Deya, Project Manager
Hi, I'm Deya and I live in Munich, Germany.
I grew up as a multicultural child with a German/Spanish expat dad and a Taiwanese mom, so my childhood involved a lot of flying and playing on airport carpets.
How many years have you been freelancing?
Bit over two years now!
What do you say when people ask "What do you do?"
Ahh, yes, the ominous 'What do you do?' question.
I'm a Project and Content Manager. This basically means that I work with all sorts of digital content (think blogs, websites, podcasts, courses) as well as remote teams and projects.
I know this is a bit vague, but it's essentially because I do a bit of everything: building out content processes, setting up PM tools, managing other freelancers, developing project timelines, proofing all types of online content, etc.
Why did you get started with online/freelance work?
I think I realized quite early on that maybe the conventional 9-5 wouldn't be the right fit for me, but there's a lot of societal pressure to conform and get into top firms, climb the 'ladder', and make boatloads of money. So I actually did 2 internships at pretty large companies during and after university.
It was at the second internship when I realized without a doubt that this lifestyle just made no sense for me and was 100% the opposite of how I wanted to live my life.
It wasn't about being lazy or not wanting to put in the work (as many like to stereotype about millennials), it was about not wanting to spend a huge majority of my life working for someone else within the limits set by someone else. Being told how many vacation days that you had, when to come and leave work, what tasks to work on for weeks at a time, wearing uncomfortable blazers with no freedom to plan my days and develop other aspects of my life... that wasn’t for me.
So I started looking into alternative ways to make a living, and honestly, I haven't looked back. I don't think of freelancing as a 'career' decision, I see it more as an overall lifestyle decision and it has been, hands-down, the best decision I've ever made.
Where did you find your first paid freelancing job?
I found my first paid online job on Upwork.
I know the internet has a lot of thoughts about Upwork, but I have to say as a completely freelancing-inexperienced person coming into a new territory with no network at all, it was really useful for just putting me in contact with a huge marketplace.
It also allowed me to see what kind of online tasks were in demand, what kind of work was included in different roles, and what kind of pricing structure online jobs had.
Also, it let me test the waters without fully committing AND allowed me to see that it was a) possible and b) sustainable. Those two were the main points I needed to validate before committing full-time to freelancing.
How did you price your services when you were just starting out?
I started my pricing super low in the beginning, because I just wanted to get some portfolio pieces and reviews under my belt. I knew I was pricing low, but I also knew that I had to start somewhere.
I basically priced myself like an intern: I was there to dip my toes, to learn, to understand, and to test. Keep in mind that it's a big risk for someone to hire you online if you have no references, no past clients, no previous work to show for.
A low rate is also less pressure on you, because clients *tend* to understand that if they're hiring a low-priced, inexperienced person - they have to teach more and leave a little room for error. Once I gained more confidence, I started increasing my rates steadily.
What did you struggle with the most when you were just starting?
I struggled a lot with boundaries. When you work a normal job, you normally leave your work at the office. You go home, and then it is your own time.
When you freelance, you're kind of at work all the time because your laptop is always with you and you. I'm always checking my emails. Client emails me at 9:30 pm? Might as well write a quick response. Client needs me to work on something on Saturday afternoon? No biggie - I have my laptop with me anyway!
That can become a bit frustrating when you feel like you never switch off, so that's something that I've been working on - establishing boundaries, setting limits for myself and saying no.
How long did it take for you to feel like a "successful" freelancer. Until you were able to pay your bills regularly without worrying?
I was actually able to pay my bills immediately once I started freelancing full-time because I had originally started freelancing on the side of my regular 9-5. I did just a few hours after work and on the weekend to see how it worked, to build up a client base, to gather some testimonials.
I think that method worked well for me, because I didn't launch into freelancing until I was 100% sure I was happy with my decision and that I wouldn't be stressed about leaving a 9-5. I think that also eases the pressure off of freelancing a little - if you just do it on the side of something more stable.
What's one important lesson you had to learn the hard way on your path to becoming an independent, full-time freelancer?
You have to stand up for yourself because no one else will.
Working with a bad client? You have to handle it. Stressed about a low-priced project that you agreed to complete? Your problem. Taxes and health insurance? It's 100% on you!
You have to be completely confident in yourself, your pricing, your quality, your work, and stand your ground.
If someone won't pay your rates, you do NOT have to take the project. If someone is obnoxious and a little crazy, you do NOT have to work with them. If someone has gone way out of scope and is sending over four pages of revision notes, take care of that situation today.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into your line of work?
The first and biggest step is just trying.
I think a lot of people get stuck on the 'I don't know where to start,' 'I don't know if I'm ready,' 'I don't think I have enough experience,', and honestly, the most important step is just one step forward - even if it's just a teeny, tiny step.
I tried so many random, different freelancing jobs until I eventually landed on the one that I liked the most and that leveraged my skills and experience the best. It's all about the trial and error.
What's your favorite way to find new clients and job opportunities? What worked the best for you?
Upwork worked really well for me starting out, but now I use social media a lot more - mostly Facebook groups and remote job boards.
Now that I’m part of the right networks and am 'plugged into' the online business space, I find it easier to find clients there. I also find casually chatting to people has worked best for me, in terms of finding people that I actually want to work with and that are a good fit for me.
I don't normally go into situations with the intention of landing a client or "convincing" someone to work with me. Instead I go into situations with the intention of “let's see if this is a good fit for both of us” because who has to deal with a difficult client if you sign them on? (Spoiler: You do.)
What are your favorite things about freelancing/working from home?
Everything. It's the small things that make working from home and freelancing the best.
I love being able to work in my sweatpants, being able to go for a walk in the middle of the day, go grocery shopping in the morning when no one else is there, make cookies at 3 pm.
I also like being able to take months out of the year to travel, to explore and to spend time with people that I like. My life feels like a mini-vacation everyday.
I have balance between the work and the play, and for me, this sort of lifestyle/career is far more sustainable for happiness and wellbeing than any other.
What's your LEAST favorite thing about freelancing/working from home?
The loneliness and lack of collaboration. It gets a little boring to sit and work on your couch and entertain yourself all day.
Freelancing is all fun and great in general, but I miss having people to bounce ideas off of, to have 'water cooler talks', and to bond over a shared hatred of excel sheet formulas.
Luckily, I've found some online communities that have helped, and have also made friends with other freelancers where we meet up in real life to cowork (yes, that's as fun as it sounds).
What are the top 5 tools you use most often in your daily work?
Asana, Slack, Canva, Photoshop, Google Drive.
On average, how many hours do you work on a regular weekday?
Varies a lot, but I think on average, probably 6-8 hours.
Do you have any work routines or habits that boost your productivity?
Honestly, and this is kind of a dumb answer, I find the best way to be productive is to just start the work.
I used to spend a lot of time procrastinating, moving things around, thinking about starting a task, planning out how I might approach it, sharpening pencils, making the perfect playlist for work, blah blah blah. And then of course, the inevitable stress and worry about WHY the task is not complete yet. All that time thinking and procrastinating, I could've been finished with this task like six years ago.
A low commitment such as 10 minutes to a task also helps. If you just say 'You don't have to finish it. Just do 10 minutes.' By the time you do 10 minutes, most of the time, you just end up finishing the task and realizing you were a huge drama queen and the task didn't even take that long.
How do you stay motivated and focused when you don't feel like working?
I take a break! If you don't feel like working, that's fine. The easiest solution is to let yourself take a break and do something completely different - a puzzle, make some cookies, watch an episode of something cool.
I do enjoy the work that I do a lot, but I also give myself opportunities to switch off completely and come back to a task or project excited.
If you could work from anywhere, what would be your dream work location?
Anywhere with a comfy couch, nice weather, a soft and fluffy cat, a nearby ocean, and really good food. I'm not picky!
Now that you've experienced all the ups and downs of being a freelancer, would you go back to a regular 9-5 job?
What do you wish other people knew about freelancing?
That full-time freelancing is attainable, sustainable, and it's becoming more and more commonplace! Feeling stuck and have questions? Ask. Not sure where to start? Google.
If you're thinking about a lifestyle change and have a feeling that freelancing might be what you're looking for, go for it!
In your opinion, what's the most important quality or trait for a freelancer to have?
Communication + Commitment.
When everything is online, communication is everything. You have to communicate for interviews, for pitches, for task delegation, for working with remote teams, for negotiating, AND you have to do this in all formats: Slack messages, Email, Zoom video calls, Asana comments, etc. etc.
Other than communication, I think commitment is really key. If you say you're going to do something, do it. If you say you're going to finish X in seven days, do it in seven days (or six days if you want to show off a little).
When you work online, the quality of your work is what separates you from others, so always deliver (or over-deliver) and keep your work ethic strong.
If you could go back to your early days as a freelancer and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don't worry so much. You're doing great. Stop looking left and right at what others are doing and focus on your priorities and what feels good to you.
Anything else? Last words of advice or suggestions?
If you're tempted by to become a freelancer or work remotely, just give it a try!
Spend a few hours of your free time researching, and maybe sending out a proposal here and there. Test it out to see if you hate it or love it so much you want to shout it off the rooftops. You’ll never know if you never try.
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