In conversation with Gemma Clarke: freelancing, writing and self-employment

by Jul 20, 2020

Ever thought about working for yourself? Curious about how you can make your communications degree work for you?

Gemma Clarke is the founder and editor of independent publication, Global Hobo: ‘…an accessible community built around storytelling that provides a space for writers to share original views on destinations, experiences, identity, culture and social trends (x).

We had a chat with her recently about how she made her way in the communications industry, and how she started her own business. From studying to freelancing, read on to discover her story.

What inspired your decision to start your career in communications? Was the choice to freelance an easy one to make?

I did law and journalism at a university in Brisbane, but after hearing from most lecturers that journalism was a dead industry and we should probably do teaching degrees afterwards, I was feeling fairly uninspired and was far more interested in chasing a career in refugee and human rights law.

I wrote voraciously – long and colourful emails of my overseas exploits to friends, short stories and articles for various publications – but because it was always unpaid, I never saw it as a viable career until I was offered a role as the editor of a fairly big pop culture publication. It was then that I realised if you work in online media, both as a freelancer and as the owner of your own publication, you can make your career whatever you want. That blew my mind.

Have you needed a lot of industry experience to land the jobs you’re interested in? Have there been any roles so far that you feel have really helped your career?

 As a writer, I’ve existed mostly outside of mainstream media, writing for independent publications and starting my own, but I have dabbled in the industry I guess!

Whilst at university, we’d receive the odd email from people fishing for student writers. I ended up writing for a few low-key music publications and fashion mags, but stopped in order to go on exchange. Just before I got back, I saw an ad on that said Your Friend’s House was looking for contributors. I pitched a few ideas and started writing satirical pieces for them weekly, and a few months in, the owner (who was also 21) asked me to be the editor. It was an incredible opportunity to run a publication that large, but it was unpaid, so after a year and a half, just when I graduated university, I quit and started Global Hobo as an avenue to publish creative non-fiction and essays centred around travel, culture and identity.

I did freelance copywriting and journalism occasionally whilst travelling, but still didn’t consider that I’d done anything too official until I moved to Sydney at age 26. One night in the midst of an inferiority complex, I was trawling ABC jobs and saw that the triple j magazine was looking for a deputy editor. I had none of the print experience they wanted, but all of the skills, and after a fairly terrifying interview, I got the job. I don’t work there anymore, but having the ABC on my resume has definitely helped me assert my legitimacy ever since, especially as a freelance journalist.

Has anyone inspired you so far? Any mentors that have helped inform your career decisions?

People who have taken unconventional paths or have come to the industry later in life.

I’d consider myself to have three mentors: Kate McMahon, who was my boss at the ABC; Tom Tilley, a friend who bailed on life as a banker and saw the world open up as a result; and Wade Davis, the former editor of Surfing Life who is my moral compass and political guru when it comes to working out the ethics of various situations.

Did you always want to work for yourself?

I worked for myself as a high-school tutor and from home writing textbooks from when I was 18, so got very accustomed to the cushiness that comes with waking up whenever you like and being able to choose your own hours. I’m also quite bossy, dislike elitist structures and being micromanaged, and love organising things, so working for myself just made sense. Essentially, it was a combination of passion and laziness!

What has been the most difficult element of working for yourself?

For me, the trickiest thing has been working out how to do everything myself, from doing coding and building a website to working out how to pay super and use accounting software. I’ve never lacked motivation, because I’m working on projects I care so much about and actually love every element of what I do, even the boring parts.

Looking at the career goals you’ve set over the years, are you where you thought you’d be 5-10 years ago?

Just before COVID hit, I had a bunch of writing retreats in Spain, Bali and Japan lined up to teach and was then planning on moving to Athens to make a documentary about the refugee experience. That’s probably exactly where I’d hoped I’d be at 30.

Instead, I’m living in a share house in Byron Bay, rocking the dole and just landed a breakfast show on Bay FM with my friend Paige. But I’m adaptable and am having a lot of fun every day, which is all I really care about.

A lot of us are working remotely at the moment. What do you do to stay motivated in working from home and for yourself?

I’ve been working remotely for 12 years now, and in that time, what I’ve found helps is to change the space I work from (I rent a cheapo creative space in Mullumbimby, but will also work in cafes, at friend’s houses or from the back of my van), wake up at a reasonable hour and get dressed – even if I’m working from home.

I’m definitely struggling to stay motivated at the moment because I have no money coming in, so I try and work on different projects each day too.

Finally, what advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

You just finished up 13 years at a mostly-white private school where everyone thought you were so weird for wearing a ‘Refugees Are Welcome’ badge that they sometimes (albeit lovingly) called you ‘tranny’, because that was the weirdest thing they could ever conceptualise.

The world is so much bigger than you could ever imagine – move away from the Gold Coast as soon as you can.


Check back in on the blog again next week for Gemma’s top tips on how students can get ahead in the communications and creative industries!


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

Gemma Clarke

Gemma Clarke

Founder and Editor of Global Hobo