On Writing: Interview With Nishi Viswanathan

Posted: May 23, 2010

Dr. Nishi Viswanathan of Chillibreeze, who manages one of the largest writers’ networks in India, offers insights on writing skills and a career in the freelance writing field.

By Aparna V. Singh

Chillibreeze is a firm that’s made a name for itself in the highly competitive content writing and editing market in a relatively short time; it was only in 2004 that Ralph Budelman, the CEO and chief founder, came up with the idea.

Dr. Roopa Nishi Viswanathan, a medical doctor, joined Chillibreeze in 2004, writing content and managing customer projects. Today, she is a Director with Chillibreeze, oversees business development, writers’ services and is responsible for the overall content and marketing strategy.

In this interview, Dr. Nishi discusses with Women’s Web her unconventional but exciting career path as well as the opportunities and challenges in the content writing field.

Aparna V. Singh (AVS): An MBBS graduate who is now a Chief Content Officer and manages possibly one of the largest networks of writers in India; quite a journey that is! How did it happen? What made you move along such an unconventional path?

Dr. Nishi Vishwanathan (NV): Back in 2004, I had just returned from the US with a Masters in Nutrition. At this point in my life, I was yearning for something that would offer me a lot of creative stimulation. Plus, I was pregnant and did not want to commit to a traditional full time job.  I was not sure if a regular research or clinical position would be the right fit for me.

I found an ad posted on Monster.com by Ralph and Joanna Budelman who were looking for someone to manage a new website and take care of the writers’ network. I knew I was making a big career shift and it was a hard decision. But the idea of starting a company and building it from scratch appealed to me immensely and I took the plunge. We were joined by Vilasini Kumar who is currently our COO.

Improving writing skills

AVS: At Chillibreeze, you work with a large team of writers-on-demand; what has the experience been like? What are the challenges you’ve faced in bringing the writing of a large pool of people in line with client requirements?

NV: Good question. “Bringing the writing of a large pool of people in line with client requirements” kind of summarizes the challenges our team faces on a day to day basis.

There are all kinds of issues when you work with freelancers. Writers not following the brief, writers writing in ‘Indian English’, writers refusing to redo their articles based on customer feedback, writers promising to deliver and vanishing hours before the deadline, writers trying to pass plagiarized material as their own…the list goes on.  We have systems to counteract every such possibility yet delivering high quality content is definitely not a cakewalk.

Often, customers ask “I can get the same article from a freelancer on Elance for a much lower price. Why should I choose you?” And the answer is simple. We take care of all the issues mentioned above so the customer gets what he asked for.

Of course, not all Indian writers and editors deliver shoddy work. If that were the case, we would be out of business by now. There is a lot of talent out there. It is just hard to find. Over the years, we have developed a network of tried and tested writers who produce good quality content. We also have an in-house project management team that coaches new writers.

AVS: How do you shortlist the writers you work with? What are the strengths you look for?

NV: The biggest strength for us is obviously great writing. Apart from that, we look at their ability to follow deadlines and their attitude. A “customer is king” mentality is a big plus.

What about experience in the writing field? You might be surprised (and probably pleased) to hear that we do not place too much importance on this aspect as long as a writer writes well. We use in-house tests to evaluate every writer before we assign work to them. In fact, we have gotten so good at testing writers that we have now started offering our tests to other companies that hire writers as well.

The biggest strength for us is obviously great writing. Apart from that, we look at their ability to follow deadlines and their attitude. A “customer is king” mentality is a big plus.

AVS: Are a large number of your writers’ women? What advice do you have for women who want to be freelance or home based writers?

NV: Go for it! But do your homework first. Test yourself to see if you have the aptitude for writing. Chillibreeze does offer a writing aptitude test for writers and provides training material for those wishing to break into the field. If writing has never been your forte, then get some training in writing as well. Work with a few small companies first – take up any work you can lay your hands on, no matter how much you get paid – to get experience and feedback on your work and then start applying to bigger projects on project boards.

Chillibreeze also has a comprehensive freelance writing guide for aspiring writers and freshers. This is a valuable guide for any Indian professional considering freelance writing as a profession.

And yes, a vast majority of our writers are women. Perhaps, it is the flexibility the job offers. Perhaps, it is the telecommute aspect of it. Perhaps, women are more in touch with their creative side.

Freelance writing jobs

AVS: How easy/difficult is to make a living in this field? What are the pros/cons? Are there specific niches that you foresee as having more potential?

NV: To be very honest, it is not easy to make a living as a freelance writer. Today, almost everyone wants to work from home and write for the web. No wonder there is a lot of competition on project boards with dozens of writers from all over the world bidding for projects, which in turn reduces the amount a writer can charge for any project. (Note: Chillibreeze does not believe in the bidding system where multiple writers apply for a project and the project is offered to the lowest bidder).

There is always place for good writers in the freelance writing world. If you write well and deliver on time, editors will love working with you and you will receive more and more repeat customer projects.

But, writers must not let this dishearten them. There is always place for good writers in the freelance writing world. If you write well and deliver on time, editors will love working with you and you will receive more and more repeat customer projects. Companies such as Chillibreeze have a rating points system for writers, which means, if you ace our writing tests, you will be assigned projects on a regular basis.

There are certain niches such as business writing, medical writing and technical writing where the competition is relatively lower since specific skills are required to enter these fields. Network with other writers and try to glean tips from seasoned freelancers. In addition to our own discussion forums, Chillibreeze now has a Facebook page where writers can connect with their peers.

AVS: Besides content development, Chillibreeze has launched other offerings for writers such as workshops and assessments/tests. How has the response to these products been? Is there a large market in India? Is it confined to metros or are you looking at smaller towns and cities as well?

NV: Over the past few years, hundreds of writers have registered with Chillibreeze. In addition to seasoned writers and fresh graduates, our database of registered writers includes creative individuals from other walks of life, who are passionate about writing. The number of people looking for opportunities in content writing is mind blowing. We realized that this fast growing community would benefit from a website tailored to its needs and the idea of writer services was born. The response to our offerings has been great! Writers are excited to finally have a platform exclusively for their community.

We offer writing courses, tests for those looking for detailed feedback on their writing, resume-enhancing assessments and workshops, coaching in writing, offline writer meetings, a job board, an online discussion forum, opportunities for writers to promote themselves and much more. We will soon be launching a full-fledged editing course to train aspiring editors. The course is being developed by an in-house expert. Writers can email us at writers at chillibreeze dot com or visit our writers’ website to find out more about our services and products for writers.

Since a majority of our services and products for writers are offered online, our audience is not segmented into metros and smaller towns. We are looking at Indian writers as a collective group.

AVS: Given that reading and writing forms so big a part of your work, do you read beyond work too? What kind of books do you read? Any authors you particularly like?

NV: I live to read and read to live. Whether it is a business magazine or an Indian novel, reading a few hours a day is something I can’t do without. My list of favorite authors keeps changing but my current favorites are Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Karen Maitland,  and JK Rowling (Yes, I am a big Harry Potter fan) among several others. I am currently reading Superfreakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, the authors of Freakonomics.

AVS: And finally, what next? How do you see your career going forward? What goals/plans do you have for yourself?

NV: I will be joining a full-time MBA program at McCombs School of Business (University of Texas at Austin) this fall. I am hoping to combine my medical education, entrepreneurial experience and business acumen to do something that adds value to the society in general. Of course, no matter, what I do, I will always be with Chillibreeze as part of the core team.

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