Sally McGraw has always known the value of cultivating a solid work ethic. After graduating from college with a creative writing degree, she briefly pursued a career in music journalism before spending twelve years in communications. She eventually reached a point of professional frustration and knew it was time for a change. From there, Sally went on to launch her blog, Already Pretty, followed nine years later by her freelance ghostwriting, editing, and copywriting business. Read more below to discover how she structures her day-to-day freelance schedule and found work that lights her up inside.
Name: Sally McGraw
Business: Sally McGraw
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Year Started: I launched my blog in 2007 and began freelancing full-time in 2011, but have worked in communications since 2000
Website + LinkedIn
Tell us about your company.
I’m a freelance writer, ghostwriter, editor, and copywriter who works with everyone from solopreneurs to Fortune 500 companies. I’ve written four-sentence artist statements, 250-page non-fiction books, and everything in between! I am always eager to connect with clients who need help expressing their ideas or getting their writing-intensive workloads under control.
What was your first job growing up, and what did you learn from it?
I worked at the YMCA in my hometown of Evanston, IL. (Fun fact: Tina Fey worked there, too, though I had no idea who she was at the time!) I supervised the weight room occasionally, but mostly worked kids’ birthday parties in the open gym.
That job taught me that working is tied to independence. I started working at age 14, so I needed to apply for a permit. My parents raised me to believe that a solid work ethic is essential for building a fulfilling life, and I still believe that.
Tell us about your career before starting your own company, and how it got you to where you are today:
I got a creative writing degree in 1998 and graduated with every intention of becoming a music journalist. That work was hard to come by, so I took a job in California as a copy editor, then became a web content producer, and eventually a marketing designer/copywriter. After moving to Minneapolis and spending five years getting paid $80 to write 1,200-word cover stories for a local weekly, I gave up the music journalism dream. I spent 12 years pin-balling between communications jobs, feeling lost and frustrated.
Eventually, my husband sat me down and said, “You’re changing employers, but you’re not changing WHAT YOU DO. Think of something wildly different, something that lights you up inside. You should do that.”
So, despite avoiding math and science at all costs throughout my academic life, I decided to pursue a degree in animal behavior. (I’m a lifelong animal lover and secret nature nerd.) I was lucky enough to land a day job at the University of Minnesota and, at the time, being an employee meant free tuition. A coworker at my U of M day job approached me one day and said, “I love how you dress and hate how I dress. Will you make me over?” I’d been mildly obsessed with fashion for years, so agreed, and gave her a list of tips in advance of our closet consult. She said, “This is great. People would love this advice; you should put it on a blog.”
So, in 2007, I launched Already Pretty, a blog that explored the intersection of style and body image. It started to take off, and I let the degree go in favor of supporting the blog. For nine years, I wrote about the connection between looking good and feeling good, as it relates to style. My primary mission was to show that body knowledge gained through explorations of personal style could foster self-love and self-respect.
Nine years is a long time, and eventually, I felt like I’d said everything I needed to say. I had started taking on client work on the side and began to ramp up those efforts. Then in 2017, I announced that I’d be shifting gears toward ghostwriting and editing, and putting Already Pretty on autopilot. I’ve been working full-time for my amazing clients since then.
Tell us the story of why and how you started your business:
Well, there are two stories there!
I started my blog because I used to utilize so much energy hating my body that I exhausted myself into depression. For years, I tried to change my body with diets and exercise, believing that its shape and size were the roots of the problem, but I just kept on hating it.
When I began exploring fashion and style – dressing in fun, flattering, and form-fitting clothes – an unexplored universe opened up to me. For the first time, I respected my body. I realized that there was nothing wrong with it. I saw my body as integral to my identity. I wanted to show it off, and decorate it joyously, and hone my style so that I could understand it on new levels. When I started to dress in a way that made me look and feel amazing, I finally stopped actively, continually, exhaustingly hating my body. And I immediately wanted to show other women how to make that connection so they could stop hating their bodies too.
The ghostwriting and editing, my current path and passion, feels like a natural fit to me as someone who loves both the written word and helping people express and spread their ideas. Nothing makes me happier than capturing an abstract concept and pinning it to the page with illuminating, impassioned, carefully chosen words. Books, articles, speeches, and blog posts may seem like small, self-contained creations, but I’ve seen how the written word can change the path of history. If I can help my clients support, educate, or inspire their readers, I believe that together, we can make the world a tiny bit better. And that’s a worthwhile endeavor.
What is a typical day like for you?
I tend to sleep in until 8 or so (I know, so lucky!) then roll into my home office and do a little correspondence.
I’ll break to exercise—either at home or the Tae Kwon Do school I attend—then spend the afternoon neck-deep in writing projects.
I love working on books most of all, but also write newsletters, web copy, blog posts, manifestos, book proposals, and bios for my clients. When I’m super busy, I might work until 6 or 7 p.m. When my schedule is light, I kick off when my husband gets home at 5 p.m.
Tell us about a hard time in your career. What did you learn from it or how did it make you stronger?
Again, and again, I’ve learned that the things we’re good AT aren’t always good FOR us. I have lots of valuable and marketable skills that absolutely drain me. (I’m a kick-ass project manager, but that kind of work makes me miserable.) I’ve seen how much better working life becomes when at least some aspects of your work energize you.
What advice or tips would you give to a new business owner?
Set aside at least 30% of every single check for taxes! And, if possible, make sure you’ve got at least three month’s expenses in the bank before striking out on your own. Very few businesses can expect steady income month to month, and you need to be financially prepared for some ups and downs.
What’s next for your business?
I’d like to get to a point where I can take a month or two off each year and live off my savings. I haven’t taken a no-email/no-work vacation in more than a decade, and I’d love to give myself a real sabbatical!
What do you believe is your single strongest skill that’s helped you succeed?
I’m an excellent listener. When you’re writing on someone else’s behalf and in their voice, you need to listen deeply and understand quickly.
Tell us about your life outside of your business? What do you like to do?
I’ve worked with a program that trains emerging women leaders for seven years, I’m working toward my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and I’m about three-quarters of the way through a full back tattoo. I have friends scattered all over the country, and love to visit them as often as I can; I make regular stops in San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. I’m a lapsed singer who occasionally gets roped into fronting my friends’ cover bands. Despite leaving the fashion world behind, I still love style and shopping, especially thrift and consignment shopping. And I adore nature documentaries; My brain is a storehouse of useless animal facts!
Quick Fun Facts
What’s your favorite charity?
Leaders of Today and Tomorrow
What age do you want to retire at?
One travel location on your bucket list?
Are you an introvert or extrovert?
What is your favorite blog, podcast, or book?
Favorite book is “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” by Michael Chabon
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