Life Experiences From A Longtime PR Freelancer

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Michelle Garrett has been freelancing for a while. Born in Ohio to self-employed parents, she learned early on that she valued the kind of freedom that freelancing can provide. After college, she took a few marketing and communications jobs to give her a skill base, then struck out on her own and hasn’t looked back. She now is a full-time public relations (PR) freelancer and runs the popular Twitter chat #FreelanceChat

In this Q&A interview, Michelle shares her journey into freelancing, how freelancers can keep their mental and physical health strong, and her top tips and resources for all freelancers. 

How did you get into freelancing?

I had my sights set on freelancing since I can remember. My parents were both self-employed, so I grew up in a house where no one ever went to work for someone else. I think it was in my DNA to start my own business. 

Also, to borrow a line from the movie Office Space, “Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.” 

So, I laid the groundwork by working in marketing and communications roles until I felt I had the experience I needed to strike out on my own. The last job I had before I hung out my shingle was with an agency. That was invaluable because it taught me how to juggle multiple clients – and it also helped me build a network that has continued to refer projects to me as recently as last year. 

What was the worst client experience you’ve ever had?

Oh, hmmm….well, I once worked with a client who wanted me to ghostwrite for an executive who was new to the company – without giving me any access to the executive. Sort of a nightmare. And, it’s also impossible to capture their voice without spending some time talking with them. 

michelle garrett speaking
Image source: Michelle Garrett

They would say, “He wants it to sound more like him. Can you make it sound more like him?” Me: “Well, what does he sound like? Can we set up some time so I can speak with him?” Them: “He’s too busy for that.” 

I mean, it wasn’t pretty. 

What’s your freelancer tech stack?

  • Buffer for social media (I also have a couple of clients I manage social media for on there). 
  • Grammarly – it follows me on social media, email, documents – it really helps me avoid typos (I tend to type fast!).
  • I have a media database (won’t name names – I have relationships with more than one company in this space).
  • I have accounts with wire services like PR Web and PR Newswire. 
  • Wave for accounting. 
  • A lot of spreadsheets – Excel & Google sheets.
  • Old fashioned notebooks & pens.
  • Any solutions the client uses that they’d like me to use (Slack, Trello, etc.). 

What’s one pitfall of freelancing that every freelancer should be aware of? How can they avoid it?

Make sure you are getting paid at least a portion of your fee upfront – especially with a new client. I never used to do this – but I learned the hard way. People will take advantage of you if you don’t protect yourself. 

What are your best strategies for maintaining mental and physical health? What’s your routine?

I try to have a healthy work/life balance. I’m a mother of two teens, so they help keep me grounded and give me a great reason to take breaks. For example, we always eat dinner together. 

I try to work regular hours as much as I can – I avoid working evenings and weekends, except when I need to. I take time off when I need to. Maybe it’s just an afternoon here and there, but it helps. Because I’m my own boss, I can do that. 

I usually take a vacation every summer and also try to take time off over the holidays, even if we don’t travel. 

For exercise, I walk just about every day – on a treadmill in the colder months or in wet weather and outside if the weather is nicer. 

And I love being able to talk to my freelance friends who lend support and help me think through challenging situations. It’s a big deal to have that kind of support when you work for yourself. 

What’s your top personal finance / money tip that every freelancer should know about?

Make sure to set aside money to pay your own taxes. That’s something not every freelancer may not know when they start out. It can be a major problem if you don’t pay your quarterly taxes or set aside money. I have an accountant who specializes in self-employed clients, so he helps me with my taxes. 

What’s your favorite freelancer resource?

I like Freelancer’s Union’s blog.

I sometimes pull topics for #FreelanceChat from there – and it has some great advice on all types of topics for freelancers. 

And, I’ve even contributed a few articles.

Read Next: How Freelancers Can Find Work Life Balance

Header image courtesy Michelle Garrett