Lee Kantor: Lee Kantor here. Another episode of Coach the Coach Radio. And this is going to be a fun one. Today, we have with us Julie Cortes, Freelance Rockstar. Welcome, Julie.
Julie Cortes: Thanks so much for having me.
Lee Kantor: Well, I'm excited to learn what you're up to. Tell us about life as a freelance rockstar.
Julie Cortes: My career path has had all sorts of twists and turns that I had to rebrand a few years ago. I started off as an advertising copywriter, and I'm still doing that to this day, but 20 some odd years later, I found myself also teaching, speaking and coaching all things freelancing. So, hence, the rebrand as the Freelance Rockstar.
Lee Kantor: Well, I also started my career as an advertising copywriter, and I also have pivoted quite a few times in my career. But those are good skills to have - copywriting skills.
Julie Cortes: Yeah, that's fun. I didn't know you did that.
Lee Kantor: Yes, fun fact.
Julie Cortes: Yes.
Lee Kantor: Now, tell us about your life. So, by day, you're a copywriter. And then, in the evening you're helping entrepreneurs kind of live a freelance lifestyle?
Julie Cortes: Well, yes and no. So, that's my shtick. That's what I tell people, copywriter by day, Freelance Rockstar by night just because it sounds good. But honestly, I weave it all really during normal business hours. And yeah, I still have my copywriting business going because I like to have my toes still dipped into the water of freelancing because those are the people that I'm helping through coaching, and teaching, and speaking.
Julie Cortes: So just a few years ago, I started the pivot when I noticed -- I guess I should back up. I noticed early in my career that there was this void for freelancers, for those who are self-employed in advertising and marketing. It was a void in education, a void in community, and avoid even and respect for the self-employed. And looking back, apparently, I made it my life's personal mission to rectify that, and I opened up a professional organization called the Freelance Exchange, which is here in Kansas City. And from that, all of these opportunities just came my way for speaking gigs and whatnot.
Julie Cortes: And it finally dawned on me as I'm going around from classroom to classroom, giving a one-hour presentation to the different colleges and universities here in Kansas City, I was like, "There's a huge gap here." So many of us went to school to learn our craft, whether it was writing or design or photography, and we didn't take business classes because they either weren't required or we didn't think we would ever need them. And lo and behold, we get out on our own, whether by choice or by default, and we may know our craft really well, but we don't know how to run a business. And while there are scores of resources out there to educate yourself, there's not much that you can find that caters specifically to the creative mind. And I understand that. I am one of those people.
Julie Cortes: And so, that's kind of where I started. I created my own class just teaching Freelancing 101 at the Kansas City Art Institute, started coaching my professional peers when they were interested in taking my class. And now, speaking on stages from anywhere locally to internationally now, just kind of preaching my message far and wide as much as I can.
Lee Kantor: Now, so, you're freelance exchanges primarily for the advertising marketing/media world, right? Like it's for the creatives in advertising and marketing primarily?
Julie Cortes: Yes. So, we wanted to be super niche-specific because people come to our website looking for talent. And so, we wanted to have that be niche-specific. And then, as well as our programming. And that's the way that we found to do that. So, that includes creative types such as the writers, designers, photographers, but also just anyone in the industry, media buyers and sellers, account reps, new business development people, web developers, they're all part of the organization.
Lee Kantor: Now, when you kind of made that pivot and saw that there was a lack of community for the freelancers specifically, and in advertising even more specifically, is that because you're kind of a people person? Like kind of you were the person that organized people prior to that or was this kind of out of your comfort zone?
Julie Cortes: That's an excellent question. Nobody's asked me that before. I am definitely a people person. When I was in school, I had an Elements of Advertising professor who actually said to the entire class, he said something that really stuck with me. He said, "If you want to get ahead in advertising, you've got to get involved." And I took that to heart. And immediately, I jumped on some boards and committees there in school. And then, once I got out of school, I immediately jumped on the board for the Advertising Club of Kansas City. They have a younger chapter called AD2. And worked my way up, served as president for that.
Julie Cortes: And that's when I started looking around once my term was over. I was looking at the Ad Club. I was looking at AIG and any of the other industry-specific organizations. And I noticed that not only were there no organizations, at least locally, specifically for freelancers, but there was no programming for freelancers. There were no discounted rates for freelancers. And we all know we could use those. And so, I just kind of set out to do something about it, quite honestly. And that's where that came from.
Julie Cortes: I was kind of a networking queen at the time. And so, I opened up my Rolodex. Yes, the old physical Rolodex. And and I emailed probably 50 people in January of 2003. And I had 20 show up for lunch and we just all started brainstorming. What can we do about this? And we came up with, you know, education and social opportunities, promotional opportunities, networking, et cetera, et cetera. And the idea just kind of grew organically. And I was like, "Okay, this is great. I can't do it all on my own. We've got to do something about this."
Julie Cortes: And within six months, we had a board. We were officially set up as a 501(c)(6), and we were starting to collect membership just within six months. And we had a hundred members. Like the very first month we were in - I don't want to say in business because we're not-for=profit, but the very first month we were up and running, and the organization has grown into just this beautiful community, this collective of likeminded individuals who have the same struggles yet come together for support and mentorship. And today, we have over 175 members, and we continue to grow as more and more people, especially now after COVID, are looking to live the freelance lifestyle.
Lee Kantor: Now, do you find that the attitude has changed towards the freelancer? Because I remember when I started my career, freelance and unemployed were kind of synonyms. That just meant that you were laid off or that you were between jobs. So, you were like, "I'm freelance." And then, it pivoted to, "I'm a consultant." So, like, it's changed. The reality might be the same, but the words might have changed over the years. Do you think that freelance and like kind of freelance as a career is more and more of an option and a path that people are feeling comfortable pursuing?
Julie Cortes: I do. And I'm in the same boat. When I started freelancing, I heard the same things. And there is some truth to that for some people, but not for all. Many people, maybe after looking for a job for so long, just kind of throw up their hands, and they are like, "Screw it, I'm going to go do my own thing." And then, they take off on this beautiful career path and end up making more money and being happier than they would have working at a traditional advertising job.
Julie Cortes: I think there's still some stigma to the term or to the lifestyle, particularly if you ask somebody who's never done it before, somebody who works full-time on the ad agency side, for example. A lot of those people tend to still have their noses in the air about the term. And there are even some in my own community. They may even be members of the Freelance Exchange, "But, oh, I don't call myself a freelancer. I'm a consultant. I'm an agency." And I'm like, "Whatever it is, it's still. It is what it is."
Lee Kantor: Right? It quacks like a duck, you know.
Julie Cortes: Yeah. Call it whatever you want, but we're all in the same boat here. So, yes and no. I feel like there's still some stigma to it, depending on who you ask. But I also feel like in and of itself, it's just kind of grown into this workforce that many people are like, "Yes, I want to go do that. I want to see if I can make it on my own. And if I can figure out things like health insurance, then why not? Why not go do that, and be my own boss and have all the freedoms that come with the territory."
Lee Kantor: Right. And I counsel some folks, young people especially about this lifestyle. And a lot of them, it's like, "I'm going to be my own boss, and make the rules, and have my own flexibility, my own kind of ways that I want to go about doing this." And then I like to let them know that you're trading one boss for lots of bosses. Now, every client is your boss.
Julie Cortes: True.
Lee Kantor: It might be your agency or might be your practice but, ultimately, now, every client is your boss; whereas before you had a boss at the agency that you were serving multiple clients, but you only had one boss at the agency.
Julie Cortes: But you know what? The great thing about that is, is if you have a pain-in-the-butt client, there's nothing that says that you can't fire them.
Lee Kantor: That's right, you can fire them. And that's another lesson that I tell people. And that's, to me, the most important one at my age is that you get to curate your client list. This is on you. You're picking them as much as they're picking you,
Julie Cortes: 100 percent, agree.
Lee Kantor: And that level of freedom is priceless to me.
Julie Cortes: Yeah. There's so much freedom that comes with the territory. You get to set your own hours. You get to work from wherever you want on whatever you want, with whomever you want. You get to choose what you wear. There's so many benefits to it. Now, of course, there are cons as well. Like I mentioned, the health insurance or no retirement, no guaranteed paycheck. And I think just for the individual, and you just kind of have to weigh the pros and cons, and see what works best for you.
Lee Kantor: Right. I mean, there's always tradeoffs in life. I mean, that is in any job. It doesn't matter. Now, in your work with the freelancers, as part of the benefits of being part of the Exchange, the opportunity to get business, or is this more of a support, mentoring, teaching, education kind of organization, or is it a place where some of either companies in town or the agencies like find talent and hire them?
Julie Cortes: So, it's both. So, when I started the organization, the idea was primarily for education and support, yadda, yadda, but we have grown into being like the destination to find talent in Kansas City. So, area ad agencies, design shops, corporations, small businesses, they all come to us looking for talent. Now, we are not like a paid headhunter. We are not a paid platform like Fiverr or Upwork. We tend to keep our hands out of it and keep the costs down. It's free. You can go to our website. You can say, "I need a graphic designer," and you can do that search and find the talent in our organization. You can go on our website, look at their portfolios, you can read their resumes or their bios.
Julie Cortes: And then, once a year, in non-pandemic times, there's an event that we call the Portfolio Showcase. And that's where we invite the local businesses and community to come out and meet us because there's so much to be said for meeting the personality behind the talent. You may be referred to somebody by your best friend. Your best friend swears by this person. But even if you look at their portfolio, and they've got a strong portfolio, if you go meet the person, and you guys just don't jive, it's not going to be a good working relationship.
Julie Cortes: So, we try and encourage that as much as possible, meet the individual behind the work, make sure you look at the portfolio ahead of time to ensure it's a win-win situation. But to answer your question, yes, we are both quite honestly. We cater both to the freelancers with continuing education, networking and support. And then, also, the local community by providing this free and easy to use resource for them to find talent that they need.
Lee Kantor: Now, at this stage in your career, does the writing kind of light you up as much as serving with this community, and helping support and grow this community? Because you seem pretty fired up about the Freelance Exchange.
Julie Cortes: You hit the nail on the head, yes. I do enjoy copywriting. And like I said, I have been doing it for quite some time. But quite honestly, I take a step back, and I look, and there are so many talented copywriters out there. Like when I'm doing that, I'm not doing anything unique, or novel, or helpful really to anybody besides selling widgets. And then, I go and I look at the impact that myself and the organization has had, and being able to help others, and helping them succeed, and that's really what lights a fire underneath me. That's really where my passion lies. And I'm very fortunate that I have been able to figure out a way to monetize that in my business, so I can bring more joy to my work, and then also help spread my message, and help other people succeed in freelancing as well.
Lee Kantor: So, now, let's give some advice for young folks out there. You were able to build a community. You were able to kind of -- it started out organically in your own career. You volunteered places, and you took leadership positions with, I would imagine, those other nonprofits, but they were in the community and they were in the niche that was your business. So, then, it wasn't totally altruistic but it was self-serving, and it was getting back to what was serving you. So, there's no shame in that at all.
Lee Kantor: But how important is that for a young person to really kind of embrace kind of leaning into these volunteer opportunities, not just joining organizations, because it looks good, and that's what I should be doing, but to really kind of lean in and take a leadership position, volunteer for positions, and work, and build a community, be part of a community in order to help themselves, but more importantly, to have an impact in their community?
Julie Cortes: Well, I'm a little biased when it comes to this. I feel like it's extremely important. And I understand not everybody is cut out for volunteering. Not everybody is extroverted. And that's okay. There are some things that you can do behind the scenes to help your community. Like I said, I took the professor's advice to heart about getting involved. And it was, for me, when I started looking around, and I started noticing this gap or this void in my industry, in this particular workforce, I'm just the kind of person where I don't sit back and watch things happen. I go and make things happen. And figuring things out along the way, say yes and figure it out later, right? And and it's worked beautifully.
Julie Cortes: And I'm a firm believer that if you put good energy out into the universe, you're going to get good energy in return. And that has come back to me tenfold. It wasn't that I started volunteering to get work. It was truly to give back. And as a result, it's been this beautiful bonus. It's like people know who I am, people know my name, and I've become an expert in something that I didn't set out to become an expert in, but I have been the go-to resource or the go-to authority in town on all things freelancing.
Julie Cortes: And it's done wonders for my business, not just for the Rockstar part of things, but for the copywriting side of things too. Like people will refer me just because they know of my volunteer work, and my leadership roles, and giving back to the community, quite honestly. So, if I had any advice for a young person, I would say absolutely make it a mission to get involved, don't just join organizations, become an active member, serve on committees. And if you feel so inclined, then definitely yes, volunteer and serve on a board, hone your leadership skills and do what you can to help us out as a whole.
Lee Kantor: So, what do you need more of? How can we help you?
Julie Cortes: I guess just help me spreading the message. Freelancing is not a bad word. You can do it. You can be successful. And if anybody needs help, I am happy to be of assistance here.
Lee Kantor: And what is the website to get a hold of you, whether it's you and your copywriting or you as part of the Freelance Exchange?
Julie Cortes: Well, my business is Julie Cortes, Freelance Rockstar. You can go to my website at juliecortes.com, and that's Cortes with an S at the end, as in Sam. And if you are interested in the Freelance Exchange, let me give you the shorter moniker, it's fxofkc.com, and that will redirect to kcfreelanceexchange.com. We are toying with the idea of taking this concept national. So, if you are listening in from another city, by all means, please let me know. I would love to talk with you.
Lee Kantor: Good stuff. Well, congratulations on all the success, Julie. You're doing such important work, and we appreciate you.
Julie Cortes: Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on.
Lee Kantor: All right. This is Lee Kantor. we'll see you all next time on Coach the Coach Radio.