Welcome to 9 to No Thank You! an interview series with freelancers who kicked their 9 to 5 habit and now kick serious business butt. These inspiring ladies and gents are sharing the stories of their cubicle escape, and giving helpful tips along the way.
Today we’re gonna hear from a friend of mine, Samantha August. Sam and I have been traveling together in South East Asia for the last few months with Hacker Paradise, a group of roaming freelancers, developers, and entrepreneurs. Sam has been freelancing for a while and just recently left the grind of her 9-to-5 to focus more on her side projects. Sam shares how she balances freelancing with her other projects, and what has helped her make the leap to full-time.
Hey Sam! Where do you live?
I am currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Once my adventures as a digital nomad come to an end, I will be living in Charleston, South Carolina, USA. Charleston is incredibly inspiring. The people, food, culture and rich history are remarkably energizing. I am looking forward to settling down for a bit after months of travel and building a solid network of new friends and like-minded entrepreneurs and creatives.
What do you do?
Hmm… good question. What do I do all day? I probably spend way too much time curbing my cravings for Jeni’s ice cream and my newfound addiction, mango sticky rice (have you had it here in Thailand, yet? Oh my goodness, it is life-changing).
Okay, that was cheesy. I’ll be serious now. Most of my time is spent on BrewPublik, a startup based in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. It is a curated craft beer delivery service that I started with a group of friends back in December. Aside from working on the startup, I am a technical project manager and also do freelance graphic and website/blog design. My favorite projects to work on include managing the brand for a client in its entirety – everything from the logo to the website and collateral. I feel like my value is most utilized during these types of projects because I am able to work with the client on building, planning and visualizing from day one.
How long have you been freelancing? What were you doing before?
I started freelancing six years ago, my first year at college/university in South Carolina. My first gig was designing a logo for my friend Robert’s band, Friday Night Fix. He came to me and said, “Hey, you are my friend and you are creative, can you learn one of the Adobe products and design me a logo?” So I did! And my love affair with graphic design was born.
What was your transition into freelancing like?
I didn’t take the leap into full-time freelancing until very recently. It was terrifying, but quitting my full-time job to be my own boss was so rewarding. I feel so much more accomplished and no longer feel the pangs of working towards someone else’s dreams. That was killing me – knowing that every time I accomplished something for a client or acquired new business for the agency – I was just helping my boss inch closer and closer to reaching her goals, not mine.
Regarding the business/finance side, I was lucky to have graduated with a business degree because I had already learned the ropes of running a company, and I gained experience in managing projects and clients through my work with my previous full-time job. Overall, that aspect of being a freelancer has gone very well. I have been utilizing the tool Harvest for estimating, invoicing and time tracking and it is has been incredibly user-intuitive. I highly recommend it!
What do your days look like now?
I am working on several projects simultaneously, many of which involve using different skill sets and even mindsets. Because of this, it takes a good amount of effort to switch seamlessly between tasks for different clients. To remedy this, I have broken up my days into blocks, allocating each block to one specific type of work. I work on personal tasks first thing in the morning (checking emails, catching up with friends and family, etc.), then move on to work on projects that involve more creativity, which generally include the clients that I am managing the branding/design for. After lunch, I jump into projects and tasks related to my startup.
What is your favourite part of being a freelancer?
Now that I am on my own, I feel so motivated and excited about each and every small achievement. At the end of every project, I know that I found the client, I completed (hopefully exceeding client’s expectations) the deliverables and I earned the income all through utilizing my own skills and talents. It is incredibly fulfilling! I am no longer supporting a boss’s dream, I am supporting my own.
What were some of the doubts or roadblocks you had when you started, and how did you work through that?
The biggest challenge for me has been figuring out what my “product offerings” are and how I want to brand myself via social media and my website. Honestly, I don’t have it figured out. I get most of my clients through word-of-mouth, so luckily it hasn’t been a big issue – yet, but I know that one of these weeks I’ll need to buckle down and decide how I want to be spending my time and what my target audience is. Currently, it is women running or wanting to start small online businesses or blogs, but I don’t necessarily market myself online in a way that targets or would entice them to want to work with me.
It is going to take some time to figure out exactly where I want my focus to be, and I am 100% okay with not pressuring myself to decide and taking a couple weeks or months to be absolutely certain about the projects I dedicate myself to. I think this time is important…for me but also for anyone else jumping into the world of freelance from a corporate or other full-time job where projects were essentially handed to you. I’d be surprised if many were able to nail their audience and product offerings right off the bat. If you were able to do it, I tip my hat to you! And please – shoot me an email with some tips :P.
Is there something you know now that you wish you would have known when you were first starting out? And what are you best tips for freelancers just getting their start?
It would have been nice to have a list of online resources and tools that I could’ve utilized from the start. I spent a lot of time researching by myself, and looking back, I easily could’ve asked other freelancers that already have established businesses and had tried and tested available tools. I don’t ask for help or advice enough, and that is something I am working on. So in a nutshell, as a tip I would recommend utilizing the contacts you know that already know what they are doing. Everyone I asked was more than willing to support me in my new journey and I am sure it’d be the same for you!
What are some of your favourite tools for running your freelance business?
- Harvest – great tool for estimating, invoicing and time tracking
- Toggl – free time tracking tool if you don’t need all of the other features that Harvest offers
- Adobe Creative Suite – logo and graphic design
- Adobe Lightroom – picture editing (desktop)
- VSCO – picture editing (phone)
- Buffer – social media scheduling
What’s next on the horizon for you?
After Chiang Mai, Thailand, I’ll be returning to Charleston, South Carolina where I will be joining a co-working space and continuing to work on my startup. I may decide to work on the startup full-time, but no matter where I end up, I know I’ll continue to be my own boss and won’t fall victim to another 9-5. Be free!