Episode 16: Building Rapport with Katie Navarra

Katie published her first article 16 years ago, and today is an established freelance writer living on the East Coast but contributing to multiple national publications. She has written two children's books for Story Publishing and like most in the equine media industry, she grew up passionate about horses and writing. An unconventional start to her career- she didn't attend journalism school, she completed an internship in NYC and her first professional job selling landscape supplies--have all contributed to her success as a freelance writer.

Q:  First, Katie, I love your buckskin horse! Tell us about your horse background.

Katie: I grew up in Western New York riding in 4-H and open shows. I’ve always been partial to “color.” My first horse was a buckskin mare and my next horse was a palomino reining horse. He’s 27 this year and still lives with my parents. When it was time to buy my first horse as an adult, I did what we advise all or our readers not to do and bought on color. Bella is a triple registered mare that I’ve been showing in ranch horse events and started competing in local sortings with.

Q: What launched your love of writing and pushed you to freelancing?

My parents still have the first “books” I wrote as a 3rd grade student. In school, I excelled in English class and entered contests where my work was recognized. I won second or third place in a Professional’s Choice essay contest years ago and had a story accepted into the Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soul Part II.

It wasn’t until a high school English teacher of mine, Sue DePalma, said to me, you know you could make a career out of writing for horse magazines. She and her daughters show on the AQHA circuit and so she not only knew about writing, she was familiar with the potential of the industry. She put the idea in my head and it blossomed from there.

Q: You freelance for a number of magazines and also work a full-time job as marketing manager at New York State School Boards Association. You juggle a lot! Tell me about your time management system. What keeps you on track?

This is definitely a work in progress! I’ve been fortunate that my business has grown significantly in the past three to five years. Traditionally, I’ve used many of the methods you’ve both spoken about to keep track of projects from writing lists to using sticky notes, keeping multiple online and paper calendars and tracking things in excel. However, I’ve found that I’ve needed to invest in more sophisticated tracking systems to help keep me on track.

Last December I signed up for Freshbooks, a cloud accounting system and I LOVE it! This has been the first piece to getting me more organized. What used to take me a solid half a day or more on the weekends to invoice, record payments, etc. can now be done from my mobile phone in minutes, wherever I am. I’m not tied to having to create an invoice and email it from my computer. I have an invoice template in Freshbooks and it stores all my contacts so I simply fill it in and hit send. I also learned recently that clients can go back to previous invoices and see when an invoice is still outstanding and when I’ve received and applied the payment.

On the project side of things, I’m researching project management software, like FreedCamp. We use a system at work that is really powerful in that it integrates a calendar, reminders and tasks for individual projects.  When I find one that seems to be a good fit, I’ll let you know.

It used to take forever to track what check went with what article. Now, I can do it in 5 minutes!

Q: You write for a number of magazines, and some that aren’t all equine focused. How do you describe your style of writing?

If I had to describe my style of writing, I would call it lifestyle writing. I say that because regardless of whether I’m writing for a horse publication, general agricultural media or business publications, I tend to look at stories from an angle of giving readers the information they need for their lifestyle be it how-to’s, technical pieces or profiles of another person living a similar lifestyle. I try to come at it from a lifestyle angle. As far as the horse industry goes, I’m blessed to have the opportunity to cover the stock horse, performance horse and also write for publications with hunter/jumper and dressage audiences. It has really been a pretty broad style of writing.

Q: Did you branch out to agriculture publications as a means to add income or is it another interest?

Both. Writing for agriculture publications was a natural extension for me. I was raised on a family farm in western New York. Our family raised fresh vegetables and operated retail greenhouses. So, when I was looking for ways to increase income, it was a natural fit. Similarly, I’ve also written for landscape publications, which was an extension of a career when I first got out of college. For 7 years I worked for nationwide company that sold landscape, irrigation and nursery supplies, so that was another industry I was familiar with. It has been fun!

I think for awhile when I first started my career, I was frustrated that I didn’t go straight into an editorial position. I was freelancing for industries outside of the horse industry. Through the years, I have come to realize and appreciate that those work experiences gave me the ability to market myself and be able to talk about other industries. It has been fun and pushed me as a writer.

(What a great advice to make yourself more marketable!)

Q: We both live in Texas, where horse events are aplenty. Talk to us about the prevalence of horse events to cover in New York/East Coast. What are the challenges of freelancing on the East Coast?

It’s become much easier than when I first started freelancing in 2001! We have a good number of breed show events in the New England/Northeast area.  That has given me an in with publications to go to an event first. In the northeast, we have seen a rise in our events. Stock horse events are also becoming more prevalent in our area. The first NCHA cutting was held out here for the first time in 10 years! Editors are eager to hear what is going on out here. Because of my contacts, I have been assigned to cover it instead of them sending a staffer out here.

 A new discipline and magazine I haven’t worked for recently hired me to cover an event outside the western industry, so having the ability to be flexible has also been beneficial. It has allowed me to build a network of individuals to go back to for training and other articles to provide input.

Sometimes it’s more cost effective for a publication to pay my travel (even though it may be a 4-to-6-hour trip) to cover an event than to send a staffer.

Q: Is networking a big part of your success? I know you are also a member of American Ag Editors Association. Can you talk about how networking plays into your career?

Yes, networking is an important element for growing any business, freelance or customer service/retail. It’s about the relationship with those looking to buy the product you have. I know you’re both members of American Horse Publications and find value in the annual conference and that organization has been a vital part of building my business and lasting relationships with editors and fellow freelancers. I also recently joined the Livestock Publications Council and American Ag Editors. American Ag Editors has reached out to me to write a blog post for their newsletter, participate in a mentor program and respond to surveys. I’ve accepted every offer as an opportunity to get to know people in that organization and hopefully, I can attend their Ag Media Summit one of these years.

I was surprised they reached out. It has been really fun to be involved and participate that way.

Q: You’ve been freelancing since 2001. Talk to us about some challenges you’ve faced in the course of your freelancing career. Tell us how you overcame them.

When I first started I felt extremely disconnected from the industry because I live on the east coast and everything in the western industry was happening out west.  I didn’t have the finances to support attending the American Horse Publications conference every year, like I have been doing the last 5 or 6 years. I made sure that when I could attend the AHP Seminar that I made the most of it by making new connections or reinforcing the ones I already had. I always attended the networking luncheons and made time for editors and freelance writers. The more people you get to know, you realize it is a small world.

This is a funny story. At the AHP Seminar, we had lunch with a celebrity. I ate with Kenda, one of the top mounted shooters. She had actually been at the barn where I keep my horse in upstate New York! It is very random but a cool connection. Once you start getting involved with the industry, you find out you get to know more people than you realize.

Q: You have a stellar reputation in the equine magazine world. From your timeliness, to your work ethic, to the way you send editors thank you cards and Christmas cards, you have really risen to the top with your professionalism. And that’s just the rumors! Can you tell us how you’ve established professional credibility and built those relationships with editors?

For me, I don’t think twice about it, it all comes back to customer service. I started working at farmers markets for my grandparents when I was 4 or 5 years old and we were expected to treat people with respect, even if the customers were impolite. That always stuck with me. I carried that to any job I had in high school and through college.

My first job out of college was building a business in an industry that I had very little knowledge of. In 3 years I drove sales from $98,000 to $1.1 million. The secret to my success was customer service and relationships. It was about being honest when I didn’t know the answer to something (or had made a mistake) and keeping an open line of communication. And equally important, was taking the time to thank a customer for their continued business.

I look at the editors I work with as customers. The vast majority have become much more than customers and are people I consider good friends, but when it comes to the business side of things I try to  treat them like customers I had at the store 10 years ago.  

(What a fantastic outlook on the business side of freelancing! It is inspiring and a good role model!)

Without [the editors] we wouldn’t have business, right!?

Q: That was great advice.  Do you have any additional advice for fellow freelancers hoping to establish relationships publications—particularly if they aren’t going to get face time with an editor or if they live in a region outside of the typical horse regions?

My advice to freelancers working outside those typical horse regions are to start working with a local or regional outlet or even your own blog can help you can credibility and demonstrate that you have the skills needed. A lot of the interviews I do are phone or email interviews. So as long as you’ve proven that you can produce quality work and meet deadlines, there are a lot of opportunities to have a good freelance business even if you aren’t living in a horse community.

The big thing is to look for ways to connect what is taking place in your area with the topics major magazines are publishing. It took me awhile to get good at this. A recent example is a story that ran in the July Western Horseman. It’s an article about a livestock contractor in upstate NY that hauls up and down the eastern seaboard. Their stock has won national awards and made appearances at the NFR finals rodeo. That in itself is interesting and fits the publication’s mission. However, the true hook is that people don’t think of rodeo or stock contractors in NY state or the northeast. The article shared how in our area riders can rodeo every night of the week and the tradition started back in the 1940’s. It was that unique twist on a story that fit a regional and national audience and let me get in with Western Horseman.

(note: Madison Square Garden held big rodeos in the ‘50s! Additionally, Katie says you can still ride your own horse in Central Park! Look for an article she has coming this summer about trail riding in Central Park.)

Q: Any other words of wisdom, things you’ve learned along the way to share?

I think that we’re all involved in the equine media industry because we love horses and we love to share the stories that come along with that. The business side of things tends to be third or fourth or further down the list of interests or skills. I think it’s really important part of having a successful business and is much deeper than meeting deadlines and sending/reconciling invoices.

For me, it has been a good niche in the horse industry. I write profiles and training pieces, but magazines come to me to write about the business side of things. I never would have thought 15 or 16 years ago that I would turn that sales job into an asset.

Q: What’s next for your career/assignment wise?

This is the homework you gave me because it got me thinking more long term than I have. I’ve got two goals on the horizon for late 2017/early 2018. They are still in development phase, so you’ll have to stay tuned, but I’m looking at ways to expand my business and find a more diversified revenue stream. I’m looking at how I can hep other small businesses. I’m looking to leverage/offer the business skills I have to help other small businesses scale up ad achieve their goals.

(Be sure to share that info, Katie & we will share with the listeners!)

Q:  Where can people find you?

People can find me on Facebook (@katie.n.bradley) and on Twitter (@bradley_katie). Navarra is my maiden name and the name I publish under. My social media accounts are under Katie Navarra Bradley. I can also be found at my website: katienavarra.com.

Be sure to check the blog next week for a guest edition from Katie. And, maybe one day we will have a Freelance Remuda get together in Central Park!

About The Freelance Remuda
The Freelance Remuda is a podcast about navigating the equine media frontier. Co-hosted by seasoned freelance professionals Abigail Boatwright and Kate Bradley Byars, the podcast explores the trials and triumphs surrounding life as a freelancer in equine media, while sharing valuable tips from equine media editors and creatives doing what they love. Find and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher.


Abigail Boatwright