Meet Justine Mulliez. Former freelancer of 8 years as an event and media producer and now small business owner of 3 years as a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (we’ll dive into the personal choice of the differentiation between freelance and business owner in the interview), Mulliez has extensive experience creating her own path in the outdoor space.
While she doesn’t consider herself a freelancer anymore, she works with and coaches freelancers regularly and manages her own business in similar contractual ways. Mulliez left her event and media freelance production world in France in part because of sexism in the industry and because she wanted to have more of an impact component for helping people in her work.
Now, she does that through helping other adventurous go-getters find their own paths to fully show up in the world. Here’s what she has to say about different types of freelancing, coaching, being a woman in the outdoors, and pricing decisions.
Year started freelancing full-time: 2011
Age when started freelancing full-time: 21
Preferred Pronouns: she/her
How do you typically explain to people what you do and how did you figure that out?
Back when I was freelancing, I would say I am a freelance events and media producer in the action sports industry.
It took me a while to nail it down to being that. I think my intro for a while was literally “I want to work for the X Games” or “I want to work on the biggest skiing and snowboarding events in Europe” or “I work for the biggest skiing and snowboarding events in Europe” once I got there.
It kind of depended on who I was talking to. Like, what I thought would make sense to them as a person. I would say freelancing, especially in an industry like the outdoors and the action sports industry, is very confusing to a lot of people who are more mainstream. So I quickly realized that depending on who I was talking to and what I wanted them to know about me is what I would highlight.
I always find that talking about the impact that I have, rather than the work that I do speaks to people more. So ultimately, it became “I liaise between brands and local resort teams to plan and execute the biggest skiing and snowboarding events in Europe.”
Now that you have your coaching business, do you consider that freelancing?
No, I don’t consider it freelancing.
While I work contractually, I don’t consider what I do freelancing. I say I’m a business owner, not a freelancer.
But instead of saying I’m a coach or I’m a small business or life coach, I say “I help adventurous people build lives and businesses that honor what is most important to them.”
Would you have a way of distinguishing between freelance and business owner?
Yes. And I actually think that freelancers who don’t consider themselves business owners are potentially overlooking some really important parts of business and they’re potentially underselling themselves or they probably have a couple blind spots.
Back when I was freelancing, I did not consider myself a business owner, which also limited what services I believed I could provide. After a certain point, people started coming to me to ask who they should recruit under me or to see if I knew people that I could bring on to events.
If I had looked at myself as a business owner, I would have potentially seen that as the beginning of an agency model where I’m bringing on a team and my client is paying for our team, not just for my services, which would have been a strong business model and would have made me more income.
But looking at myself only as a freelancer, I think I downplayed my contribution to a team. So as a coach, that’s a lot of the work that I do. Especially with freelancers and creatives, it’s helping them see that what they’re doing is a business because they’re making an income from it or trying to make an income from it. And I think it’s a disservice for freelancers not to see themselves as being a business. But that’s my very specific opinion.
What did you do before freelancing?
I started freelancing pretty much immediately after leaving college with a goal to work for the X Games. I had studied parks, tourism, and recreation management at UVM (University of Vermont). It was pretty clear to my parents that if I was going to study something that was potentially a useless degree, I had to know what I was going to use it for.
I had worked with the ski and snowboard club here and planned huge events. We had one of the biggest college skiing and snowboarding clubs in the country at UVM. I’m also a dual citizen of France and I’m bicultural and bilingual so I moved to the Alps right away after getting my degree because the X Games were hosting an event in a resort right by the one that I grew up skiing at. I took a part time job in a ski shop while trying to track down the people I needed to talk to in order to start working for that event.
What different freelancing roles have you had?
I was freelancing in a variety of roles, especially in order to make a living when I was first starting out.
I was an event assistant where I handled a lot of the operations and liaised between the French partners on the ground and our event strategy teams. Plus I did freelance translation from French to English for local magazines as an extra way of making some money. Then I started moving into a social media role, capturing social media for events. Then moving more into a media role where I was doing PR for events. And then ultimately into event production from there.
Aside from the actual service, were there any differences between the different types of freelancing you’ve done?
With translation work, your rates and pricing is different. The way you work with a client is different versus events. Sometimes you get hired for a one off event. Sometimes you get hired over and over again.
When I was working for the X Games, ESPN was a massive behemoth of a client versus a two person event being run out of Denmark, for example. Definitely lots of differences in terms of the client relationship, roles, responsibilities, contract lengths, the kind of work that you’re doing, what’s being asked of you, and how to maintain work in the future.
What led you to being a coach and what questions and realizations helped you decide what you wanted to do with that?
What really helped me was actually working with a coach, which I know I say all the time, but before that I had never stopped long enough to ask myself some of these important questions. And I also had no one to talk to.
A lot of people in our lives want to keep us safe. So our parents, partners, friends, even mentors might tell us what to do. But ultimately, we have a lot more wisdom and self awareness than we give ourselves credit for and we’re fully capable of making those decisions on our own.
The question that I asked myself was “what is missing?” Because by age 27, I had built a pretty successful freelance career. I was finally working on all of the events that I had ever wanted to. I was being brought in with more responsibility and overseeing bigger projects. And I was being valued more and I was making more money. Yet something still didn’t feel good in my situation.
I realized over time that the things I was drawn to such as outdoor education or wilderness therapy had an impact component that I was missing in my freelance work. While I was trying to build events on my own that enabled me to have that impact and community, I wasn’t able to find it through freelancing.
I think that coupled with the fact that from a values standpoint, I was really struggling with the action sports agency model and the values within the action sports industry. I didn’t want to keep working for Red Bull or Monster and selling products I didn’t necessarily believe in. I’d also say I experienced quite a bit of isolation and at times harassment as a result of being a woman, especially in France, which has quite a macho culture. And I got tired of that. So I said fuck it.
What was the process like for becoming a certified professional coach?
I did the six month Co-Active Training Institute curriculum where you gain 100 coaching hours as a result of participating in the curriculum. And then I went on to do the certification program, which is about a 10 hour commitment a week for six months of learning skills and strategies in addition to working with coaching clients.
In that, we are actively working with clients and submitting our calls to be reviewed by master coaches, who give us feedback in real time. And then you have to pass an exam through the International Coaching Federation to make sure that you are up to the standards that they have for being a Certified Professional Co-Active coach.
What does a coach do in those coaching sessions?
I would say that there’s what we do and then there’s how we do it. The way I like to look at it is what is the impact that we have with our clients? For me, my not so secret agenda is full transformation.
My goal in working with clients whether that’s through business coaching or life coaching is that they walk away with a self awareness that they are powerful and have the wisdom they need inside of them. That they can make tough decisions, they know what they want, and they know that they’re going to get it. It’s fulfillment. It’s really the tough journey of figuring out what you want, why, and going to get it.
So in a coaching session, we could be playing with perspective, values, and visioning. We could be building the roadmap to getting what they want. We could be overcoming imposter syndrome or working on inner critics.
With my small business clients, sometimes we’re talking about positioning — how are you communicating about the work that you do and is it landing? Who is your ideal client? Why? How are you interacting with them? Are your business processes honoring the relationship? We do a lot.
It’s really about creating the space for a person to empower themselves, make their own decisions, and really get clear on who they are and how they want to show up in the world.
Have you noticed any difference between coaching outdoorsy people versus non-outdoorsy people?
I would say those for whom nature and the outdoors is not necessarily an inherent value that they want to honor, they may have a harder time letting go of societal expectations.
I think a lot of us who are in the outdoors industry have an internal compass that might be more established than somebody who isn’t, simply because the outdoors industry is not necessarily something that society understands, which makes it more niche. So I find that a lot of people in the outdoors industry or people who are drawn to the outdoors tend to have a slightly clearer internal compass of passion that drives them and more likely to be drawn to challenge.
What are some of the most common challenges you see while working with your clients?
I would say the big umbrella is, lack of clarity. People not knowing what exactly they want or being afraid of what they want and needing somebody to walk that journey to giving themselves permission. I think that permission piece is also huge. People not knowing how to own their own power and how to own their wants, desires, and longings.
From a business standpoint and a lot of the work I do with freelancers and creatives, it’s not knowing the business side or being intimidated by the business side.
And then inner critics, self judgment, the ego, and being afraid of failure or stepping out of the comfort zone. Feeling stuck and feeling like you don’t have a choice is also a big one.
Are there any specific things you do for those challenges?
In terms of the things we do specifically, we question a lot. That’s really the goal and the role of a coach — asking questions and getting really curious. Being like, “hey, that stone over there, what’s under it? And what is that doing there? And do you want it here and if not, then what are the choices that you have moving forward?
So it’s really helping people understand that they have a lot of tools. They have a lot of wisdom. And it’s giving them homework and accountability to implement the things that we’ve uncovered.
Have you ever felt or experienced any challenges as a woman in the outdoor industry?
I was always either assumed to be an assistant or a pro hoe, which is a really derogatory word for women hanging around athletes. I was one of the youngest people on most of the teams I was working on and I was always the only woman. So it was always noticed.
The level of attention that was brought to the fact that I was a woman, especially in France, was constant. I was hazed very often by my French counterparts and it’s partially why I left the industry at the time.
My way of dealing with it was to become a very extreme version of myself and I became more dominant than men. I think that’s a pretty common reaction to this, like “Oh, you think you can boss me around? Fuck you.” I have a lot of fuck you fuel.
And when I worked with a coach, I realized it robbed me of who I actually am. It changes you. It morphs you into being a different version of yourself that to a certain extent, if you’re not careful, you’ll never come back from or recognize yourself. For me in order to feel like I could show up as my whole self I had to walk away.
When you walked away, what came back?
I’m a tender person. Anyone who knows me knows this. I have a lot of feelings and I didn’t want to have to be so hard all the time or so dominant. I wasn’t a curious person anymore. It felt like I had to be the expert or I would be walked all over and I had to be very protective of my ideas in order to not have someone steal them and take the credit.
So the collaborator, the generosity, this curious, excited, enthusiastic person is what I was able to bring back, which is what I bring to my work and this industry now. I’m whole again.
How has coaching in the outdoor industry been different to your previous freelance work?
There’s very clearly still so much work to do, but I would say it feels like a much more welcoming place. It feels like we’re more along the lines of wanting whole people and wanting authenticity to really be a cornerstone.
We’re walking our talk a little bit more. So, it makes it much easier as a woman to be in this industry and that is not at all other people’s lived experience which is 100% valid. And I would also say as a coach, I’m so tied to my mission, which is I want whole people in this industry. I want to empower people to take a stand for themselves, to advocate for their pricing, to be picky with their clients in a way that I never was and it actually feels very full circle.
I feel like I’m getting to show up as the person that I wish I had had as I was going through this.
What are your decision making processes when it comes to your own rates as a coach?
First, I ask, what version of me is deciding on this rate? Is it the fearful me? Or is this the powerful me? Because they have two different rates. And I want to make sure that it’s the powerful me that’s deciding my rate.
Then it’s doing research and seeing what a typical rate is for somebody doing similar work to me because I think information is power. And then it’s also my target market. Can the people that I want to work with afford my rate? Where does it sit on their list of priorities in terms of how they spend their money?
Then the last question is, does it feel good?
Does your rate change with different people?
Not generally. However, I’m aware that my rate for some people might be out of reach. A person who, like myself, did not have student debt to pay is in a very different financial position to somebody who may have student debt. Or a person who is from a marginalized community with potentially less access, things like that.
So I want to factor those things in. So if I’m working with, let’s say 20 one-on-one clients, I always ensure that the math enables me to work with a few clients on a sliding scale. That’s just something that I factored into my business model early on.
So if I really want to work with someone and they can’t afford the rate that I would normally charge, if I have the space on my sliding scale slots, I offer it to them and ask them to pick a rate that feels like a financial stretch, which means that they’re going to force themselves to be committed without it being a problem. I do not want them to be putting themselves in financial hardship to pay for coaching.
If you could say one thing to your younger self getting into freelancing what would it be?
Handshake contracts don’t mean shit. I’m still waiting on a 5000 Euro contract 10 years later, so handshake contracts don’t mean shit.
And it’s because I was too scared, right? We’re scared of upsetting people. We’re scared of making people think we don’t trust them. Well, you know what, with that much money on the line, you don’t fucking trust them until you get paid.
If you could give one piece of advice to a newer woman freelancer getting into the outdoor industry, what would it be?
There was this great meme that was like “have the confidence of an average white man,” and it’s kind of that. Like, you deserve to be here. And you get to act like it.
Honestly the shortcut is getting into the thick of the fear. Do something that scares you every day. Pitch something that scares you. Demand a rate that scares you. Reach out to a person that scares you. The faster you can immunize yourself to fear of failure, the better off you’ll be.
Want to get coaching from Justine or learn more about her work? Visit her website and check out her different service offerings such as 1-on-1 coaching, community coaching, online workshops, Momentum Sessions, and off-trail immersion. Currently, Justine is not taking new 1-on-1 clients until the start of 2022, but she is offering some Momentum sessions in December.
Get in touch with her here or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. (*Psst* mention TFO to get some extra love!)