This week we talk to Fi Shailes, a digital marketing freelancer.
Before we do, here’s your usual reminder to check out the Econsultancy jobs board if you’re looking for a change of scenery.
Econsultancy: Please describe your job: What do you do? And who do you report to?
Fi Shailes: I’m a digital marketer with two work hats. The first is one I wear proudly and snugly as a full-time digital manager for a very successful financial services consultancy. I sport the second sort of loosely, on a part-time basis in my digital freelancing life. And that is what I’ll be talking about here.
Working as a freelance digital marketer involves an array of tasks; from carrying out a bespoke combination of digital activities for each of my three clients (depending on their wants and needs), to dealing with enquiries and dedicating regular time to promoting myself and my expertise.
Typically, what I deliver for the client is a mixture of either short-term or long-term social media-related work, assessing website performance and making improvements, content marketing, and sometimes even a bit of PR work.
Due to the natural disposition of working ‘alone’ as a freelancer, I report only to myself and to whomever hired me on the client-side! The skills and experience that I’ve gained from previous full-time marketing roles (and of course my current role) has equipped me very nicely for this second line of work.
E: What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
FS: It’s pretty predictable what I’m going to say, but in order to juggle being a full-time digital manager and a part-time digital freelancer, you need to be very organised, possess good time management skills, and be topped up with enough discipline and motivation to complete the work required of you. If there’s a set deadline, you have to meet that deadline. Even if you are freelancing full-time, all the above still applies. You, and you alone are responsible and accountable for the job getting done. Or not.
You also need to have relationship management skills, and you need to be able to talk to people without coming across like a d**k.
People enquiring about what you can do for them need to feel like they can trust you right from the off – that placing their business in your hands, and giving you multiple logins for their precious things will end up benefitting them; rather than it being a complete nightmare. In short, they need reassurance that they’re making the right choice when they hire you, and not a costly mistake.
Being the natural introvert that I am, I quickly found myself on a steep learning curve where the whole dealing with people and ‘selling my skills’ bit was concerned, but I know it’s been a good exercise for me. It’s forced me to come out from behind the scenes where I do all the fiddly, tactical stuff, and engage with different kinds of people from different industries and sectors.
Personal development, professional growth, and all of that.
E: What do you love about your job? What sucks?
FS: I really enjoy the variety of challenges and problem-solving opportunities freelancing brings. There is a fulfilling sense of satisfaction that comes from solving those challenges and problems, and of course it’s great when a client is really pleased with what you’re doing, and tells you so. And recommends you / mentions you to others.
The flexibility that freelancing brings is also attractive to me; that, and the fact that it basically speeds up the rate at which I learn new things about digital, due to the fact that I’m doing it more.
What sucks are those times when there’s a sudden spike of work, and you find yourself with very little free time. In general, the negatives are few and far between, but the thing I find most difficult about freelancing is when you have situations where the person you’re working for doesn’t see your point of view when you’re trying to advise on something – it could be something strategic or tactical – they simply don’t agree or believe you. It hasn’t happened often with me, but when it has happened I’ve found it very difficult to overcome. You don’t want to upset anyone, so dealing with the odd ‘armchair marketer’ can be a real test of your skills in diplomacy.
E: What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
FS: I use Hubspot on a day-to-day basis anyway, so I’m really familiar with this piece of kit (I’m Inbound Certified through them too). I’m a big advocate of Hubspot, a bit of a fan girl, but I’m always open to trialling and experimenting with new tools – there’s so much out there to tinker with.
I use different things to help me plan and schedule content – this is really important due to my free time to freelance being so limited. For this purpose, I use Hubspot, Buffer and Crowdfire to help me promote content for three different clients.
E: How did you get into freelancing, and where might you go from here?
FS: I think that if I didn’t love specialising in digital so much, I wouldn’t have started freelancing. I am the type of person who is quietly ambitious, and to be honest, I was curious as to whether I could do it, and after two years of procrastinating over it, I finally planted a proverbial little acorn, and launched my site in January 2016.
Over the last year and a half, I have freelanced for different types of businesses – from sole traders to medium-sized enterprises who, for one reason or another, lack the resource and / or budget to carry out some or all of their digital marketing.
I’m lucky to have some supportive contacts, so half of my jobs have arisen from word-of-mouth referrals, whilst the other half has been acquired cold through someone making an online enquiry.
This, along with the infrequent digital blogs I write, has brought me encouraging feedback. Whilst I’m no Neil Patel or Jeff Bullas in the Digital Marketing Rockstar stakes, I have received the odd DM or email asking for my advice on things, asking where I learn from, etc, and it’s really flattering to think that I might come across to some people as though I really know what I’m doing.
I am sure I know what I’m doing, but it’s nice to be acknowledged occasionally by a peer or someone just starting out who ask for a kind of ‘point in the right direction’. And I don’t mind doing that.
E: Do you have any advice for people who want to freelance in digital media?
FS: I don’t do this full-time, so this is how I’d answer taking that into account. You need to love digital marketing, you need to be flexible, patient, and receptive to the different needs and wants of your client. You need to be reactive, proactive, and reliable. You need to be sure that it’s what you want, and you need to be confident that you can motivate yourself to get up early or stay up late to start or finish a job.
I can tell you that striking out as a freelancer can be confidence-building; it can be validating, it can be satisfying – and I’m so glad I took the time to try and start something for myself, because this acorn has grown into a little oak tree now.
Want to test your digital skills? Why not take our Modern Marketing Readiness test?