Hope Katz Gibbs talks about starting a maintaining a freelance writing career with the ups and downs of the economy, and how to follow your instincts with works and clients. She has a wealth of information and resources here for freelancers.
Enjoy this interview.
You’ve been freelancing since 1993 and have an impressive list of publishing credits such as The Washington Post and USA Today. How did you first get started freelancing?
In fact, my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) turned me on the idea of freelancing. He’s illustrator Michael Gibbs (www.MichaelGibbs.com), and had been working for himself since the early 1980s. Ten years my senior, he showed me the ropes of getting clients, managing the books, and made it look so easy and enjoyable. I couldn’t resist.
Since then, we’ve both worked from home as freelancers and raised two kids. Our oldest, Anna, just left for college (at VCUarts in Richmond), and she’s been selling her photos since she was in middle school. Odds are good she’ll develop her freelance business as well: www.AnnaGibbs.com. Our son Dylan, who will a freshman in high school this year, has aspirations to be an architect, and my guess is that someday he’ll start his own firm. Freelancing and entrepreneurship is contagious!
A family full of freelancers! Love it. When it comes to freelancing, have you noticed the “feast or famine” world that people envision when someone tells them they’re a freelancer?
Like any business, freelancing is a work in progress. I was ticking along beautifully until George W. Bush got into office. Seemingly overnight, I felt a seismic shift in how my clients were operating. The economy started teetering, and many of the people I’d worked with for years began contracting and pulling the work in-house. Then when 9-11 happened, and most of my former clients went out of business.
Needless to say, that was a challenge — but like all forest fires it gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate what I was doing. I asked myself what I really wanted: Who did I want to work for, what did I want to write about, how did I want to spend my time?
I followed those cues and started working closely with the City of Fairfax Schools in Northern VA, which gave me the opportunity to put my Master’s degree in educational leadership to the test. I helped them create a newsletter that assisted in the passage of an $86 million bond to rebuild two schools. I also started doing some PR work for them, and soon after for a futurist think tank.
Then, I got into working with dozens of entrepreneurs to help them build their businesses and in 2008 launched www.InkandescentPR.com. I still do a bunch of freelance writing, and work with plenty of solopreneurs in a variety of industries. The skills required to run any small business are the same, and I’ve found a way to leverage them.
While it can be scary to embrace change, it’s also exhilarating. When I follow my heart and my guts, the path always opens to the possibilities.
I like the term solopreneurs. Many freelancers today work for clients and also supplement that with their own blogs and books. What’s your approach to maintaining a successful freelance career?
Being prolific is the secret to my success. I am happiest when I’m writing, and like most writers it is the balm that helps me work through the tough times. In fact, my dad died on Father’s Day this year and it was quite a tumultuous relationship. Soon after the funeral, I sat down to write a eulogy — and that was the most cathartic thing I’ve done in years: http://www.beinkandescent.com/articles/1801/the-art-of-letting-go
My love of writing also inspired me in 2010 to launch www.BeInkandescent.com, an online business magazine for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs. Today, we have 50,000+ subscribers and get more than 1 million visits/month. Each issue has a theme, which is dictated by our Entrepreneur of the Month. Those have included the president of Reebok, the Life is good Company founders, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.
Each issue also features 20 columns by industry experts who are our PR clients, or who buy an column on the magazine to increase their visibility. They get a writing prompt based on the theme—and it’s valuable because it gives them great visibility because they are “showing” not telling or hard selling their business. And it’s great for our readers who learn a ton about best practices in small business that they can apply to their own work.
This fall, we’re publishing our first Inkandescent Book — PR Rules: The Playbook (www.PRRulesPlaybook.com). It’s a workbook that explains the PR Playing Field (the difference between PR, marketing, advertising, social media, and sales featuring 8 experts in each industry), the 8 Steps to PR Success, and finishes with 8 case studies based on cover story interviews we did for BeInkandescent.com.
The plan is to publish 25 Inkandescent Books in the next 5 years, written and ghostwritten by our team for other entrepreneurs.
In your opinion, what’s the best way to get new clients as a freelancer?
Find the publications that resonate with you, whose writing style matches your own. I approached an editor at the Washington Post because I got a kick out of his articles, and he became a client for more than a decade. When he left to take another job, the new editor kept me on, as well because we had established a strong relationship. And, the old editor hired me to write for the new publication where he was working. I love when that happens—it’s like having a stock split!
Most recently, I came across the cover story of a magazine that sucked me in. So I sent the editors a query with a story idea, and I’ll be writing for them in 2014. Here again, I followed my heart and instincts, and that always takes me down the right path.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about freelance writers?
That we aren’t savvy business people. That we’re all grammarians. Or that we’ll be difficult to work with.
Do you have a favorite book about writing or small business that has helped you?
I love Alan Webber’s Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self. As you might know, he was the co-founder of Fast Company magazine — and he’s an incredible businessman and great human being. He was our Entrepreneur of the Month in December 2011: http://beinkandescent.com/back-issues?q=2011-12 He’ll also be featured in the case studies section of PR Rules: The Playbook,and I’m really excited about that.
I also am a big fan of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff About Money by Richard Carlson. It had been sitting on my desk for ages when I decided to find him to do an interview for BeInkandescent.com. It turned out that he died — and that his wife Kristine was carrying on the torch with her own amazing Don’t Sweat books. So I did an interview with Kristine: http://www.beinkandescent.com/articles/1326/heart-broken-open And in the months since she’s come on to be part of our speakers bureau: www.InkandescentSpeakers.com. We now go around the country together doing talks about Super-sizing Your Small Business using good PR and the Don’t Sweat principles. It’s big fun.
Anything you’d like to add?
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of following your heart, guts, and instincts — and when in doubt, just going for it. To me, whether I’m working as a freelance writer, doing PR, or trying to decide who to feature in my magazine, I’m always focused on doing what feels authentic and fun — and what inspires me. It’s so easy to get pulled off your center to do things that you think will make you money. In my experience, those choices only end in tears.
In the spirit of staying true to yourself, our August Book of the Month is cartoonist Jessica Hagy’s “How to Be Interesting.” From the chapter entitled, “Embrace Your Weirdness,” she writes: No one is normal. Everyone has quirks and insights unique to themselves. Don’t hide these things—they are what make you interesting. Leave the house as yourself. Be yourself at work. Wear your personality proudly. Don’t censor your skills or hide your unique features. To have a difference is to have an identity. To make it public is to truly be yourself.
Here here! Don’t you love that!?! Here’s to being Inkandescent.
Love that! Where can we find you online?
My freelance writing portfolio is here: www.HopeGibbs.com.
And www.TheInkandescentGroup.com is the portal that will send you to all of our Inkandescent website. Click on any one of them and you’ll see tabs at the top of each homepage that make it easy to click around to our services and seven websites. Easy peasy.