There’s no such thing as a free(lance) lunch: Karen Geier

There’s no such thing as a free(lance) lunch is a series that asks professional freelancers the questions you want to ask them.  Think of it as having coffee with everyone at the same time. This week: Karen Geier

Karen Geier

Karen Geier

Who are you, what do you do? What’s your speciality?

My name is Karen Geier. I am a Co-Founder of a Company called Shyndyg, and a Digital/Social Media Strategist. I also blog for a few news outlets on the subject of digital marketing, which is my speciality.

How long have you been freelancing?

I have been freelancing now for a year, but prior to this I freelanced for two years as a Digital Marketing consultant.

How did you/What made you start freelancing?

Part necessity (I had left a job and I was doing it to upgrade my skills with a variety of clients) and partly to be my own boss and have freedom in my life I hadn’t had in a few high-pressure companies.

How did you sell your first piece/pitch your first job?

The first job I pitched was to a business associate of a dear friend. We had an initial intake conversation where I asked a lot of questions and took notes. It was not clear until the end what she was actually looking for, but, as I summarized for her what I thought I was hearing, and then asked her for a direction, it became clear, and I put together a two-page overview for what she could do. A week later, we moved forward, and I worked with that client for a year, until her company merged with another company.

Sometimes, you’ll have to pitch blind for business, or you’ll be presented with VERY detailed set of constraints you have to work to, to the letter. My preferred method of pitching is still to ask questions, and listen. Often, you will hear red flags this way, or you will find out that their needs are larger or smaller than you initially expected. This is supremely important, because you should always try to only commit to what you can feasibly deliver.

What are the pros?

Setting your own schedule and priorities, definitely. Not having to deal with office politics or “team players” who are albatrosses around a team’s neck. My favourite perk has to be forging long-term relationships with clients (many businesswomen) who make me strive to improve my business and my approach.

What are the cons?

Whatever you’re making per hour, divide it in 3. That number is what you’re actually making, because a lot of time is actually spent pitching or doing business development activities, admin, bookeeping, etc. Plan and charge accordingly. You don’t have “a guy” to do any of that stuff for you at the beginning, and you shouldn’t farm it out. You should learn every aspect of what it takes to keep your company afloat.

Not having someone who understands your frustrations about the job you’re working on can suck sometimes, too. With coworkers, you can let off steam easier during stressful periods.

Let’s talk networking. Some people think of it as a dirty word. What do you think about networking and how do you do it?

I think networking is an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY, and anyone who says different must be someone with no shortage of clients, like a doctor, or an auto mechanic.

When you start out, you’re a salesperson. You’re trying to sell yourself. Anyone who is a salesperson by trade will tell you it’s primarily a numbers game. Increasing your business contacts is the only way to effectively up your numbers to achieve more sales. Most importantly, you think you live in a big city until you START networking, and then you learn how many people know other people and how quickly you can expand your circle (and potential client base) because of it.

“Networking” gets a bad rap because of the image we have of it: the sleazy ad salesman trying to make nice with people at some dire party at The Drake. That’s just flat out the wrong way to network.

My advice to people who are reticent to network is to leverage social media to the HILT. Tweet at authors of articles you like and express your gratitude. Add people on LinkedIn who you would like to talk to with a short, polite (and grammatically correct) personalised note as to why you think you two should talk. If you lower the stakes for the people you want to meet, you increase your chances of a positive result 1000 fold. DO NOT, under any circumstances, add people and start making demands on them or pitch them. We live in a world where we can turn off ads, so we certainly don’t want people in our faces trying desperately to sell themselves.

If you build relationships with people online, then running into them at parties is a much more palatable experience. You don’t have to have flop sweat hoping you’ll be charming.

Is it really who you know when you freelance?

It’s partially who you know, please see my answer to #7. Your friends and acquaintances can only get you in the door. You have to know your shit once you start pitching and you have to deliver. I know people who have not put up good friends for jobs because that friend was deemed unreliable. No one’s going to take a chance on someone who will cost them credibility at their workplace.

What do you think about the ‘pick your brain over coffee’ invite? Do you do it?

There’re usually three cases in which this type of invitation is proposed:

1.  Someone is starting out and is in the weeds and needs advice.

2.  Someone is a good friend and is embarking on a new project on which they need guidance from someone experienced, but the guidance is cursory.

3.  Someone is trying to get free shit and they don’t actually want to pay your hourly rate to get the help they need, yet they have budget for lots of other things.

In cases 1 and 2, I’m all over it. I love to share war stories and point people in the right direction. This is always a good investment of time, and I never say no. In case 3, I usually demur to meet the person, because I am not hard up for a free lunch so much that I would give away what I do for a living to someone who does not intend to be appreciative or to follow-on and hire me to consult. Perhaps it’s harsh on the outside, but when you work 18 hour days, you don’t need to have your time treated like it’s worth nothing.

Do you think you have to have a certain personality to freelance?

Definitely. This is not something you go into if you like to be a cog in the wheel, doing just what’s in your job description, and going home at 5 pm. This is a life choice. If you can’t get your ass out of bed, and get motivated to do your work, do not freelance. You will crash and burn.

What are your tips?

Stop worrying so much about what someone *might* think about you when you start networking and then when you go on and pitch. You will NEVER be the worst person who has pitched, it’s statistically impossible. Know your business inside and out. Know the vertical that your potential clients are in well enough so that you don’t look like a buffoon.

Ask questions along the way, but ask them smartly. (For instance, if you’re taking over a job that was held by another company or person for a long time, ask about the direction that other company took, rather than how that client wants you to do something.

Take mental notes about the personality and preferences of your clients. Remember things like birthdays and anniversaries if they tell you. You can be the best in your trade, but if you have the personality of a drywall board, the relationship will never grow.

Do you think freelancing is a viable way of making a full-time living?

It is, but you have to work your ass off to make it be. It won’t be at the start, so save up before you make your decision, or marry rich (I don’t make life choices for people.) You have to hustle. You have to say yes a lot. You will have to miss ragers sometimes because you’re putting projects to bed, but when you can take off in your quiet time for a trip, it’s worth it.

Something people may overlook when going into freelancing is that it can be a way to jump start your career instead of staying at the same company, working your way up, which has a lot of variables, and could take a long time. Because you’re constantly creating and doing (and you will rapidly build a portfolio), you will become a subject matter expert pretty quickly, and if you’re promoting yourself, companies will sit up and take notice. If you’re not sure about freelancing for life, that’s a valid strategy, too.

A final note of caution: if you’re a person who identifies as “not being great with money,” go IMMEDIATELY to your bank and talk to someone about financial planning. Get a book by Gail Vaz-Oxlade and educate yourself. Sometimes the money is coming in fast, and if you’re not disciplined, it’s easy to fall into the trap of spending it just as fast. You’ll need to keep some of it for when it’s slow. I have seen a few people really struggle in this area, and it’s easily fixed. You can set up things at a bank so you’re automatically contributing to a “rainy day fund” once a month, so you won’t get caught short.


Free(lance) lunch is a weekly series published every Monday. If you are a freelancer and want to be featured on Free(lance) lunch, please email [email protected].



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