Freelancer interview: Victoria McDonagh

Victoria macdonagh freelance marketing consultant

Here’s the first of our interviews with freelancers – read on and find out what Victoria has learned since starting out as a freelance marketing consultant.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Victoria and I run my marketing consultancy, Victoria M Consultancy. I help small businesses outsource their marketing strategy and marketing activities so they can focus on the important elements of their business, making more sales and doing what they’re good at.

What led you to start freelancing?

I started freelancing in my early 20’s as means to get some work experience that would fit around my part time jobs and commitments. This worked and allowed me to get into marketing positions in a variety of jobs. In 2016 I needed to leave a toxic work situation and decided to go freelance full time. I used websites like People Per Hour to get started, and then moved onto networking in my local area.

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

  1. How to price myself and understand my value.
  2. That managing your time is very difficult and requires a particular focus and mindset
  3. To be more bold and go more for what I wanted to do, rather than settle for what would easily make me money

What issues have you had since starting up?

Getting enough new business and balancing current client workloads. When you’re your own marketing, HR, sales, and admin etc, you have to be good at managing your time. It’s easy to book yourself out for loads of networking events, then struggle to make deadlines. It’s so important to keep in communication with your clients, and ensure you’re delivering what they want and expect.

What’s the best thing about freelancing?

The freedom! The flexibility! You get to make your own day and decide who you work with and when. You can focus on what you’re good at and outsource to other talented freelancers. I love the variety of people I’ve met and some of them are my closest friends to date.

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

I would like to scale up my activities and knowledge and niche into inbound marketing. I’d love to be hosting networking events and start getting known for marketing in my local area.

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

I’d say plan it, try it and have at least a few months of savings set aside. Try and get your expenses down to what is essential, but still allow for some luxuries in your early days. Get regular clients who pay on time and don’t stress you out.

Freelancers: Always Use A Contract & Terms

If you meet a friendly potential client it’s really easy to start work without having a contract or terms in place. It might be fine, but you might end up working for nothing or getting in trouble. I got fleeced by an agency one time – delivering their project to a tight deadline meant making a decision to spend some extra time over a weekend and I didn’t get paid for the extra hours.

A Bit Of Paranoia Will Protect You

Potential clients may seem really friendly and interested in working together. While it might go fine some of the time, if you start a freelance project without a contract or terms in place it can quickly go wrong. Misunderstandings and wilful sharklike behaviour can leave you out of pocket and disillusioned.

If you assume that clients will wriggle a little bit and act accordingly you will protect your work and cashflow. Don’t be afraid of scaring people off with a contract – anyone worth working for will not see this as an issue. The people who moan about it are the ones likely to cause problems. A good contract and terms will show people you mean business and are not going to be pushed around.

Reddit and other forums are full of people raging about being ripped off and not paid. While it sucks that some clients will do this to people, you can design this situation out of your business with a good contract and terms. You don’t have to be a victim.

Benefits Of A Good Contract And Terms

  • You’ll get paid: Define when you get paid – ideally before you start work and before the final assets are delivered
  • You will avoid arguments: If it’s in black and white there’s less room for people to wriggle out of things
  • You will protect yourself: Having clauses for change requests, copyright transfer and other such things will protect you from issues down the line

Worth The Investment

You can use a simple email listing what you’re going to do, what you’re not going to do and when payments are due. You can use a ready made one off the internet (bit risky as it might not be legal in your country, and you might not understand it..) or you can have a lawyer draft one up for you.

If you pay for a contract and terms – it’s worth the money. It will save you getting ripped off and pay for itself over and over during the course of your freelance career.

Summary

This article has described why you need a contract and terms for your freelance business and why they are worth every penny it might cost you to have them professionally drawn up.

Finding Freelance Work – Marketplaces, your network and referrals

When you’re first starting off, you will need to find the best ways of finding freelance work for your industry. There are various ways of finding new projects to work on and this will be a quick rundown of the different ways to do so.

Freelance Marketplaces

There are websites like freelancer.co.uk, upwork and various niche marketplaces for web design, marketing, 3D design etc. You can often add yourself as a service provider and people can find you by keyword search, or you can search jobs posted to some sites and pitch for those projects.

While this can be a quick way to get started, there are a few downsides.

  1. If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, you won’t have any reviews on these sites and may find it hard to get new projects.
  2. You will be up against people working in countries with lower cost of living. This difference in costs means that if you’re in a Western country, you will be getting undercut by people in India, Thailand etc. While some people might say they are cheap because they aren’t very good, that’s often not the case and the difference in currency means people can employ excellent freelancers from other countries at a fraction of what we might charge.
  3. The platform will take a cut of your profits and may not pay you straight away. This can be damaging to your cashflow and you may end up working hard and getting paid much later. Ideally you’ll be taking deposits for work so you’re getting paid part of the fee up front and this might not be possible if you’re working through a freelance platform.

Your Network

Depending on what you do and how you’d like to work, either contracting or working from home, you might now people who work for companies or agencies that need some help when they get busy. Don’t be shy – let your professional contacts know you’re available for freelance work and a rough idea of your day rate.

Here are some good tips from Sophie de Albuquerque on how to build your network as a freelancer

Referrals

This is the number one way I have built up my freelance web design work. Offering a referral fee encourages people to pass your details on to their contacts. As long as you take on work you can effectively deliver, your network of referrers will grow over time and you might not need to do any kind of marketing!

Summary

We’ve looked at three main ways of finding freelance work in this article – Freelance marketplaces, your network and referrals. I’ve found referrals to be the most effective way of building my freelance business without having to do other forms of marketing.

Freelancing With Confidence

It’s scary setting up on our own as freelancers and trying to attract clients. Certainly in the early stages this can lead to us offering all kinds of services to all kinds of clients in an effort to appear successful. This is not a great strategy though as we can end of a jack of all trades and master of none, with no focus to our services or client base.

Picking Services and Clients

It takes confidence to focus on particular services for a small group of clients, but this allows us to get better at this smaller range of services. Saying ‘no’ is hard, especially at first while trying to build a client base, but we need to find our confidence and stick to what works for us. Now it’s our business we can decide for ourselves and don’t have to offer everything people ask for.

Acting Confidently

Confidence also comes through in our marketing and the way we speak to people. Don’t be afraid to decline work if the budget is not enough, the project doesn’t interest you or you just don’t like the person. Working for low rates for people you are not eager to help is a recipe for unhappiness. It carries an opportunity cost too – as you will then not be available if a better paid job or work for a client you really like comes along. Life’s too short to be doing things you don’t truly want to do and that’s probably why you’re self employed in the first place.

Acting confidently is reassuring to clients. They don’t want to hear dithering and you being unsure you can deliver – they want to feel sure you can help. This might take some practice and faith at first, but as you start to successfully work with clients it will start to come naturally.

Summary

Have confidence in your skills and that there are lots of potential clients out there for you. Choose your services and your clients. Reassure your clients by acting confidently.

Managing Email As A Freelancer

While email is a great way of keeping in touch, email overload can turn out to be your enemy when working as a freelancer. Constantly checking emails and replying only bring you more emails to respond to. Striking a balance between being available and getting your creative work done is difficult.

Set Aside Time For Emails

Inspired by David Allen’s Getting Things Done and a business mentor, I now check email in the afternoons once I’ve done a few hours of focused creative work first. This allows me to get my scheduled work done before getting distracted and fragmented with enquiries and small tasks.

Checking email after doing a few hours of focused creative work first helps get scheduled tasks done without getting distracted Click To Tweet

Use Separate Email Addresses

I recommend you set up various email addresses to separate the emails you receive. For example one for enquiries, another for project notifications, one for newsletters and other non-time sensitive information and one for support requests. You can then keep to one inbox if you need to focus. I set the support address to come to my phone and notify me so that gets priority and I see them out of normal office hours.

Write Emails To Reduce Back and Forth

The way emails are written can reduce the number of responses required to reach a conclusion. Offer choices and ask directly for things rather than leaving emails open ended. Another tip that saves me a lot of time is having a bank of canned responses to emails in Simplenote/Evernote/Whatever that I copy and paste when needed.

Inbox Zero?

We aim for ‘inbox zero’ (a term created by Merlin Mann on his now defunct site 43 Folders) and usually succeed in reaching around ‘inbox ten’. By using an online project management system and David Allen’s Getting Things Done method of ‘deleting, deferring or doing’ we can process email in batches and (mostly) clear the inbox. This stops things getting lost in the list and is much less stressful.

Read some tips on reaching inbox zero from Creative Bloq.

Keep Organised

I use folders for each client and then a folder for each of my own projects and organisations I deal with. This keeps the inbox clear and means I can find things when I need to.

Save attachments and delete them from the emails to save space in your email folders and mailboxes.