When we were drafting a new list of people to feature in the Freelancer Spotlight series, Gina suggested we should feature Emily.
The two of them had been working together as part of Brennan Dunn’s Double Your Freelancing program, and Gina was sure that Emily would have great insights on life as a solopreneur.
And Emily delivered plenty of gems with honesty and humor.
Welcome to Fully Booked VA, Emily!
What do you do and how long have you been in business?
I am a web designer and brand strategist for women entrepreneurs and fashion designers. I just celebrated my 6th anniversary of being a freelancer! The past two and a half of those years have been full time.
The first three years were spent doing the freelancer dance – working other odd jobs to help get my business off the ground and even freelancing alongside a full time marketing job for a year. It sounds exhausting, but it was such a necessary part of understanding how important it was that I work for myself.
What got you into freelancing? Was it what you expected?
I decided to become a web designer when I arrived home from a year-long backpacking trip around Australia. I was 24 years old and had just experienced remote living for the first time. I knew then and there that it was a lifestyle I wanted to pursue.
I thought, “Right now, I need a lifestyle that will allow me to travel wherever and whenever I want to and in the future, I’ll need a lifestyle that will allow me to be where my family needs me to be.”
Being a freelancer was the best option to attain that freedom.
As for the design part? I had a marketing background and knew I wanted to do something creative every day.
I had zero expectations for what freelancing would be like. My eye was on the prize: freedom.
And because of that focus on the end goal, you could’ve ran over my MacBook with a bus, and I would’ve still found a way to run my business the next day. And looking back at my journey, it makes perfect sense that I chose to do it and stuck with it. It’s fast-paced, always interesting, and it’s rewarding. Three qualities I’m very energized by.
What’s been the most challenging part of solopreneurship so far?
The most challenging part for me is being the sole person responsible for making business decisions. The thing is: I love being a part of the growth of my business, but sometimes I feel really stumped on how to move forward with something. I would love to have a partner with a different set of strengths to share that responsibility with. Someone who can come in and say, let’s do it this way because of X, Y, and Z.
Did you ever want to quit or give up?
Umm … absolutely.
The first three years of freelancing were hard.
I was working service industry jobs at night and freelancing in the morning, and on top of that, I was making so many mistakes.
I didn’t know how to sell my services or even price them, and I was saying yes to everything so I could get the experience.
There were so many times that I thought going full time would never happen and that I was just not cut out for it.
It took getting a full-time marketing job for me to really understand two things: the kind of life I wanted to live and exactly what I needed to fix within my own business. The key, as it turned out, was hiring a business coach! That, coupled with getting laid off from my marketing job, created the perfect intersection for me to begin my next chapter.
The same week I got laid off from my job, I started working with my coach, and one month later I was in Costa Rica re-launching my business a block away from the beach.
What tasks in your business would you like to outsource?
I can honestly say that I love every aspect of running my business. I really do! But I know there are some things that it makes the most sense to outsource, and for my business, those things are the client intake process and the project wrap up.
With web design, there are a lot of files and information that need to be organized and shared at the start and end of a project, and if it’s not done efficiently, it can lead to disorganization and unnecessary stress, and we don’t want that 🙂
How do you stay motivated and productive when working solo?
I’ll say it: money motivates me. Freedom does as well.
Together, they give me the ability to be able to live wherever I want to live, travel wherever I want to, and see my friends when they need me or I need them. And as for productivity? For me, my productivity weighs heavily on whether or not I’ve had a good night’s sleep and some daily exercise. I know – boring snoring answer, but it’s true. I know that I do my best work in the morning, so if I sleep in, I’m probably not going to get a ton of design work done that day.
And with all of that being said, sometimes it’s 2:30 in the afternoon, and all I want to do is lay on the couch and watch a documentary. And you know what? I’ll let myself do that.
For me, allowing myself those little breaks that I wouldn’t get in a more traditional career path, are part of what makes me feel rewarded by freelancing.
What are some big successes you’ve had recently?
With the help of Gina and some of my other classmates in Double Your Freelancing Academy (<affiliate link), I’ve started offering roadmapping sessions. I consider this to be a huge success because it’s a remarkable way to set your project up for success from both a planning and strategy perspective, and a client relationship standpoint.
I love being able to help my clients get clear on exactly what they want from our work together, and at the same time test out the waters for our dynamic and communication styles. It builds trust and most importantly, gets us organized.
What are some specific strategies and pieces of advice that helped you grow?
Two important things come to mind:
First, I learned how to control the sales conversation.
A couple of years ago, I came across an article that outlined some pretty life changing advice for my business: Stop ending your emails with ‘let me know.’ We think we’re being helpful and patient, but really all we’re doing is putting the reigns of the project into the client’s hands, and that isn’t what they’re paying us for.
So regardless of whether you’re trying to bring someone on board, or you’re in the middle of a project, take control of the conversation by ending your emails with a suggestion for the next step or recommendation for a solution. It’s helped me to position myself as an expert and provide a more valuable experience for my clients.
Secondly, I take pride in customer service and appreciation.
If there’s one thing I love the most about running my business, it’s making my clients happy. This is partially because I’m a little bit of a people-pleaser (in life), but mainly because happy clients = smooth projects.
Website launches can traditionally be pretty stressful. At least that’s what people say. But my goal is to make it an exciting experience for both myself and my clients, and I do that by trying to remain friendly and calm in all communications, and by regularly sending notes and gifts to show my appreciation.
Creating a customer experience is not only what keeps clients coming back to work with me, but it also acts as a huge motivator for me.
What are you most excited about for your business next?
2017 is going to be a year of collaborations! I’ve finally reached a point in my business where it’s time to start bringing in other experts who can help me provide the highest quality product possible for my clients. So that means – an SEO expert, an additional graphic designer, a social media expert, and a photographer.
We’ll all continue to run our separate freelance businesses, but work collaboratively with certain clients to create a unified product and vision. I’m SO excited to finally be taking such a big step forward in creating even more value for my clients, but also: I get to work with more creative; for me, nothing beats that.
Hi, I’m Emily. I’m a one-woman web design shop devoted to clean and simple, all-inclusive web design. Simply put, my job is to take your business from concept to creation by building you a website and brand that tells your visual story and showcases the true value of what you do. You can have a look at my web design portfolio at Emily Belyea Creative or connect with me on Twitter.