If you don’t already know this about me I’m a 23-year-old unemployed university graduate trying to master freelance writing. No matter what service you’re offering as a freelancer it’s important to have a portfolio of work to show future potential clients. Feeling lost I discovered this Facebook group called Women Who Freelance Toronto. Through this group, I read about many successful female freelancers which made me feel like I wasn’t the only one struggling. Now I had a platform I could go to for advice. This group became a really great source of information for me and I was very grateful that I had found it. I had to find out whose fantastic idea was to create this group. I finally figured it out when I attended a virtual networking session (since we’re still in a pandemic) organized by the group and Lana Karapetyan was one of the cohosts. I immediately reached out to her and asked her what inspired her to start the group. She told me she found freelancing lonely, something many freelancers experience. She didn’t know any other freelancers and needed somewhere to go for advice and that’s where the idea for Women Who Freelance was born.
About eight months into freelancing I created Women Who Freelance and that was a platform that allowed me to learn. It became a way for me to talk to other women about any issues or questions I had. For me, it’s been a great source of inspiration as a freelancer, as a woman, and as a professional. Just seeing all these women who were succeeding and building their empires on their own was inspirational.
Lana started the group in 2019 and says it grew very quickly. The group currently has over 5,000 members. Not only does she organize networking events and workshops all on her own, but she also shares freelance work on the group’s Instagram page in hopes the freelancers get clients. She realized there was a demand for a community in other Canadian cities and opened Facebook groups for Vancouver and Montreal as well. She’s currently building a Canada wide directory for all types of female freelancers. The purpose of the directory is to create a platform where agencies looking to recruit can go to the directory and find a freelancer that suits their needs. While chatting with her she talks about her freelancing experience and gives some insightful tips for anyone who is interested in freelancing.
When did you start freelancing?
“I graduated from McGill University with a political science degree and halfway during my third year, I realized I didn’t want to be doing this as a job. I started doing lots of extracurriculars at the university in the marketing department. I really wanted to learn about social media and event planning. When I graduated I felt like I had enough experience to go ahead and find a marketing job. I looked for a bit and then I landed a job as a marketing coordinator for a tech company. I was working there for a year and that’s when I started freelancing. I started freelancing because the company was going through a lot of restructuring at the time and they transitioned me from marketing to sales and I really didn’t like it. It wasn’t what I wanted to do and it wasn’t going to give me the experience I needed to get better at marketing. So I took a break and travelled to the Dominican Republic to study Spanish. It was something I always wanted to do and it seemed like a good time. But I wasn’t one of those people that could just quit their job and travel. I needed some kind of financial cushion. I felt like I needed to have something on the side to feel comfortable instead of just making a huge leap, quitting my job, and travelling.
So I started looking into freelancing. I didn’t know anything about it but I started looking at places like Kijiji and Upwork.com. I found some leads on Kijiji. People used to post a lot back in the day about needing a content writer. I put an ad out for my services and I got some leads from there. That’s how my freelance journey started. I’ve been doing it for two years. When I came back from travelling I did some freelance for 6 months full-time and then I went back to nine to five and still freelanced on the side.”
Do you prefer working freelance or do you prefer working a nine-to-five job?
“I thought about this a lot. It was a lot of back and forth. For me, I realized I really liked doing freelance on the side. I liked the freedom it gave me to not be dependent on a full-time job. You’re really relying on your nine-to-five when you’re not doing anything else. I already have experience. I already have a portfolio and the connections that I need to survive. I could do what I love in the meanwhile. Your full-time job will never give you the opportunity to develop all the skills you want to develop. Let’s say you work in marketing but you’re interested in learning other skills you’re really going to be restricted at your nine-to-five job. How do you develop the skills that you’re very interested in developing? Start freelancing. Start doing it on the side and learn about it. My nine-to-five wasn’t giving me the opportunity to do a lot of social media and writing both things that I really like. You kind of have to create that opportunity for yourself.”
What tips would you give to people contemplating going freelance?
“If you’re in a full time/part-time job right now or if you’re a student, you’re in the best place to start freelancing. Freelancing comes with a lot of uncertainty and you may not want to take the leap right away. Jumping straight into full-time freelancing can be a shock. It takes time to build a client base. Start it on the side and see how you can grow it.”
What tips do you give to a freelancer unsure of how much to charge for their services?
“I think it’s really important to ask and talk to others. I think our community has created a great space where you can just go ahead and ask in the group. Connecting and asking for advice is huge especially in freelancing because there’s no guide. If you want to succeed I do recommend speaking with other people and getting their intake and seeing if they can aid you.”
What’s the best way to cope with loneliness while freelancing?
“I think loneliness is a big issue with a lot of freelancers. Go to a networking event, try to meet people, join communities online, there’s a lot of virtual memberships out there. You really have to keep interacting. Once I started networking things really changed for me I started feeling less lonely. I started making connections, I started finding clients, you really have to make an effort. You have to go out of your way and build a network for yourself.”
What’s the best way to market yourself as a freelancer?
“You have to market yourself, social and website are key. If you want to stand out you need these two things. Start promoting yourself on social media and build a website or have some sort of portfolio so it’ll be easy for you to share your work. There’s so much competition on social media because everyone is promoting themselves. The people that I’ve seen succeed in the community are people who are really just being themselves. People who aren’t posting generic how to’s on their Instagram. Or people who are posting content that is not new, very dry, and not personal. The people who succeeded are the people that stayed authentic and branded themselves differently from what others are doing. Just being you is what’s going to attract clients. That’s what’s going to make you different from everybody else.
What are some ways you can improve your skills as a freelancer?
“In terms of how to educate yourself apart from our community, there are so many resources available especially right now that are pretty good. Many are free. Every month sit down and say I’m going to learn something new just spend a weekend do a little course. That’s what’s going to keep you learning and growing. I know for me when I don’t learn something for a long time I start feeling like I’m stuck or like I’m not developing at all. That’s the advice I would give. Follow accounts you find inspiration, a lot of them are going to do IG lives, they’re gonna post about their webinars coming up. They are so many professionals out there that are good at what they do. Try not to overload yourself with information. I know there’s a lot of content out there.”
What are some resources freelancers can use to continue learning?
“I’ve used honestly a lot of Youtube tutorials. You’d be surprised about how much stuff is available online. Whenever I want to use a new tutorial for contracting or invoicing I really am able to find good youtube tutorials that help me understand how things work. I’ve attended a bunch of workshops in-person and online from a lot of different places. Fiver is a freelancing platform they do a lot of cool and free webinars. You can learn a lot of skills there. A lot of communities are offering events where you would learn a new skill like Make Lemonade. But if you’re just starting out and you don’t want to put the money and resources into it, youtube. For me, personally, Youtube is my go-to.”
Not only do you lead this community but when you’re a freelancer you become your own boss. Are there any books or podcasts that you’ve read that really inspired you or taught you something significant?
“Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. I use to be a president of a club but I never had experience with leadership. I was kind of shy about it when I started the group. I felt like I wasn’t experienced enough. I didn’t know how to communicate. This book really taught me a lot what a good leader looks like. You have to be a good listener, be objective, and you don’t have to know the answer to everything.
Feature Image by: Jazmina Alzaiat