Interview with Justin Kownacki – freelance content and marketing all-rounder

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Justin has problems finding an exact term that describes what he is doing. His tasks and projects vary from year to year. So Justin is a freelance writer, a video editor, a project manager and a digital marketer as well. He decided to freelance, because he wanted more control over his time and his career. Because he knows about the challenges of freelancing, he decided to start a coaching service for freelancers to help them have a good start in the freelance sector. Besides Justin highly recommends social media and networking to market oneself and get jobs…
1) Hello Justin, thanks for your participation in our freelancer insides interview series. Firstly, can you tell our users a bit about yourself and what you do?
I think this answer is different every time I give it, because I have a versatile set of skills and I don’t do the exact same thing for any two clients. I’m a writer, a video editor, a project manager, and a digital marketer, among other things. As a result, my clients and projects are often different from year to year – from helping launch online educational courses to managing internal training videos or writing lead generation articles for client blogs and email marketing campaigns. All this variety can be exciting, but it also makes it a bit difficult to sum myself up. I hate to just use the term “marketer” or “content creator” because that feels too vague. Maybe I should invent a new term.

2) What was your inspiration and when did you actually decide to become a freelancer?
I first went freelance in 2005. I had been at my day job as a video editor for five years, and I wanted more control of my own time and my career’s direction, so I left to become a freelance videographer. That freelance stint lasted for 7 years, during which time I became a specialist in online videos, which led me to become a specialist in online marketing. In 2012 I took another day job as Digital Marketing Manager for a national brand… but over time I found that I wasn’t a great fit for the role as the company envisioned it, so I dove back into the freelance waters once again. That was in November 2014, and I’ve been staying afloat ever since.

3) What was the most challenging obstacle when starting your own business?
Aside from easily summing myself up so I can better explain my value to potential clients? I’d say my real challenge has been structuring my time. At a day job, other people are responsible for doing the things you’re not expected to do –  r&d, sales, tech support, etc. – and that allows you to focus on what you do best. But when you’re freelancing, you’re responsible for the financial health of your “company,” even if your entire company is just you. So when you’re freelancing, your real job is always finding the next gig, the next client, and the next paycheck. That lack of financial stability and focus can be extremely challenging, and it’s easy to spend a week working hard on a project so it turns out perfectly… only to realize you haven’t bothered lining up the next job. So I’m working on finding a better balance to all those “other” tasks that I tend to overlook when I’m in the creative zone.

4) In 2015 you launched the coaching service “Freelance Rush” to help freelancers who want to start their own business? What is it all about?
Freelance Rush is the result of all the times people hear I’m a freelancer and immediately start asking me for advice on how they can do what they love to do and get paid for it as a side job, or even as a career. I began by offering 1-on-1 consultations with aspiring freelancers, to help them organize their thought process, define their value proposition, identify potential clients and revenue streams, and set up a 90-day startup plan for themselves. Then I got busy toward the end of 2015 and I had to put my coaching on hold. But people can still sign up for my Freelance Rush emails, which is where I’ll eventually announce when my consulting services reopen.

5) What is your motivation to help other freelancers with their solo business?
Starting out as a freelancer can be daunting because it’s a very different thought process and workflow compared to a day job, where people are used to work just landing on their desks like clockwork. It has its own legal, functional, and perceptual challenges, and I think they prevent a lot of people from starting their own freelance business because it can seem too difficult or too complicated. So if I can help them make sense of those hurdles up front, hopefully it gives them a better perspective and some support as they take those first steps on their own.

6) Let’s go for a question which might be interesting for all newbie freelancers and Start-ups. How do you find new clients?
Personally, I get almost all of my work through my existing social networks. I used to blog almost daily about digital marketing, so I built up a small following online, and that turned into some long-term connections that are still bearing fruit to this day. As a freelancer, I think it’s incredibly important that EVERYONE in your network –  from family and friends to acquaintances and ex-coworkers –  know what you love to do, and what you’d like to be doing more of. Most of my work comes from referrals by friends or past clients, but I’ve even gotten jobs based on referrals by complete strangers who followed me on Twitter and liked my work and my POV, so when they noticed someone else in their network needed to hire someone who does what I do, they put us in touch. So I would say use whatever means works for you –  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, website, blog, email, live events, volunteering, etc. –  to ensure that the people in your life understand what you do, so they can easily recommend you to others.

7) Can you provide any Marketing tips and tricks for freelancers?
When starting out, I highly recommend that a new freelancer specializes in providing a clear solution whose value is easily understandable by anyone who hears it. Don’t just think about what you like to do; think about the problems your potential clients need to have solved. For example, if you’re a freelance programmer, how can your strengths be pitched as solutions? If you’re an expert in UX that’s proven to convert… then you’re a designer whose expertise can help your client’s websites boost revenue. If you’re a perfectionist with an eye for errors who takes pride in creating code that’s virtually error-free the first time around… then your expertise will save your client time and money in terms of revisions and turnaround time. Remember: on paper, your client doesn’t care about your personal dreams and goals; they want to know how you can help their business (or life) get better, stronger, faster, healthier, and more valuable and fulfilling. So pitch yourself in terms that will help your clients see you not just as a service provider but as a partner in their own success.

NOTE: I realize that this might seem like a contradiction, since I myself am a generalist at the moment, but that’s because each of my current clients met me a different way and they each knew I had a different skill that they needed. If I was starting completely from scratch, I’d be specializing from day one.)

8)  How do you manage the pressure of meeting deadlines? Do you use any specific apps or software tools for self-organization, invoicing and something else?
This is one area where I’m NOT experienced, because I am defiantly low-tech. I’ve never been a big fan of apps, or of using a dozen different tools to accomplish one thing. So I actually do all my invoicing, budgeting, etc., in very simple documents and text files. I should probably switch to a digital bookkeeping service at some point, but my accounting isn’t that complicated yet.

9) What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a freelance career? And what does it takes to be successful as a freelancer?
Keep your expenses and overhead low, your profit margins healthy, and your roster full. Never forget that your revenue isn’t guaranteed, so do whatever you can to make sure you always have another job (and another invoice) in the pipeline. Learn to manage your time, and your expectations. A lot of people have trouble staying focused or motivated when they are their own boss, because they think if they slack off, they’re the only person who will suffer –  but that’s a fallacy, because even when you stumble as a freelancer, that hurts your ability to grow your skill set, your reputation, your network, and your revenue, all of which affect your livelihood and peace of mind. If you have that problem, find other freelancers (in person or online) and form an accountability group or mastermind group that will enable you to help keep each other focused on your short and long-term goals. It’s easy to let your to-do list slide when no one else is looking at it, but it’s much harder to justify not updating your portfolio for the third straight week of your peers asking you why it’s not done yet.

10) Last but not least, what are the top three books, blogs or magazines you read to stay up to date in the IT-market?
NOTE: This question is about the IT market, which isn’t my market. That may have been a leftover question from a previous interview. So I’ll answer below according to media in general.

To be honest, I read very few blogs or magazines regularly. For better or worse, the vast majority of my information comes to me through Twitter and Facebook, and then I’ll click through selectively from there. However, I’m very conscious in my curation of who I follow on those channels, because I try to ensure that I’m getting a good variety of news and perspectives. So I suggest following a wide variety of people and publishers, across multiple geographic regions and fields of interest. The more different kinds of information you have coming in, the more opportunities you have to learn something unexpected or to associate two completely unrelated topics into a new idea.

WHERE TO FIND YOU?

Website: http://justinkownacki.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/justinkownacki
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/justinkownacki
Freelance Rush: http://freelancerush.com/

Natalia Campana

Natalia is part of the international team at freelancermap. She loves the digital world, social media and meeting different cultures. Before she moved to Germany and joined the freelancermap team she worked in the US, UK and her home country Spain. Now she focuses on helping freelancers and IT professionals to find jobs and clients worldwide at www.freelancermap.com

By Natalia Campana

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