These journos turned an email into a small business

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photo credit: Deborah Macedo & Helga Tirant

Making lists has always been a big part of staying productive for Sydney journalist Rachel Smith. However, she never expected that one of her lists would blossom into a now 15-year-old recruitment business that connects job-posters and job-seekers across media and digital.

When Rachel started freelancing in 2001, she found working for herself a little lonely and isolating. She didn’t know a lot of freelancers back then, but she met two fellow journos through a job-sharing arrangement, and they all decided to go for yum cha and talk shop.

That lunch turned into many more get-togethers, and more freelancers heard about it and wanted to come along. In 2002, Rachel started a ‘list’ of people to keep track of all the freelancers wanting to meet up and stay connected. This attracted the attention of editors who thought it was an easy way to recruit freelancers they needed. That’s how Rachel’s List started.

Initially, ‘the List’, as it was known, was a free jobs service offered via email. But through word of mouth and networking, Rachel’s list of job-seekers eventually got very long.

“It was funny how it evolved. Editors got wind of my list full of sub-editors and writers. Back in the day people would need someone for a few days for a subbing or a writing gig. So they would email and ask me to send a request out to my list of contacts. It became this well-known underground way for employers to recruit people for free. And it became a fantastic way for freelancers like myself to get work. It started to grow and completely exploded! Now we have over 4000 people on the List – all kinds of creatives like writers, editors, content marketers, social media specialists, designers, and of course journalists,” she adds.

Rachel started a ‘list’ to keep track of her freelancer contacts

After ten years offering the service, Rachel’s ‘List’ had become so long that Outlook couldn’t handle it. She had to split her list into two in order to send jobs through to hundreds of job-seekers. Rachel says it was becoming ridiculous and time-consuming. “I knew I needed to monetise it and put it online so I decided to bite the bullet and create a website for it,” she adds.

Rachel teamed up with another fellow journalist, Leo Wiles. Initially an editor and PR consultant, Leo recently re-trained as a photographer and moved up north with her family, and given Rachel is still based in Sydney, Rachel’s List has become a truly remote business. “We aren’t even in the same state and yet we run this business together,” says Rachel. “It is a part-time business for us as we both freelance on the side.”

Starting the website wasn’t smooth sailing, though. She and Leo set out to design and launch the site together when they were faced with one of their first obstacles. Rachel says, “One of the hardest things for anyone designing a website is finding the right developer. It is extremely difficult to get someone who shares your vision and fits in with the budget. We started with someone who was having some personal issues and ended up closing her business. We lost our money.”

 It costs $100 for a 30 day post on Rachel’s List or follow them on Twitter

She adds, “We did learn some valuable lessons from that. We’ve been really lucky to have connected with the right people since, which has saved us time and been cost-effective. With a start-up every cent is accounted for.”

“We monetised Rachel’s List while it was still an email List, but while we were building the website. If anyone wanted a job to go out, they had to pay $100. We found editors (as they were the main job-posters when we started) were more than happy to pay. It was much lower than any other recruiting fee from Seek or LinkedIn. It’s aimed at a more targeted group of people and even today it really helps editors and employers of all kinds post a job and cut through the irrelevant applicants.”

Over the years, we’ve grown from just helping consumer editors find writers to helping all kinds of job-posters find creative people – from digital agencies to universities, government agencies, news websites, trade publishers, PR firms. Everyone needs writers and creative help, and we try to make job-posters’ lives easier by providing an economical way to find the talent they need, super-quick – whether it’s for a short freelance gig or a full-time role.”

Rachel and Leo financed Rachel’s List without a backer. “An angel investor would’ve been great. But we decided that doing it ourselves was the right thing to do and would give us more control. Luckily, the website has paid for itself and we’ve used the funds from the current website to build the new one, which is launching in a few months. We also put the money we make back into the site and to hire our staff,” she says.

Rachel’s business partner Leo Wiles is based in Queensland

Whether you’re a small or large business, you can search for assistance from all levels of government in Australia. However, Rachel says a lot of grants aren’t marketed well or easy to locate online. She had an interesting experience hunting for grants and government assistance. She says, “I have looked into grants and finding a mentor. But to be honest, I found the process extremely difficult. Like most government processes, it’s very hard to find what you need, to find the right forms and to actually action it.”

One of the many challenges that Rachel and Leo face with Rachel’s List is dealing with the ever-changing industry. Rachel says, “In the last five years, I’ve taken on many different things. I write for business magazines and create websites for other people. I also write for a lot of small business clients and do content marketing. I’m doing things now that I never used to do five years ago. We ourselves are learning about the changing industry. We are learning how to harness new income streams, how to keep making money and keep our business really strong. We take that knowledge and try to help people on Rachel’s List to do the same. It’s a community effort in that respect and we hope to continue doing it for a long time to come.”

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Rachel and Leo have had a brilliant impact on the way freelancers in this country do business. Their initiative and ingenuity is to be applauded.

    • Thanks for your comments John. Great to hear from you. Yes, they are two amazing Australian women who have created a wonderful niche business. It is great to see such an innovative idea working well from the ground up.

  2. Rachel’s List is doing something very different and far more sustainable than the big auction-your-price-down sites like 99Designs and Freelancer.com; the list is carefully curated so that all the people on the list are experienced professionals. Those who post jobs are advised when they advertise rates that are too low to attract good responses. That means less time-wasting for job posters and list readers; and Rachel’s List doesn’t have the fast turnover that the generic sites have – when those new to freelancing discover they can’t survive on rates that are too low, and they find alternative income sources. I’ve been a fan for years and it’s great to see them do so well!

    • Great to hear from you Fran! Yes, Rachel’s List has obviously struck a chord with the media industry. It is wonderful to see people create a small business which is such a huge benefit to so many people. Fantastic to hear you have had such positive experiences with this business. Don’t forget to let us know what you’d like to read more about on Business Builders.

  3. So good to see these two get some recognition. Rachel’s List has been one of the best ways for me to find new opportunities. I’ve also used it to shout out and find sources. When it was monetised I had no hesitation for signing up as It fills a gap in the comms/journalism industry. The blogs are also very timely and relevant. I look forward to the salary review every year, as it’s hard as a freelance writer to compare your rates to what’s going around.

    • Thanks for your comment Michele. It is great to hear about how this small business has made such a positive impact. Wonderful to hear you have find it a valuable service which has a good price point. The key to any good small business!

  4. Thanks everyone to all your lovely comments and support for so many years – and thanks to Kochie’s Business Builders for the feature on our website. We’re so glad we have been able to help so many freelancers and editors / employers connect over the years! Can’t wait to unveil our new site in the months to come.

  5. Great job Rachel and Leo – you were brave enough to run with this fantastic idea and it has been a wonderful source of support and opportunity for me over the years! I look forward to seeing it grow and flourish further. You’re inspirational!
    Becky

    • Thanks for your comments Rebecca. Great to hear you how you have benefited in business from Rachel’s List. It is wonderful to hear about small business people helping other small business people.

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