual assistant, but all the courses cost over $1,000. And it’s true. The course I took was $600 when I bought it, but it’s now like $2,000. And at the time, even $600 was a lot for me as a college student.
I resonated with wanting to make a change in your life with freelancing but not having the funds to do so. So, I spent about a year writing the ebook and working with a graphic designer to make it come to life. It’s over 100 pages and it’s called So You Want to Be a Virtual Assistant.
It’s a guide that basically teaches people how to become a virtual assistant and start making an income from anywhere in the world. Virtual assisting is really what helped me get into freelance, be able to travel so much, and have the flexibility to do random things throughout the day that I can then write about on my blog. It’s a large part of why I’m even able to live in Ghana.
Has it been a worthwhile source of income?
The ebook has gotten customers. It’s been pretty successful so far in terms of my idea of success. I don’t think virtual assisting is for everyone, so I didn’t expect everyone to just go out and buy it. I have future ideas for ebooks and stuff like that. So far, I’ve definitely gotten mentees from the ebook, people who have purchased it, a lot of people who are interested. It’s doing exactly how I thought it would. I’m really happy with how that’s going.
It’s inspired me to write more ebooks and continue to add digital products to my site.
How do you decide your rates?
With virtual assistance, I always say that you can charge whatever you want. There are standard rates, like a standard I think, is $15 an hour starting off, but you can charge $30 an hour if you want. You can charge $40. I just think you have to have the skills to market that and get people involved because most people will go with the lower rates, unfortunately.
For me, when I first started I was also starting at $15, that’s what Amazon was paying me and I was just trying to replace my income from Amazon at the time. As time has gone on, I’ve raised my rates but I don’t go by hourly anymore—I create customized packages for my clients that are not based on hourly rates.
So if they say I want you to do my social media page, and I want five posts a week with hashtags and captions, then I’ll consider the type of content, how difficult it may be, and how much time it may take and create package options for them to choose from.
Now, blog post writing is a big thing I do. That was hard for me to decide pricing because it can really depend on the client. For example, if you’re working with publications with larger budgets, they can pay more, but when you’re talking to someone who is still building a brand and they’re smaller or midsize, they don’t have that budget and it was hard for me to figure out how to navigate that. At this point, my pricing is very case by case, but I charge on a per blog post rate.
Roughly how much did you make in your first year freelancing?
Ballpark, probably $20,000-25,000.
What do you think you’re best at as a freelancer?
I think I’m very good at marketing my services. I’ve learned how to do that in a way that’s not so direct that it drives people away, but is direct enough that people know what I’m offering and become interested or tell people within their network who they think would be.
Do you have any tips for doing that?
My tip would be to just show up, even if you’re not confident at first. I think it can be very intimidating and a bit uncomfortable at first when you have to market yourself with freelancing because you don’t even necessarily know what you’re marketing until you get clients and start working with them.
It can be scary, but you just have to do it scared and fake it ‘till you make it. And definitely show up online. Show your face. Tell your story. Share why you got into freelancing in the first place because people connect with stories.
You’ve worked with Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, and others—how has your experience been with them?
Overall, I would say that I’ve loved writing for organizations as a freelancer and I’ve had a pretty good experience with all the publications I’ve written for. It can be very fast paced at times, but I like working with editors. I like the process of having an idea, getting the idea accepted, seeing your story move through the stages of coming to life and then having it up for everyone to read. It’s a good feeling.
You get a lot of no’s with pitching but when you finally get a yes, it makes it all worth it. The editors I’ve worked with have been great; very open minded, understanding, and patient.
How did you get in the door with those publications?
I’d recommend Fodor’s to anyone new to travel writing because they accept a wide variety of articles and that’s what happened to me. I sent in an idea of Why Black Americans are Saying Ghana Is the Place To Be and they accepted it. That was my first ever paid article published and it’s still my favorite one to date.
From there, if you have ideas in the future, they’re more likely to work with you because they’re familiar with your style and it becomes easier.
With Lonely Planet, someone wrote that they were looking for writers in Ghana and then I pitched myself to that editor and she said yes for a series of articles. From there I wrote seven or eight articles for Lonely Planet on Ghana last year.
Once you’ve written for them, they add you to their insider network and it becomes easier to pitch to their editors if you have an idea or can write on a destination they need writers for.
What helps you get ideas for new pitches?
My experiences and the ideas all around me. I did a lot of SEO writing, but I prefer finding those deeper stories that I think need to be told.
I feel like my ideas never run out, but it’s more whether those ideas are accepted and getting them to the right publication.
You’re now fulfilling a full time career as a diplomat, right? Do you do both now or has freelancing been more sidelined?
Yes! I became a diplomat in June 2023. It’s my dream career and something I have been working toward for years so I knew all along that I was going to become a diplomat when I started freelancing.
In true Christina fashion, I still freelance! I have always done freelance writing part-time so I won’t say it has necessarily been sidelined, but I definitely try to pitch one publication at a time instead of pitching so many at once so I don’t get super busy and can have a better balance.
How do you balance doing both?
I get this question all the time and honestly, there is no balance. The behind the scenes of my life looks very crazy and chaotic. Saying yes to doing both often means saying no to something else and that can be hard at times.
I am working on hiring some help to help me balance everything I want to do and hope that everything can become as balanced as I would like it to eventually.
Have you ever felt or experienced any challenges as a Black woman in the travel and outdoor industry?
As a Black woman, I obviously come across different experiences and stories that I want to share. That was kind of my goal when I started writing. This year, I really started to see that those stories are not going to be easy to get told, published, or shared at all. So I think that’s a challenge.
Certain industries are still very white and unfortunately, it’s hard to show people why it’s so important to talk about certain things. Even though we seem like we’re moving towards a more inclusive world, I think sometimes people forget that it’s really not and I have to keep reminding people.
I think sometimes the people who are reading these pitches, they don’t really understand why it’s so important. Like for example, some of the stories in Ghana I want to write, editors seem to just want to hear about how amazing Ghana is right now, they don’t want to hear about the issues, which is unfortunate. I’ve started navigating that by understanding I have my own platform, so if I honestly want to write about things, I can always take it to my own platform. It’s just that sometimes I feel like some stories deserve larger platforms.
If you could give one piece of advice to a newer woman freelancer getting into the travel industry, what would it be?
My advice would be to really lean into your own experiences, because that’s what will set you apart. What makes you different is the experiences that you’ve had. For example, when I started, the fact that I moved to Ghana and went to school there was very unique. Not many people move to the African continent to go to school. That was something unique that I brought to the table.
Really focus on what you have to bring to the table and your experiences because those will shape the stories you’re able to tell and how you self yourself and who you are.
Want to learn more about Christina Jane?
Check out her website, Being Christina Jane where she shares honest stories and first-hand travel tips. You can also subscribe to her newsletter of weekly travel opportunities called the BCJ Weekly Travel Opportunities Newsletter Board.