Why Freelancing is Great for Small Town Living

I live in a relatively small town of 10,000 people. The adjoining metropolitan area has a population of 150,000 people. While there are opportunities here, they are not always easy to find.

When I decided to start freelancing, one of the biggest perks was being able to work with people who weren’t from around here. This gave me an opportunity to meet people that I’d never have a chance to interact with as well as to charge rates that people here would not be able to pay.

At one point in my career, I thought I’d need to move to the suburbs or a major city to achieve the goals I set for myself. Freelancing showed me that isn’t the case. In fact, I think being a freelancer in a small town has more perks than being a freelancer in a big city. Here’s why freelancing supports small town living.

Bigger opportunities and more of them

Freelancing, or even just working from home, opens the door for more opportunities than local job hunting. You can work for any company, located anywhere in the world, from the comfort of your home office.

Freelancing allows you to work with many different companies and learn their best practices. This gives you an opportunity to advance your skills, offer more services, and demand higher pay.

Freelancing in a small town means you aren’t limited to working in the companies or industries in your area. You are able to apply for remote positions around the world; all you need is a reliable internet connection. Freelancing will give you access to bigger opportunities than your town can offer.

Often it can be difficult to find a job in a small town because the competition for one position can be high. In an area with a high unemployment rate, there are potentially hundreds of people applying for the same position. As a freelancer, location doesn’t matter. You are able to apply for the jobs that directly relate to your skills regardless of where you are living. This gives you a much larger pool of opportunities to draw from.

Higher pay

Typically, a company or individual will gear their budget to the cost of living in their area. If you live in an area with a low cost of living, like myself, you will get the benefit of your money stretching further than someone in a higher cost of living area.

When I work for a San Francisco based company, I am paid San Francisco wages even though I live in a much cheaper area. A marketing person making the average $75-$100K per year there may have trouble making ends meet, whereas the same salary where I live would be almost double the median household income.

Your quality of life can be a lot higher while freelancing in a small town than it would be in a big city.

Better job security

In some cases, you will have more job security while freelancing because your job is not tied to your local economy. For a person that lives in an area where things aren’t going too well, that’s a great thing. My town routinely has businesses close their doors and large companies leave the area. This has been devastating to some families. Having a location independent job, like freelancing, can prevent the local economy from affecting your family.

Many of the companies I work for are based in up and coming areas where business is booming. I get the benefit of their expanding economy without having to move there.

One of the best (and potentially worst) places to find freelancing work is out of Silicon Valley.

Often startups provide awesome benefits and pay, but the jobs can be gone in the blink of an eye. Five months after I left the startup Zirtual, they imploded and over 400 people lost their jobs. Thankfully, many of my former coworkers were able to take their skills and start their own virtual assistant businesses.

That said, job security is not guaranteed with any company in any city. Freelancing allows you to work in different cities while minimizing the risk of their economies. It also allows you to have multiple income streams coming in so that one client quitting will not kill your business.

Exposure to trends

Finally, a non-monetary benefit to freelancing while living in a small town is exposure to trends you may not have heard about otherwise.

Things that are popular on the coasts often don’t make it to the Midwest for months or even years. Freelancing allows me to stay on top of business and popular trends. I can use this information to appeal to clients in larger metropolitan areas without actually living there. This knowledge allows me to keep my rates competitive with those freelancing in bigger cities.

Freelancing is a great option for those who live in small towns. You get the benefits of bigger city wages, opportunities, exposure, and job security without giving up the community and space to roam. If you live in a small town, before you think about moving to a big city to pursue your dreams, give freelancing a try!

Why freelancing is great for small town living

Your Guide to Becoming a Virtual Assistant

If you are considering working from home, but don’t have a specific business idea in mind, being a virtual assistant is a great option. A virtual assistant handles many of the same duties that an in-person administrative assistant or receptionist does. Average pay for virtual assistants can range from $10-$40 per hour with the rate increasing depending on demand and experience. Virtual assistant may also choose to charge clients by hourly packages or work on a retainer.

I started off my remote working career as a virtual assistant. I didn’t have administrative assistant experience, but my previous position as an Information Specialist required me to be meticulous and organized. These traits came in handy when I applied for a virtual assistant position with Zirtual. After a short interview process, I was offered the job. It paid $12 per hour with optional healthcare and 401K. Other benefits were added a few months after I started.

I went through a two week training process which detailed all of Zirtual’s policies and procedures. The training process was very organized and helped clarify what would be expected of me as a virtual assistant. The company had created an organizational system through Google Apps that included documents and templates for most requests and a list of things that a ‘Zirtual Assistant’ could and couldn’t do. Anything “specialized” such as writing, photography, accounting, etc. was considered out of scope. Everyone who worked for Zirtual was college educated and many had advanced degrees.

Although I enjoyed working for Zirtual, I felt constrained by the set work hours and inability to do creative tasks. I’d been slowly picking up marketing clients throughout and I had enough business to strike out on my own. I left in February 2015 to pursue my marketing business. In August 2015, Zirtual imploded and 450 employees were instantly out of jobs with no warning. Many of these employees went on to create their own successful virtual assistant companies.

I currently maintain one virtual assistant client. My work with this client is a mix of administrative assistant, project manager, writer/editor, and social media management job duties.

What Does a Virtual Assistant Do?

Some of the regular duties I perform as a virtual assistant include making and returning phone calls, digitally filing emails and documents, invoicing and creating expense reports, and inbox maintenance. Other responsibilities include booking flights, hotels, and restaurants, making appointments and scheduling meetings.

Many other virtual assistants offer some level of social media management, data entry, transcription or other tasks suited to their skillset.

If you work for yourself as a virtual assistant, you can set your own hours and decide which job duties you’d like to do and which ones you don’t.

Where to Find Virtual Assistant Jobs

Consider starting your own business

Most virtual assistant companies will have you work as a 1099 independent contractor. This means you’re a freelancer. You will not be provided healthcare or benefits. Some companies may offer to have you work as an remote employee which would give you whatever benefits that company offers to traditional employees.

If you’re going to work as an independent contractor, you may want to consider starting your own business to cut out the middle man and maximize your full earning potential. You can look into filing as an LLC, C Corp, or S Corp – each choice offers different tax benefits. My business, The Sturm Agency, is an S Corp.

How to get started

  • Build a website

You can hire someone to do this for you or you can use a premade template option like Squarespace. My professional website was created on Squarespace and I highly recommend the platform; my site was easy to make and looks beautiful. Squarespace offers easily to install ecommerce plugins that allow you to sell through your website. If you’d prefer to invoice and manage your business through another program, I’d suggest 17Hats. I use it for time-tracking, invoicing, and project management.

  • Create social media pages

At the very least, create a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page for your business. Consider each social channel a difference customer acquisition point. The same people on Facebook may not be on Twitter and vice versa. Your social media profiles should be updated with some frequency, but you can decide how often that should be. One to three times per week for a business page is good. You don’t want people to think you’re out of business, but you don’t need to fill people’s profiles with constant self promotion either.

  • Join some Facebook and/or LinkedIn groups

Search for freelancers or virtual assistants groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, join the groups and introduce yourself. One of the most active Facebook groups I belong to is the Freelance to Freedom Project Community. People regularly post business opportunities in groups that may not be listed anywhere else. You can also network with your fellow virtual assistants to share tips and tricks. If you have questions or encounter a situation you don’t know how to handle, you can ask for advice from other professionals who have been there.

  • Work with an established company

There are a number of established virtual assistant companies that you can work with (FancyHands, Zirtual, EAHelp). Most, if not all, will employ you as an independent contractor. If you’re concerned about how quickly you can get work, it may be a good idea to start with an established company because they will supply your clients. Keep in mind some companies will have you sign an agreement that you won’t create a competing business or poach clients.

Being a virtual assistant can be a very rewarding job. You will interact with people in many different roles in a variety of businesses. You will become knowledgeable in a multitude of fields, making you a Jack or Jill of all trades. You will be able to keep a flexible schedule and work from anywhere with a reliable internet connection. You will be able to develop meaningful relationships with people that you may never have had the chance to meet otherwise. Whether you start you own business or work with an established company, being a virtual assistant is a fulfilling remote career option.

 

How To Choose The Right Client For You

During your freelancing career, you’ll work with many different clients. The great thing about this is you get to choose your clients! In a lot of ways, choosing a client is like choosing a friend or significant other. An ideal match should bring together two people with a shared interest in success, similar working styles, and equal amounts of trust on both sides. Ultimately, your goal should be maintaining long-term relationships with your clients. After all, good clients can be hard to find.

What Type of Client Are You Looking For?

Your working preferences should point you towards your ideal client. If you want to hold traditional 9-5 hours then working with a night owl entrepreneur may not make sense. If you want to work at any time of day then a CEO at a Fortune 500 may not be the best fit. In addition, it depends on the type of freelancing work you’re doing. If you’re a virtual assistant, you may need to have regular check-ins and be available all day on email; this may not be the case for a website designer.

Other facets to consider are a client’s communication and management styles. Some clients are hands-off while others are micromanagers. Some want to speak daily while others prefer shooting off weekly emails. Being aware of your preferences can help you find your ideal clients.

I don’t like talking on the phone. I can do it, and I have a professional and friendly demeanor that would not tip anyone off to the fact that I don’t like phone conversations, but being on the phone is my not favorite thing to do. Adding a loud toddler to the mix has only furthered my dislike. I express myself more clearly and succinctly in writing and I like having a paper trail that I can look back on and double check for accuracy and completion. Regular phone calls are not a deal breaker, but they are something I’d consider a “con” when choosing a client.

Finding Your Best Client Fit

There’s something special about finding the right client; someone who just gets you. You don’t have to worry that an email came off too brusque or that the client didn’t think your joke was funny. People that don’t make you feel like you have to be “on” are good fits for clients.

However, you are still running a business and delivering a service so you don’t want to be too casual. You’re not doing a favor for a friend, you’re being paid for your services and that deserves a certain level of professionalism.

My ideal client is tech-savvy and wants to communicate primarily over email, text, or messaging service. I prefer someone who can give me orders then trust that I’ll have the vision to carry them through. I prefer an easy-going personality and don’t like clients who try to make their urgency my emergency. I’ve found my best clients from a variety of sources.

When you’re choosing clients, two things are important to keep in mind.

Know Your Interests

If I have no interest in agriculture then I’m probably not going to look for a client who runs a family farm or sells pesticide. Although I’m confident that I could research the industry and gain a working knowledge over time, I would find absolutely no joy in it.

Time flies when you’re doing things that interest you. You should look for clients that are working in fields or industries that you feel a connection to. It’s tempting to grab whatever clients you can get when you’re just starting out, but that strategy will ultimately cost you time (and money!). If you have to do a lot of background work before you start the part of your job that you get paid to do, you’re going to make very little or even lose money. For example, if you need to research trends in industry X to write a blog post, because you have no familiarity with the industry, it may take three hours to pull together a few reputable references. A person who is already interested in the industry may be able to get their sources within 15 minutes. This could be the difference between making $100 per hour or $10.

Know Your Deal Breakers

Do you hate when people are late? Are you allergic to small talk? Knowing your deal breakers will give you a better sense of who your clients should be. Even when you work for yourself, you still have to work with and for other people. If you can’t get along or see eye-to-eye, you won’t be able to achieve your goals. Don’t waste precious time trying to force a relationship with a mismatched client. There is a client out there for everyone and you cannot be the best person for every job. If you keep your standards high, your profits will be too.

Clients are the lifeblood of your business. Although you can’t please everyone all the time, you have a much better chance of keeping clients and making them happy if you only work with people who are a good match. Take your time vetting potential clients before starting work together. You may not earn as much as someone who takes every client, but not having to work with difficult people is one of the greatest perks of being a freelancer and you can’t put a price on that.

The Five Best Places I’ve Found Freelancing Jobs

Finding freelancing jobs can be tough. You have to watch out for spammy Craigslist postings and sites that want you to pay to see available work. You may think you need to spend money before you can make money. You don’t need to do that! There are many reputable sites where you can find freelancing jobs at no cost to you.

Throughout my freelancing career, I’ve had great luck finding jobs from these five resources:

1) Upwork (formerly oDesk and Elance)

Upwork touts themselves as “the premier platform for top companies to hire and work with the world’s most talented independent professionals.” They have over 10M registered coders, writers, marketers, designers, developers and other freelancers using their platform. The best thing about Upwork is that it’s extremely easy to use; fill out your profile and you can start pitching for jobs immediately. The downside is that there is a lot of competition. Most jobs have 20+ applicants and some will underbid to get the job. Pitching for a job requires Connects, usually 1-5 per job. With a free account, you will get 60 connects per month, but if that’s not enough, you can upgrade to 70 for $10 per month.

Upwork is where I connected with my first paying freelancing job. It was a blog writing gig that eventually included social media management duties for a Twitter account. I made about $200 from this platform. I occasionally check for jobs, but as I’ve gained experience and raised my rates, I’ve found that the average price per job is too low. However, this is a great place for a new freelancer to start building their portfolio. Keep in mind, you may need to sacrifice pay for experience at first.

Cost: Free to use, but Upwork takes a 10% fee

2) CloudPeeps

CloudPeeps is made up of “world’s top marketing, content, social media and community pros.” CloudPeeps is more exclusive with only ~1000 freelancers working in the platform. This means the jobs are easier to secure, but the competition is stiff. There are many well-known internet marketers, community managers, and PR pros working on the platform. CloudPeeps is more than a job posting site, it’s also a community of creative professionals who assist and support each other.

CloudPeeps was my launchpad into freelancing. I joined the community in October 2014 and soon had three clients under my belt. In 2015, I was named one of the top 10 most successful Peeps of the year. I have made around $20,000 from jobs on the platform in the past 18 months.

Cost: Free to use, but CloudPeeps takes a 15% fee for a CP-hosted job, and a 5% fee to manage your own clients using the platform

3) Indeed

Indeed is the Google for job postings. I’ve set up two searches that are automatically sent to my email each day. One search is for “remote, freelance, writing, blogging, marketing, and social media” and the other is for any job in my local area.

I have a local search in place because it gives me an idea of companies that are growing and looking to hire in my area. These companies may need the marketing services that I offer. If I come across these postings, I occasionally send out a cold email introducing myself as a local marketing professional and detailing my services.

I’ve secured one local client from Indeed searches and applied for several remote part-time positions. I’ve made around $5,000 from jobs found on Indeed.

Cost: Free to use, no fees

4) LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the most popular business networking site and the best place to have your online resume. Keeping your LinkedIn profile up-to-date can be a great way to get jobs. I’ve been approached several times by local businesses asking if I’d like to collaborate. I credit that to the fact that my profile is complete and up-to-date. Make sure you note that you’re a freelancer and what your skills are. As you build your portfolio, be sure to add links to your best work in the experience section.

I’ve made about $400 on jobs that originated from connections on LinkedIn.

Cost: Free to use, no fees

5) Social Media (Twitter and Facebook)

Having a regularly updated social media presence is so important for any business. People will search social media, especially if you are touting yourself as a marketer, to see if you ‘walk the talk’. My personal social sharing formula is 75% other people’s content, 25% my own. You don’t want your social feeds to be too self-promotional; that can be off-putting. Share things that resonate with you – did you love the message of someone’s article, do think other people should read it? Position yourself as a lifelong learner by commenting on current issues and news stories in your area of expertise. Remember to tag writers and publications when you share their content. It can be helpful to use hashtags to draw attention to your post, but more than two per post is excessive.

I haven’t made any money through social media yet, but I have been offered opportunities (guest blog posts and connections to people in my field), that may lead to jobs in the future.

Cost: Free to use, no fees

Special Mention

Problogger

Problogger is a board for blog writing jobs. I’ve pitched, but never been hired through this platform. I frequently check the site and there are always high-paying jobs listed. This is a place that you should check out if you’re looking to build your writing portfolio.

Cost: Free to use, no fees

Other resources for finding freelancing jobs

There are many more resources to find freelancing jobs that I have not tried yet. I’ve compiled some helpful articles with more extensive lists below:

15 Best Freelance Websites to Find Jobs via Entrepreneur
25 Top Sites for Finding the Freelancing Job You Want via Skillcrush
71 Great Website to Find Freelance Jobs via Freshbooks

How I Became a Freelancing Mama

After my daughter was born in June 2014, I took a flying leap into the unknown – not only the unknown of being responsible for raising a good person who would someday positively contribute to society, but also the unknown of finding a new job that allowed me to be home with my daughter.

For the first 15 years of my career, I worked for someone else.

My first job was working in a fast-food restaurant for a man who told me I laughed too much. While attending college, I worked as an assistant manager of a clothing store and an entertainment writer at the college newspaper. At that time, I was the trendiest I have ever been or ever will be again. After I graduated with a degree in English, I landed my first job with real benefits! I worked in a biotechnology company’s corporate library. I had always loved the library, but this wasn’t a safe haven of delicious-smelling old books, it was a cubicle farm where I compiled market research reports and purchased digital copies of scientific papers.

Over the next six years, I climbed my way from the lowest position in the department to one of the highest while completing an evening MBA program. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of my biological clock ticking so my husband and I decided it was time to start our family.

Newborn, mother, baby

After my daughter was born in June 2014, I took a flying leap into the unknown –  the unknown of being responsible for raising a good person who would someday positively contribute to society and the unknown of finding a new job that allowed me to be home with my daughter.

I could not imagine leaving my daughter with anyone. I surprised myself and my husband by not wanting to go back to my previous position. I was very ambitious and had enjoyed my job, but maternity leave had given me hours to assess my career trajectory. The prognosis was grim: my department had a flat management structure; I wasn’t using my true skills (writing, strategizing, and marketing) nearly enough; and, worst of all, I wasn’t happy. Looking at the tiny person in my arms, I realized that I didn’t need to make a change for me, I needed to make it for her. I needed to show her that you could enjoy your work and have a passion for what you do.

I wanted to give her the best possible version of myself. I discovered that version works from home.

After some scrambling, I found a job as a virtual assistant. The job was a blessing because it allowed me to see that I could manage my time while working from home, maintain a productive routine, and fulfill work priorities and personal goals. The job also satiated my love of learning because I worked with clients from all different backgrounds in a variety of industries. However, I didn’t want my earning potential or scope of work to be decided by someone else. So, I slowly built up enough clients to transition to full-time freelancing in March 2015. Then in June 2015, I set up The Sturm Agency and became an official business owner.

Since then, I’ve worked hard. I’ve gained and lost clients. I’ve learned some helpful time management tips. I’ve found tools that increase my productivity and rituals that help me get it all done.

Sometimes I feel like Superwoman, sometimes I feel like a hot mess, but I am always grateful. I get to do what I love while seeing my daughter grow up. I feel that I am truly getting the best of both worlds – motherhood and a career.

Ultimately my goal is to help other women who want to stay home with their children make a living wage working as freelancers. I want to share my knowledge and experiences in hopes that something I write can inspire or assist someone. I’ve been successfully working remotely since 2014 and full-time freelancing since 2015. I plan to do this as long as the universe allows me.

Thank you for visiting! I hope you leave here with a bit of knowledge you didn’t have before you found me.

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