Julie Cortés is an award-winning freelance advertising/marketing copywriter and proofreader, who works in all mediums and most industries. Her client and account lists run the gamut, from ad agencies and design shops to corporations and small businesses. In addition to serving her clients, Cortés has dedicated her 20+ year career to helping others be successful as well. She is the founder and past president of The Freelance Exchange of KC—an industry organization that serves both self-employed professionals as well as the businesses that hire them. She is also an adjunct professor at the KC Art Institute, where she created her own course, Freelancing 101. Cortés is regularly sought out for mentoring, speaking engagements and media interviews.
Brad Burrow: Hello, this is the In a World with Real Media, podcast. And I have a very special guest today, Julie Cortés, the founder of the Freelance Exchange. Julie, thank you so much for coming on. That’s awesome. Great to have you here today.
Julie Cortes: Thanks for having me, really appreciate it.
Brad Burrow: So I do have to say, I was looking on Twitter today, and I saw your new headshot picture. Those are awesome.
Julie Cortes: Thank you. Thank you.
Brad Burrow: You’re truly transforming into a rockstar.
Julie Cortes: That’s the whole brand idea.
Brad Burrow: Tell me about that. Tell me about your brand. Tell me. You’re the Copy Diva. I see that on license plate.
Julie Cortes: Uh-huh.
Brad Burrow: Where did that all come from?
Julie Cortes: Well, I’ve been running my own business for 21 years as a freelance copywriter. That means I write advertising and marketing materials. I started out with this whole theme for my brand of being really into disco. And over the years-
Brad Burrow: Is that right?
Julie Cortes: Yeah. I used to love disco music.
Brad Burrow: I should have had a disco ball right here.
Julie Cortes: A disco ball? Yeah, that was my shtick for many, many years. And I loved it, and it worked. But then I eventually decided I needed to go back to my roots of being a rocker chick. And just as my brand has evolved and developed over the years, I’ve gone from being a freelance copywriter, to the founder of the Freelance Exchange, to now teaching at The Art Institute, and speaking and coaching. And I just needed one brand that was overarching over everything that I do. And that’s where Freelance Rockstar came from. So yeah, those headshots were perfect with the fan blowing my hair and everything.
Brad Burrow: You realize we’re recording this podcast in a recording studio right now, so we could get a band together.
Julie Cortes: Yes, let’s get the band together. That’d be awesome.
Brad Burrow: Cut an album.
Julie Cortes: Yes.
Brad Burrow: That’s awesome. So tell me a little bit about your career. I think people would love to hear. Obviously, we know where you are now. But from the beginning, were you a creative person? I mean, obviously, you love creative things.
Julie Cortes: Yes.
Brad Burrow: Tell me how that developed into getting you to where you are now.
Julie Cortes: Honestly, it started at a really young age. I always loved really creative commercials. I was the kid who would record the Super Bowl only to fast forward through football, which was stupid to me. You know? For the awesome commercials. And then I realized, “Hey, I can get a job in advertising. Maybe I should study that.” And I went to KU, and I got my degree in journalism because that’s where the advertising sequence was. And it wasn’t until my first internship, where I actually learned that if I wanted to be on the creative side, I had to choose between writer and designer. And I’m like, “Oh, I really love both. But you know what? I’m already trained in writing. I always get A’s on my papers and whatnot. Maybe I should just go down that path.”
Julie Cortes: And so I did. And got out of school. And my first job was on the corporate side of things. And then I finally got my big break and moved over to the agency side. And then like many people in the advertising industry, I lost my job. And initially, I was just devastated. But now, as I look back, that was totally a blessing in disguise. And as I sat there and I looked for other jobs, and I was freelancing in the meantime to try and pay my bills, I was like, “All right, I’m going to see if I can make this work.” Now this was 21 years ago, quite a while ago, and things were much different.
Brad Burrow: ’98 probably? Something like that?
Julie Cortes: Yes, exactly. Exactly. But I was like, “I’m going to see if I can make this work.” And so I sat down, and I wrote a business plan, and a marketing plan, and set goals. And I have not looked back once. It’s been an amazing ride.
Brad Burrow: Wow, that’s amazing. So you had the gumption to really sit down … Most creative people would never sit down and put together a business plan.
Julie Cortes: Right.
Brad Burrow: You know, they’re just going to go out, “Yeah, I lost my job. I’m just going to go see if I can get some work.”
Julie Cortes: Right.
Brad Burrow: And having a plan’s a big deal, right?
Julie Cortes: It’s a huge deal.
Brad Burrow: Is that one of the things that you help freelancers learn?
Julie Cortes: I do. It’s different teaching business practices to the creative mind. Because we are very different people. But I understand that. I am one of those people. You know? And I just decided if I wanted to make this my business, I needed to be serious about it. And so I have learned to blend both sides of my brain, you know, being a right brain thinker and left brain thinker. I’ve blended it together, but I’ve found the formula that works. And so now people come to me, and they want me to teach their classes and speak to their students. And then now my professional peers, they want to hear how I’ve been able to make it work too. And I think that’s exactly it. It’s the business side of things that creatives don’t typically think about. But that can make or break your business.
Brad Burrow: Yeah. Why is so hard for us to think that way, from a creative … I’ve had to learn that too, honestly, from the business. I can get in front of a group and come up with a great idea for a TV commercial or a video. But the business side of things is so hard. It’s hard work for me to do those things. I’ve learned how to do it. But it’s hard work.
Julie Cortes: It’s hard work. And we don’t like to do it. It’s just not in our nature. A lot of us are like, “Math? Numbers? Ooh, scary.” You know?
Brad Burrow: Accounting.
Julie Cortes: I know. Ohh. Yeah, we don’t like those kind of things. But there are certain tips and tricks that you can use to make things less scary. Or outsource it. Find the right resources. Find an accountant to do things for you, or a virtual assistant. And it just makes it so much more palatable.
Brad Burrow: So do you find a lot of people know you as the Copy Diva?
Julie Cortes: I do.
Brad Burrow: They probably don’t even know your real name. They just know you as the Copy Diva. Is that right?
Julie Cortes: Perhaps. I think it’s funny, you mentioned I’ve even got it on my license plate now. And I pull up at stoplights, and I look in the rear view mirror. And I see people behind me going, “Copy D-V-A.” You know? “Is that a vet?”
Brad Burrow: You can see it in their minds they’re trying to figure out what that stands for, right?
Julie Cortes: Well, yeah, and of course, most people don’t even know what a copywriter is, so they probably think I make copies at Kinko’s for a living or something. Right?
Brad Burrow: Yeah, that’s funny. So you obviously like writing a lot.
Julie Cortes: I do.
Brad Burrow: Well, what is it about writing that you like so much?
Julie Cortes: It’s very expressive for me. And I love the conversation part about it. One of the biggest reasons I got into this business was because there’s so much bad advertising and marketing out there. And I’m like if people are going to be inundated by these sales messages, don’t we as the advertisers, don’t we owe it to them to at least make it somewhat entertaining?
Brad Burrow: Yeah.
Julie Cortes: And so that was my whole goal, was to get in there and make more creative, make things more conversational, so it doesn’t seem so salesy and in your face, but more like, “Hey, we’re having a conversation. Hey, I’ve got this really cool product or service. You should probably check it out.” That kind of thing.
Brad Burrow: Yeah. You know, one of the things I see a lot, I’d really love to get your thoughts on this, but I see a lot of ads and videos where people have spent so much effort trying to make something look cool. But the message is completely lost. But it looks cool. It’s got neat camera movement. It was shot really neat. It’s got the elements that if you were just looking anything up, it’s pretty cool. But completely missed the mark on a message. Would you agree with that?
Julie Cortes: Oh, that drives me absolutely batty. Or even the pieces I see, even a billboard, and it’s got a huge typo on it, and nothing’s been proofed. There’s nothing that drives me even more crazy. It’s like it’s not just about the visual part. It’s about the concept. It’s about the messaging and how you’re communicating with people. And I hear this all the time. “Oh, I don’t need a writer. I took English classes in high school.” Well, mazal tov. That doesn’t get you very far. You know?
Brad Burrow: Yeah. That’s true.
Julie Cortes: Yeah, or even now, you hear people, “Oh, I don’t need a professional photographer. I can take great photos with my phone.” Well, really? Do you know what you’re doing when it comes to lighting and positioning? And are you really going to be able to get results? Sure, anybody can take a picture or write a paragraph. But does that mean it’s going to work?
Brad Burrow: I have to tell this story. I was in a meeting just recently with a company that we’re doing work with, and getting them scheduled to do B-roll. You know, we want to go out and shoot B-roll so we can create all their content. It’s been really, really tough. Okay? So the owner of the company says to me, “Well, how about this? I’ll just take my iPhone out. And while I’m out working all day long, I’ll just shoot video of things. Can we use that for our commercial?”
Julie Cortes: Oh, no.
Brad Burrow: And so I’m sitting here as the owner. And I want to do a great job for them. I don’t want to insult him. But in my mind, I’m like, “Are you crazy?” But some people don’t get it. They think that that’s perfectly fine.
Julie Cortes: They don’t get it. And you’ll see on social media too, people are always asking for referrals. “Hey, I’m looking for a designer.” Or, “I need a logo done, but for cheap.” It’s like they don’t understand what goes into it, and that quality actually is going to make or break your product, or service, or company, whatever the case may be. And it drives me crazy. Because everybody wants the cheapest deal, but they want the best quality. It just doesn’t go together. It doesn’t mesh. Do you want it cheap? Do you want it good? Do you want it fast? Pick one. You know?
Brad Burrow: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a big, big challenge. And then you have websites out there like Fiverr and places like that, and I’ve had people come to me and say, “Well, I can get this done on Fiverr.”
Julie Cortes: Yeah, go right ahead.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, you can. You can. The challenge is finding clients that really do value your expertise and what you do, and knowing that, “Hey, this is going to be done right, and it’s going to be effective.”
Julie Cortes: Exactly. In fact, we just had that discussion today. We had a Freelance Exchange luncheon today. And we were talking about Fiverr, and everybody’s rolling their eyes. And yes, while it does serve its purpose, it totally devalues the profession.
Brad Burrow: It does, yeah.
Julie Cortes: And I can’t even compete, nor do I want to. There are writers overseas who are charging maybe eight bucks an hour. And I’m like, “Gosh, that’s less than minimum wage. I don’t want to do that. Why did I go to school?” And for us, it’s more of it’s not just the work, and in my case as a writer, working with somebody where English is a first language and not a second language. But it’s also the personality and the relationship and the strategy that goes behind it. It’s not just about the final product. It’s about the entire experience from beginning to finish.
Brad Burrow: See? And that’s what believe on the video side as well. One of the things I like to do when we kick off a project is sit down, and I tell them it’s just like fishing. I want to know what kind of fish are we wanting to catch? Once I know that, I’m going to know where they are, I’m going to know what they bite on. So your marketing message is the same way. We need to know your audience really, really well. And we have to know how to speak to them in a way that they’re going to respond. And then what do we want them to do? Seems so simple. But it is never done. You know? So I think that there’s … Maybe I just gave away company secrets. I’m going to have to edit that out.
Julie Cortes: Uh-oh.
Brad Burrow: But it just seems so simple to me that people don’t get that.
Julie Cortes: Yeah. I don’t know. Just the whole thing where they don’t care about value. That just drives me crazy. Or these people who do contests online, you know? “Hey, everybody submit your favorite logo, and we’re going to pick. But we’re only going to pay the designer who actually … The one that we pick, that’s the one we’re going to pay.” I’m like, “No, that’s not the way it works.”
Brad Burrow: Believe it or not, that’s how the sports industry does work though.
Julie Cortes: What?
Brad Burrow: Yeah. So that was how we started, was doing animation and graphics for sports teams. So the Chiefs and Royals, and we’ve worked with 60 teams over the years, okay? So what happens in the sports industry is the guy that’s running the video board, that’s putting these projects out for bid says, “Hey, we need a new game open for the Royals next year, okay? So submit your ideas, and we’ll pick the one we like.”
Julie Cortes: Oh my gosh.
Brad Burrow: So they completely take the whole creative process out of the mix. And you and your team have to come up with the creative, sell the creative, and then if they like it they’ll hire you to do it.
Julie Cortes: That’s crazy.
Brad Burrow: And I even had a sports team come to me one time and said, “We really like your creative, but we want to have somebody else do it.”
Julie Cortes: What?
Brad Burrow: That’s right.
Julie Cortes: Oh, that’s not cool.
Brad Burrow: Yeah. And so I was forced with a decision at that point, “Okay, do I say yes, and lose the opportunity even though it was the best creative? Or do I say no and burn a bridge that I probably am not going to be able to …” This was a really tough decision.
Julie Cortes: Yeah. And that’s a completely different market that I’m unfamiliar with. So that’s fascinating to learn.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, that’s kind of why we’re out of the sports business. We still do some, but-
Julie Cortes: I don’t blame you.
Brad Burrow: I mean, it’s really cool to be able to do stuff that you’re seeing in front of 70,000 people and game opens and stuff, and people are screaming. That’s cool.
Julie Cortes: Sure.
Brad Burrow: But, boy, you have to almost sell your soul to get that work.
Julie Cortes: Yeah, that’s just … You know, I’m in a position now, after 21 years being in the business, I’m kind of glad that I don’t have to do those kind of things anymore. I don’t have to hustle as hard anymore. People know who I am, and I get all of my work pretty much from referrals. So it’s a nice position to be in. I’m not going to lie.
Brad Burrow: Okay, so this is a good way to transition to Freelance Exchange. Say I’m just starting out as a freelancer. And I want to really learn how to built what you’ve built. Something similar, where I have a great reputation, people are calling me. Maybe I’m at a point where I’m even turning down work because I’m so busy. Where do I start?
Julie Cortes: Well, go to the Freelance Exchange. Our website is KCFreelanceExchange.com. And you’ll find that we are a community of creatives and anybody who is self-employed in advertising or marketing. And it’s all about continuing education and mentoring and networking and really becoming savvier businessmen and women. We have monthly luncheons where we bring in speakers. We host round table discussions, to really talk about the things that you don’t normally think about, such as, oh gosh, especially if you’re first starting out, taxes. What can and can’t you write off? What mileage is good? What mileage is not good? Can you write off business clothes, or can you not? You know, there’s all these little idiosyncrasies that you have to think about. And then we have a lot of networking, and we have social activities between coffee meetups and happy hours. And then our annual portfolio showcase. And we host that once a year. And it’s basically a big B2B trade show expo where we invite in the business community, as well as ad agencies and design shops. It’s the premier place to find freelance talent.
Julie Cortes: And again, it’s not just look at the work and find a designer, so to speak, but find the right person for you, that fits your style best and fits your personality best. So really, I think those who invest in themselves are the ones who are going to grow. And you have to spend a little bit of money to make money, but cost to even join the Freelance Exchange is probably less that one or two hours worth of anybody’s work, and it totally pays off. And it’s not even like rubbing elbows with competition because these are your fellow partners, referral partners, and you can team up with people to create virtual agencies for clients. There’s so much opportunity here. You just have to find it and get involved and take advantage of it.
Brad Burrow: So networking’s a big deal.
Julie Cortes: Yes.
Brad Burrow: Do you find that creatives are pushing back against that quite a bit? Because a lot of us are introverted.
Julie Cortes: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brad Burrow: I’ve had to kind of overcome that, I guess. I’m not as introverted as a lot of creatives are. But a lot of them are immersed in their work and the design and that creative process. The thought of going to a networking event and having to meet somebody, and talk to them, and sell myself? That scares a lot of people.
Julie Cortes: It can be scary. And I would say probably 80% of the members of the Freelance Exchange are introverted. I’m a rare bird, I know. But everybody is so friendly. And everybody’s in the same boat. So even if you’re networking with your peers, you know you’re in a safe place. And everybody’s coming from a genuine place of kindness and wanting to help one another, as well as help yourself and benefit your own business.
Brad Burrow: What’s some advice that you would give to somebody that maybe is … They’re going to take that first step. “Okay, I’m going to go to my first event, or I’m going to get involved.” What would you tell them? Maybe two or three things that, “Here’s what to expect. Here’s what you can do.”
Julie Cortes: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, especially for the introverts, I would say do a little bit of research up front, ahead of time, so you know what you’re getting yourself into. Look on the website. Look for pictures maybe on their Facebook page. You know, “Who’s going to be there? What are they wearing? What are they doing?” kind of thing. And just kind of be prepared walking into it. But go in with an open mind. I think the best way to meet somebody is to find somebody else standing there alone. Because then your presence is totally going to be welcome. You know?
Brad Burrow: “How are you doing?” Yeah.
Julie Cortes: Exactly. But I mean, you can just kind of walk up to them, “Hey, I don’t see you talking to anybody either. What’s your name? What brings you here today?” kind of thing. But there’s something to be said too for introverts and taking time out for yourself and recharging your batteries. So if you have to step away for a few minutes and go out to the lobby, or go refresh your drink, that’s totally okay, and everybody gets it. You know?
Brad Burrow: Yeah. So is this something that you would teach in a class situation for a group of creatives, is like, “Okay, let’s learn how to network.”
Julie Cortes: Yeah. Absolutely. With the Freelance Exchange, we would bring in a speaker to host that discussion and that presentation. It’s something that I teach my coaching clients. It’s something I teach my students at The Art Institute as well.
Brad Burrow: So what are some of the exercises that you would go through to teach somebody how to network? Can you tell me?
Julie Cortes: Well, sure. We do a speed networking exercise, which is always fun. I make sure that the students are ready with their networking toolbox, if you will. They need to know what their USP is, their unique selling proposition, which is like their differentiator, what makes them different. And then we work on building their elevator speeches as well, so they know how to answer the question when somebody says, “What do you do?” but also turn it around so it benefits the person that they’re talking to, how to have that conversation. We talk about things to bring with you, such as, “Hey, bring some mints with you,” because what if you have some coffee at this coffee meetup, and then you have coffee breath? You know? I mean, just little-
Brad Burrow: Wait, we got to stop. I got to go get a mint real quick.
Julie Cortes: Right? You just never know. Or gosh, there’s this fabulous appetizer or buffet there, but something is really garlicky. You know? You want to be prepared. So having things in your little networking toolkit is very helpful to have on hand.
Brad Burrow: People don’t think of things like that. I don’t think of things like that.
Julie Cortes: They don’t. That’s why they come to me for coaching, right?
Brad Burrow: Yeah.
Julie Cortes: But it’s very helpful because you don’t want to be stuck, and not being able to talk because you know your breath reeks, right?
Brad Burrow: Right. Right.
Julie Cortes: So just excuse yourself for a second, run to the restroom or whatever, pop that mint, and get back to it. You know?
Brad Burrow: Yeah, so I recently read … I think maybe it was on the Facebook page, the Freelance Exchange Facebook page, a gentleman who actually used to work for me. I won’t mention his name. You probably will know when I mention the story. But went to Comic-Con and had a client that he thought was going to pay him. Didn’t pay him. And all of a sudden, he’s panicking, is what it looked like. What can you tell people that are listening to this from a freelance standpoint? I mean, from a business standpoint, you’ve got to have everything in order. And if somebody’s not willing to pay you up front or put a down payment on the work, or have the right terms or anything like that, you got to walk away. And it’s hard when you’re struggling, or when you’re just trying to make ends meet, to say no.
Julie Cortes: Yeah. Absolutely. That particular instance, I do know who you’re talking about. He is a fabulous illustrator, and he got in a scam. This company came to him wanting to hire him as a contractor. And anyway, it was ridiculous. And I’m not sure how else he could have prevented that from happening except for maybe taking the paperwork to an attorney, which, in retrospect, yes, he probably should have done. But I think that’s a little bit than most instances when you’re going in to work with a brand new client. Yes, it is a big red flag if they don’t give you a deposit, if they don’t sign your estimate, if they don’t sign your contract. It’s a huge red flag. And nine times out of ten, I tell people to walk away. However, there are some instances where I have found where it works out. Such as maybe some of these bigger healthcare facilities, or even educational facilities. They are not legally able to sign your contract. But maybe they have a contract that they put into play.
Julie Cortes: But I think a lot of freelancers also don’t realize that they have negotiating power. They don’t have to agree to absolutely everything that’s in that contract that’s presented to them. Because it has to be fair and balanced. And if it says something like … You know, here’s a good example. There was an ad agency that came to me maybe a year or so ago and said, “Hey, Julie, we’re not going to sign your estimate. We’re not going to sign your contract. We’re not going to give you a deposit. But will you sign our contract?” And I’m like, “Wait a second.” You know? I’m like, “That’s totally not cool. And do you want me to go back and tell all of these freelancers that you totally take advantage of them? Because that’s not cool.”
Julie Cortes: But anyway, I was like, “Okay, well let me look at your contract before I sign it.” And I looked at it. It was six pages. Most of it was just normal stuff, like who owns the copyright, and the usage, and all that stuff. But there was one line in there that caught my attention. And it said, “We won’t pay you until 30 days after we get paid by the client.” And I was like, “Nope. We’re scratching that out.” I’m like, “I’m sorry, I am not a financial institution,” you know? And this wasn’t going to be a multi-thousand dollar project. It was just a handful of hundred dollars or whatever, you know?
Julie Cortes: But so I was like, “Okay, I’m going to send this my attorney.” And then I came back to them and I was like, “Okay, well as part of the negotiation process, I’d like to ask for this line to be changed to that you’re going to pay me within 30 days of receiving my invoice.” They’re like, “Okay. No problem.” But I don’t think most freelancers would even think to do that. They wouldn’t know that they have that power. They wouldn’t have the confidence to do that kind of thing. But they should.
Brad Burrow: That’s right.
Julie Cortes: They should. And that’s what we’re trying to teach with the Freelance Exchange, and through coaching, and my classes, and whatnot, is to empower people to stand up for themselves and for what their legal rights are and what their business rights are. Don’t let agencies and businesses take advantage of them.
Brad Burrow: Yeah. One of the things that I learned pretty early on at Real Media is that I at least have to have a 25 or 30% down payment to start. Because in the video world, we get way out of sync bad if we don’t have the cash flow to cash flow projects. And so I can’t really do all the work and then get paid 30 days after the project’s done. We don’t be able to make it.
Julie Cortes: Right.
Brad Burrow: So what that’s done is forced me to, which was very uncomfortable in the beginning, say, “I’m going to need 50% up front to make this happen.” And I finally got to the point where I wasn’t scared to ask for it. It’s just, “This is what we have to have to do business with us.”
Julie Cortes: Right.
Brad Burrow: And what that does is forces them to buy in. And now they’re bought in to the project, and I don’t seem to have problems. It’s when they don’t value you enough to do that. Then you’re like, “This probably isn’t a good fit.”
Julie Cortes: Exactly. And what I had found earlier on, because I had my own fair share of clients gone bad, if you will. But those who weren’t willing to sign a contract or weren’t willing to give you a deposit up front usually are going to be the ones that don’t pay on time, if at all, in the long run. So that’s a huge red flag for me.
Brad Burrow: Yeah. That’s a big learning lesson for the freelance world, isn’t it? Is just learning how to do the contracts. Do you have attorneys that you work with on your contracts?
Julie Cortes: Yeah, we do. In fact, we have a friend of ours in the business, Chris Brown from Venture Legal. He’s a friend of the Freelance Exchange. And we refer him out. He’s a referral partner. And I think he’s on our website as an associate member as well. But he’s fabulous, and he loves working with creative freelancers.
Brad Burrow: So he’s a resource that your freelancers could go to and get just a basic contract in place that they could use for their projects.
Julie Cortes: Yeah. And in fact, he’s working on this. It’s called Contract Canvas. And essentially, it’s going to be a template that he’d be able to have online, and he’d have all the document signature capabilities, and you can just change things out, really easy peasy. And it’s going to be a fantastic resource for freelancers around the country.
Brad Burrow: I might want to check that out.
Julie Cortes: Yeah. I’m excited for it to come out.
Brad Burrow: You know, one of the things that I wanted to ask you about as well is one of the least favorite things that I do is writing proposals. And in video world, I’d like to write my proposals to talk about, “Here’s the problem. Here’s how we’re going to solve this problem. Here’s our strategy for doing this, the process, and all those things.” And it just takes forever.
Julie Cortes: It does.
Brad Burrow: What are your thoughts on proposals? I mean, do we really need to get that detailed on proposals when we’re doing … You’re shaking your head yes at me.
Julie Cortes: Well, I think it depends. It depends on the project. It depends on the client. I mean, you don’t want to give everything away either. Because they haven’t exactly signed a contract just yet. You’re just proposing things, you know? So I think it’s okay to give a general idea and maybe some tactics that you would take. But I wouldn’t give away everything. Personally, I do more estimates than proposals, so that’s a little bit out of my wheelhouse. But I totally … I’m on board with selling your value and what makes you different, what makes you special. But I think that also comes with the territory of having a relationship and conversations up front, if you have that opportunity to do so.
Brad Burrow: Yeah. Just curious to hear your thoughts on that. I would love to find somebody that was a proposal writer.
Julie Cortes: Yeah.
Brad Burrow: That would know me well enough, and then say, “Here are the parameters. Just go do that.”
Julie Cortes: Just go do that. Exactly. We should have somebody in the Freelance Exchange. I’ll have to look and see if there is anyone.
Brad Burrow: Yeah. And then the other thing I was going to ask you about, then I want to get into how Freelance Exchange started. But the whole RFP. Do you do RFPs at all?
Julie Cortes: I don’t. Again, I’m in a position … And I don’t want to say it like-
Brad Burrow: You don’t have to.
Julie Cortes: … like I’m bragging. Yeah, I don’t have to anymore. You know? I think I did a few early on. And it’s just such a pain in the ass, quite honestly.
Brad Burrow: I would agree.
Julie Cortes: Yeah. So it’s not really my cup of tea. Again, for me it’s all about relationships. And I, early on, when I first started my business, I got most of clients through networking and just from referrals. And that was great for me, especially from the relationship side of things. So I wasn’t flying blind with anything.
Brad Burrow: I’ve found, on RFPs, that we are not very successful at winning RFPs.
Julie Cortes: Really?
Brad Burrow: Yeah. And I don’t know why it is. But I feel like a lot of times that, especially government agencies, are forced to get three bids when they know who they want to work with. So you become the person that’s actually helping them meet their requirement of getting three bids when you had no chance of getting the project. That sounds kind of negative, but that has happened to me so many times.
Julie Cortes: What a waste of time too. All that time and effort you put into that, that’s ridiculous.
Brad Burrow: And I’ve even called up clients afterwards and said, “Can you tell me why we didn’t get the project? I want to learn what we could do different.” And they won’t tell you.
Julie Cortes: Oh, they won’t?
Brad Burrow: Yeah. So I said, “Please don’t send me another RFP. I’m not interested in doing RFPs.”
Julie Cortes: Good for you.
Brad Burrow: But I’m just curious if you had had a similar kind of experience with that, or if you have ever been asked that question.
Julie Cortes: Yeah, like I said, I had submitted one or two back in the day, and I never got anything out of it. And so I was like, “Nah, no that’s just not the route for me.”
Brad Burrow: Yeah. All right, so moving on, Freelance Exchange. So that was born out of what? How did that come about?
Julie Cortes: Well, so back in the day, there was a gentleman, a very well known advertising headhunter by the name of [Don Dye 00:28:50] who used to get maybe eight freelancers together every month for lunch. And they would meet at Classic Cup and just talk. Now I think for him, his whole goal for doing that was to figure out who the freelancers were and who he could place where. So it was kind of brilliant on his behalf, but I looked at it, and honestly I never got a chance to go before he stopped doing it. But I was like, “What a great opportunity for these freelancers to get together and meet each other and to learn from one another?” And then there was another girl in town who had made the comment of, “Hey, we need to have a company holiday party because we are companies of one, right?”
Julie Cortes: Anyway, so all these little ideas are coming to me, and when I got out of school, I immediately jumped on the board of directors for Ad 2 which is a subgroup of the American Advertising Federation, or Ad Club. And I busted my tail, and I went to all these activities and everything. And then I finally looked around and I was like, “There is nothing specifically for freelancers.” There’s groups for designers. There’s groups for photographers, for business marketers, direct marketers, et cetera. Nothing for freelancers. So it just kind of dawned on me, “We need something like this.”
Julie Cortes: And the biggest fire that was lit underneath me was I kind of felt jaded, like we went to school to learn our niche, whether it was writing, designing, or photography, and we didn’t take business classes. Or many of us didn’t. Most of us didn’t. Because they weren’t required, we didn’t think we would ever need them. And then, either by choice or by default, we end out on our own, and we don’t know what the hell we’re doing. You know?
Brad Burrow: Even how to start a business.
Julie Cortes: Even how to start a business. It doesn’t matter how creative you are, how many awards that you’ve won, if you don’t know how to run a business and how to be successful, you’re not going to succeed. You’re just not. And so I was like, “All right.” I was like, “We got to figure this out. I know there are other freelancers out there.” And so I was kind of a networking queen at the time. And so I opened up my Rolodex, and I emailed probably 50 people back in January of 2003. And I was like, “Hey, guys, let’s get together for lunch. Let’s talk about this.” And 20 people showed up. We met at McCoy’s in Westport. And everybody had such great ideas. “Oh, we should bring in this speaker, and we should have an online searchable website, and we should do these activities and these programs.” And I’m like, “Okay, this is getting much bigger than I ever thought.” I thought it was just going to be a little meetup group, you know?
Brad Burrow: So kind of took a life of its own, huh?
Julie Cortes: Totally took a life of its own, but fortunately, I had had the training of how to run a board and do all of those things before. So I was like, “Okay, I know how to write bylaws. I know how to put a board together. I know how to lead and how to be president and everything.” And so you’re supposed to surround yourself by smart people, and so I did. I was like, “You’ve got great ideas. Come here.” You know? And I just-
Brad Burrow: “I have a job for you.”
Julie Cortes: Exactly. I just kind of lured them in. I’m like, you know, “I’m just one person. And this is all volunteer. I can’t do it alone.” And throughout the next six months, we busted our asses, and we were up and running as an official 501(c)(6) organization. And I think we had 100 members like overnight. It was incredible. Our very first portfolio showcase, we got off the ground within six of eight months. We had 100 exhibitors. We had maybe two or three hundred attendees.
Brad Burrow: Really? Wow.
Julie Cortes: Yeah. It was amazing. The energy was just fantastic. And so throughout the last 16 years, the club has morphed into being this eclectic community of creative types, anybody who’s self-employed. And then even those who are growing, so maybe a small design shop, or somebody who’s got a husband and wife team, and an intern, you know, we allow people to grow within our organization.
Julie Cortes: And I can’t take all the credit, for sure. There are so many leaders and volunteers who have helped out throughout the years, and all of their great ideas and making this come to fruition. But I’m thrilled to say that we have helped hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of freelancers here in Kansas City, locally. And that just brings me so much joy, knowing that we’ve had that kind of effect in helping other people succeed.
Brad Burrow: So now you’re bringing more people into volunteering for freelance exchange. You’ve got a president. You’re the founder, on the website, and you’re kind of rotating through. Is that kind of how that’s working? So you want to bring in new people and new blood to keep the organization moving forward? Is that right?
Julie Cortes: Well, sure. We have a board of directors, and they serve a one or two year term. And then they have chairs and committee members underneath them. And we’re always looking like, “Who’s going to lead the organization in the future?” You know, yes, I will always be the founder and always be available to answer questions, give advice. But I really want to enable other people to have their time in the spotlight and get their chance to hone their leadership skills, and lead an organization, and get that bullet point on the resume or bio, if you will. But it’s a really good opportunity. When you volunteer for a professional organization like that, you’re rubbing elbows with the movers and shakers.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
Julie Cortes: It’s got a ton of benefit to you. And then when people come to me, and they ask for referrals, well, guess who’s top of mind? It’s the people who I see and talk to day in and day out. So it’s kind of a good position to be in.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, so there’s a lot of benefits that come from that.
Julie Cortes: Absolutely.
Brad Burrow: How do you find the people that you’re kind of bringing in and I’m assuming … Does the board do that? Or do you help do that? Or how does that work?
Julie Cortes: It’s a collaborative effort. You know? Of course, we always put out a call for volunteers or a call for board members. Sometimes you just see something in somebody and you’re like, “You’ve got what it takes.” Again, you know, I’m pulling them in. I’m reeling them in. “Come here. You belong on the board.” But it’s tough to find volunteers these days because everybody’s got this, “What’s in it for me?” But those who have been able to see the benefits and benefit from the benefits, they are incredibly grateful. And again, it’s one of those things you’ve got to invest in yourself in order to recoup the benefits.
Brad Burrow: Okay. So there’s two more things that I want to hit. Okay? One is what’s the future of Freelance Exchange look like? Is there anything new that you can tell us about? New things coming, anything like that?
Julie Cortes: I know where you’re going with this question. Sp it has always-
Brad Burrow: I hope I’m okay doing that.
Julie Cortes: No, you’re totally okay with it. It puts the pressure on me, and I love it because I need it. So it’s always been my dream to take this concept to other cities. When I tell freelancers in other cities what I’m doing they’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is fabulous. We need something here.” And so I’m trying to structure it similarly to AIGA, and make Kansas City the world headquarters, if you will, and go out to other cities. Because there’s not many organizations like this out there. I have found one, in Atlanta. And they’re actually about five years older than us. But they’ve already agreed, “Hey, listen, we’re stronger together. We’re stronger in numbers.” You know, so if you create this national umbrella, we’d like to come in underneath you.
Brad Burrow: Oh, that’s great.
Julie Cortes: Yeah. So right now, I’m just going through the paperwork of what I have to do. There’s a lot of legal fees that I have to pay to get it structured and set up, right?
Brad Burrow: To be national?
Julie Cortes: To be national.
Brad Burrow: Is that right?
Julie Cortes: Yeah. I have to pay for copyrights and trademarks because right now the Freelance Exchange of Kansas City owns all of that. And so I would have to buy it back as Freelance Exchange National. So, yeah, see? I learned some stuff too. So yeah, there’s some stuff I have to work on behind the scenes, and maybe get some grant funds in the door to help me do that or investors. But then the other challenge becomes is finding people in other cities with boot son the ground who are willing to the work, you know, the volunteer work to get it up and running in their towns.
Brad Burrow: So you need a director in each city, basically, to run that organization under the umbrella basically.
Julie Cortes: Yeah, a president, you know, would be helpful to start. I kind of feel like I’m in this unspoken executive director position already. But yeah, it would be great to have a director. It would be great to just have a board of volunteers to go out and, “Okay, when’s our next luncheon going to be? Where’s it going to be? Who are we going to invite? Who’s going to be the speaker?” Just people with boots on the ground willing to do the work to get that community up and running.
Brad Burrow: So what about this gets your blood flowing? You know? Why would you want to do this? This is a big, big undertaking.
Julie Cortes: Well, but it doesn’t have to be. If you find other people to help you, if you find other volunteers, it doesn’t have to be that big.
Brad Burrow: Yeah?
Julie Cortes: Right? Yeah. Again, there’s strength in numbers. So I don’t expect any one person to do a ton of work, at all. But again, there’s so much benefit to it. So if you were to be that person, so to speak, in a city, maybe it’s St. Louis, or Omaha, or Boulder, Colorado, and you want to start a Freelance Exchange chapter, that’s fabulous. Know what’s going to come from that is that you’re going to have this automatic notoriety for starting it in that city. And, again, from that, you’re going to get to be well known, you’re going to be getting referrals. And it somehow subconsciously translates into you being good at what you do as a freelancer, right?
Julie Cortes: So I get referred all the time. People are like, “Oh, you’ve got to hire Julie. She’s a fabulous copywriter.” And I think to myself, “Have you even seen my work? I mean, thanks for the referral, right? But have you even seen my portfolio? Chances are, you haven’t.”
Brad Burrow: Probably not, yeah.
Julie Cortes: And you’re just referring me because you know who I am, you know I have good brand reputation, and you know that I’ve formed this amazing organization. And apparently, that translates somehow. So, you know, you just run with it. You know?
Brad Burrow: Okay, so that’s awesome. Let’s talk about you personally.
Julie Cortes: Okay.
Brad Burrow: So you’re speaking now, you’re teaching.
Julie Cortes: I am.
Brad Burrow: What do you really want to do? Personally, do you want to go out and build your brand personally as you’re doing this stuff? Kind of give me the vision of that.
Julie Cortes: That’s an excellent question because things have really changed, if not taken off, the past few years. And I say this on my website. I’m nowhere where I thought I would be, but everywhere where I’m supposed to be. And I love it. It’s like I have found my passion. And while I enjoy copywriting, I’m good at copywriting, I’ve got the awards to prove it, there are so many other talented copywriters out there. But there’s not other … There are some. But there’s not a lot of other organizations, or teachers, or speakers doing what I want to do and teaching others how to be savvy or solo-preneurs. So I’ve kind of evolved into this new brand of Freelance Rockstar. And that’s like my overall umbrella that encapsulates everything that I’m doing, freelance copywriting and proofreading, teaching freelancing, speaking about freelancing, coaching about freelancing. But I’m taking this to the next level. I mean, yes, I’m speaking now on national stages. And I want to go even further with that. I mean, heck, people are paying me to talk. What a novel concept, right?
Brad Burrow: Amazing.
Julie Cortes: I know. My mom always used to tell me to shut up when I was a teenager. If she only knew how that would pay off, right? But you know what? I’d like to write a book or two, and just kind of continue on because I think, like I said before, I have figured out the secret sauce of how to run a business as a creative type, and how to teach that for creative types. And I might as well take advantage of what my mama gave me, and that’s this wacky personality that’s entertaining and fun and lively. Not to pat myself on the back, but it is what it is.
Brad Burrow: Yeah.
Julie Cortes: And I make classes fun, and I make presentations fun. But it’s still a lot of really good content all at the same time. So if I can figure out different ways, how to package that and move on, who knows? I mean, the opportunities are endless right now.
Brad Burrow: Well, the market’s only going to continue to grow too, right? I mean, if you looked at … I don’t know the numbers. You probably do. But the freelance community had got to be in continual growth mode.
Julie Cortes: Yeah.
Brad Burrow: Isn’t that true?
Julie Cortes: Yeah, absolutely. Everybody’s been talking about this quote-unquote gig economy right now. And we are smack dab in the middle of the gig economy. And so what’s happening is more and more people are wanting to freelance. And why wouldn’t you? If you can be your own boss, and set your own schedule, and work with whom you want, and what you want, and when you want, why wouldn’t you? Of course, there are cons that come with every territory, right? Such as no guaranteed paycheck, no health insurance, you know?
Brad Burrow: Yeah.
Julie Cortes: But if you can navigate around those, yes, absolutely, go be a freelancer. The statistics are showing that by next year, by the year 2020, that 40% of the US workforce will be freelancing in some capacity.
Brad Burrow: Wow.
Julie Cortes: 40%.
Brad Burrow: That’s amazing.
Julie Cortes: That’s huge. Now, that’s not just advertising, marketing, and freelancers, right? That’s Uber drivers, and hairstylists, and insurance salesmen. Anybody who’s working for themselves, whether full time or part time. But what’s happening now too is that the ad agencies and other businesses are feeling the effects because they aren’t able to find quality talent who wants to go work full time for them. I’m getting phone calls by local agencies, “Julie, we don’t know what to do. How do we take advantage of this outsourcing model?” And I’ll be like, “Okay, so you want to hie one full timer, but you’re not finding quality talent. Why don’t you divvy it up into three freelancers?”
Brad Burrow: Are they open to that conversation, those agencies? Or no?
Julie Cortes: It depends. It’s all a learning curve. So it’s new, it’s different, it’s scary. You know? But I can help them along with that. I’ve personally worked on site with a couple of different agencies on a contract status totally part time. So I can help walk them through that, how that works, what’s good and what’s not. You know? If you don’t acknowledge you’re a freelancer, if you don’t include them in company meetings or an ice cream social or whatever, that doesn’t really help. That doesn’t make them feel valued. But conversely, I had one part time contract gig where the agency … It was a small agency. They treated me so well. I got a holiday bonus. I got-
Brad Burrow: Really?
Julie Cortes: Yeah, I got to go to the company Christmas party. And yeah, I mean, they spoiled me rotten. I’m like, that’s the way to make sure that your vendors feel appreciated.
Brad Burrow: Yeah. That’s great. Well, that problem’s going to continue to get worse and worse, I think, for agencies. Don’t you agree?
Julie Cortes: Well, it is. But I think it’s a good problem to have. And I think if they get ahead the of the curve and they prepare themselves for it, if they understand how to work with freelancers and where to find them and best practices, and they understand industry standards such as 30 day-
Brad Burrow: … payment terms, yeah.
Julie Cortes: … payment terms. Yeah, that have to understand now that they don’t get to dictate those rules anymore. We are business partners.
Brad Burrow: Right.
Julie Cortes: You know?
Brad Burrow: Well, and if they want to take care of people that are taking care of them, they’re going to be thinking that way.
Julie Cortes: Hopefully.
Brad Burrow: Yeah.
Julie Cortes: Yeah, no longer are the days of Mad Men and the ad agencies. The freelancers are here, and we’re strong, and we’re bonding together. And everybody’s getting to be savvier and learning about contracts and deposits. And those have always been commonplace. But now they’re going to be even more so.
Brad Burrow: Well, you have a very bright future. I can tell right now. It’s just going to explode.
Julie Cortes: Thank you.
Brad Burrow: You just need a really good content partner to help you get some content out to those people.
Julie Cortes: I wonder who I could look to for that.
Brad Burrow: I think I know somebody. Well, let’s close it up here. If somebody wanted to get ahold of you, how would they do that?
Julie Cortes: Sure, well you can go to my website, JulieCortes.com. And that’s Cortes with an ‘s’ at the end. So that’s me. That’s where you can find everything about me. I do have links to the Freelance Exchange website on there as well. But otherwise, you can go to KCFreelanceExchange.com. And yeah, just feel free to … You can follow me on social media and hit me up there with questions at KCCopyDiva on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, and you’re open to public speaking, teaching, just overall mentoring? That type of thing? Sounds like a little of everything.
Julie Cortes: Yeah, you name it. I’m not just coaching fellow freelancers, but I’m also training businesses now as well. So I could come in and do like a half day workshop on how to find freelancers, and what to look for, and what to expect, and get them ready to take advantage of the gig economy.
Brad Burrow: So the agencies could really use your expertise too, it sounds like.
Julie Cortes: Absolutely. They just have to be humble and open enough for that training.
Brad Burrow: Don’t know if that’s possible.
Julie Cortes: Hey, you know, I can always be-
Brad Burrow: There are definitely some, yeah.
Julie Cortes: Yeah, I can always be helpful.
Brad Burrow: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. This has been awesome.
Julie Cortes: Thanks for having me.
Brad Burrow: Man, this flew by.
Julie Cortes: Yeah, it did. This was a lot of fun.
Brad Burrow: So she is Julie Cortes. I’m Brad Burrow. And this is In a World with Real Media. Thanks for joining us.