New Member Profile: Hilary Sutton – A New Breed of Journalist

For those of us – ahem! – old enough to remember what journalism and publishing was like way back in the latter part of the 20th century, Hilary Sutton, who joined ASJA in 2017, may seem like a bit of an anomaly. But the truth is, she represents a new, upcoming breed of freelancer. Along with being a content writer and journalist, Hilary spends a good chunk of her time speaking, consulting and producing a podcast, Hustle and Grace, which focuses on work-life balance for successful creatives. She covers careers for USA Today and is also the author of ebooks and courses including More in Less: 21 Productivity Hacks for Creatives. Her clients range from Broadway shows to nonprofits to creatives of all stripes to consumer brands. Hilary and her husband live in the DC metro area and are expecting their first child, a little girl.

You’ve been freelancing for more than 10 years, ever since your graduated from college. What led to that choice and what was it like in the beginning?

I got my degree in journalism and started blogging while still in college. When I graduated in 2007 and entered the job market, the recession was looming, which pushed me towards the decision to freelance. Along with blogging, I started writing for regional magazines as well as doing content marketing. From the beginning, I wanted to build a personal brand that would help me build a niche as a content writer and social media strategist. Over time it morphed into productivity, time management and personal development. People were always asking me how the freelance life worked. So I created a course to help them get their dream off the ground; they could either take it online or in person. I am fascinated with how you can align your values with how you spend your time.

Like many writers, my dream is to write a book. So when a literary agent out of Nashville reached out to be about turning my blog ideas into a book proposal and told me I needed to build up my platform, that really lit a fire under me. The agent said that when entering the thought-leadership space, you need a large, enthusiastic fan base. So I started focusing on growing my newsletter list and social media presences and developing the podcast.

How did you find out about ASJA?

Actually, it was through this publication, the ASJA Weekly. I was feeling isolated as a freelance writer and came across it online. Here was a whole group of people who had lives like mine—I found myself soaking up the articles and sharing them on social media. Around that time I’d also gotten my first national byline in USA Today, which helped qualify me for membership, so I joined in 2017 and went to the New York City conference. That was like drinking from a firehose, with ideas everywhere—six-figure freelancing, diversifying what you do, writing for trade associations, so much!

At the time, I also had one major client, a content marketing company. ASJA helped me realize that I needed to do more than just rely on that. It also became easier to find more opportunities because at the same time, we moved from a small town in Virginia to Washington, DC.

Your podcast has only been live since June and already you’ve had over a dozen guests. Tell us more about it.

Contacts like members Damon Brown, Lisa Rowan and Laura Vanderkam shared their experiences and expertise and helped me give it a sharp, relevant focus essential in building an audience. Most feature a high achiever, creatives who are successful in their field. They also have a balanced life with other interests outside of being workaholics. We talk about how to work smarter, not harder. And how to avoid burnout and make space for personal fulfillment.

The episodes highlight a variety of artists and their experiences, although there are a lot of writers. Recent guests include three-time author Nilofer Merchant, whose book The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World was published by Viking in 2017. She’s personally launched more than 100 products, netting $18 billion in sales and has held executive positions at Apple, Autodesk and GoLive Systems. Other guests include ASJA members Damon Brown, Lisa Rowan and others as well as Molly Beck, founder of the podcast-creation site, Messy Bun, and the lifestyle blog Smart, Pretty & Awkward; and author Jeff Goins, founder of Tribe Writers, an online community for writers.

What advice would you give to freelancers who are just starting out?

I have a couple of thoughts on this, one of which may be a bit controversial. The first is pretty standard and involves regular use of LinkedIn, which is sometimes overlooked as a source of work. Spend a little time there every day, reaching out to other freelancers and other contacts. Share advice and information to encourage a back and forth dialogue, with as many contacts as possible. And instead of asking clients or others directly for work, let them know you’re open to new opportunities and especially referrals. People like to be problem-solvers and its takes away the awkwardness of saying, “No, I don’t have anything at this time.”  The nice thing about LinkedIn is that you have free rein to share your work without seeming to be self-promoting, which sometimes can happen on Facebook or Instagram.

My second bit of advice: especially when you’re just beginning, you might want to consider working for less. I’m not suggesting that you undervalue or undercharge for your hard-earned expertise. It’s more like donating time to a favorite nonprofit to build up a portfolio or contributing an article to a website that reaches your target audience or platform. So you are getting something in return. Money is not the only way to get paid.

Finally, I invite anyone to connect with me on Facebook and Twitter @hilarysutton, on Instagram @hilary.sutton and on my website

Are you a new member of ASJA? Do you know a new member? We’re always looking for great profiles of folks who have something important to say to our members. Nominate yourself or someone else by emailing Sandra Gurvis.