Elisabeth, Freelance Consultant
Hi, I’m Elisabeth, and I’m from the United States.
I grew up in North Carolina and lived here until I went to college on the West Coast, where I lived 10 years with the exception of a year abroad. Now, I'm back living in North Carolina. I will always have a passion for travel and I'm fortunate that my freelancing career affords me the ability to work and travel.
What do you do?
I’m a freelance consultant with a focus on project management, research, and business operations consulting. Basically, I'm the person who helps you get the new product line going, helps with supply or shipping issues, etc.
I’m also a technical writer. I've worked with engineering startups that need equipment sourcing. I've helped food manufacturers that needed someone to coordinate lab testing, source containers, packaging solutions, and price analysis.
Basically, I keep projects on task, on time and troubleshoot any issues. As far as technical writing goes, I write grant applications, create operations manuals, and ghostwrite non-fiction workbooks for clients.
How did you become a freelancer?
After a short career working for non-profit organizations, I decided to stay home to look after our first child. However, after my second started preschool, I really wanted to do some kind of work from home.
I found a virtual assistant company called Zirtual and I applied. I started freelancing with them in 2013 as an independent contractor. I had 5-6 regular clients who were amazing and worked in various industries (non-profit, tech start-ups, film, finance, etc). The money was good and I worked about 15-20 hours a week.
In 2014, Zirtual changed their company structure and eliminated independent contractors and invited us to apply to work as employees with a set schedule.
I relish the freedom to choose my own clients and complete work on my schedule, so I chose not to be an employee and continue to freelance on my own. I reflected on the services that I really enjoyed providing to the clients I'd been working with and decided to move forward as a freelance consultant. And I haven't looked back.
Why did you become a freelancer?
I wanted a job that would give me flexible hours, engage my brain, use my skills and pay well enough for me to have this be my source of income.
Where did you find your first paid freelancing job?
My first freelance job was probably working with the clients I had at Zirtual, but my first solo freelance job I found through Upwork. I've continued to find work on Upwork, Facebook groups, and word-of-mouth or local work.
What expectations did you have going into this kind of job? And how has it been the same or different from what you expected?
At first, I just expected to earn a little money doing simple tasks for people who didn't have enough work to hire for a full-time position. But I quickly realized that there are huge opportunities and more specialized work needed by people all over.
There is enough work for me to make regular income and I can even change my focus or specialty by learning new skills and applying for those jobs.
What’s your favorite thing about freelancing/working from home?
Working in yoga pants, eating in my kitchen or outside and knowing I can pause my work to have afternoons with my kids. The absolute flexibility to determine what jobs I take on and how much time to dedicate to my work is something I cherish.
What's your LEAST favorite thing about freelancing/working from home?
Sometimes I get distracted by piles of laundry or noisy small people. The atmosphere is sometimes frustrating when I let these distractions get to me, but I can always pick up my laptop and head somewhere else for a while, which helps.
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 immediately successful as an independent contractor for Zirtual, but when my position was eliminated I was down to $0 coming in. After deciding to freelance on my own, it took 6 months to get regular clients and feel comfortable about my income.
How did you price your services when you were just starting out?
When I began freelancing on my own, I took the $ I needed and divided it by the number of hours I wanted to work and came up with a rate that I needed to charge to meet my minimum requirements. Then I looked around at what other freelancers were charging for similar services and adjusted as needed.
For me, my base rate is about average for what assistants charge for admin tasks. For consulting and research tasks, I decided to charge a higher hourly rate. At this point, I don't really do any admin work anymore.
Upwork is a great place to search other freelance rates to see what people charge. Knowing the average rate is important, but you have to factor in your skill level. Newbies are better off starting lower and getting great feedback and reviews.
What was your biggest struggle when you were just starting out?
My biggest struggle was finding clients. I felt like I was spending a lot of time looking for clients and applying for gigs. After I began getting repeat work and recommendations, my time spent looking for work was reduced.
What do you know now, that you wish you knew back then?
I wish I had known how to present myself as a professional instead of just a warm body who could complete a task.
Freelancing takes dedication, professionalism, and continued learning to perfect your skills, market yourself and keep clients. For example, now I have on-boarding processes for different types of clients, so I make sure I get all the information necessary to get started. Also, I find that this reassures clients and identifies extra areas they may need help with.
What's your favorite way to find new clients and job opportunities? What worked best for you?
I find a lot of clients on Upwork and LinkedIn, but word-of-mouth and referrals bring in the most clients each month.
What are your favorite tools for work? Any apps or programs you love?
I love LastPass to remember all my passwords and keep any client data compartmentalized and secure. Invoice Ninja is my preferred way to invoice non-Upwork clients. Trello is how I keep all my projects organized.
What's one BIG lesson you learned the hard way on your freelancer journey?
The biggest lesson I learned is to always keep putting your name out there and reaching out to people. Twice in my freelance career, I've worked full-time for one client and when I completed the project, I had to start over looking for new clients.
How do you stay motivated when work is tough or there aren’t enough jobs coming in?
Experience has taught me that work will pick up, so I try to enjoy the extra downtime. I make sure that when I'm really busy I set aside savings for when business is slower.
If you met a new freelancer who wanted to get into your line of work, what advice would you give them?
Go for it! Make a list of what skills you can offer clients. Create a website and portfolio of your work and get your name out there.
Confidence is a large part of starting out as a freelancer. You have to be confident that you can provide this solution for your client and then make it happen.
Any tips or tricks for working with difficult clients?
Difficult clients are usually difficult because they either don’t really know what they want or they don’t communicate what they want. I email a detailed project outline, deliverable dates and stick to my milestones.
If the client’s lack of communication is going to cause me to be late, I proactively reach out in writing and give a specific date/time I need the information by to move forward and warn that otherwise the project will be delayed.
The beautiful part of freelancing is I get to choose who I work with. I always try to leave a client happy with a project, but a truly difficult client isn’t someone I’ll work with twice.
Now that you've experienced all the ups and downs of being a freelancer, would you go back to a regular 9-5 job?
I have absolutely no desire to go back to a 9-5 “regular job.” I love my freedom, flexibility and the very different types of clients and businesses I get to learn about and help.
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