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Samantha North- Web Developer and Content Writer from the UK

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 recently decided to focus more on web development . Samantha is also the founder of Placesbrands, a platform that specializes in telling the true stories of places...

1) 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 a journalist and web developer, originally from the UK. I’ve lived and worked abroad since 2005 (in China, Belgium, Qatar and now Turkey), and have been freelancing for the last three years.

2) 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 web development and slightly less journalism. My goal is to make development my full-time occupation.

3) Besides your content writing career as a freelancer, in 2012 you decided to launch a new project and founded Placesbrands. Can you tell us more about this project and how everything started?

I started Placesbrands in 2012 as a way to publicly explore some topics that had been on my mind. I was curious about why countries and cities attracted certain kinds of reputations, whether positive or negative, and what could be done to influence this process. I blogged regularly about my thoughts on this and I also started interviewing prominent people in the industry. Soon, Placesbrands began to get noticed. People began to see me a knowledgeable voice in the field. I received some offers to consult on branding projects and it grew from there really. CNN have interviewed me on place branding, I’ve keynoted on the subject in Jamaica, and spoken on Jamaican radio. Place branding is an interesting subject and I hope to maintain my focus on it even as I move my career overall more into the tech side of things.

4)  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. Placesbrands offers content marketing, brand strategy and public relations services for cities, regions and countries. As an individual consultant, I offer content writing services (not only place-related) and I also build websites using a range of platforms including WordPress, Jekyll and Ruby on Rails.

5)  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.

6)  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 move 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! 

7) How do you set yourself apart from your competitors? What makes you special?

I’d say I’m special in a couple of ways. Firstly, I’m an expert in a niche field, place branding, with over four years of experience working, speaking and writing about aspects of the field. I’m also a fully trained journalist able to write compelling stories, whether for the news or as a copywriter. I complement this with my tech skills, mainly in JavaScript, Ruby, and HTML/CSS. So I have everything necessary to help people get an idea fully up and running, from website construction to content strategy to marketing and public relations. It’s the complete A-Z really.

8)  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.

9)  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.

10)  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!

Where to find Samatha: profile: Samantha North
Link to website:
Skype: placesbrands
Twitter: @placesbrands

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Pic: © Samantha North
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