Freelancer Interview: Rachel Sarah, freelance digital media consultant

This week’s interview is with freelance digital media consultant Rachel Sarah. Rachel is a writer, photographer and videographer and can be found at www.rachelsarahmedia.com

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Rachel Sarah. (Rachel Sarah is my business name so it’s easy to remember!) I work in digital media – marketing, photography and, recently, videography.  Mostly I create strategies, written (and some video) content for large businesses, whilst also doing events and personal photography.

What led you to start freelancing?

Since being in University I always wanted to be a freelance writer as I work best with my own scheduling and hours – I work best after midnight!

Since then, I’d freelanced in writing alongside my full-time jobs.

But after sustaining a really bad ankle injury and working from home at my last full-time job, I really didn’t want to go back into the office so I ended up quitting and throwing myself into full-time freelance life!

What three things do you wish you’d known before starting out?
That creating connections with people is key.
Rejection is par for the course, and that it needs to be embraced!
Don’t be scared of being broke – if you find yourself some recurring clients you’ll be set!

What three issues have you had since starting up?

1. Concentrating on my own projects (website, social media etc) as client work always takes priority – this is painfully obvious when comparing my own social channels to my clients!
2. Balancing my schedule with my partner’s 9-5 (I’m still usually working when he wants to spend time together).
3. Learning when to stop working.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

Being able to look outside on a nice day and go “you know what? I’ve ticked a lot of things off the list so far, I’m going outside for a drive/ walk/ climb”. The freedom you get with being freelance can never be oversold.

I’m a massively outdoorsy person so I love that ability to get out and be in nature when I want to.

You can definitely get a bit lonely sometimes but if you make sure you get out and work in different spaces and spend time with people in the week then you can definitely avoid that.

I also love the fact I can work my most productive hours. In the morning I’m useless; at 11pm my brain is overflowing with ideas and motivation!

How would you like to develop your freelance career in the future?

I’d personally like to move away from business strategy into the purely creative.
I think that this is definitely feasible to do as I grow more and create a team around me to do the marketing and social side of things!

My heart lies in storytelling/ creativity, not analytics – though you need both to run your own business.

Anything else you’d like to tell anyone thinking of or currently freelancing?

  • If you can, find yourself recurring clients so you don’t have that month-to-month financial worry.
  • Creative jobs (especially online) are so important in every aspect of business you should make sure you value yourself!
  • Don’t work for free unless you WANT to (e.g. I’ve currently offered a local charity my video services for free because I have the a spare time at the moment and want to give back).

Freelancer Interview: Events manager, Nottingham

This week’s interview is with an experienced freelance event manager – some great tips here on client management and diversifying your income.

Who are you and what do you do?

Mostly, I run events, but I also sometimes do commissions making one off things for people and organisations. I started running events around 2006, but have been in the field I do them for since around 2000.

What led you to start freelancing?

My former boss! Suffice to say he did a lot of bad things, and I handed in my notice after a particularly appalling one. When I started not many people knew him. By the time I left, he’d built himself a very bad reputation and I needed to get away from him ASAP.

I hadn’t decided between freelancing or looking for another job, but got snapped up immediately on freelance terms by several organisations I’d met through the job. It’s been seven years, and there’ve been difficult patches, but since starting out I’ve never seriously craved a full time job.

What three things do you wish you’d known before starting out?

1. To not bother with guest lecturing. It’s a shame, but universities and colleges repeatedly lose paperwork, require you go on their PAYE system, or demand that a £250 invoice be resubmitted split into ten different budget lines. It’s not worth the hassle and if I did it now, it’d only ever be a favour to a friend.

2. To go higher on corporate day rates. No, higher than that. They won’t often blink at high day rates, but will have someone assigned to ask for a slight reduction on the total, then tick a box saying they got it. It seems to be an exercise for most people in that kind of work, not a difficult negotiation. It’s way easier than haggling with, say, small business owners or university commercial departments (the latter especially will fight tooth and nail over the smallest amounts).

3. Talking to TV production companies is a waste of time because most of them want you to work for free. They’ll try to dazzle you with celebrity names and big audience figures. A few have approached me for expertise in several fields, and not just as a talking head, actually wanting me to design and physically make stuff for them. Since wasting time on an actual meeting with one, I usually respond with something like “Sounds great, I’d love to help! [insert extremely quick initial thoughts on project] My day rates are…”. That’s more than boilerplate, so opens a way for anyone serious, but sees chancers off immediately.

What three issues have you had since starting up?

1. Cashflow

My field is quite seasonal, leading to slumps in midwinter and midsummer. I have to be careful, and sometimes come up with other income streams in the months before those periods. I’ve also put my rates up for certain jobs to give myself a bit more buffer for downtime.

2. Gossip and politics

Any given industry is smaller than you think, and in most jobs there’ll be some kind of office politics and a power structure to deal with. Freelancing is similar, but you’ll be entering many different organisations as an outsider, with little history or contextual awareness. This makes orientation challenging. Often you’re in a vulnerable position, but it can also give you some immunity too.

It can take a long time to learn which clients really have your back, and you’ll mostly have to watch your own. In some ways, being freelance can really help you figure this stuff out, as you can get multiple perspectives on things and triangulate. You’re less connected within a given organisation, but much more connected between such organisations than most of their employees.

Mostly people get on with the job, but occasionally someone makes a power play to become your new boss, or a client hires someone full time who then tries to sink you for whatever reason. It’s really worth finding the people who talk straight and want to reduce drama. Build relationships with them well before anything bad happens; they’re good at being in charge and solving problems.

3. Client scaling/changes/disasters:

Sometimes, something changes or goes wrong within a client organisation, and freelancers will be first on the chopping block. This was really hard for me to accept the first time it happened to a repeating yearly project. Now I build endings into my expectations for every project, even repeating ones, and even the longest client relationships. Not exactly detailed contingency plans, but at least some idea of what could be next. Nothing lasts forever, no matter how good it is or how loyal the client.

Flipping this, sometimes no matter how good you are, there’ll be clients who just can’t get it together or be good to work with. I’ve never fired a client halfway through a job, as I’m usually stubborn enough to finish difficult ones and fight my corner. There are a couple of clients I’ve fired immediately after though, and refused to work with again. You don’t have to be mean about this, just tell them you’re too busy. Nothing you say is likely to change their problem behaviour. Also, be honest but also fair to them if other freelance friends ask you about them.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

There are loads!

My own schedule, travel, getting to decide what projects I want to do, getting to work with and learn about lots of different organisations, lie ins, building client relationships where we really understand and respect each other, being able to head out into the hills when I need to.

If I had to pick one, it would be the lie ins.

How would you like to develop your freelance career in the future?

I’d really like to develop some more income streams. I’ve done it before with physical products, but they were quite seasonal and took a lot of work to make. Tinkering with all the products and processes until the margin got bigger was fun, but after that point the actual production work can be quite tedious. I’ve also found with that specific project, I only seem to have the time and energy lined up to do it once every two years.

I’d like to try with a digital product because that’s more open to automation. Digital goods are something I get to look in on through other bits of my work. I don’t quite buy the hype on passive income streams, as most of the people you read on that seem to be talking guff or selling something. I’ve met a lot of people in my field who make a digital thing, whack it up on a storefront then expect it to just sell. Some of them get really bitter when it doesn’t. I also know people who’ve either had massive commercial successes, or at least got their bills paid for a while through moderate success.

Marketing is work, and I hate it, but almost nothing sells itself. It’s probably what I need to learn more about next.

Anything else you’d like to tell anyone thinking of or currently freelancing?

Day rates are really hard to figure out when you first start. There’s some limited information online, but the best thing you can do is talk to friends working in the same field. What I thought was a realistic and reasonable day rate when I first started out turned out to be a low mates rate for most of my freelance friends.

I know a few people starting out who’ve quoted for jobs then had the client ask them to charge more. These kind of people within client organisations are rare; if you find one, hold onto them and do the best work you can… within your scope and budget 🙂

Freelancer Interview: Kerry Needs – Copywriter, Marketing Strategist and Author

This week’s interview is with freelance copywriter, marketing strategist and author Kerry Needs. Kerry has worked remotely as a freelancer and wrote the book ‘Freedom Seekers’ to help others follow her path.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Kerry, a freelance copywriter and marketing strategist. I’m originally from Nottingham and am based here, but I work 100% remotely so I like to travel a lot and work on the move! I’m also a writer and have published a book on remote work and lifestyle design, Freedom Seekers, as well as writing poetry and articles on Medium.

What led you to start freelancing?

I was never a fan of the office; staring at the same four walls has never inspired me as a creative person. I love to be in control of when and how I work, so I made the decision that I wanted to work for myself, remotely. I started in 2015 by testing out Elance (now Upwork). I set up a profile and did a few jobs – I found it pretty easy to make my first $1k, and so after that it made me realise that the ‘digital nomad’ dream I’d always had was achievable.
By coincidence, a friend of mine asked if anyone would like a remote job. I jumped at the chance, and worked for a design agency as a remote based project manager for around 9 months until I went freelance, working with online job sites and getting leads through Linkedin and word of mouth.

What three things do you wish you’d known before starting out?

– It’s a financial rollercoaster – be prepared! I wasn’t, and I think I took the hard route by not having enough saved up. I wanted it so badly that I sometimes worked all hours, applying to ten jobs a day, because the work had dried up. The work comes in cycles – sometimes lots, sometimes hardly anything, and you have to be prepared for that by having a big enough financial cushion. Especially when companies think they can take six weeks to pay you! Thankfully that doesn’t happen often.
– There is a season for everything – ‘Make hay whilst the sun shines’ is really true as a freelancer. You have to make the most of the situation you’re in. It naturally waxes and wanes, as does your energy. For example, on days where I feel really energised I don’t mind working hard or doing a longer day, as there will be a time when I have a lot of appointments or feel rubbish and I naturally won’t do as much.
– It’s all a balance – I’m still learning just how much I should be working as a freelancer. Because my main goal as a remote worker was to have time for creative pursuits and travel, if I’m working a 40 hour week I don’t really feel like spending more time in front of the computer. I’ve met people who, when working abroad, spend most of their time in the office. I have really learned a lot about myself as a freelancer – that I like to work in 2-3 hour blocks, that I need time to write or produce something creative, and that I also need time for learning, planning, and growing the business in the context of how I’m designing my life. I’m always asking myself ‘What’s important to me – am I spending my time wisely?’

What three issues have you had since starting up?

– Being paid on time – This is a disappointing one, because even if you have a contract in place the client can be naughty and delay paying you. It really doesn’t feel good having to chase payments yourself. That’s why I like working on the freelancing platforms; I can see exactly how much I’ve earned that week and I know I’ll be paid within 10 days of completing the work.
– Overcommitting – This is a personal thing I am working out. When I was in Gran Canaria, I would get up early, work, go to the beach, work again, go for dinner, and then come back and work again before bed. It made for incredibly long days as I had a client in Australia at the time. It wasn’t that stressful though, as I was taking breaks and socialising inbetween.
– Loneliness – I am a big advocate of remote work and freelancing, but I do get lonely. My environment really shapes how productive I am. If I’ve been ill and am working from home, I find it hard to switch off. I am really energised when I go to coworking spots, Restation in Gran Canaria was inspiring. It’s about being around people that inspire you, and push you to be better I guess. I do miss that in Nottingham as there isn’t many people of a similar mindset. I set up a Digital Nomads group when I first went remote, it was great and I met a couple of really good people but there wasn’t enough people that were focused on the lifestyle design aspect at the time.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

Freedom! I arrange my schedule. I choose the hours I want to work, and I plan it in my calendar. I love copywriting because you can do it any time of the day or night really.
For example, this week my sister had a baby girl, and we didn’t know when we could visit her in the hospital. I could easily arrange my diary so I could nip to the hospital and meet my niece with my sister and my nephews, which was a really special moment. I’d have missed that if I was in a regular 9-5 as it was at the drop of a hat.

How would you like to develop your freelance career in the future?

I’d like to focus more on workshops, and helping more people design their lives. I’m really passionate about helping people become self sufficient in every way – so to be in control of their work life, the food they eat, their health, their time – everything! It’s so freeing and will really change things if more people are empowered in this way.

Anything else you’d like to tell anyone thinking of or currently freelancing?

It’s not easy – but where there is a will, there is a way. The internet has everything you need to know. Do your research, test it out, and work as hard as you can!

Freelancer Interview: Martin, Web Developer

This week’s interview is with Martin, a front end developer. This is a particularly interesting interview for me as Martin describes how he went back to the 9-5 after freelancing for a period of time. Read on to find out more about his experiences.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Martin and I’m a Front-end Developer. Coming from a design background, my skills are in digital and user experience design as well as building flexible component-based and accessible front-ends. I decided to focus in more recent roles, on a more Front-end development route; learning and practising modern JavaScript methods and frameworks such as React, Webpack, Node and working with ES6.

I’ve worked in small agencies where I was able to work on branding and designing web layouts as well as building the sites themselves, often in that familiar, pressurised agency environment! I’ve also done some work on larger front-end systems working with back-end dev, for the public sector where accessibility and maintainability become essential.

What led you to start freelancing?

Having gained confidence in all aspects of design and building small sites, I found myself a little stifled at the time, and had built relationships with a handful of small clients who could sustain me if I were to make the jump; just to try it out. I was discovering how I liked to work and what environment suited me best and that I wanted to pursue Development, and I felt freelancing would provide me with the best opportunity to optimise for this, accepting the possibility of failure, but also trusting my skills, and that staying put and never knowing was less favourable.

I was freelancing then for only a few months – and your time freelancing provides you with valuable skills and improved confidence as you take on more projects and make those valuable mistakes.

What three things do you wish you’d known before starting out?

1 – Get a contract, and take a deposit always, no excuses.

It sets a precedent and an expectation that you’re confident, your time is valuable, and you’re there to help your client’s business and brand and they should value that.

I read Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro which is entertaining and gives you the fire under your ass with regard to getting paid and valuing your own time and skills. (+1 for that book, review coming soon – Nick)

While it’s unfortunate to have to diminish our natural inclination to trust and think the best of people, be prepared to expect less than stellar conduct from your clients when money is involved. It’s not adversarial; it’s business. Yes, I got burned (maybe more than once too!) by being too naive when it comes to invoices and I’d recommend anyone starting out to not go through the same, long-winded ordeal by getting commitment before your start.

(see our blog Freelancers: Always Use A Contract & Terms for more info)

2 – Work to a spec and agree on the scope of work.

While at the outset you’ll be eager to get going, it’s important, just as working in an agency, to agree on the extent of the work and exactly what the deliverable is and what’s not included. This is the time to be up-front and not leave anything to chance, and if the scope includes a timeframe, deliverable or support you’re not comfortable with or able to accommodate, then gracefully say No.

3 – Say No.

I’d really recommend the book Essentialism on this point. Don’t take the short term comfort of accepting what comes your way at the expense of your longer-term priorities. Consider the suitability of the work for your personal and business goals and core skills and the match to the client’s requirements, and consider the commitment and support they expect over a period of time.

It’s hard to decline work and may require you to frequently evaluate your priorities. Know what your value offering is and don’t take on something you’re uncomfortable with however tempting, as it’s much harder to get out of it later once engaged in the project, and is never worth the stress.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

Of course being your ‘own boss’ and feeling the satisfaction of helping out an individual and seeing the results of your work in their business success in some area. There’s a satisfaction in being more solely responsible for the outcome, hopefully, a co-creator of it by providing guidance for your client, rather than only a small isolated part as with a larger project.

Anything else you’d like to tell anyone thinking of or currently freelancing?

Spending time as a freelancer a gives you a skill that makes you a more rounded designer or developer. If it’s an itch you have on your career path, it’s certainly worth pursuing to fulfil your ambition. Life doesn’t wait!

I’m definitely glad I spent some time as a freelancer before joining companies full-time since. You’ll be endowed with an increased confidence and commercial awareness as well as demonstrating time and client management skills, commercial awareness, and autonomy that can help you to become a more well-rounded, adaptable team member should you re-join a team full-time.

Why did you return to the 9-5?

I started freelancing as a learning experience, and after a stint contracting and having really got on well with a new team, and experienced a lot of learning in a short time at that company, I decided the people I was working with were the kind I’d like to keep working alongside and continue that learning on projects that challenged me!

Going full-time wasn’t something I initially set out to do within a set time, but with Freelancing – as with life in general – opportunities present and you go with what suits your goals at that time. The experience I gained was indeed really valuable too, going into a new team on a full-time basis.

Freelancer Interview: Sergio Fernandes, software developer

This week’s freelancer interview is with Sergio Fernandes, a Portuguese software and Sharepoint developer I met while working remotely from  Thailand.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Sergio Fernandes and I am freelancer software developer. Right now I am based in the south of Portugal but last couple of years I was working and traveling to Brazil, Spain, Indonesia and Thailand (where I met Nick).

What led you to start freelancing?

I am freelancing for the last 6 years almost, before that I was working on a corporate job in Lisbon (Portugal capital), but something changed in my life and I start to feel the need to have more time for myself, to have my schedules, to able to be “more free”, so I start to investigate about remote working jobs, freelancing and figured out that in my line of business, the software development area, there are a lot of opportunities, a lot of websites with remote work positions worldwide. It does not matter where you live, you need to have a good internet connection and deliver work on time: that is it!

What three things do you wish you’d known before starting out?

That feeling you have when has been 2 months and you cannot get a new client/project it is hard to deal, still struggling with that sometimes, but it is getting better. Loneliness could be fatal when you only use your home based remote work office, it is very important to work also with other people, to leave the house for a coffee, gym, a beer, whatever (I got a kitten, that is my house project manager so she never let me be on the same place for too long). The last one I wish that I could be a better negotiator when I started freelancing, got a couple of complex works for low money, but it takes time and also it takes experience.

What issues have you had since starting up?

If you do not have a good and solid contract agreement with the client they may not pay you, or take time to pay you, that is very important. Mainly issues that I have, I do not know if I can call it issues, it is the follow up you need to do almost on a daily basis for your clients, new clients, leads, etc., until you have a good and solid client list that can reference to other possible clients and then you turn your clients into your own “sales person”, that is what I am struggling nowadays.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

Freedom. Mainly that is the thing. You are free to work on your own hours, you are free to work on anywhere you like. You are free to go to the gym or the beach on the middle of the day and came back and work during the night. A lot people work better in the morning, others in the night, so you are free to choose when to work.

How would you like to develop your freelance career in the future?

I have a couple of objectives, to have my own virtual development team and offer better services to local markets (like the one I am living right now) with better prices and the same quality of work. A couple of other things but are still ideas, maybe on a next interview I can “open more the book”!

Anything else you’d like to tell anyone thinking of or currently freelancing?

Hustle hard! It is not easy in beginning, but once you stable all the rules, the clients, a routine, you will start to enjoy and see the beauty of it! Go to co-works, go to meetings, search on websites, add yourself to Facebook and LinkedIn groups. Build a strong CV, prepare yourself for a lot of Skype interviews and… grind! 🙂