Jen, Health Communications Professional

Jen Guavabean

Hi, Iโ€™m Jen, and Iโ€™m from St. Paul, Minnesota

I moved to St. Maarten in August 2017, three weeks before Hurricane Irma. After bouncing around the Caribbean for a few weeks post-hurricane, I landed in Curacao, in the Netherland Antilles/ABC islands.

I practiced for 16 years as a physician assistant before getting a masters degree in Health Communication. For the past 5 years, Iโ€™ve done a variety of content creation, PR, social media and health coaching, all online.

What do you do?

Iโ€™m currently working on grant-writing for a local medical school, but have done PR, social media, and content curation (blogs, articles, white papers).

I'm also in the process of starting a local mermaid-themed business! I have a passion for the ocean and have always wanted to own a business!

How did you become a freelancer?

After getting my masters in Health Communication, I wanted to take a break from clinical practice to write and consider other employment opportunities. A friendโ€™s husband was starting a company and needed someone to help with communications. My role there included PR, social media, ghostwriting, and health coaching. It was a great jump into freelancing and the variety it could offer!

Why did you become a freelancer?

I love the freedom to do work for a variety of companies, as well as different types of work. Freelancing has also offered a more flexible schedule as a mother, and the ability to work from anywhere in the world.

Where did you find your first paid freelancing job?

I was talking to another parent in the parking lot while picking our children up from school. He was starting a company and I had just finished my Health Communication degree.

We talked about the needs he had, and I offered to help out as a way to gain experience while helping him further his company. For the first year I worked for equity in the company, and the second year I was offered a paid freelancing position.

What expectations did you have going into this kind of job? And how has it been the same or different from what you expected?

I was unsure what to expect, having always worked for large organizations! I didn't expect to feel so connected to a team I was working with, especially one Iโ€™d never met in person!

At times it has been challenging, but this has helped me become more assertive and learn to advocate for myself.

Whatโ€™s your favorite thing about freelancing/working from home?

Working from bed or a cafe or on the beach! Having the flexibility (usually) to schedule work around the kids' schedules and the peacefulness of working alone.

What's your LEAST favorite thing about freelancing/working from home?

Most of the time I love working by myself, but at times I crave human contact and conversation. It took me a while to get into a schedule โ€œgrooveโ€ with jobs that do not have specific hours. Waiting for the next job can also be stressful!

How long did it take for you to feel like a "successful" freelancer? Until you were able to pay your bills regularly without worrying?

Seeing content published and having satisfied clients felt like a success to me. I'm still working on being a successful freelancer as far as feeling financially secure!

How did you price your services when you were just starting out?

Each client had an idea of a salary or hourly rate, so it came down to negotiating with them.

What was your biggest struggle when you were just starting out?

Freelancing was not only a new concept for me, but I was also changing careers - from medicine to communications! Learning business language as opposed to medical language was a switch for me as well.

What do you know now, that you wish you knew back then?

I would have reminded myself how long it took to feel comfortable at/good at my first professional job. It takes time to make a career change and feel comfortable!

What's your favorite way to find new clients and job opportunities? What worked the best for you?

For me, it has been all about personal connections - friends who know someone, previous co-workers or classmates who know someone and need a freelancer.

What are your favorite tools for work? Any apps or programs you love?

I like Asana, Hootsuite and Canva.

What's one BIG lesson you learned the hard way on your freelancer journey?

The next job does not always come right away! Planning is key.

How do you stay motivated when work is tough or there arenโ€™t enough jobs coming in?

I think of what it would be like to go back to a job with a set schedule in a set location and that is motivation enough!

If you met a new freelancer who wanted to get into your line of work, what advice would you give them?

Talk about your freelancing goals to friends, family and the people you meet. They may not be able to hire you personally, but they may know someone who needs the skills you have. It's all about connections!

Any tips or tricks for working with difficult clients?

Take a deep breath and do your best. You can't make everyone happy. That said, the job is about the client. Work with them to understand exactly what they want, and try to provide that.

Now that you've experienced all the ups and downs of being a freelancer, would you go back to a regular 9-5 job?

Not if I can help it! I really enjoy the variety, freedom, and independence that come with being a freelancer.

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