Would you hire someone to represent your business if you knew they had a background as a nude model?
Maybe you would. [Have I told you today how awesome you are?]
And maybe you wouldn’t. It’s cool — I understand some people are put off by the idea.
Not my clients, though. Some of them are amused that I once posed naked halfway up a tree, or perching in a giant birdcage.
I used my background as a pin-up model and burlesque dancer to win one of my first writing gigs, with an upmarket lingerie retailer who was impressed by my knowledge of garter belts and stocking seams.
The client checked out my modelling portfolio to confirm my expertise, and the photos in which I wore nothing but retro stockings and a garter belt sealed the deal. They were pleased to have a hosiery-obsessed pin-up write articles for their website, and I was proud to work with them.
Being a photographic model was fun and paid well, but writing has become even more profitable for me. Here’s why.
Most clients simply don’t care what I used to do for a living, as long as the blog posts I write for them deliver the outcomes they need.
But my best clients believe my life experience makes me a better writer for their business, and they’re right about that.
Don’t fear your past
Imagine you just met me at a conference or a friend’s dinner party. You ask about what I do for a living, and I say, “I used to be an astrophysicist, but now I’m a freelance blogger.”
Sounds pretty cool, right? You can picture me working on my laptop, blogging about hard science and earning a good rate for it.
Now imagine I said instead, “I used to be a nude model, but now I’m a freelance blogger.”
You can picture me working on my laptop… for about three seconds before you get distracted by the nudity thing. [Maybe ten seconds if you’re acutely interested in freelance blogging.]
The thing is, both of those histories are true.
I have worked as an astrophysicist. And a model. And a stagehand at music festivals, a data entry specialist, a mystery shopper, a Y2K preparations administrator, and a bunch of other jobs.
The big fear that often troubles a “writer with a past” is that your attention-catching history will be discovered and then everything else you’ve done will get ignored.
But you’re worrying too much. You’ve already imagined the scene and the consequences a hundred times over, before the client even signs a contract.
The slightly less melodramatic truth is that your past rarely makes a difference — unless you choose to use it to your advantage. More on that in a moment.
Have your clients seen you naked?
Before we go any further: you do not need to bare all for your clients!
Whatever lies in your past, you don’t have to discuss it with a client if you don’t want to. But you also don’t need to hide anything.
For example, anyone could browse through the photo gallery on my old modelling website. My pseudonymous blog on that site also mentioned that in my late teens I worked as a stripper, a brothel receptionist and a catwalk model for a latex fashion company before realising the benefits of becoming a strict dominatrix. [The benefits? Short hours, high pay, and extremely respectful customers who know they’re not getting in your pants.]
When clients asked about my history, I told them. Nobody ever fired me for it.
Nobody even blinked. [Yeah, my clients are all kinds of wonderful.]
Every once in a while, a client would ask if I minded them seeing some photos, and I’d tell them my modelling portfolio was online if they wanted to take a look. After a couple of years I let that website’s hosting and domain name expire because there was no good reason to keep on paying for it — the photos are available via the photographers’ websites anyway.
Even since taking down my modelling portfolio, I’ve had quite a few clients for whom my background as a model, burlesque dancer and dominatrix made me an ideal expert writer.
The point is, you don’t need to worry about what your potential clients think of your past.
Most of them will never know (or care) what you were doing in 2003. You don’t need to tell them unless you have a genuine reason to believe that hiring you could adversely affect their business.
But you might want to tell them, anyway.
Be shamelessly experienced
Because experience is attractive and profitable.
Look at Erika Lyremark, whose 9 years as a stripper taught her as much business sense as her 10 years in commercial real estate development. Oh, and grab a free copy of her book Think Like a Stripper while you’re there. Erika’s past is an integral element of her personality and her business — and she knows exactly how to work it.
Look at Cara Sutra [that link is probably NOT safe for work], whose award-winning sex blog led to a lucrative career as a sex industry journalist and copywriter.
Look at me. I got hired over and over for my experience in some narrow yet profitable niches.
You might think it’s different for us than it is for you. We’ve achieved success, therefore our histories weren’t as unusual / shocking / embarrassing / concerning as yours.
But listen: in the present, your past is what you make of it.
Here’s something I just made from mine:
Freelance bloggers on the way up are learning this lesson fast, too. BAFB reader Lorraine Reguly told me:
I’d rather have someone find out something negative (or what is perceived to be negative) about me from me than from someone else. My background as an English teacher obviously enhances my writing. However, depending on what exactly I’m writing about, my past experiences with drugs and prostitution bring to the table a plethora of viewpoints not easily seen by the “average” person.
I know a fair number of freelance bloggers who’ve been homeless, been in prison, been through a psychotic episode, and used that experience to attract clients who respect its value. Ex-addicts who blog for rehab centres. Ex-hackers who blog for software businesses. I’ve never read a writer’s biography that couldn’t be mined for insights into a huge range of topics.
So if you lie awake at night worrying how long your freelance blogging career will last before you get found out and fired… take a deep breath and relax.
You are what you are. A professional writer.
And every good writer has some stories to tell.