Expert Interview Series: Catherine Quiambao on Getting Started as a Freelancer
Catherine Quiambao is a freelancing advocate, community leader/founder at freelancing.ph and works as a Marketing Strategist to offshore clients.
Here, Catherine discusses her experiences as a freelancer and offers advice to others interested in working for themselves. Read on:
Can you talk a little bit about your professional background?
My passion is really in marketing. I worked as a brand manager in local and multinational consumer companies for a good eight years. I handled skin care, home care and pharmaceutical products. It was only natural that when I shifted to freelancing, I was determined to establish my marketing career online.
In 2012, I became a full-fledged freelancer providing marketing consultancy for U.S., U.K. and Australian clients. Right now I work as a Marketing Strategist specializing in Digital Marketing and Branding.
How has your work as a freelancer evolved since you first got started?
My freelance career started back in 2012 as Virtual Assistant in Upwork, then oDesk. I was fortunate to find two part-time clients immediately after a week of applying. A month after my VA stint, I landed my first contract as a Marketing Strategist for an Australian client.
My projects are mostly long term, about two to three years on average, and a mix of Upwork and direct clients. When I was starting out I took in three-plus projects at a time. There was even one point where I had a total of seven ongoing and project-based contracts at once. All that changed after giving birth to two lovely boys. I had to cut down on client work to allow more time for the growing family. Right now, I only have one client who I work with on a part-time basis.
What do you love about freelancing? What would you love to change about it?
Freelancing has its perks. The top three things I love are:
- Ditching the daily commute. Traffic in Manila is crazy. Pollution, wasted time and stress can take a toll on our bodies. The time and effort saved from the long drive is definitely a good trade off.
- Work schedule flexibility. I work at my own pace but of course still ensure deadlines are met. I can design my work schedule so it is fitting for my clients’ and my personal needs. Meetings are mostly scheduled so that helps, too.
- Time with family – The ultimate reward is the time spent with my family. I get to take care of my sons or look after them anytime I want.
If I had the liberty to change anything about freelancing, it would be to educate freelancers to charge more competitively. It’s OK to start at a lower range but you have to keep up with the industry rates. The only way to do this is to upskill and to deliver excellent output every time.
What have been the biggest hurdles you’ve had to jump as a freelancer?
Job stability I guess is the biggest challenge for any freelancer. When I got my first marketing related job in oDesk, I was thrilled. The owner offered me a three-year contract. But soon, the client’s business began to collapse, and he had to let me go despite the contract. It was hard to take on when I first found out since I was relying on it for a steady source of income. He was kind enough to offer four-weeks (paid) notice to find a new job and even handed out an amazing recommendation letter.
What advice can you offer prospective freelancers on getting started? What can they do to set themselves up for success?
I’m a freelancing advocate. I go out of my way to help aspiring and even seasoned freelancers to succeed online. I usually conduct virtual events, skills-training and community meetup to make this happen. My top four tips would be.
- Don’t give up: The expert in anything was once a beginner:
You might struggle at the onset but keep persevering and you will land your first contract. Make sure you apply to jobs that match your skill set. Create a cover letter that’s concise and customize it so that it answers to the needs of the job.
- Make yourself invaluable:
If you want to be truly successful, invest in yourself to get the knowledge you need to find your unique factor. Find it, focus and persevere, success will follow.
- Don’t stop learning:
The digital world is changing at lightning speed. You have to keep up by regularly upgrading your skills
- Live a healthy life and strive for balance!:
Extremes are easy, strive for balance. Remember that you probably ventured in freelancing to spend more time at home with your loved ones. Don’t forget that. Working online can be addicting. Leave time to work out, meet friends and recharge.
Where do you see the biggest opportunities for freelancers today? What segments or specialties are most in demand right now?
With freelancing, the opportunities online are limitless. You can connect with startups, industry leaders, influencers. You’ll learn a lot! You navigate your own career. Follow your passion so you grow closer to your goals and at the same time learn from clients you meet.
My fearless forecast of in demand careers for 2017 are:
- Anything related to digital marketing (SEO, Content, Social Media Advertising, PPC)
- Developing websites, online solutions and mobile apps
- Automating leads, management, conversions (CRM, Lead Generation, Drip campaigns)
What are your favorite tools/resources for finding gigs?
We’ve also compiled a huge list of other platforms where you can find gigs online here.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in receiving payments as a freelancer?
From experience, some clients payments get delayed. It’s a bit awkward on the freelancer’s part to follow up with the client. The best solution is to recommend an invoicing tool that is capable of sending automatic reminders for recurring payments.
Finally, fees! Payment gateways usually charge skyrocketing fees when withdrawing your earnings. To top it off, the conversion rate they use are not pro-freelancer. You end up losing a lot of your hard-earned money.
How can tools like Payoneer help freelancers manage invoices and income?
I found out about Payoneer early this year. What piqued my interest is their bold claim of having the lowest fees for cross border payments. To put this to test, I conducted an experiment.
I was pleasantly surprised that my Payoneer withdrawal was available in my bank the same day I withdrew it. And the final earnings? The funds I got from Payoneer was higher by 46.14 pesos vs. the local fund transfer option from the freelancing platform. That made me switch to Payoneer!
To learn more about my experiment, you can read the blog post here.