A couple of years ago, two well-established design editors decided to take a risk. Jesse Bratter and Cara Gibbs left the security of their magazine jobs to become freelance writers and stylists. Then they decided to double down on their initial success to launch their own e-commerce business, In the Pursuit. Part carefully curated online lifestyle shop, part magazine, the company provides more than just goods – it also tells the stories behind the makers.
The pair says networking played a huge role in their success. We tapped their brains for the best networking secrets for freelancers.
Design is a tight-knit industry, so you already had a strong professional network. How did you approach your existing connections when going freelance?
Jesse: Though we had a lot of existing connections, we were reaching out to them with new objectives, which was a bit unnerving. Suddenly, instead of editors looking for content we were freelance writers/stylists looking for jobs. We approached the transition by re-introducing what we could do to help them. If it was a publicist, we would be an extension of their team helping them pitch clients for stories that we could write. For designers, we would help them find the right publication for their projects. For brands, placements for their new lines. Even our connections with photographers have enabled us to add jewelry, food, and hotels to our styling portfolios, and we’ve in turn connected them to folks needing photography.
How did you build upon those connections when launching In the Pursuit?
Cara: When launching ITP, we did a lot of cold-calling. We did come to the table with a pretty extensive list of makers and brands that we had existing relationships with, but it wasn’t enough. Especially since ITP is a lifestyle site that expands into categories beyond design, like beauty, fashion, and food. So we created a database of makers and bespoke brands that we needed to get to know. From there we just started reaching out and having honest conversations with people.
How important a role does networking play in your business?
Jesse: Networking is probably the most important aspect of our field. We cherish the relationships we have with other creatives, and often they’ve led us to working with other people we might not have otherwise known and in ways we might not have imagined. Getting out there and talking to people about the brand and our shared passions is what it’s all about.
What sort of ongoing networking do you engage in?
Cara: Trade shows are big for us. We do a lot of connecting and networking at these events. Design trade shows are really second nature to us. We never want to miss the big ones, but we especially enjoy finding lesser-known shows where we can discover hidden gems. On the other hand, artisanal foods, beauty, and fashion are pretty new worlds to us, so we’ve had to do a lot of research on what makes sense for our brand when it comes to time. Other avenues for networking include attending showroom openings and product launches, and cultivating strong relationships with publicists throughout our varied areas of interest.
What advice do you have for freelancers who are starting out and entrepreneurs starting their own businesses?
Jesse: Freelancing has a lot of extreme ups and downs, but the ups far outweigh the downs for us. There is an ebb and flow to assignments, so it’s a good idea to have your hands in ongoing projects so that you have consistent work during the ebbs. And try to think outside of the box – absolutely freelance for publications, but most brands need writers and even stylists as well.
Cara: In starting ITP, we’ve discovered that every step of the journey is an opportunity to learn something new. That usually pushes us out of our comfort zone – don’t resist, embrace it! One of the hardest things about owning our own business has been knowing when to rethink our approach to an idea that isn’t working, and when to walk away because it no longer makes sense for ITP and our brands. That leads us to this piece of advice: Never lose sight of your vision. It may grow or shift – and hopefully become larger than you ever imagined – but the core should always remain true to your original ethos. Oh, and make sure you have an accountant!
Do you have additional networking advice for freelancers and entrepreneurs? Let us know in the comments below!