Joana Ferreira’s freelancer story

As part of our freelance celebration we’re sharing the experiences of female freelancers. Here’s Joana Ferreira’s story. 

What do you do?

I’m a digital marketing consultant. In a nutshell, I work mainly with small business owners, helping them to figure out what they should be doing online to achieve their objectives. 

Digital marketing isn’t the same for every business, so I help come up with a plan that works for that particular business, given their objectives and their resources. 

Once we have come up with a plan that works for them, I then help them to execute it.  

This could be anything from creating a new website, starting a business blog, doing some SEO and digital PR, social media marketing and the list goes on! I also host training workshops and lectures. 

How long have you been a freelancer?

Officially since November 2017, though I took a break from work for a few months before I really started going for it. So, technically, I really set myself up as a freelancer around March 2018. 

Why did you go freelance?

I was working a really demanding digital marketing job, involving a lot of business meetings, long hours, and a daily commute of over 3 hours. I love digital marketing, but I was beginning to feel like my life was all about work. I was excelling at my job but failing at life! 

I didn’t want to get to the point of burnout before taking action, so decided to take action first! Being my own boss had always been an ambition of mine, so I just took the plunge and went for it! 

What do you love about being a freelancer?

I love the freedom it brings. I can work the hours that suit me and work on projects that I’m passionate about. I have been lucky so far that all of my clients have been amazing, I have worked alongside businesses that I feel truly connected to and that I believe in. 

I love not being chained to a desk, not having a long commute, and not having to justify myself to anyone if I feel like taking some time off.

And what do you hate about being a freelancer?

Hate is a strong word, but I guess the uncertainty of being a freelancer is something that takes some getting used to. Not having that steady paycheck at the end of the month and that uneasy feeling of not knowing where the next lot of income is coming from. 

I’ve had some really good months and some not-so-good months but I’ve found that if I stay organised and keep promoting my business even when I’ve got a lot of projects on the go, then I can ensure that I have a steady stream of leads coming in at all times. 

How long did it take to earn an income you were happy with?

I’d say probably about a year. I’m just at that stage now where I feel like I have a good rhythm going, an income that I’m happy with, projects that keep me motivated and a steady stream of clients and leads. 

I knew very early on that I couldn’t just rely on the income from projects. It’s too unpredictable. My goal was to have a mixture of ad-hoc project income, and something a little bit more fixed. I didn’t quite know what that would look like but for a freelancer that usually means retainer clients, a part-time job or something similar. 

Then it struck me that something I had wanted to do for a very long time (but didn’t have the time to explore while in full-time work) was lecturing. So, I approached some of my contacts at different universities and found out if I could host some guest lectures.

What started as a couple of guest lectures evolved into lecturing part-time at Manchester Metropolitan University and more recently at Staffordshire University. It’s a steady stream of income doing something I have become very passionate about, and alongside people that I admire and that I can learn a lot from. Win-win! 

And how long to get a good client rota?

Probably about the same or maybe even longer. When I first started freelancing, I didn’t have any clients secured so I started from zero. I know that’s not the case for every freelancer. 

A lot of freelancers might have started doing this alongside their full-time jobs, and then once they had a steady client rota maybe moved into full-time freelancing. Others might have already had work secured before leaving their jobs. Every situation is different. 

The first year has been about just learning as I go along and figuring out what works for me. You can take as much advice as you can from other people’s experiences, but you have to be able to adapt that advice to your own. I wouldn’t say there is a right or wrong way of freelancing, or a cut-off date for when it all comes together – everyone will have a different experience. 

Have you ever turned a client down? And if so, why?

Yes. And I’m proud to say that! 

I’ve turned down a few for a variety of reasons. The biggest one always comes down to rates. I have a day-rate and I make this clear from the outset. I’m happy to negotiate but only up to a certain point. I don’t work for free and I don’t work for anything less than what I feel is fair. 

I know that if I take on a project at a rate that I’m not comfortable with, I only have myself to blame, so I will refuse the work even if it means that I make less money that month. 

I’ve also turned down work when it just isn’t the right fit for me, or it’s not an industry that I feel passionate about. 

I’ve turned down work when the client takes a long time to respond to things. For example, someone once asked me to send over a proposal and they needed it urgently. But then it took them two weeks to reply to my email. Every correspondence required me to chase them up several times before getting a reply, and we hadn’t even agreed on the scope of work and I hadn’t been paid for anything yet!

I decided to walk away because I felt like my time wasn’t being valued or respected and this was a sign that this might be a difficult client to work with. 

If you could offer any advice to yourself starting out as a freelancer what would it be?

Trust your instincts. Even if it means walking away from money when you haven’t got anything else lined up. In the end, everything happens for a reason and it will all fall into place eventually. Keep working hard, don’t doubt yourself!

Find out more about Joana