October Consultant of the Month
With over 20 years of copywriting experience with ad agencies, startups, and big brands under his belt, Ken Grobe jumped into full-time freelancing with confidence and enthusiasm. When he’s not creating compelling content, naming companies, or defining brand voices, you may find him writing sci-fi articles or workcationing in far-away places.
What type of work do you do?
My three favorite things are brand strategy, company naming, and any video work I can do. I've been a copywriter for many years, writing everything from online advertising to TV spots to emails to pitch decks. My specialty is in brand voice. Companies, especially start-ups, have a sense of what their brand looks like, but they don't always focus on how their brand sounds, which is just as important.
Ken's Keys to Success
- Evolving his career to find the right niche
- Balancing corporate creativity with fictional writing
- Embracing deep work opportunities
- Finding and maintaining community
What are you currently working on?
I’ve been working for Poly, a conference audio and video company, and Evernote. It’s especially exciting to work for Evernote, as I’ve used the product for years. I also write for publications on the side. One recent article was for a French sci-fi magazine about Mars One, a company whose mission was to send humans on a one-way trip to colonize Mars. The piece was about the candidates, whose dreams of going to Mars were dashed when the company went under in 2018. They ranged from fairly normal people to extremely quirky, but they were all fascinating. I enjoy writing these even if I have a full boat of work.
Why did you decide to become a consultant? What path did you take to become a consultant?
Coming out of college with a literature degree, I got my first major job editing comic books in New York City. I edited adaptations by Douglas Adams, who wrote Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Raymond Chandler, the noir writer, and Roger Zelazny, a famous fantasy author. I came to that industry at a time when it took a big header.
So, I jumped and landed in interactive media. Companies needed content to fill up webpages and the cheapest way to do that was to hire writers. I found my way into advertising and have been a copywriter for over 20 years, and learned a lot about branding along the way.
I’ve spent most of my career as a full-timer. I’d take on freelance work in between jobs. Three or four years ago, I decided that the office environment wasn't for me. Climbing the corporate ladder lost its luster. I wasn’t doing my best work. That's when I decided to go full-time as a consultant.
What do you love about consulting?
I love the flexibility and the variety of the work. Commercial and marketing writing are more stable than other kinds of freelance writing. I've managed to find a niche where I'm getting steady work from regular clients. The checks are coming in and the insurance is getting paid. I've got just enough contact with folks and just enough opportunity for deep work.
What has been your biggest challenge about being a consultant? How have you addressed it?
The initial challenge was getting steady work. I managed to surmount that by doing the things that you're supposed to do as a freelancer – to network, find clients that you can get regular projects from, and, where possible, find clients that will allow you to do the kind of work that will impress other prospective clients. That last one’s the hardest to do. In advertising, there's a saying: you do one for the reel and 10 for the meal.
What was your favorite project to work on or work you are most proud of? Why?
At Skype, I was given the opportunity to co-creative-direct a documentary-style video about a small business in Washington State called Bicymple which sells uniquely-designed bicycles. As a startup, they needed to use free tools whenever they could. They used Skype for their suppliers and customer service, because they could do video chats for free.
It was a two-day shoot. Because we were short of time, I devised a system to do the first day’s shooting as a “pre-interview” for the second day. I was able to take down enough notes so that the next morning, the director could focus on the things we wanted them to talk about. I'm very proud of the video.
How do you market yourself?
I've had a website since the turn of the century and I try to update it on a regular basis. Having had full-time work as long as I have, I've been able to develop strong relationships with folks which makes it easier to network. I'm very big on staying in touch with people — not always the easiest for someone who has introverted tendencies. LinkedIn is the biggest tool in my toolkit; I’ll post if I'm looking for work or my schedule's clearing up, and send messages to folks to stay front-of-mind.
What are the things you like to do when the work slows down?
There's always something else that needs to get done. Career-wise, it's updating the website, it's sending out notes to everybody, it's brainstorming what kind of holiday gift I'm giving to my clients this year. For the fun stuff, my dog loves going to the beach, so I sometimes take her for a couple hours in the middle of the day. My wife and I love to travel. Because we both work remotely, we've had a couple great opportunities to do workcations. Early this year, we stayed in an apartment in Paris for about six weeks. We went out during the day and worked at night because that's when our clients were awake. It was fantastic. We're hoping to do it again soon.
What’s one tip you would give to new consultants?
Find your community. I had the good fortune of finding an entrepreneur bootcamp where I met people and got advice. If you're not feeling very confident about freelancing, it’s a great way to find support. Find other people who are in the same situation so you can share information and empathize with each other. And stay in touch with people with whom you've worked with in the past.