Living the Writer's Life: Jen Phillips April
From Frigid Winters to the Caribbean Shoreline
When I spoke to her from her writing office in Playa del Carmen, where she’s been for six years, Jen Phillips April looked refreshed and sun-kissed. But that wasn’t always the story … Discover how she decided she’d had her fill of Pennsylvania winters and what brought about the glorious new writer’s life in the tropics that she’s enjoying now.
Before you found the writer’s life, what was it you were trying to get away from?
I had just finished my graduate degree in museum studies. I am a history nerd. I have a background in working in historic sites, and I was doing that while living in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where it is winter six months a year. I’m originally from South Carolina. I misgauged that. Somehow I ended up in that winter place. I was doing the commute and really hating life. I mean, I enjoyed my job well enough, but who likes commuting? That was just not my thing. So I was looking for something different.
It was the early 2000s, and the internet was just sort of coming into being and blossoming into something. And I started poking around online and learned about direct-response copywriting and this whole world of digital marketing. And I was like, “I want to know more.”
How did you go from working in the museum to writing for pay?
I started a website about dog treats specifically in 2005. I learned SEO and affiliate marketing, and I grew a list. I grew that website to 87,000 visitors a month. And I kept it for seven years, but I would just work on it at night or on the weekends. So it became really valuable.
Then I lost my job in 2010, which was basically the tail end of the fallout in 2008. We lost our funding and we closed. And it was January, the cold of winter. At this point, I had discovered AWAI and was trying to figure this thing out. I remember sitting there in the corner of my room with my computer and going, “How will I make this work?” I mean, I was on unemployment, nobody was hiring. It was a terrible time. The economy was in the dumps, and I’m like, “Okay, this is my time. The universe has granted me this. What do I do next?”
That summer I started going to local networking events, and I found out that I was a genius at internet marketing when I talked to local people, because they knew nothing about what I was talking about and I had all this experience from writing for the website seven years. I ended up working with local people, and that was kind of my first taste of it.
Fast-forward 10 years, what kind of writing do you do now?
I still work in the pet niche to some degree. I’ve written for Chewy and lots of pet insurance companies and big names. But also in the last few years, I’ve started working a lot with B2B tech companies. I’m writing content and success stories about different software products. And I have been going deeper and deeper into the hospitality tech space, which is really interesting and fun.
What was the biggest challenge in getting started, both with the pet site and your new niches?
Having the confidence that you actually can do this, because there’s no one waving a magic wand. You just have to say, “Yes, I’m ready. I can do this.”
What is life like for you today as an expat?
Being three blocks from the Caribbean Sea, I can just go to the ocean for an hour. And I go back to visit my family in South Carolina for extended time periods. A while back I went to New Orleans for five weeks to stay with my sister. And my partner and I just came back from pet sitting on the west coast of Mexico in this tiny town north of Sayulita for six weeks at the most beautiful oceanfront property. All we have to do is pack up our computers and put them in a laptop and go. It’s possible to kind of create your life the way you want it to be.
Jen's Living The Writer's Life story was originally published in Barefoot Writer. To learn more about how you can start living your dream writer's life too, click here.
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