Samantha, originally from the UK, has lived and worked abroad for over 10 years. In 2013 she started her freelancing career while working for a remotely destination company. Even though she started out as a journalist, she decided then to focus more on web development. Both the pandemic and recent political changes (Brexit) in her passport country (UK), inspired her to launch a service, Digital Émigré, to help remote workers and freelancers emigrate to the EU and gain citizenship. Her past freelance experiences in web development, digital marketing and journalism have been invaluable in this new venture.
Hello Samantha, thanks for taking part in our “freelancer insides” series. First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I’m an online entrepreneur, journalist and digital marketer, originally from the UK. I’ve lived and worked abroad since 2005 (in China, Belgium, Qatar, Turkey, Lisbon and now Madeira), and have been freelancing for the last eight years.
What was your inspiration and when did you actually decide to become a freelancer?
I started freelancing in 2013, working remotely for a destination marketing company. This company hired all remote staff and I chose to go self-employed in order to work on a number of side projects at the same time. This was my first real taste of freelancing and I loved the freedom and flexibility it provided. I had been blogging and taking an online journalism course that same year, and in early 2014 I decided to relocate to Istanbul to begin a career in freelance journalism. I chose Istanbul because it seemed like a city with a lot of stories, located in the heart of the turbulent Middle East. Before freelancing I worked in public relations. I now freelance full-time and have recently moved into doing more consultancy and less web development and journalism.
I love the freedom and flexibility freelancing provides.
You are now based in Madeira: when and why did you decide to move there?
I decided to move to Madeira in November 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. At the time, I was already living and working remotely in Lisbon, so Madeira was an easy journey. I thought it would be the perfect place to wait out the pandemic, away from the crowded hassle of big city life. Madeira is an excellent place for remote workers. The island has a growing digital nomad community of internationals from all over. The warm weather, outdoor activities and beautiful nature offer a very good quality of life. What’s more, Madeira is very well-connected by air, both to mainland Portugal and to destinations further afield.
You mentioned that you have a new business: can you tell us a bit more about it?
Sure! The idea came to me during the political problems caused by Brexit. As a UK passport holder, I felt annoyed that my rights to European freedom of movement were being taken away without my consent. That drove me to move to Portugal and take up residency here. In a few more years, I plan to apply for Portuguese citizenship and rejoin the EU.
While making my plans to move to Portugal, I noticed that many other people wanted to do the same. Not just British citizens, but Americans, South Africans, Hong Kongers, and many more. People from countries with political problems wanted the option of living in calm, stable and progressive countries instead.
I then realised during the pandemic that remote work and online business were essential for giving people the freedom to make these big international moves. So from a mix of Brexit and the pandemic, Digital Émigré was born. It’s a consulting agency to help people move to EU countries and eventually get citizenship. Working with my network of carefully chosen partners, I deliver immigration services, real estate and tax advice, and help people get started with working remotely.
At present, I’m mainly focusing on Portugal, as it’s one of the easiest and fastest countries to move to and get citizenship. But I’m also expanding my reach to cover several other countries in the EU, ones that have immigration pathways based on passive income or investment – which fit nicely with remote work and online business.
Remote work and online business were essential for giving people the freedom to make these big international moves.
How has the pandemic affected your freelance business and how would you assess the current freelance market in Madeira?
If anything, the pandemic has been beneficial to my current emigration business, as well as to freelancing in general. It’s made people realise that they no longer need to be tied to an office. Instead, they can live and work remotely from wherever they want. Political instability, partly related to the pandemic, has been another driver for people to seek more stable places to live. Freelancing plays an important role in this shift. As mentioned in my answer to the previous question, Madeira is an excellent place for freelance remote workers to base themselves. Portugal as a whole has a very friendly immigration policy, and actively welcomes online business owners and remote workers who want to move there.
What was the most challenging obstacle when starting your own business?
One of the main challenges was discipline and motivating myself during the down periods. I also had to maintain consistency in terms of producing content, which was sometimes hard when I felt uninspired. Figuring out what to charge clients at first was also a major challenge! I now provide a range of services.
Now tell us, how do you find new clients that are interested in your services?
I find new clients mainly through my web presence and its associated social media channels. I often get warm leads through my network, and sometimes I do cold email introductions to people and organisations that I think are highly relevant.
What do you think are the main reasons why freelancers fail or prefer to go back into full-time employment?
I think the main reason freelancers fail or go back into full-time employment is because of the pressure of making a living from freelance work. It can be mentally draining at times to be your own boss, and sometimes the novelty wears off. Having a regular salary and working hours can be a pleasant change of pace for many people. In fact, I am considering this route myself as I moved to (much more expensive!) London and change careers into software development. But I still enjoy the freedom of the freelance lifestyle and may well return to it in the future!
The pandemic made people realise that they no longer need to be tied to an office.
How do you set yourself apart from your competitors? What makes you special?
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?
Advice would include: be organized as much as possible. Get into a routine and impose structure on your working days. Get the first client before doing anything else. Have a good website/portfolio and blog regularly about your field. Go on Twitter and engage with people. Be helpful and compelling and curious. And don’t get sucked into working for free, unless it’s for one or two items to build your portfolio. Then stop! Being successful as a freelancer takes motivation, discipline and a bit of daring.
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?
I handle deadlines by keeping myself organized. I use my Mac calendar religiously, adding every single thing to it. I also have a lot of to-do lists, which I check off every day. Evernote is very useful for this; also Trello is worth checking out.
Freestyle! Is there anything you would like to tell our readers?
I’d just like to say that while being a freelancer is awesome in so many ways; beware of the potential for loneliness. It can get to you after a while. There’s something to be said for having friendly colleagues to chat to and bounce ideas off in person. I’m not sure remote teams can replace that just yet. Also, programming is the best skill to have in terms of freelancing earning potential. I recommend that you learn it – it’s not as hard as it looks!
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