Welcome to 9 to No Thank You! an interview series with freelancers who kicked their 9 to 5 habit and now kick serious business butt. These inspiring ladies and gents are sharing the stories of their cubicle escape, and giving helpful tips along the way.
Today we’re talking to Jessica Mehring from Horizon Peak Consulting. Jessica took the cautious road to starting her freelance business and it paid off for her big time! Here she tells us about some of the steps she took to be able to leave her comfy corporate job and still support her family.
Hey Jessica! Let’s get started.
Where do you live?
I live in Northglenn, CO — smack-dab between Denver and Boulder.
What do you do? What is your business all about?
I’m a copywriter and a content marketing expert, and I specialize in working with B2B, technical and professional services businesses (including marketing agencies).
I love working with businesses that have complex offerings and helping them translate their genius into approachable content that actually engages their target audience.
I’ve been told I have a knack for clarifying and simplifying complicated topics, and making them more approachable. But that’s never my initial aim, actually. That’s just an awesome end result. I believe that effective B2B writing starts with uncovering the value that the business is providing and then aims at producing high quality, engaging content that actually converts visitors into leads and leads into sales.
I write blogs, newsletters, white papers, e-books, e-guides, brochures, website copy, print articles, infographics, social media profiles — you name it. Each business is unique in how they are best able to reach their target customers, so I stay flexible.
How long have you been freelancing? What were you doing before?
I’ve been freelancing since I was 18 years old, and I’ve been focused on web copywriting (which eventually merged into content marketing) since 2000. Goodness — that’s 15 years now!
Horizon Peak Consulting, however, has only been in existence for a little over 2 years. I freelanced alongside my full-time corporate job for many, many years. I worked for a large marketing agency and a computer corporation for the bulk of that time, doing copywriting, web content management and project management.
What was your transition into freelancing/entrepreneurship like?
Slowwwww. I took my time building what is now Horizon Peak Consulting. I built strong relationships with clients and partners over the course of about 5 years (really pushing it in the last 2 years).
I know that was 100% the right way for me to do it, because when I finally left my corporate job, my business boomed. As soon as my clients and partners found out I was available full-time, the floodgates opened!
I think part of that success came from clearing the energetic space in my life — leaving my corporate job made space for my business — but I also know that if I didn’t have those awesome relationships, the success wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic.
What do your days look like now?
I boot up my laptop around 8 and answer email and social media messages for the first hour of my day.
Then I move upstairs to my office and try to crank out as much client work as I can before taking a break for lunch. My brain is definitely best in the morning, but I’m not an early riser. (I wish I was, though!)
After lunch, I head back to my office and get back to work. Sometimes I’ll take a half hour or an hour break in the afternoon to go for a walk, do yoga, run an errand or whatever. But many days I just work straight through until anywhere from 4 to 6pm.
My brain is pretty much done by then, so while I may check in on email in the evenings, I rarely do any more writing. Writing is a very focus-intensive activity for me. I can’t even listen to music with lyrics, or I’ll get too distracted!
I try to take weekends completely off of work — but truth be told, I work at least a little bit most weekends.
What is your favourite part of being a freelancer/entrepreneur?
Besides having the opportunity to work with really cool clients on really interesting projects? There is a direct connection between effort and reward.
In my corporate job, the harder I worked… well, the harder I worked. As a business owner, the harder I work, the more my business grows and the more money I make. Talk about motivation!
From a more personal standpoint, however, my favorite part of being self-employed is that I can be with my family more.
What were some of the doubts or roadblocks you had when you started, and how did you work through that?
Letting go of the corporate safety-net was terrifying. No more steady paychecks, no more group health insurance, no more paid vacations… that’s scary when you’re supporting a family.
So I just did my best to get my ducks in a row before I left my corporate job. Like I mentioned, I built strong relationships so I knew I could count on certain clients and partners for work (at least enough to pay the bills, initially). I lined up individual insurance before my group insurance ended. I socked money away in savings for emergencies and the occasional vacation. Even with all that planning, it still felt like a big leap… but really, the transition couldn’t have been smoother. I’m glad I took the time to set everything up the way I did.
Is there something you know now that you wish you would have known when you were first starting out? And what are your best tips for freelancers just getting their start?
I heard all these “big leap” stories about people abandoning their corporate jobs — and some nearly going broke — to start their dream business. And while dramatic stories are awesome for some people and some businesses, there’s no shame in taking the longer, more conservative route. I might not have a crazy story to tell, but my business has comfortably supported my family since the day I left my corporate job. That’s nothing to sneeze at!
If you’re not a “big leap” kind of person, don’t worry about it. Grow your business your way. Take as much time as you need. Even overnight successes don’t happen overnight, you know.
My best tip is probably this: Put relationships first. Bring value to the table in everything you do, always do the best job you’re capable of (plus more) and great clients and partners will naturally begin to align with you. Continuously and consciously cultivate those relationships, because they’re more beneficial to your business than any Facebook ad or free webinar will ever be.
What are some of your favourite tools for running your freelance business?
For digital tools, I can’t live without Asana, Google Calendar and Hootsuite. But I use a paper Franklin Covey day planner, too, which in addition to keeping me on track with my daily tasks also keeps my meeting notes easy to find.
And coffee. I can’t live without coffee.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I’m writing a series of e-books on B2B copywriting. I plan to launch them this fall as a bundle for sale on my website with bonus templates, cheat sheets and swipe files. My Kindle book, Content That Sells Without Selling: How to Create a White Paper (http://bit.ly/whtpprkindle), was such a hit, I feel like people are ready to hear more about what makes B2B copy and content effective and how to write it (whether that’s newbie copywriters or businesses writing their own copy). I hope to really fill a need with this book series.
Where can we find you?