046: How Kate Kordsmeier Doubled Her Income with Freelancing

Welcome to episode 46 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! In this episode, Bjork talks with Kate Kordsmeier from the blog Root & Revel about her successful freelance writing career.

Last week, Bjork interviewed Tony Rulli about increasing revenue through Facebook advertising. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

How to Double Your Income with Freelance Writing

While many of us dream about the days when we could find enough success with our blogs that we could write for magazines like Cooking Light and Conde Nast Traveler, Kate’s already been-there-done-that. With a little experience in copywriting and a lot of drive, Kate was able to quit her full-time job and double her income with freelance writing – before she ever had a food blog.

In this interview, Kate shares a lot of tips and tricks she’s learned along the way so that you, too, can try your hand at freelance writing.

In this episode, Kate shares:

  • What the hardest part of freelancing is when you’re first getting started (hint – it’s not just writing excellent pieces)
  • An example pitch she recently gave a magazine (and got the job for)
  • How to find editors to contact
  • Whether or not you should follow up after pitching
  • When in the process you talk about payment
  • Whether or not you should work for free
  • What the dynamic is between web and print media
  • Why she’s building a blog instead of just freelancing

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If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.


Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode number 46 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Hey there, this is Bjork, tuning in from St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m not tuning in, I’m broadcasting from St. Paul, Minnesota. Wherever you are tuning in from I hope you are doing well.

Today we are having a conversation Kate Parham Kordsmeier, and Kate has a blog called Root + Revel, but she is also a really successful freelance writer in the food and travel industry or the food and travel space. She’s going to be talking about how eight years ago she left her job and decided to jump into freelancing and why that was such a good decision. Not only was she able to earn more from this career as a freelancer, but she was also able to do things that she really enjoyed and to do them really well, and all the while building a really successful career. She’s going to be sharing tips, tricks, inside information, advice on how to find editors, how to have that initial conversation, and she’s also going to be talking about how she balances the freelancing world with her writing for her blog, and it’s just chock full of really good information that I’m so excited to share with you. Without further ado, Kate, welcome to the podcast.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Hey, thanks for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, really excited to have you on here. This is rare that this happens but last week you had sent an email and said, “Hey, I was reading through the Food Blogger Pro forum, and there was this post from a member named Nicky, and” … I’ll paraphrase here, but she said, “Hey, I’m doing some freelance jobs as food recipe photography work, and sometimes people ask me if I know anybody else that’s interested. I thought I would start this forum and pass along your contact if you’re interested.”

Then there’s four or five pages of all of these Food Blogger Pro members saying, “Hey, I’m interested this, I’m interested in it.”

You had sent an email and said, “It looks like there’s something going on here and this is the thing that I do. I’d love to share some insight and advice for people.” I really appreciate you coming on and sharing some advice and insight for podcast listeners.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, absolutely. We joke too about this is a first, getting pitched for a podcast. Like I told you, I feel like first lesson of freelancing is you got to sell yourself.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: You got to be comfortable putting yourself out there and saying, “Hey, I do this. What can I help you with?”

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. I responded and I said, essentially, “This is rare that I just respond and I’m like, ‘Yes, let’s do this.’” It seemed like such a good fit and I think it will be so helpful for people to hear about this for many different reasons. More than anything, as we were talking about before we pressed record here, I think it will be eyeopening for people to know what’s possible in this world.

Before we jump into the details, I want to rewind a little bit because you’ve been involved with full-time freelance food writing for a really long time. Eight years, is that right?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Take me back eight years and tell me a little bit about what happened there. Was it an intentional move into saying, “Hey, this is something I want to do?” Was it a slow build? I’m curious to know your story.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: A little bit of both, actually. I went to University of Georgia, and was a journalism major. I had been studying journalism and knew that I wanted to go that route, but I didn’t even known freelancing was a thing. I just thought everybody worked at a magazine or a newspaper and that was it.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: There was this awesome writer named Amy Fleury, who lived in Athens, and she was a freelancer full-time. She came and spoke at a magazine club meeting or something like that, and she just opened my eyes to that this was a job, this was possible, and it really clicked for me thinking, man, I could be my own boss, I could make more money than I would as an editor, I could write for dozens, hundreds of publications rather than only having one publication that you’re working on at a time. I just really liked the idea. I contacted her and asked her if I could be her intern for free. She was like, “Great, I actually am in need of a new intern.” I interned with her for, I think, a semester or two.

She, again, continued to open my eyes to this is a job and this is how it works. That was my junior year of college and I planned from then on … I was like, “All right, freelance is what I’m going to do.” I started freelancing as a student and actually sold my first piece to a national magazine under the Time Inc. umbrella as a 20-year-old. I got paid $1500 to do the story and I remember thinking in that moment yeah, okay, I can do this, this is a real job, this is more than I made in the four years working at Starbucks.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I’m interested to dig into that a little bit and hear a little bit more about that. I think one of the things that you said that is so important is that process made you realize that it’s possible.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: I think in a lot of ways this podcast episode has the potential to do that for people that are listening. Specifically to that situation, that internship that you had, what do you feel like were the things that you learned? One of the things that you had said was she continued to make me realize how this was possible and taught you how to do it. What were those rocks that were turned over that … Where you’re able to discover new things or new mindsets during that period of time.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, I think the biggest thing I took away from my internship with her was that pitching is such a huge part of freelancing. Editors are not going to come to you, especially when you’re first starting out. Once you’ve been doing it for a long time, your name is out there, people will start coming to you more. In the beginning it is such a numbers game. A lot of what I learned from her was just how to write a pitch that sells, what editors are looking for, how to find editor contacts, and just the process of pitching and knowing that you’ll get rejected a lot before you get a yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I think … I don’t know if I learned this exactly from the internship or more just once I started doing it myself full-time, but I … It is such a numbers game. What I realized is getting a story sold isn’t so much about you as the writer it’s more about pitching a great idea to the right editor at the right time at the right magazine. It’s a lot of luck in a way, not that you don’t have to have a great idea and writing chops, but timing is huge. So many times you’ll get “rejected” for a story idea but it’s not because you suck as a writer and nobody wants to work with you.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: It’s because we just did a story about this six months ago and we can’t revisit it again or we’ve already got something planned or … There’s so many reasons that it could be a no that have nothing to do with you.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things … There’s a few different things that you said there that I think are so interesting. The first that I’m curious about is you’ve mentioned a few times selling a piece. When I think of freelancing I usually think of getting connected with somebody and then them coming to you and being like, “Here’s what we need.” It sounds like …

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, nope.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s not how it is.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: No. Yeah. Again, it will change the longer you’ve been doing it, but I would say for the first few years almost 100% of the time it’s you develop a story idea, and you don’t write the story, you just have the idea. You pitch an editor by email, a couple of paragraphs, hey, here’s my idea, here’s who I am, if you can prove why you’re uniquely qualified to write the story that’s always a good thing.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Can we do, just for the sake of it, an actual example of what that might look like? A pretend pitch.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Okay.

Bjork Ostrom: You wouldn’t have to talk all the way through but just to put some context around it for people.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah. Okay, I’ll do one of the most recent stories I just sold was to Brides magazine, which I don’t normally write about weddings but I got married a few years ago and I had a James Beard chef cater my wedding.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I pitched Brides this story and said, “Hey, I’m Kate, I’m a food writer for over 100 publications, and I recently got married, and the food at my wedding was spectacular.”

Bjork Ostrom: Pretty good.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yes, pretty good. I think we could do a story about how to make the food at other … At the readers’ weddings really awesome and memorable and unique and all that. I’m qualified to write it because not only am I a food writer but I worked with a chef to do this amazing wedding food and here are some of the examples of some of the tips that we could provide in the story.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s the pitch saying here’s what I’m thinking, here’s why I’m qualified, and here’s why it would be a good fit for you as the … In some ways I imagine it being here’s why this will make you look good as the editor when you put this in the magazine or publication or online, wherever it is.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Right, exactly. I think that’s one of the things is pitching to a specific magazine. If I had pitched that story to a non-wedding magazine, I think … Which I did try to do a couple times. A lot of times they would come back and say, “We don’t really cover weddings,” or something like that. It’s pitching it to the target publication knowing their audience, what kind of stories they normally do. If you can pitch it to a specific section, there’s departments that recur in magazines every single month, maybe your idea fits perfectly into a department. You say, “This would be a great story for the ultimate guide section of Brides magazine, and it would be about wedding food and upping your game.”

Yeah, your job as a freelancer is to make an editor’s job easier. I think anything you can do to make their job easier and make it easy for them to say yes, they’re going to like you for that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. How do you … What does that look like? For editors, what are they looking to have an easier time with?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: First I think they’re always looking for story ideas. Giving them good story ideas is the start. Then as a writer I think, honestly, the best thing you can do is just be a reliable writer. By turning in clean copy on deadline, or before deadline if you can, and responding to emails and questions and edits, and just being reliable and professional is the best thing you can do.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that goes such a long way, doesn’t it?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s such a small thing but responding to emails, getting back to people, hitting deadlines, all of those things are so rare in a lot of ways.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, it’s crazy. Some writers tend to have an artsy mentality and aren’t always as good about those kinds of things. Being on the editor side also I can tell you that I would rather work with a writer who’s maybe good not great but is super reliable than a writer who’s brilliant but really unreliable.

Bjork Ostrom: Super flaky, right.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Which totally makes sense. A few other things I wanted to clarify that I think would be important for people to understand … One of the things that you had said a few times is that it’s a numbers game. Can you break that down, what that means?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Just a lot of freelancing is sales, you’re selling yourself. You might have to pitch a story to a dozen publications before you get one that says yes. I think a lot of freelancers, when they’re just starting out, will pitch it to one or two places and go I guess it didn’t work out because nobody wanted it. You got to keep trying.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: You got to go to … You just keep going until you get a yes basically, unless you feel like maybe the idea just isn’t working. Yeah, there’s another thing other than pitches that are called letters of introduction, in the biz we call it LOIs.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: That is definitely a numbers game where you are basically just sending an email to an editor and saying, “Hi, this is who I am, this is what I do, what can I help you with?” Just letting them know that you exist and you’re out there and you could write for them.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, it’s as opposed to pitching to somebody right away you’re connecting with them saying, “Hey, I’m here, is there anything that you might need help with? Would love to connect.”

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is how relationships usually work and probably should work.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Right. I think it’s a great way to start out. I think it’s harder to do that for consumer publications, like the big glossies that are on newsstands.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Those editors are being pitched hundreds of times a day and they don’t really have to stop and go, “Hi, nice to meet you.” If they respond at all they’ll just say, “Great, send me some ideas.” Trade publications and more custom publications are really good for doing LOIs like that because they’re not getting pitched as much and they have … They usually come up with ideas in house and then find a write to do them.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: It’s a little bit opposite. I say go LOIs for trade and custom pubs and then extend actual pitches with specific story ideas to consumer magazines.

Bjork Ostrom: An example of the trade magazines where you do an LOI, what would some of those be? Would there be ones that people would recognize?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, maybe so. They’re all industry. There’s a magazine called Plate that is a food magazine but their audience isn’t the general public like Bon Appetit might be, their audience is chefs and restaurateurs.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: That’s a great example of a good trade. They have a huge audience, they’re very well known and respected. That’s a trade and there’s … If you just google food trade publications or things like that, you’ll be amazed at how many magazines exist for the most random industries.

Bjork Ostrom: When I go into Barnes & Noble I’m like, “What?” There’s niches within the knitting industry.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: So many small industries and niches, which is really cool. I think essentially this podcast is an example of that. It’s a niche within the food blogging and online food media world, which is such a small little niche, but at the same time we have this awesome little niche audience.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Big niche audience.

Bjork Ostrom: It depends. It’s all relative, right.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that I’m interested to hear you talk a little bit about is connecting with editors. One of the things that you talked about that’s so important is being able to find editors. How do you even go about discovering who these people are? Then do you just send that first email to them and, in the case of maybe a smaller trade magazine, it’s that introductory email to let them know here’s who I am, would love to help out? If it’s a bigger Bon Appetit or something, maybe it’s more of a pitch email that gets straight to the point. Just in general, how do you find these people to connect with?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Sure. Couple different ways, the first and easiest way is right in front of you, where basically you can go to Barnes & Noble or download this awesome app called … I think it’s called Texture now, it used to be called Next Issue, but believe it’s Texture now. For 9.99 a month you get access to basically every magazine that’s ever existed and you can look at all their back issues and their current issues. Point is, open a magazine and find the masthead, which is the page that has who the editors are and who … They’ll have sales contacts for advertising and all the different people that work at the magazine.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: You’ll open the masthead and let’s say you’re pitching a travel idea to Bon Appetit, maybe you then find who’s the travel editor. You look at the travel editor and you say … Whoever it is, I don’t know who it is right now.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: See their name and then all of these publications have the same email format. Every publication that’s owned by Condé Nast might be … Hold on, let me see if I can look this up real quick.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. By email format you mean that let’s say it the url, condenast.com, just making this up, and then usually it will be the same format for maybe firstname.lastname, for instance firstinitiallastname. There’s usually a corporate email structure.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: That’s exactly what I mean. If you see Bon Appetit is published by Condé Nast, their format is [email protected]. You look at the email format and you say, “Kate Kordsmeier is the editor there.” [email protected], there you go.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: That’s I think probably one of the easiest ways to find editors. Sometimes it’s not as clear which editor is the best one to contact for a pitch, but there’s a couple other resources that you can use in that event. One is called ed2010.com.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: It publishes more job listings and especially internships, I think it’s more for college students, but they have a ton of information about editor contacts and … That’s what I was just looking up is there’s a human resources contact info page they call it, and that will give you what the email format is at all of the biggest publishers. When you’re looking at mastheads you can go, okay, Meredith publishes this magazine, they’re [email protected].

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Ed2010 is a great resource. There’s also another website called Mediabistro.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: They do these guides, I actually used to write them when I was first starting out, called How to Pitch. They will have How to Pitch guides for a bunch of different magazines. If you’re … Okay, I really want to pitch Food & Wine, you can join Media Bistro, it’s an annual membership, I think it’s 100 bucks a year or something like that. You can join that and then you can look up How to Pitch Food & Wine, How to Pitch Cooking Light, and they have all of these guides. They’ll tell you … They’ll interview the editors at these publications and the editors will tell you what they’re looking for, which sections are open to freelancers, who the appropriate editors are to pitch … That’s really helpful when you’re just starting out before you’ve really made any of those contacts to use those guides.

Bjork Ostrom: What kind of response rate would you expect for this? I think that would be helpful for people to know as they get into it. Response rate and then success rate, which obviously depends on the quality of the pitch that you’re doing. Let’s say you send 20 emails out to different editors, will people respond back if they say, “Hey, we don’t think it will be a good fit?” Is it usually that people just won’t respond if they don’t think it’s a good fit? What does that look like?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, it really varies and depends on the editor. There are some people that are just really good at email and will respond to you no matter what, whether they want it or not. More often than not, even if they want it, you have to followup. I usually … What I’ll do is I’ll send a pitch to an editor and I’ll put it in a folder called “Need to followup.” Then once a month or once a week, whatever time works for you, I go through that folder and I’ll say, “Nicky at Travel & Leisure hasn’t responded yet to this pitch.” I’ll follow up with her and say, “Hey, just wanted to make sure you got this, would love to know your thoughts,” that kind of thing.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Almost always if you followup you’ll get a response back. Don’t be afraid to followup, editors expect it. Like I said, they get thousands probably … Hundreds of emails a day and they just can’t get through them all.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I think as long as you’re not following up the next day, give them a week to respond.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Maybe two. I usually say … I’ll followup once, twice, and then if they don’t respond after two followups, I usually go all right, I got to move on from this person.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I think in general you probably won’t get a response if you’ve never worked with the editor before and they’re not interested in your idea. Occasionally you will and almost always you will if you followup.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the tools that I use that … Some of the Food Blogger Pro team members use this as well that I just love is a tool called Boomerang.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s specific to gmail.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bjork Ostrom: I do that with … If I know that I need to hear back from somebody, what you can do is … I don’t know if it’s considered an extension or what but you … We have a paid version that I think is maybe 10 bucks a month per user. I’ll send an email and then there’s this little check mark that they add in to gmail that says, “Boomerang,” and then you can pick the amount of time, I usually do two days, Boomerang in two days if you don’t hear from this person.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s so cool. What happens is it’s that same idea where if the person doesn’t respond back then it hooks that email back around into my inbox. It’s even just a simple … Depending on who it is I’ll just respond and just say, “Bump.”

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Just say, “Hey, just checking in on this again.” It’s interesting because I’ve seen such a strong success correlation to the followup.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s something about the followup that makes it feel a little bit more urgent than just the initial email.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s such a great reminder that you just have to go above and beyond often, it can’t just be that initial email to three people and then if nobody responds, then it’s nobody wants to hear from me, I should move on and not do freelance writing.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Right, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: It just takes a lot of work and hustle and intentionality.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Totally. You have to have really thick skin, that’s what I tell a lot of people that call and ask to pick my brain about this kind of stuff. What qualities does a freelance writer need? Really thick skin because you’ll get rejected or you’ll get silence, which sometimes I think is worse than rejection. I just want to know.

Bjork Ostrom: Just please tell me. One of the questions that I’m interested to hear you talk about is the development of your ideas. I’m guessing that after eight years you’ve started to realize the ideas and the stories that will work, but how do you go about doing that? Do you have a process where you sit down and you say, “I’m going to think of ideas?” Is it more ideas come to you and you keep this running list? What does that look like and what would your advice be to people that maybe … Where their idea tank is running empty?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Okay, great question. A couple things. I think the best freelance writers are passionate about something. If you’re passionate about food or travel or woodworking, it could be anything, if you’re out doing those things I feel like you automatically will have ideas and expertise because that’s what you spend your time doing. A lot of times idea generation is just from being at a restaurant and seeing a dish or meeting somebody interesting. Then it’s there’s an idea. I think have a hobby, have some passions, and write about those things, because idea generation will be a lot easier. Maybe some people love travel but they don’t really travel that much. Travel writing is probably not for you then because it’s going to be really hard to come up with ideas if you’re not going anywhere.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, for sure. Once you get that idea, how developed is it before you send it to the editor as a pitch?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I think you need to be able to explain your idea in two to three sentences. If it takes longer than that to explain it, it probably needs to be narrowed down more.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Editors hate getting pitches that are super vague. Hey, I just went to Thailand, we should write about it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: That’s not a story idea, that’s a place. Really honing on what is it about Thailand that you want to talk about. Is it how to cook with fish sauce? Is it where to stay in all-inclusive resorts in Thailand? Things like that, actually think of your idea. I always try to include two to three examples of the kinds of things I would cover in the story. Maybe the types of people you would interview in the story. I try to … It’s pretty specific by the time I’m sending it to an editor because they really need specific.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yup, that makes sense. Here’s a big question, at what point do you have the conversation around payment? Is that something that you should include in that initial email? Should that come up down the line? Should you be the one to suggest it or wait and see what the editor has to say in terms of how much they can afford to pay a freelancer? I know that’s probably one of the bigger questions that people are thinking about.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah. Don’t be afraid to talk money, I would say that’s the first thing. Don’t work for free. Yes, I would not recommend talking about money in your initial pitch, it’s just not necessary until you know whether or not they even want the idea, want the story. Once they come back … Usually the process looks like this, here’s an idea, the editor comes back and says, “I like this, we want 1500 words for this department by April 30.” At that point they usually tell you in that email what they’re going to pay you for it. If they don’t, it’s a red flag I think because it might mean that they’re hoping that you’ll just do it for free and that they can sneak one past you. If I don’t mention it and maybe they won’t ask then I just won’t pay them.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: The other thing is a lot of publications just have their standard rates. National magazines, in general, pay $2 a word. You can expect going in if you’re going to pitch a print publication that has a national audience, it’s going to be $2 a word. Sometimes there’s negotiation depending on the scope of work and how complex it is. You can expect that. A lot of the trades, the bigger national trades, pay $1 a word, sometimes that’s the same for the big city magazines. Not the alt weeklies and the newspaper but if in Atlanta, Atlanta magazine is the big magazine here. I have actually never written for them so I shouldn’t say this without knowing for sure, but I assume that they probably pay $1 a word because that’s what most regional publications of that size pay.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Sometimes it’s just knowing what you’re getting into, and sometimes you have no idea what they’re going to pay. Always ask. If they don’t tell you right away, just ask, what’s your budget for this project? Like I said, never work for free. You never have to even if you’ve never written anything in your life.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I’m interested to hear you talk about that a little bit because I’m thinking back to your earlier conversation where you had talked about that internship.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bjork Ostrom: Was that a paid internship that you were doing?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: No.

Bjork Ostrom: My challenge with it, and my curiosity within that, is knowing how valuable that experience was for you, and knowing that some people are maybe at this beginning stage where there is value in just the experience and learning itself, how do you balance those two things? I think it’s just such an interesting topic.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: I don’t have a strong opinion on it but I’m interested to hear what you have to say.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: It is interesting and there’s no right way to approach freelancing, that’s part of the beauty of it, you can make it what you want it to be. Yeah, I interned with that freelance writer we discussed and I also interned at a magazine in LA, and I also interned at a magazine in Atlanta. That was three unpaid internships, I didn’t earn a cent from any of those, but I did get bylines at the magazines that I interned with. I would pitch story ideas to my editor there and if they liked it, they publish it. I guess I did technically write for free in the beginning.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Felt a little different when I was a college student. If I was approaching it as a working adult who has real bills to pay, it is such a tough thing. I think if you can prove why you’re uniquely qualified to write something and you have a great idea, you don’t have to have published work in order to get paid. I think people die from writing from exposure, you can’t pay a mortgage with exposure.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I think maybe you can start smaller, maybe you’re not making $2 a word on your first story, but I feel like you wouldn’t expect to get any other service, a plumber, a haircut, car wash, anything for free, and I’m not sure why writing is particularly vulnerable to free service.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: There are hundreds and hundreds of publications that pay, some small, some big, and I think you just don’t have to write for free, even in the beginning.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think it’s good. I think where that comes from is this … You hear that as a throughline as people talk about this, whether it’s sponsored content on a blog or whether it’s writing. This idea that … I think what it is at the very core is value your work.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Don’t reduce your work to the lowest common denominator, which is free. Part of it is this idea that “exposure” doesn’t really count … It’s not exposure.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s not going to build your personal brand into this massive empire.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Go ahead.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Sorry, yeah. Most of those publications that want you to write for free, those aren’t going to help you build your portfolio. An editor at Travel & Leisure doesn’t care that you wrote for examiner.com. I feel like it’s one of those things where … Yeah, like you said, it’s not really exposure, it’s just proving to an editor that you’re willing to work for free and that you don’t value your work.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Maybe more than anything encouraging people to have that conversation around here’s what I charge and to be confident going into that. I think what’s so interesting to me is as I observe people’s stories, so often the story is I started doing this for free, I got experience, realized that I don’t want to be doing it for free, and then I started at that point where I started to get paid.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I think at that point, look back and say, “Don’t work for free, it’s not worth it.” What’s interesting is so often it’s a part of the successful people story is that they have this point where they are working for free. That’s why I bring it up, and I’m curious to have that conversation.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I don’t think by any means that you ever want to end there. I wonder if there are occasions where it makes sense to do … Maybe it’s even those first two articles, to say, “Hey, I’m going to get experience doing this, get a feel for what it is, and know that I’m going to very quickly transition into doing a paid thing.” Would you say, even in a situation like that, that you should say if it’s free work you shouldn’t do it?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah. If you’ve got the time and you’re fine with it, if you really just want the experience, then yeah, doing a couple things for free maybe isn’t the end of the world. I would say if you’re going to do something for free, do it for yourself. Start a blog and write for free for yourself, and maybe you can even start making money from that, which is where you come in.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, for sure.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Getting the experience is really getting the clip. An editor wants to see a clip because they want to see that you can write. You can write for yourself on your blog and then send your editor that clip and prove to them that way.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Check out my writing here or I develop recipes, check out some of my recipes here. That’s the one thing that I will say I did do for free in the beginning is when I learned that you could develop recipes for magazines and they’d pay you for it. I need to get in on this. This was back in 2010, and I started a blog really just for that. I just developed recipes and put it out there and that’s how I started. I believe that’s how I got gigs for Cooking Light and Eating Well and Shape and those magazines was saying I’m not a professional chef but I love cooking and I develop my own recipes over on my blog, here’s a link to some of my recipes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I would say if you’re going to go for free at least do it for yourself.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s great feedback and insight is if you’re going to be … Essentially what you’re doing is you’re building up somebody else’s castle, you’re laying those little bricks to build this empire. If you’re doing it you might as well do it for free for yourself versus somebody else.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: The one interesting … I don’t know if this would be exception but I think one interesting thing to point out, and we haven’t done this but I know I have friends who have, and it’s a little bit different because I think their end game is different. They’ll do shorter-type articles that they’ll post as a contributor to certain sites, but it’s almost … I think the biggest reason they do it, whether it’s Business Insider or these aggregate sites, is because they’re able to use links to point back to their site. Then that gives them an SEO boost.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s still a payment in a sense, there’s an economic exchange in that they’re giving content in exchange for having a link from a site, whether it’s Buzzfeed or Business Insider or any of these aggregator sites.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah. That’s something I’ve struggled with. Like we said, me coming at it from going from being a paid writer to starting a blog.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Which I should clarify the blog I started in 2010, no longer exists and was over pretty much as soon as I started getting paid work from it.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Then I recently started a new blog in October. Anyway, I lost my train of thought.

Bjork Ostrom: I actually wanted to go there, it’s a good transition. I’ll lead into that area in that conversation by saying this, one of the things that … You’ve talked about magazines. When you say magazine, does that apply to online digital media as well as printed? Are you speaking exclusively towards a printed magazine? How is online publishing impacting the freelancing world?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Great questions. I would say when I first started I wasn’t exclusively print but that was mostly what I did because people still hadn’t really figured out online and what they were going to do. A lot of magazines, their digital platforms were just reposting their print stories.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: That has definitely changed a ton. I think honestly they’re still trying to figure it out. There’s a lot of big publications that pay amazing rates for print and then you want to write for them for their website and it’s pennies.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: That’s really frustrating. I don’t really know the right answer there because I feel like it’s … Maybe it’s a good entry point. Condé Nast Traveler does not pay the same amount for print as they do for web, but maybe it’s good to start with the web, get in with the publication, with the brand, get some clips, and then you can use those to pitch print.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Do you think … I’m curious. Do you think that’s because the online content for them is less valuable? Do you think it’s because it’s more acceptable?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: If I knew the answer to that my life would be so much easier. I don’t know. I feel like they just haven’t figured out how to monetize web yet.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I don’t know if that’s right, that’s just my feeling.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. At least the … Let’s say the advertising dollars, assuming that’s what it is, for a magazine, it’s because of, in some ways, the legacy of magazines and advertising, there may be able to earn more from that advertising, therefore place more value on the content that’s connected to it, and therefore can pay the writers, freelancers, at a higher rate. As opposed to online where maybe that advertising dollars or the income they’re making doesn’t quite translate to the same amount. Is that what you’re saying?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I think there’s got to be some of that. Then of course a print magazine maybe has 20 stories in it, versus the web might have to have 20 new stories a day.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I think there’s also an issue of quantity, having to produce so much more content for the web.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Just feeling like if we have a budget, whatever it is, of $20,000 for web content but we have to produce 40 stories, how much can we pay for that? It’s probably bad math. Yeah. I think there’s something with the quantity and with them still trying to figure out digital advertising and monetizing that kind of content.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When you look at that and project out, let’s say, two, three, four years, do you think that impacts what it looks like to be a freelance writer? What does that mean for you as you sit today? Are you like I feel like this is … I can see where things are or it’s a little bit cloudy, I have no idea how this will develop? What does it look like as you look out?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I definitely think there’s still plenty of room to be a successful freelancer, whether that’s print or digital. I think that’s still going to be a viable career. I honestly don’t think print is ever going to go away, at least not in the foreseeable future. I just really have to believe that people love having a tangible product.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I definitely think things are changing a ton and a lot more of my work has been web-based instead of print-based, and those rates aren’t as high. It has made me reevaluate a few things, which is one of the reasons why I started Root + Revel, my only blog now. I started that in October thinking maybe I need to start investing a little bit more in myself, and if things are going the way of digital maybe I should start my own digital brand and see what kind of money I can make from that.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: It’s always been … At least my goal has been in tandem with freelancing, not as a replacement for freelancing.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think that is one of the things that’s so exciting to me about this is it allows you to diversify but also still build your thing.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: You’re still your own boss, but it’s not like you’re just going all in on your blog and saying I hope in a year I can build this up to the point where it’s my full-time income. You’re saying I’m going to work on this, I’m going to have this, but I’m also going to do freelancing and work in digital and print and do recipe development. I think that’s such a good way to build your thing, that balance of it.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: What I’m interested to hear about, and I think this will impact people that are interested in freelancing and making that transition part of the pro part of Food Blogger Pro, whether freelancing or with their blog, but what can you expect as an income? Let’s say you’re starting out in your first year, is it realistic to say in 12 to 18 months, I want to be at a point where I’m making a full-time income? Let’s say $40,000 a year. Is that realistic?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you have … Let’s say in those first couple years, what can you expect to make and what would that look like in terms of amount of work you’d be doing?

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah. Okay, I’ll tell you this, when I graduated college I know I said that my plan was to go freelance, but then all my friends got real jobs and I was like, “What is freelance? I don’t have health insurance,” and freaked out. I got a real job working as a copywriter for Neiman Marcus, and absolutely hated my life and my job. I think it was one of those blessings in disguise. I hated it so much that it was the push I needed to go full-time freelance.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: If I had been like it’s okay, I probably never would have made the jump. Anyway, I was making I think $35,000 at Neiman Marcus, and when I quit, in my first year I had doubled my income almost.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome, wow.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: The support of nobody including my boyfriend at the time, now husband, my parents, everybody was like, “You’re insane.” It was 2010, the economy is terrible, you cannot quit your job, what is freelancing? That also I think was good motivation for me to prove everybody wrong.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. What was it that you did? What action steps did you take? When you look back, what were the success … The things that you could pinpoint and say here’s what helped me to be successful making that transition. That’s a huge jump.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, it really was, it was pretty scary. I wouldn’t recommend doing it unless you have some savings. The first couple months are pretty trim. I would say, this sounds really cheesy, but honestly there are so many good books about freelancing out there. The first month I feel like I just took time reading these books and understanding the industry and getting advice from people who had been there already.

Bjork Ostrom: Favorite books.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, there’s a few. One of my very favorites is called “Six Figure Freelancing,” it’s by Kelly James Anger, and it is so brilliant and practical and she even lays out templates for what emails should look like and how you should phrase things and what to expect and she talks numbers a lot. It’s really helpful. There’s also a book called “Will Write for Food,” by Diane Jacob, that I really like. That talks just about all the different ways you can write about food for a living from blogging to freelancing to everything in between.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, we interviewed Diane on episode 15, it was a great interview.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: That’s awesome.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I need to listen to that one.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. That’s the first time … She sent us a copy of the book and I was looking through, and it references Food Blogger Pro and Pinch of Yum.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: It does?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s the first time … We’re in such a digital world, and for you you probably see your name in print and it’s like whatever. For us it was wait a minute, this is a physical book and we’re in it. It was such a cool thing.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: That is cool. No, seeing your name in print really never gets old, honestly. I always feel like a rock star every time I get a copy and I’m like my God, there I am.

Bjork Ostrom: There it is.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, I have her … Probably an earlier edition because … Maybe you were … I feel like I read it in 2010 though, I don’t know.

Bjork Ostrom: She just recently came out with a revised edition.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah. Yeah. There’s a couple other books like that, this one woman Michelle Goodman I think is her name, she wrote a few books, “The Anti–9 to 5 Guide,” and “My So Called Freelance Life.” Those are two books that aren’t specific to being a freelance writer, it’s just about starting a freelance career in general. Maybe you want to be a dogwalker or whatever other freelance jobs are out there. Those are just helpful and especially in terms of working from home tips and productivity tips and taxes and understanding self-employment tax and that kind of stuff.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. I was a little bit tempted to go there with my next question about talking about that stuff, I feel like I could do an entire podcast on it.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Maybe the piece of advice is check out those books and do some research about it because there are things that are involved with that that are important to know.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, for sure.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. I think the idea of just picking up those books and reading through the advice that people have that have done it before is … It’s one of those things where it’s like of course that makes sense and it’s also one of the things that most people don’t do. It’s such a strategic advantage to really intentionally read through advice and then, this is the hard part, actually apply that and move forward with it.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is what you did, which I think is so cool that you’re able to have such a tangible realization of your goal which is to do this full-time, but also then it’s this doubling of what your previous income was. It’s not only a numbers game but that’s a huge part of it. Am I going to be able to sustain myself in doing this? The answer is yes. Also, are you going to be able to do something you love? Which is yes, which is such a cool thing.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I feel like there’s a couple things there that you said that struck a chord with me. The first I think is something that my dad instilled in me from the womb, which was make something happen. I can’t think of how many times he has said that to me. I think if you are the kind of person that makes something happen, you’ve set a goal, and you will do what it takes to achieve it, freelancing will be an awesome career for you.

If you’re not that kind of person though, I feel like sometimes freelancing is about personality types. If you’re the kind of person that’s like I don’t feel that comfortable selling myself and promoting myself, you’re just more wait for something happen personality, then freelancing is going to be tough. That was the first thing. Then the second thing I forgot now.

Bjork Ostrom: It was important.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: It was important.

Bjork Ostrom: It was one of the most important things, but that will be for the next time we interview you on the podcast. If you think of it let me know. I have a few more questions that I wanted to run by you as we’re coming to the end here. One of them that I’m curious to hear you talk about, and you, before we pressed record, you had talked a little bit about this as going about it backwards or opposite from what some people, let’s say, on Food Blogger Pro have done, where they start their blog and then they say I want to look at freelancing to be my side hustle, to help me make this transition into doing my own thing full-time. For you, you’ve done freelancing, you’ve done it well, and now you’re introducing your blog. You talked a little bit about your thought process behind that, but I’m curious to know how do you balance that in terms of writing freelance but also writing for your blog? It’s a big mental shift because, like you said, you’re not writing for free, you’re building your thing, but also when you come from an industry where you can pretty concretely attach monetary value to your words, and now it’s a little bit more abstract. You write 1,000-word post and press publish, normally you would have gotten paid $2,000 for that. Now you’re not. I’m interested to hear you talk about that.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, it’s been an interesting experiment I’ll say. I’ve really enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with bloggers, but I think being a journalist for so long I’ve been very defensive when people have called me a blogger because I think Pinch of Yum is so rare in the sense of being able to make that kind of income. At least I think people think it’s rare.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I think I was always like I’m not a blogger, I actually get paid for my work and I’m a journalist. Actually it was through being a fan of Pinch of Yum and then coming across your income reports and learning about Food Blogger Pro and joining that I was actually like I could get paid for my work still, it’s just more of an upfront investment.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting. The, like you said, upfront investment where you’re building something that then … I’ve referenced this a few times but you’re putting bricks on your own castle.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bjork Ostrom: You’re building up this thing that will exist forever and it will always be yours and you can do with it what you want. Potentially has the possibility to become not 100% passive, you’re always working on it, but different from freelancing in the sense that usually with freelancing or contract work you’ll get paid once and then they have that and then that’s on their site. Whereas with blogging it’s the opposite, you don’t get paid but there’s this potential of down the line building something up, which very different strategies.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, I think I tried to approach it knowing that it was different. The first thing I did was say I’m not going to write about … My blog isn’t going to be about the kinds of things I get paid to write about. What I get paid to write about mostly in my freelance career is restaurants and travel. I didn’t want to have a restaurant review blog or a travel blog, I wanted to have a blog about something else I was passionate about which was this natural healthy living and real whole food and cooking at home and this organic lifestyle.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: That’s what I decided to create Root + Revel around. I feel like separating the two made it easier for me to say I’m not giving up a story that I would normally be paid for to put it on Root + Revel. Having that separation has been helpful to start too. Then remembering why the reasons doing it yourself is better in some senses. Content control, I get to write about what I want to write about, how I see the story would best be told, how I … Getting the points in that I want to get in.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Sometimes when you’re freelancing it’s the editor’s say. You can write all you want but at the end of the day they get to edit it, they get to cut what they want, they get to change it to fit the tone of the magazine.

Bjork Ostrom: This is completely unfiltered.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Right. Exactly. It’s nice being like these are actually my words and the story I wanted to tell.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. Curious to know as we’re coming to the end here if you were to look back at your past eight years as a freelancer, and maybe it’s as you’re beginning to build your blog and your personal brand around your blog, what would be some of the things that you would do differently? Some of the advice you’d give yourself. It’s one of the questions that I always like to end with because I think it’s helpful for people to hear that.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah. I think one of the things I would say is network as much as you can. Especially working from home is very solitary and it’s very easy to just curl up in your own office or couch or some weeks my husband comes home and is like you haven’t left the house in four days.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. Totally get it.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: I think, A, for your sanity, get out there and do things. I always try to schedule meetings or coffee dates or lunches with either editors or publicists or potential story sources. I’ve joined a lot of writers groups, some of them are just online writers groups, but it’s nice to feel … Like the Food Blogger Pro forum where you have other people you can bounce ideas off of and learn from. Joining things like that.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s such great advice. The networking piece … It’s especially hard for people that lean toward introverted, which I think would be me. This just happened yesterday for me, there’s this meetup for people that do mobile web stuff. I had it on my calendar, and it was at 6:00, and it’s 5:15 … I’m not going to go. It’s just so easy not to do it but it’s so important to connect with people, both for your overall well-being, but it’s just good to have those connections. So much of what we’ve been able to do isn’t because of our own super strong will moving forward on things, but it’s connecting with people that have helped us.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s such a good takeaway. Whether it’s with a blog or freelancing or whatever your thing is, I think your network is such an important piece of that.

Kate Parham Kordsmeier: Yeah, absolutely. Especially for freelancing you have to work with publicists so often. They’re either pitching you ideas which then you can turn around and pitch to a magazine or an editor online. They have the contacts and they have the chefs or the restaurants or the hotels. They’re the ones that invite you on the trips and that bring you in for dinners and get some of the perks of the job. Definitely not just making friends with those people but also realizing that your job is tied … Your success is tied to their success, almost being on the same team as them. Not so much as going so far as advertising, still having your separation of church and state, but working with publicists.

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