How I Freelance: Melissa Ripp

How I Freelance: Melissa Ripp

Women have valuable expertise to share and stories to tell. And Melissa Ripp wants to help them tell them.

Mel – as she’s known to her friends – originally started her marketing company as a side hustle, offering marketing services for small businesses. Over time, she shifted her focus to thought leadership and content strategy for female executives and business owners who want to build on their personal and professional brands.

Read on to learn more about how freelancing helped Mel develop new skills and find a fulfilling career path.

When did you start freelancing?

I started freelancing in 2007. My company, Peapod Marketing and PR Consulting, has been a thing for 16 years now.

At the time, I was living in my hometown of Door County, Wisconsin. It’s the thumb of Wisconsin, the Door County peninsula. Funny enough, I now live here again.

Door County is a place that depends on a lot of tourism. We have 300 miles of shoreline. We also have all these lighthouses and incredible water views. Fall leaf-peepers like to come up here. It’s just a beautiful place.

I moved back home after college and got a full-time job as a marketing director for a nonprofit. I worked in nonprofits for a long time, and then my freelancing was a side hustle along that for a long time.

But what I noticed is that when people needed help with their marketing and writing, there weren’t really a lot of resources for them. Social media was just starting to become a thing, and unless you had your own creative chops, you were kind of out of luck.

I was writing arts and entertainment columns for an independent newspaper, the Peninsula Pulse. People would reach out through the Pulse and ask if I would be interested in writing for their business. They had a press release or website copy they needed. That was how I got started.

Do you freelance full-time or part-time?

Peapod has been a thing for 16 years. But I just celebrated five years of full-time freelance work in November 2023. The day after Thanksgiving in 2018 is when I officially decided to hang up my full-time shingle and become my own boss.

Before that, I had a bunch of W-2 jobs. I was a director of communication and PR for an EdTech company. I did a lot of content strategy and writing work. I got tired of saying, “One day” instead of “Day one.”

Why did you choose to pursue freelance work?

I always knew I wanted to go out on my own and run a business. Peapod was a side hustle for 11 years, and I hustled hard.

I loved how freelancing gave me new skills. I was a really early adopter of social media and started to understand webinars and lives and those trends early on. Freelancing opportunities gave me a chance to figure things out.

My full-time jobs were still toying with this idea of digital marketing. I know it sounds funny to think about that now. But in 2007, when I started, we had websites, we had Facebook, we had all this stuff – but nobody was really using social media for business yet. Having a freelance business gave me an opportunity to discover different types of work I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

The other reason? I’ve never quite fit into corporate life. There’s a reason why the first 10 years of my career were in the nonprofit world. It was a better match for the way I looked at marketing and communications. Storytelling resonated with me early on, and it felt like nonprofit and educational institutions were the same way I was.

When I moved from Door County to Chicago and then Madison, Wisconsin, I had to be part of the corporate machine because that’s where I was finding jobs. I quickly learned that I wasn’t corporate materials. I worked my way up to a director position and was managing six people. And I don’t think I was doing it that well.

I decided to pursue full-time freelance work because I thought, I can’t do this. I’m not good in a corporate setting. I’m burning myself out. I had incredibly high anxiety. I’m still an anxious person. I just need to be in the driver’s seat.

What are your niches – and how did you choose them?

I’m a thought leadership strategist and ghostwriter for women executives and entrepreneurs. I help women determine what their content themes are and how they can get their ideas, thoughts and perspectives out into the world. And I write that content for them, in their tone and voice.

This wasn’t always Peapod’s direction. I pivoted to this work in 2020/early 2021. The reason is that I’m 42 and I came up in a world that straddled both of these really interesting times to be a woman in business.

At the beginning of my career, I had situations where I wasn’t taken seriously. I was ignored. A man would say the same thing I did or present the same idea but say it a bit differently. And everyone was like, “Oh, yeah, great idea.” I got tired of feeling like my ideas and thoughts didn’t count.

I wanted to figure out a way to present my own story and my own accomplishments. I didn’t want to feel like I was waiting for somebody to tap me on the shoulder or notice me. I’m a firm believer that if you want someone to notice you, you have to do things yourself.

I also believe that anyone can be a thought leader. I think we all have stories, perspectives and expertise that can influence people to take action and make them feel they are less alone.

Take what we’re seeing on LinkedIn. There are a lot of LinkedIn influencers who say you should be doing this and you should be doing that. But there are also a lot of people who are simply leading and teaching through their experiences. That’s what I wanted to do. And that’s also what I wanted to help other women do.

Women deserve the chance to talk about what they’ve done, what they’ve learned and what it means to them in a way that can help other people. And in doing so, they can also help themselves. A lot of women, myself included, deal with confidence issues. We need to deal with it by actively and openly talking about things related to our lives or our professional careers, and I wanted to remove that stigma.

Who are the clients you work with?

My clients are leadership, executive and organizational development coaches. They’re also fractional CMOs and VPs. What they all have in common is that they’re women, and they’re either building their own incredible thing or doing great things in the corporate world.

All of my clients are incredibly busy people who understand it’s critical to have a personal brand that’s consistent and engaging. I help them discover that – and then I help them put it out into the world.

What types of projects do you work on?

I do individual and personal brand and thought leadership messaging. My clients are asking, “What am I about and how can I make sure my ideal audience knows what I’m about?” I help them decide on content themes that resonate with them and their audience.

Once we have those content themes, I help with social media posts. LinkedIn is my bread and butter. I feel that’s where I shine and also where my clients shine.

I also do a lot of long-form writing, which can be anything from blog posts and ebooks to other lead-generation sources. I do a lot of speechwriting and website copy. And PR work, helping find places where women can extend their voices beyond their own platform. Earned media opportunities. Podcast guesting. I have a pretty extensive network and that has helped me cultivate those kinds of things for my clients.

Tell us about two tools you rely on to run your business.

I would not be able to do my business without Fathom. It’s a note-taking app that integrates with Zoom. It gives me transcripts I can use to create posts and articles. It’s been a game-changer in being able to do my job more quickly.

The other tool I rely on is HubSpot. It’s not only my CRM, but it’s also where I publish my newsletter and my email welcome sequence and all those things. It’s a really great way to make sure everything is all in one place.

Name one thing that’s surprised you about freelancing.

When you surround yourself with the right people, it becomes collaboration over competition. When I first started my business full-time, fellow writers would want to book discovery calls with me trying to get some insights. And I remember thinking, “What if they steal my work?”

There are people who do the exact same thing I do. Maybe they do it for other types of people or they do more PR and less content creation and ghostwriting. I had to adopt a mindset that there’s enough work for everyone. I know right now that’s a little hard to recognize. There have been layoffs in the tech sector and a lot of my clients have said, “Oh, I’m going to start using AI.”

But when it comes to thought leadership work, there really is enough room for everyone. It’s a complete collaboration. I don’t feel there’s a competition or that I need to hide any of my intellectual property from anyone.

Having a freelance business gave me an opportunity to discover different types of work I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Made any big mistakes during your freelance journey?

When I first started my business, I was so enthralled with the fact that I can do this thing. I can charge for this thing. That led me to take on anything and everything when it came to writing. If you needed something written, Mel was your girl. I wrote copy for B2B manufacturing sites and social media posts for a social services nonprofit and blogs about cybersecurity. The mind cannot compute all of the context-switching you have to do to work within those realms. I kept wondering why I was so exhausted every day.

I realized I loved the variety, but I couldn’t keep doing this. I hired a coach who helped me get really clear on my values and purpose and what I wanted Peapod to become. I went backward to go forward. I was able to think about what I wanted the business to be and how I didn’t just want to be an order taker. I wanted to be a strategist and a partner.

And honestly, working with that coach helped me determine I really love ghostwriting work. I stumbled upon ghostwriting by accident. It was a woman who I had done a bio for her and she asked if I would be interested in helping her craft some LinkedIn posts. I loved it, and it was because I worked with that coach that I uncovered that little nugget. Now that’s 60% of my business.

I don’t know if it was a mistake, but I moved way too much in the direction of I don’t care if I’m overworked and I don’t care if I don’t exactly like what I’m doing. I wonder what would have happened if I had worked with a coach sooner. Maybe I would have uncovered that it didn’t need to be that hard.

What are you proudest of with your business?

When I quit my job, I had six months of bill money saved up in my savings account. There was definitely a part of me that was like, “OK, here’s my six-month vacation.” I had a couple of clients in the pipeline. I knew my money was going to run out in April and I would need to look for another job. I just didn’t have a lot of self-confidence that I would be able to do this full-time.

And then I got to my one-year anniversary and then two and three. That was during COVID. I had my best year ever during COVID, which is pretty wild. Now I don’t think about what happens when my business dries up, because I don’t feel it will.

I also have a much better business development strategy than I used to. I’m not just waiting for things to come in. I don’t pretend that I’m not scared sometimes. This year has been weird, just like it was for everybody. My phone wasn’t ringing as much as I thought it would be. But I’m proud that I’ve been able to support myself and my family for five years. That’s pretty cool.

There’s lots of advice out there for freelancers. What advice do you agree with?

I’m not particularly a “woo-woo” person, but a lot of things shifted for me when I changed my mindset. I’m not saying mindset is the only reason I’m successful or that if you just change your mindset, everything will be OK. It’s a constant battle to get up every morning and say, I choose to believe I won’t have problems booking work with my ideal clients. I choose to believe there is enough work for everyone. Those things are really tough to believe because most humans aren’t wired to think that positively.

But I know mindset is a choice. It’s choosing to think differently. It’s not easy and it takes an awful lot of time. I’ve been on the other side of that equation, where I thought no one would hire me and my business would go down the tubes. My grandmother always used to say worrying is like a rocking chair: It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. That’s something I think a lot about when I think about freelance work and entrepreneurship.

What common advice do you disagree with?

I don’t agree with the idea that you have to be constantly scaling and doing other things besides your craft to grow your business. The way you grow your business is to be impeccable with your word, to do things when you say you’re going to do them and to build solid relationships and become incredibly referrable.

I don’t always do a great job at that. I slip on deadlines. Sometimes I over-promise and under-deliver. It’s part of me being a perfectionist. But if you want to write for a living, you should write for a living.

Your business will sometimes have to shift, as we’ve seen with AI. But I don’t agree that for freelancers to be successful we have to be doing five different things and creating five different revenue streams.

I believe anyone can be a thought leader. We all have stories, perspectives and expertise that can influence people to take action and make them feel they are less alone.

What areas of opportunities do you see for current or future freelancers?

I think there is a perma-lancer movement that’s really interesting. A lot of companies are bringing in freelancers and having them act as an internal agency. Sometimes when you keep things in-house, a lot of innovation and ideas get missed. Having a freelance writer or designer or developer gives you a competitive edge.

The coolest thing about freelancing right now is that we are in the driver’s seat. We have the authority and the expertise. We have what it takes to be thought leaders ourselves. We have the ability to perfect our brands and get out there in a way that people can see us. They see our values and what it’s like to work with us. We have the ability to pick and choose our clients based on what’s best for us. And that part’s really cool.

Want to connect with Mel? Find her online at or connect on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook or Threads.

How I Freelance: Michelle Garrett

How I Freelance: Michelle Garrett

When Michelle went full-time freelance in 1999, she was on the leading edge of the trend toward independent contracting. She quickly found her groove as a public relations consultant, working with tech and manufacturing companies to share their unique stories.

Nearly 25 years later, Michelle’s PR strategy and writing business is still going strong. She freely shares her PR expertise and insights as a frequently requested podcast guest and article contributor. She’s also a supportive voice for other freelancers on social media, and her weekly chat has provided a place for freelancers to gather knowledge and get encouragement over the past five years.

When did you start freelancing?

I launched my consulting practice in 1999. I went full-time freelance from Day 1.

Why did you choose to pursue freelance work?

I had always wanted to work for myself. I planned my escape from the corporate world for years.

I wanted to make sure I had the experience I needed, so I worked for all types of organizations before going out on my own: big companies, small businesses, nonprofits and finally an agency. (My mentor suggested I do that – it was valuable experience and really helped me succeed as a consultant.)

Both my parents were self-employed, so I grew up in a house where no one ever went to work for anyone else. Maybe it was in my blood to work for myself.

I think I also envisioned a workday where I didn’t have to sit in a cubicle from 8 to 5 in order to get work done and be successful.

Long before freelancing became “hot,” I saw that I could make self-employment work for me. I tried without much success to get employers to allow me more flexibility – like maybe working from home one day a week or leaving early on Fridays.

So it does my heart good to see what’s happening now, with workers pretty much demanding more flexibility. It really should have been this way; we shouldn’t have had to live and work through a pandemic to prove that flexible working arrangements could be effective.

What are your niche(s)?

As far as vertical industries, I specialize in working with B2B clients. Within B2B, I enjoy working with clients in the manufacturing, industrial and technology sectors.

As far as the types of work I do, I specialize in public relations and writing for clients. I do other types of work related to these, but these are my primary focus.

How did you choose your niche(s)?

My background screams tech. My tech experience began when I was working at the Ohio Supercomputer Center. I also worked at CompuServe and later I moved to Silicon Valley and worked for Silicon Graphics. (I realize not everyone will recognize those names, but techies might!) Then, I worked for an agency started by Andi Cunningham, who worked as the PR lead for Steve Jobs. There, I worked with companies like Adobe and HP. So my tech niche chose me.

I chose manufacturing because I’ve always enjoyed helping these companies tell their stories. I don’t think they always understand how interesting their stories are. They may not even recognize that they have stories to tell. Some of my client companies are 50+ years old and have compelling stories, customers and thought leaders that make great materials for a PR pro to work with.

Who are the clients you work with?

My favorite clients are those in the B2B sector with a smaller marketing team – sometimes a team of one.

They probably don’t have an in-house PR resource but want to have an ongoing public relations program. They usually don’t have the budget to hire an agency (and frankly, an agency could be overkill for a smaller company), so a consultant can be a good fit.

I also enjoy working with companies in the smaller business category – 500 employees or less.

What types of projects do you work on?

My favorite clients work with me on ongoing programs that include writing as well as media outreach and strategy. I can help clients write content, place the content and promote the content. I see PR, content and social media all working together. I like to make sure my clients are utilizing every avenue to amplify any earned media coverage I secure for them. I also like to see clients getting more out of their owned media (=content) by turning it into earned media (=PR) when feasible.

Where do you freelance from?

Columbus, Ohio is where I’m currently based. I started my consulting practice when I lived in Sunnyvale, California (the Bay Area).

Tell us about two tools you rely on to run your business.

I do love a good ol’-fashioned notebook and nice pen to make a daily to-do list!

I use tech tools, as well. One of my current favorites is CoverageBook. It creates pretty coverage reports with metrics I can share with clients. They love those reports – and CoverageBook makes it easy to create them.

Name one thing that’s surprised you about freelancing.

When I started my freelance business, I lived out in the Bay Area where it was pretty common to work for yourself. When I relocated back to the Midwest, I found it wasn’t as common. That was hard because I had such great support from my fellow freelancers out there. Trying to make my business work from here was tough, but because I work with clients all over the U.S. (and sometimes international clients, as well), I was able to keep the business going.

There isn’t the same community of freelancers here, sadly. I tried to start a local group in Columbus where freelancers could turn to support each other. That lasted maybe a year and a half.

When that wound down, I decided to try a Twitter chat to help support other freelancers. #FreelanceChat turned five in September, and many freelancers have told me how helpful it’s been for them. It makes me very happy to hear that the community created through the chat has helped them feel supported and be more successful as freelancers.

There is so much BAD advice out there that I feel passionately about giving freelancers a place to turn for advice that is not only free but also valuable. I think freelancers who attend the chat genuinely enjoy supporting each other. For all the things you hear about how toxic social media can be, the chat community is one place where freelancers can turn to feel supported. It’s a very positive vibe.

🟠 (Editor’s note: Unfortunately, #FreelanceChat is currently on hiatus. Michelle is looking for a new home for the chat due to Twitter/X’s declining functionality.) 🟠

I’ll add one more little story that popped into my head. When I moved back to Columbus, I reached out to self-employed PR and communications folks to connect and get my legs under me. While most were very supportive, I’ll never forget the response I received from one woman who had her own consulting business. I sent her a note to introduce myself and ask her if she would like to meet for coffee.

She replied, “Why would I want to meet with you? You’re my competition.” I was aghast. But I NEVER forgot it. That’s one of the reasons I feel so strongly about helping other freelancers. The Maya Angelou quote I often think of is, “People will forget what you say. People will forget what you do. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” I try to live by that.

I’ve always enjoyed helping these companies tell their stories. I don’t think they always understand how interesting their stories are. They may not even recognize that they have stories to tell.

Made any big mistakes during your freelance journey?

Hmmm … a couple things. For years, I didn’t invoice at the start of a project. That worked fine – until it didn’t. Now I always get something upfront. Maybe it’s a deposit or partial payment, but something.

Another thing is that I probably did too much hourly billing. Now I bill on a retainer or project basis.

What are you proudest of with your business?

I’m really proud that I’ve been freelancing for 20+ years now. I remember thinking, “Well, if this doesn’t work out, I can always go back and get a job working for someone else.” Fortunately, I’ve never had to do that. Not that there haven’t been ups and downs, but I’ve made this work for all these years.

I’m also proud that my vision to provide expert PR and writing services to clients at a price they can afford – as an alternative to an agency that may charge much more and pair up clients with less experienced practitioners – has resonated with clients over the years.

You mentioned all the advice out there for freelancers. What advice do you agree with?

There’s not just one way to do anything. You should find the way to do things that works best for YOU.

Also, be careful whose advice you follow. So much of the advice out there isn’t designed to actually help but is instead designed for the person giving the advice to try to sell you something. Use care.

What common advice do you disagree with?

My favorite is when someone says something like, “Freelancing is simple – just bill XX hours at XX rate.” NO. It is NOT that simple.

What areas of opportunities do you see for current or future freelancers?

I think freelancers can do a lot of things to brand and market themselves. If they’re a career freelancer and an expert in their specialty, for example, they might consider developing a course or other types of products that can give them some passive income and perhaps lead to more paying clients.

I’m a big advocate of working for yourself in spite of the ups and downs that come with it. Yes, there are lows – but the highs are pretty high.

Find Michelle online at, connect on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter/X, Threads or Facebook