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 michellegarrett.com, connect on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter/X, Threads or Facebook