American workers increasingly choose to work independently to get the lifestyle and opportunities they want—and they’re succeeding. According to Freelancing in America 2019, a study commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union, 60 percent of freelancers do so by choice. Among their top motivations: A flexible schedule, location independence, the desire to be their own boss, and the ability to choose the projects they work on.
But what does that lifestyle look like? To give corporate leaders a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to run a freelance business, we organized a panel of experts as part of Upwork’s Work Without Limits New York Summit including:
- Pep Dekker, a digital marketer who specializes in Google advertising
- Rachel Koeling, a senior content writer and editor
- Starrena Tapia, a social media and digital marketer
The session was hosted by Singularity University, a global learning and innovation community, which regularly collaborates with Dekker, Koeling, and Tapia. In a conversation that spanned what they look for in new projects and some of the misconceptions they’ve run into, the three were also happy to get more personal and talk about their motivations. Here’s what they had to say…
“The world is my oyster, I can do whatever I want”
Rachel Koeling is a content writer and editor who left a global cloud consulting firm to start Write Through Rachel LLC. “I felt I could make a bigger impact with my work as a freelance writer, and I feel like I have,” she said. “Freelance work has been the most personally fulfilling, lucrative, and opportunity-filled position I’ve ever held.”
Koeling specializes in long-form and short-form writing such as blogs, e-books, website copy, and emails. With Singularity University, she does a lot of email marketing and newsletters. She likes the challenge of working on a variety of projects, but more than that she appreciates that her success depends on her strong work ethic.
“I like that I have full ability to see the results of my effort immediately,” Koeling reflected. “I like the full independence that I get from freelance work because then I can set the boundaries, the guidelines and the work processes. I can also align myself with my client’s needs and expectations, make sure I’m meeting all of them, and touch base along the way.”
Another motivation? There’s no salary cap or glass ceiling to hold her back. “With freelance work, the world is my oyster, I can do whatever I want. I can make as much money or as little money as I feel I can, want, or need to.”
“I have the ability to choose whom I work with”
Pep Dekker has been a digital marketer for more than a decade. He’s focused his business on Google Search and display advertising. But digital marketing wasn’t his first foray into running his own business: “At first, I decided to become a full-time woodworker. However, it’s not quite as lucrative as you might imagine, so I switched back to digital.”
Through that process, he started helping friends as they set up ad agencies: he helped grow their teams, build their marketing programs, and get their services up and running. He soon started to pick up more clients through Upwork, including his connection with Singularity University.
“For me, freelancing is really about the flexibility,” he said. Instead of managing multiple clients in one vertical, as he likely would at a traditional agency, he can set his own path. “Now, I have the ability to choose whom I work with, whether that’s enterprise clients, auto dealerships, or healthcare. The variety is really what keeps me going.”
Working in both English and Spanish, Starrena Tapia is immersed in social media and digital marketing: Not only does she run a successful freelance business, she also has a full-time position.
Starting her own business was an organic process for Tapia. “I was doing a bunch of fun and creative things in school and I would just upload projects here and there,” she said. “Some people started looking at what I was doing, and then they wanted help, and before I knew it, I was being offered compensation for it.”
One of the most important advantages, however, is the competitive edge her work gives her. “Digital marketing and social media are constantly changing: Google’s algorithms change, Youtube’s algorithms change, Facebook’s algorithms change,” she said. With both opportunities, she’s able to stay on top of the latest developments and provide the best service to her clients.
With Singularity, she works on more organic projects; with other clients, she does more paid media. “Freelancing helps me stay on top of my game,” Tapia said. “I’m constantly learning these new changes and continually building my skills.”
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