Since I started freelancing, I’ve realized that a lot of freelancers live in Asia. So, I’ve been curious about what it’s like to work as a virtual assistant in Asia. Then I “met” Kay. We share a freelance client in common and have become fast internet friends. Now I know I have to do an Asia trip ASAP.
I talked to Kay about her work as a freelance virtual assistant. We discussed her path to freelancing, what her job entails, her type B approach to work, and what she gets up to when she’s not working. If you’re a new freelancer, you may find Kay’s tips helpful!
Tell us what you do for a living and how long you’ve been working freelance.
I work as a virtual assistant (VA) on Upwork, doing data entry/general administrative tasks and I have been freelancing for about three years now.
How did you end up freelancing? Was it always something you wanted to do? Did you ever work a 9-5? At what point did you realize that the 9-5 life was not for you; what convinced you?
During my last year in university, my friend asked me to do an audio transcription gig for her on Upwork because she was busy with her day job and couldn’t do it herself. I had some spare time so I thought I could just do it for some extra cash. Well, I ended up enjoying the work and eventually set up my own profile on Upwork.
I never thought freelancing was even an option as an occupation. Before that first gig, I didn’t even know what that entailed. My mindset, at that time, was that after graduation everyone should go work for a company. I was also very unfamiliar with the whole virtual setup because I took Chemical Engineering, so I wouldn’t typically find jobs in my field online.
Although I loved everything I learned from university and was prepared to apply for interviews in the industry, I felt like it wasn’t the path I was called for. I took (and passed!) my licensing exam, but instead of being driven to pursue the profession, I became more convinced that it wasn’t the direction of God’s calling for me. Instead, I had a strong impression that the direction was more related to studying Mandarin in Taiwan. It felt like an insurmountable goal at that time because I had absolutely no financial means to get there and it raised a dilemma about “passion versus profession.”
But I have proven over and over in my life that where God calls, He provides. I was led to work at a software company (I know, nowhere near my end of the spectrum) and found a stable freelance job I could do at night. I recognized this as God’s provision because after a year and a half, I was able to save the money I needed to move to Taiwan. So I resigned from my day job last November and began freelancing full time. I was scared to commit to freelance work because it’s very unpredictable and I don’t like not having a backup plan. But I decided to step in faith and trust in God’s grace for my needs.
How long did it take you to find a rhythm with freelancing and what steps did you take to find clients and market yourself to potential clients?
I probably have the most boring Upwork profile. I absolutely hate false marketing and I didn’t want to include all these “fancy” skills I wasn’t confident about. Also I didn’t want write clichés about who I am; anyone can claim to be anything and everything.
At the start, I took small contracts where I received good feedback, and very slowly after a year and a few more projects, I have been constantly receiving job invites from clients. A couple of them actually start their message with “you have an impressive profile”, which I still doubt is true because (seriously) anyone can do what I do.
But I realized that the best marketing is having good feedback from clients because it reflects your character and work ethic. You never really know anyone you meet on the internet. So it’s exactly as David J. Greer said, “a customer (client) talking about their experience with you is worth ten times that which you write or say about yourself.”
[bctt tweet=”I realized that the best marketing is having good feedback from clients because it reflects your character and work ethics.” username=”afomaumesi”]
What challenges did you face in the beginning and how did you cope? What challenges do you still face as a freelancer?
Contrary to common belief, “freelancers” aren’t really “free” (to do whatever they want). We have deadlines and we are accountable to our clients. It was a struggle for me to juggle my day job with freelance work because (obviously) I was probably biting off more that I could chew.
[bctt tweet=”Contrary to common belief, “freelancers” aren’t really “free” (to do whatever they want). We have deadlines and we are accountable to our clients.” username=””]
Now that I’m freelancing full-time, I struggle to keep up with motivation. Back when I had a 9-5, I would wake up about the same time everyday, go to meetings, report to my boss, and respond to a handful of emails. Now, I feel like life is so quiet. I open my inbox and find no emails. When I do get one, I feel like it’s Christmas. I’m still getting used to not reporting to my boss about every single thing that’s happening during the day. I miss being part of a team and working with the same mission and vision. But so far it’s been working for me because I get to focus on other important things.
[bctt tweet=”freelancer problems: I’m still getting used to not reporting to my boss about every single thing that’s happening during the day. I miss being part of a team and working with the same mission and vision.” username=””]
How do you deal with slower work seasons? Do you think work-life balance is possible for freelancers? If you’ve figured this out, I’d love to hear your tips!
The more I work on the same thing, the less I learn new skills and it leaves me tired and restless. So, I use downtime to study and discover new interests.
I feel like goals give me balance. If I focus on a goal I can work without bitterness and enjoy life contentedly. As for work life balance, all I’ll say is that for some people, work is life but we can’t judge them for it. So go with whatever works for you.
How did you figure out how best to price your services? That’s something a lot of business owners & content creators struggle with.
I’m probably the worst person to ask this question because I never negotiate with clients. I always just accept whatever rate they offer me, if it works for me. But I’m also very picky. I value work relationships, so I always do a little bit of background check to see if they’re legit and reliable. That way, when I accept the bid, I trust that they’re compensating me enough.
What do you love most about what you do? How have things changed for you since you started?
I love that I get to interact with ALL kinds of people from all over the world and learn about their different personalities. I’m not saying that one person is representative of a culture, but I have observed correlations with the way people communicate based on their demographic. I find that really interesting and somehow I feel like the world just keeps getting smaller.
I’m from a small island in the Philippines (a country most people had never heard of until Miss Universe came in the picture) but I like that when I work with clients from big countries, I don’t ever feel small or stupid. I like that I get the same respect that I extend towards them, and this experience definitely broadened my perspective of the world around me.
I appreciate having had a corporate job but now I have a chance to pursue other interests without enslaving myself. I have more freedom to learn and make mistakes, then start over!
[bctt tweet=”I appreciate having had a corporate job but now I have a chance to pursue other interests without enslaving myself. I have more freedom to learn and make mistakes, then start over!” username=””]
What’s the biggest lesson freelancing has taught you?
I probably learned a lot of social skills from interacting and communicating with different clients. I’ve also realized that not everything is about technical skills. You can be very skilled at what you do but if you don’t know how to work with people, you won’t last long anywhere. Clients don’t like working with brilliant people whose attitude they can’t stand. The whole nitty-grity you can just learn along the way–but get your attitude right first.
[bctt tweet=”Not everything is about technical skills. You can be very skilled at what you do but if you don’t know how to work with people, you won’t last long anywhere.” username=””]
What do you wish you knew about freelancing before you started; what would you do differently?
I used to think that freelancers were lazy people (Sorry!) because “they” (now me) don’t follow with the norm. To me then, people went freelance just because they didn’t want to work under someone. But I was so wrong. Everyone has their own reasons.
Now that I am one of them, I realize it’s really hard work. You are not handed jobs; you have to earn every single contract. It’s not a joke and is worthy of it respect. If I knew this earlier, I would have responded differently towards people who chose to go this path before I did.
Morning person or night owl? What three things are part of your morning ritual?
Afternoon/Night owl. Though I wake up early, I’m not awake until noon. I usually have my quiet time to read my Bible first thing in the morning, then coffee. Then I listen to music while I check my emails. I love reading emails!
Who are your favorite writers (online/print) to read?
I read a lot of biographies. I also like Christian authors, such as Elizabeth Elliot, Francine Rivers, and Karen Kingsbury. If I want to read some fiction or epic fantasies I would definitely go for Brandon Sanderson. Right now, I’m reading books by authors from different cultures like Sabaa Tahir, Tahereh Mafi, and Tomi Adeyemi. I like authors who project some of the their background into their writing.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Eat. Sleep. Read. Coffee. Travel. Hiking. I also like to read about all kinds of things from the internet like different countries and what the people there are like, or science news and other random things. It usually depends on my mood but I always think of something.
Kay Kathleen Belaniso is a Filipino-Chinese, born and raised in the Philippines but currently living in Taiwan to (re)learn Mandarin. She enjoys camping, and relaxes with nature and books. She also likes watching foreign movies without subtitles–accents are like music to her ears!
Want more freelancer interviews? Check out Mollie’s and this one by Joy Ehonwa (both freelance editors!). If you’re a freelancer who’d like to be interviewed, shoot me an email at afoma[at]afomaumesi.com.
Have you ever considered freelancing? Or do you prefer the stability of a 9-5? If you’re a freelancer, please introduce yourself in the comments; I’d love to connect!
Robert Botha says
Great interview guys! Lots of valuable insights here.
I also couldn’t agree more with this line: “Clients don’t like working with brilliant people whose attitude they can’t stand. The whole nitty-grity you can just learn along the way–but get your attitude right first.”
I always hire people based on their attitudes in the interview process. Anyone can learn a skill. But people rarely change their attitudes.
Hopefully I can build up the team vision and atmosphere in the future. That’s something that doesn’t come very easily to me. 🙂
Afoma Umesi says
Hi Robert! Hiring for attitude makes a lot of sense. Thanks for reading 😀
Kay Kathleen Belaniso says
I never expected anyone would actually read this — least of all, my boss. Excuse me while I go hide under a rock now 😂