Community Member Spotlight
Freelancer Operating System
Based in the UK, Natalie runs a marketing agency called Niam Marketing. Through Niam, she is on a mission to give businesses more time to make their impact by building world-class automated customer experiences for sales and marketing. Natalie has also just launched a new product called Freelancer OS.
Natalie Shares Her Freelancer Journey
Q You recently released Freelancer Operating System to all of your pre-order purchasers. How has that been going for you?
A It’s been good. I think, as a founder you forget sometimes how stressful a product launch can be. Last week, I was putting the last bits and pieces on the freelance operating system and pushing it live to all the people that had pre-purchased and kindly supported me for the alpha launch. And I think I might have worked 12 hours every day for about four or five days and I didn’t realize that until I hit that final Launch button. And I have to say, I have been trying my hardest to chill out a bit since the launch. And it’s nice to have this time to chat with you because to be honest, until now, I’ve had my head down building and trying to push the product out to all the people that have been waiting for it.
Q You have been doing a fantastic job of promoting the pre-sale and launch of Freelancer OS. Did you find it difficult to manage the time needed to get the word out, while also working to finish the product?
A It’s kind of tricky. When you’re a solo entrepreneur, or when you’re trying to build something and trying to launch something, it’s almost like you have to have two brains. You have to have your developer brain that’s building, building, building, but at the same time, you need to have your marketing brain that’s promoting, promoting, promoting. If you build without sharing what your building, no one knows about it, and no one’s gonna purchase it. But if you share too much about it and don’t build it, you’ll share so much that you won’t have anything to show for afterwards. So I have to say it has been a challenge. That was, I would say, the biggest challenge. Trying to get that balance right between talking about your product and building your product.
Q Natalie, can you take a few minutes to share your journey to becoming a freelancer and some of your past experiences?
A I suppose this a good place to start in terms of when did I start freelancing? And why did I actually start building the Freelancer Operating System? So my background in freelancing started way, way back in, I think it was 2012, 2013, It might have even been before that. I actually started freelancing in something completely different to technology. I started as a freelance dance teacher, which is so, so, different to anything digital. But at same time I had to market myself, I had to build up my presence online. I managed to get all my jobs through Facebook. I went and taught at schools and did freelance teaching at after school clubs for children who had behavioral difficulties.
I didn’t really think of this as freelancing at the time, it was just a matter of, I needed some money, and I could teach dancing. So I needed to figure out how to become a dance teacher for people that would pay for a dance teacher. That was my first experience of freelancing back when I was at university, so it actually would have been pre 2009. That was really quite a long time ago. After that, I studied for a science degree and I became a physiotherapist. And like many others, I had a full time job, but I freelanced on the side. So once I qualified as a physio, I worked full time for the NHS, but then freelanced as a private physio for sports clubs, and for private clinics. I still had to advertise myself as a physio, I still had to somehow get my foot in the door of those big professional clubs. I managed to work myself all the way up until I became the physiotherapist for the Hong Kong lacrosse team who were on a World Cup tour of the UK. I managed to do that whole, getting myself out there as a freelance physiotherapist and that was before I moved into operations and marketing. A lot of my digital marketing experience started in post 2014. I’d say that is when I started working a lot more with marketing. I had full time job, but I always wanted that side hustle, I wanted something extra to do. Because of my background in performing arts, I was always quite good at telling stories, which managed to get me a freelance position for Ted Talks. I started helping with writing and curating TED talks for Microsoft and for cancer research. But again, that was very much about going out, building a profile for myself, reaching out to the right people, sending proposals and closing deals. What I realized at this point was that the tricky thing wasn’t the skill, having the skill that you’ve built up for yourself is something that you have complete control over. It’s the business management side, the raising your brand awareness, getting your foot in the door with the right people, managing leads to close deals, and then delivering the work in a way that people wanted to work with you again, that actually remained consistent across all of the different roles regardless of what my skill was. Over the years, I learned more and more how to do that effectively and once I built up my skills and my experience freelancing I actually went completely solo a few years ago now, I think it was 2017 or 2018. That time was when I went out completely freelance, in marketing, full time and that was an exciting journey.
Q I’m interested to know, what brought you to where you are now, developing a product of your own?
A Now, I do a lot of digital marketing. I do digital marketing for big companies, small companies, startups internationally. So I’ve worked with top tech companies in Kuwait. I’ve worked with health tech companies in the UK, over in America. So lots of different companies and I work completely remotely now. I’ve been fortunate enough myself, to have enough work that I’m able to hire freelancers. It was really interesting when I started hiring freelancers to see it from the other side, to see where I could help them get more work by teaching them some of those things that you don’t get taught as a freelancer. Yes, you get taught your skill. Yes, you study hard, but you don’t really ever study sales or marketing or how to pitch yourself.
Q I know you have somewhat left freelancing and are now running your own digital marketing agency. What made you decide to make the switch or was it just a natural progression?
A To be honest, the agency came as a result of lockdown in the UK, from the pandemic. So what happened during lockdown was, all of a sudden there was this influx of people that didn’t have any work. But I had work. So I thought, well, rather than me taking all the work and serving it as a freelancer by myself, why don’t I take the things that I can delegate to other freelancers and bring more freelancers on and grow the business? So that’s what I started doing. I started, going on WhatsApp groups where everybody was like, can you help me find work? Can you help me with this on Facebook groups? You know, that sudden panic where everybody sort of became furloughed and lost their jobs?
Q Are there any insights you would like to share with anyone in our community who might be thinking of make the move from freelancing to agency owner?
The key thing is to really make sure that you understand your sales funnel. So when you are scaling up, you need more leads, you need more clients, because if you don’t have more clients, you won’t be able to sustain paying your staff or paying the freelancers that you have. And if you don’t give freelancers or your workers work, they will find work elsewhere, and then you will be very much down to working on your own all over again. So the most important thing is to get your brand built as an agency, get your personal name out there attached to your agency, as well as your agency itself and making sure that agency has had a real call to people, so clients want to work with you, as an agency.
Q When you moved to operating your own agency, what type of work or client did you focus you energy towards attracting, to keep your pipeline full? Was it more recurring services or upselling clients you were already working with?
A I work a lot on attracting larger customers. People that already have the budget, that’s the first step to make sure that people are qualified. The people that are reaching out to you, start with making sure you qualify them even before having a call. You’re right as well. Cross selling and upselling into accounts is important. And we cover this in the freelancer OS, but it can also be applied to agency owners as well. It’s very much like that model, when you go to Starbucks, or you go to McDonald’s, they always ask you, do you want to go large? And you’re like, no, I’m okay. Thank you. You never get annoyed at them, you just say, no thanks.
Q So would you say then, that building relationships and trust was key to your success?
A You hit the nail on the head there really, trust and building relationships is the most important thing in business. Building authentic, genuine, real relationships with people. So you can truly understand how you can provide them with value. Because only once you know what is value to them, will you know how to price yourself effectively. You might be doing lots and lots of work. But if your customer doesn’t see the value in what you’re providing, they’re not going to pay for it. Whereas there might be things that take you much less time that they value highly. And then you charge based on the value pricing model which is something that we cover and freelance service as well.
Q Can you tell everyone a little bit more about Freelancer Operating System?
A The Freelancer Operating System is a system to help freelancers master their business, it’s to help you find better quality customers, and more of them, in less time. The idea sort of happened because that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to earn more in less time. And I suppose I started writing it for myself initially. And if I’m having this problem, lots of other people must be having this problem. So I started bringing together all the resources that I’ve been using for years, putting down a strategy for how freelancers can earn more in less time by going through a clear system. So that’s what the Freelancing Operating System is. It’s split into two key parts.
Q Your website address and branding show up as Freelance Notion but the product name is Freelancer Operating System. Does this mean that you have plans to add more products in the near future or expand on the current product offering?
A You’re right in saying that Freelance Notion is the brand in which Freelancer OS exists underneath. And actually, I didn’t initially give Freelance OS its name, it was actually the community that gave it that name on Twitter. I put it out there that I was building Freelance Notion and then all of a sudden, Twitter went mad, just saying Natalie Furness is building a Freelancer Operating System. So actually, I pivoted the name of the product to what the community called it. And then that’s when I came up with this idea of, well, maybe Freelancer OS is just the first product in a series that will help freelancers. And I’ve already had a request to turn Freelance OS into an E book.