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Noticing Neighbors Julie Cortés

As a pioneer for creative business owners, Julie Cortés wants to see local freelancers exude confidence. Today’s Noticing Neighbors comes as a nomination from the community, and shows the value in sharing earned expertise as a service to others. Julie is the founder of The Freelance Exchange of Kansas City, and has spent her career as a leader in the advertising, marketing, and creative space for the self-employed.

She’s watched the industry change for freelancers throughout the years, and sat down to share about how she uses her voice.


It’s so nice to meet you. We received this as a nomination because someone you know messaged in and said,

“You really need to meet Julie, she makes a huge difference in the community.”

From what they shared, it sounds like you've been making an impact for a long time. Can you explain what you do for work?


Absolutely, I've run my own freelance copywriting business for almost 25 years now. I work with ad agencies, design shops, large corporations, and small business startups as well. I also work in all mediums: writing, website copy, video scripts, magazine ads, you name it. If it's in the advertising, marketing, or promotional space—I probably had my hands on it at some point in time. About five years into my career, I recognized that there was this void for freelancers and the self employed. There was a void in education, community, and even respect. And so apparently, I've set out on this lifelong mission of rectifying that.

In 2003, I created an organization called the Freelance Exchange of Kansas City. We have two target audiences. Primarily, we cater to those who are self employed in advertising and marketing. So graphic designers, writers, photographers, illustrators, and even non creative types who work in a creative industry such as web developers, social media pros, PR people. We offer continuing education and mentoring, promotional opportunities, social opportunities, and networking opportunities. It runs the gamut, and we've been around for 19 years now. The organization has just grown into this beautiful community that I never saw coming.

Because we are this collective of freelance talent, we've become the city's go to resource to find area creative freelancers. So our second target audience is ad agencies, corporations and small businesses who need to find a graphic designer for whatever it is that they need. Hayley: When did you start the collective?

Julie: I did that back in 2003, still running it to this day. We have a wonderful board of directors, and so I'm not doing it by myself. My career path has had all sorts of twists and turns along the way. About six years ago, I decided that we needed to teach freelancing in school. The ins and outs of how to run a business, because as creative types we don't typically take business classes. Hayley: That's interesting. Julie: Well lo and behold, we creatives end up out on our own, whether by choice or by default—and we need to know how to run a business. So I approached the Kansas City Art Institute with this idea. I developed the very first Freelancing 101 class, and I've been teaching there as an adjunct professor ever since. And a funny thing happens when you create a course, and are the founder of an organization: apparently, you become the go-to resource in town for all things about this topic.

Hayley: How did you see that? Julie: I was getting asked to go speak at all these different colleges, organizations, and even companies. Then a lot of my professional peers were asking, “Julie, I'd love to come sit in on your class.” And I would tell them they can't sit in on my class! You’ve got to pay and enroll and go back to school. And not everybody wants to do that at this stage. So I ended up expanding my business, and added a coaching business. So now I'm coaching other freelancers. I've been doing this for almost 25 years—I've learned a lot. I've made my fair share of mistakes, and I'm here to prevent others from doing the same and helping them find success much sooner. And then I'm also becoming this professional speaker who gets paid to run her mouth. I get paid to speak on stages locally, even nationally and internationally now. So I'm not at all where I thought I would be at this stage of my life. But I am 110% everywhere. I'm supposed to be.


There are so many different sides to what you’re doing, and how meaningful it is for people working who may be in the dark and wondering who they can go to for guidance. What are some parts that have felt really rewarding to you?


I think, honestly, it's just seeing other people succeed. I love what I do as a copywriter. I feel like I'm pretty good at it, and I got the awards to prove it. At the end of the day, though, what really brings me joy is helping others. And there are plenty of other copywriters out there. There's not plenty of other me’s out there helping the freelancers. There is a handful. But when I first started, there was nobody. There were no classes, there were no webinars, there were no books. There was nothing, and I kind of had to make it up as I went along. For me, the biggest joy is just seeing other people succeed.


You said that the organization has been going for 19 years. How have you seen Kansas City embrace this type of work over that time?


That's a really good question. When I first started this, freelancers had this stigma. The term freelance had this stigma, like: you're a hack. You can't find a job, you're in between jobs—so, you're doing what you have to do to pay the bills. Yet, that's not always the case. There are so many of us who do this because we want to be self employed. We have the entrepreneurial spirit. We don't want to work for other people. So I feel like over the years, we've been able to really help people not only elevate their businesses, but also elevate the image of the term “freelance'' altogether.


What do you see happen for people when they start to succeed? Do you see certain qualities come out? How do you know: Oh, they're feeling like they got this now.


You can totally tell. By their social media posts, or when you see them in person, they've just got this confidence. I feel like a lot of people when they first start freelance, have a lot of uncertainty. Do I know what I'm doing? Am I doing this right? Am I going to be able to recoup the money that I was making at a full time job? What do I do about health insurance? All these questions are going through their heads. Fast forward a few years, and those who have made itit's a breath of fresh air, quite honestly, just to see that confidence come out. They exude it well.

Keep up with the latest meet-ups from Freelance Exchange through their Instagram and Facebook, and keep an eye out for their upcoming Spring Boot Camp. All media originally published by Julie Cortés and Freelance Exchange of KC via their online platforms.


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