Liesl, Events and Logistics Coordinator

Liesl Guavabean

Hi, I’m Liesl, and I’m from South Africa.

However, I call Mexico home now! I’ve been living here for exactly one year now and I love every moment of exploring my new country.

Before my decision to live in Mexico, I alternated between Cape Town and Pittsburgh for two years. I really love living in cities that have large parks, nearby forests, botanical gardens, and leafy tree areas to walk in.

I’ve been freelancing for three and a half years now and I’m loving it!

What do you do?

My freelance work is a combination of some of my previous jobs. Three years in, I’m still figuring out how to "brand" or name it.

I have eleven years of experience in the hospitality industry and spent nine years at a transgender organization office job, where I was the Founder and Executive Director. I do a combination of qualitative research, support, and advice for start-ups and established NGOs that have a strong focus on the transgender and/or LGBTIQ sector.

When I started my freelance work, I decided to combine all of these various skills and ended up doing consultation work within the LGBTIQ sector. For example, I facilitate Strategic Plan sessions or do research and report writing.

How did you become a freelancer?

I accidentally “fell into” freelancing, and then there was no looking back!

When I left the transgender organization I’d worked at for nine years, I did a few small reports and other writing projects for them. We agreed that I’d do this from home and, though I didn’t know it at the time, that was the moment I started working remotely.

Soon after that, I sent my profile to other NGOs to offer the same. My big “breakthrough” came when I responded to a call within the LGBTIQ donor sector (philanthropy) for a fixed-term Project Coordinator role with a strong focus on the logistics. After that, a sister organization contracted me to be their Logistics Coordinator with a good portion of administration too. They hired me twice!  

Why did you become a freelancer?

I left the NGO I was directing for nine years because I was at the point of burnout; my body literally “gave in” on me. I developed an auto-immune disease and the situation spiraled almost out of control. The medications had side-effects, so I had to take medication for the side effects. It was like tipping dominoes.

I decided I would never again put myself in a situation where my work doesn’t allow me time for myself. I need a flexible schedule so I can push back my laptop when necessary and have lunch with a friend, a walk in the botanical gardens, or whatever!

Where did you find your first paid freelancing job?

Within my circle of known NGOs and donor organizations I networked for years in.

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 didn’t really know what to expect, but I had a wishlist in my mind, which included saving money while continuing to travel. Both turned out to be my reality and things are great!

Since my freelancing career began, I have managed to afford 3 international flights AND save money – I could never have done that before!

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

Flexibility in all aspects. I love to start my workday from around noon until later in the evening. There’s no office job that would let me do that.

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

I get irritated with myself when I realize it is 3 pm and I’m starving. I guess it’s not all that bad – and I’m not sure I can really blame working from home for that.

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 could do that nearly from the start, but last year I had a real dip and that was very stressful. I did not for one moment doubt my choice of freelance work, but it was a reminder of the importance to always have some money saved up!

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

I didn’t know in the beginning how to price my services; however, I knew what my NGO would be able to afford so I priced my initial work accordingly. When I applied for the international consultancy, they made the offer and I accepted it.

It’s always good to compare the pay with other jobs similar to yours, especially looking at what other countries are paying for that work. It’s also helpful to have a good network of people in your field whom you can ask for advice on pricing.

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

My biggest struggle came 3 years into freelancing, when I really had a bad ‘dip’ for about 3 or 4 months and nearly depleted my savings.

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

I wish I started earlier with freelancing! What took me so long?

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

In the LGBTIQ NGO/donor sector it is extremely important to network well, attend and deliver presentations at conferences, and remain relevant. I receive international LGBTIQ news updates and respond to calls for consultants and job ads. I also look regularly at the Remote section of Idealist.

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

For communication, I love Zoom. I use Asana for project planning. I’m still discovering the many apps and tools that are out there, and still have lots to learn. It’s like Alice down the rabbit hole!

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

Some clients really drag their feet to pay, so you always need to have savings backed-up! Sometimes it is not deliberate on their side, it might be that their finance person is suddenly off sick, or they forgot to tell you their entire staff will be off at a team-building retreat, or there is an issue between banks, exchange regulations, etc.

Never let yourself be in such a desperate situation that you literally cannot pay your own rent without their check.

How do you stay motivated when work is tough or there aren’t enough jobs coming in?

That is hard, but I motivate myself with the reason why I started freelancing in the first place. It’s this or an office job. “This” always wins for me.

When work gets tough, nature is my pillar. If it’s not possible to afford a weekend away, it’s always possible to walk in the local botanical garden, city parks, or somewhere green. I love walking in the city I’m in and taking photos, either of architecture or of graffiti and murals.

I try to use those times for myself. I can update my CV, learn Spanish, read, experiment with new recipes and invite friends over for dinner. There are always ways to enjoy yourself, even if finances are not great.

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

Network well. Just do it, take the plunge, believe in yourself, it is possible!

Any tips or tricks for working with difficult clients?

Start all your work off with a contract, MOU or TOR (Memorandum of Understanding/Terms of Reference). Because in the beginning, all clients are good. The difficult ones become difficult when it is too late to bring a contract to the table.

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 even for one day of my life. I would maybe consider employment with 9-5 hours, but only in a remote or virtual setting, but never in a traditional office, no!

If you’d like to connect further with Liesl, head on over to her LinkedIn!

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