In The Spotlight: Crafting Impactful Narratives With Hillary Lyons

In The Spotlight: Hillary Lyons
In this series, we interview freelancers about how they make a positive impact using their careers. This week, we’re talking to Hillary Lyons, a freelance copywriter and brand therapist.

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Meet Hillary, a talented US-based copywriter and brand therapist with a passion for creating impactful digital narratives.

Focused on non-profits and mission-driven brands, Hillary’s work is all about helping these organisations find their voice and tell their stories in the digital world.

In this interview, she shares her experience in collaborating with non-profits, offers a behind-the-scenes look into her freelancing journey, and provides valuable insights into working on mission-driven projects.

Photo of Hillary Lyons

Photo courtesy of Hillary Lyons

Q: Can you share a bit about your background and how you first got started as a freelancer?

My marketing career began over a decade ago, but I only delved into freelancing full time in 2019. 

I was working in food tech startups at the time. I loved copywriting, but I was unhappy because the frenetic startup environment didn’t give me the mentorship or growth opportunities I longed for.

So I took a leap of faith, quit my job, and started my freelance journey!

I have never looked back and I cannot imagine ever having a regular 9-5 office job ever again.

Q: What inspires you to use your skills to support nonprofit organisations? 

For me, one of freelancing’s biggest draws is the power it gives me to choose who I work with.

I have the privilege of working exclusively with organisations that I truly believe in, on projects that I know will make an impact in the world – whether that’s by reducing food waste within America’s top supermarket chains, or by empowering a fellow freelancer to step into her zone of genius and launch her business. 

I work with non-profits as often as I can because they step up to tackle the impossible every single day. They do the often thankless work of uniting people around a shared belief and building community. When I can offer up my skills to do the same, it makes me feel connected to something larger than myself. 

Q: In your experience working with non-profits, what are some common challenges they face when it comes to content marketing, and how do you address these challenges in your work?

One of the greatest content marketing mistakes I’ve seen non-profits make is this: they have powerful stories to tell and inspiring missions, but they don’t think about how that translates to their audience. 

Same with startups – they can talk all day about how their work is revolutionary and why the new features are so exciting, but they don’t speak to the emotional benefits their audience and customers receive by working with them.

For non-profits, that means considering how your work impacts both the donor/volunteer community and the people/cause you serve/support. No matter how selfless or inspired your cause, you have to tailor your messaging so that the reader can instantly understand how donating or volunteering or signing up to receive aid – whatever it is you’re asking them to do – will impact or improve their life. 

Now more than ever, people want a peek behind the curtain. They want to see the tangible impact of their purchase or donation. So you need to paint a vivid picture and describe what’s in it for them if they become part of your community.

Q: Is there a project or initiative that you are particularly proud of in terms of its positive impact?

One of my proudest non-profit projects was coordinating with Slow Food International to bring 100+ African small farmers and food producers to Milan for the World Expo in 2015. 

A more recent, and ongoing, project that I am proud of is my work with the Petaluma Educational Foundation (PEF). PEF contracted me to help revamp their website back in 2021. After rewriting their web copy and optimising the UX, I helped them launch the site just in time for their 40th anniversary celebration. 

PEF was thrilled with the result, so they retained my services to help with their social media marketing efforts. Social media posts had fallen by the wayside as they juggled other, more pressing responsibilities. So I helped them develop a content creation workflow that streamlined the process of developing and posting fresh content every month.

Now they’ve got better engagement than ever before because they have a clear framework to share all their wonderful success stories with the world.

Q: Finding clients is often a challenge for freelancers. What methods or platforms have you found most effective for connecting with nonprofit clients and organisations?

Most of my clients come to me by word of mouth, but I try to stay actively engaged in my community as well.

I volunteer at my local food bank, I offer pro bono marketing support to a friend who runs an amazing farm nonprofit, I volunteered on the board of my SlowFood chapter for years… In an increasingly digital age, I think in-person networking and real human relationships are more important than ever.

It’s sort of like the best dating advice: do the things you love to do for yourself, and clients that align with your values will naturally gravitate to you.

Q: As someone who contributes positively to the non-profit sector, what advice would you give to fellow freelancers interested in making a meaningful impact through their work?

I would say: don’t be discouraged!

It’s hard to break into freelancing with only non-profit clients because budgets are tight, everyone’s wearing multiple hats, and they may not offer the stability you need to find your footing at first. 

With all that said, don’t let prospects undervalue your worth! Just because they’re a nonprofit doesn’t mean that they get free labour. You deserve compensation for your time and expertise.

If you’re anything like me, it’s tempting to reduce your rates for the clients that you really want to work with. If they genuinely can’t afford your services, you can make exceptions – but don’t let exceptions become the rule. Try to strike a balance with clients who can afford your regular rate (or even a bit higher) and those who receive a discount, then be willing to reassess pricing at regular intervals so you don’t build resentment by spending too much time on lower-paying work.

To explore some of the amazing projects Hillary has been working on and find out how she can assist your organisation in overcoming marketing challenges, visit her website and schedule a free discovery call. She’s also open to offering insights and helping new freelancers grow in their profession, so be sure to connect with her on LinkedIn as well.

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