Steve Folland is a video and audio producer from the UK - building his business to work around looking after his kids. He's also behind long running 'Being Freelance' - the podcast, vlog and community, where freelancers from around the world share experiences, support, laughs and cookies. More recently he's launched the Doing It For The Kids podcast for freelancing parents.
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Steve shared his story of starting a side-hustle video & audio production while working at a radio station. Steve shared his definition of ‘being free while freelancing’ is about having the freedom to choose what one can work on and being in control.
Steve then started his ‘being freelance’ podcast to learn from other freelancers, teach others about freelancing, and also not to feel isolated while working as a freelancer. Steve interviewed about 200 other freelancers since he started his podcast and feels connected to them.
Steve explains the freelancer journey as one where success comes from being good at whatever you do first, then finding a way to productize their services to switch from being a freelancer to an entrepreneur. Long term success is to be able to find multiple revenue streams.
Steve also gives tips about getting first paying customers and the first stop is to tell friends and family about your freelancing. And connecting with people in multiple social media forums (but pick one or two that are most applicable for you), and building an email list.Few of the lessons Steve learned over the years are: (1) Push yourself forward so people can notice you as opposed to waiting for them to find you (2) Stay close to your finances and keep your overhead low (3) be clear about what lifestyle you are after so you can manage the growth.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone. Welcome to the agile entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and building your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance, and possibilities. Today we have an exciting guest who has been at freelancing for quite some time. So, I'm very happy to introduce Steve Folland. Steve is a video on audio producer from the UK building his business to work around looking after his kids. He's also behind long running, being freelancer, the podcast we log and community where freelancers from around the world share experiences, support, laughs and cookies. Most recently he's launched the doing it for the kids podcast for freelancing parents. Hi Steve. Welcome.
Steve: Ramesh, thank you so much for having me.
Ramesh: So how do you guys share cookies while you are remotely podcasting?
Steve: Oh, well that's the best bit. You share them, but equally you can't lose any, like you said, you still get to eat them all to yourself. But now do you know one thing that we do is every Friday in the being freelance Facebook group, I do the non-employee of the week awards live as a Facebook live. So, people come and join all at the same time. And then I chat for a bit and then we basically celebrate one of the freelance communities from that week, you know, saying what they've been doing great. Sometimes they've been going for a rough patch, whatever it might be, but part of the main prize is a box of cookies or biscuits as we call them. And so, yeah, so they get posted out, they get mug and then everybody just sits there eating biscuits. Maybe it's a very British thing. We love our tea our biscuits and cookies. So yes, but I’ve ended up sending these cookies to the States, to Canada, Australia to Brazil. So yeah, word's getting out
Ramesh: Excellent. Maybe I will receive them one of these days. So, Steve so how did you build this podcast communities and when did you start building them?
Steve: It must be nearly five years ago now. So basically, I went freelance. I worked in radio for years for about 10 or 12 years, and then decided to go freelance as you say, to look, you know, to be flexible around my family. And after about a year of trying to figure out how to be successful at being a freelancer, I found myself like listening to podcasts, but none of them, you know, they might be speaking to entrepreneurs, but they weren't necessarily speaking directly to solo freelancers. It's a crossover, but there's a difference. And so, since I couldn't find a podcast I wanted to listen to, I decided to start it. So, I just, basically, each week I speak to a different freelancer from around the world. And it's not about the job that they do, but it's about the being freelance, so about how they've found clients, how they deal with the work life balance and the finances and collaboration side projects. And yeah, so that's how it started. I wanted to listen to it, and I couldn't find it to listen to.
Ramesh: Excellent. So, when you switched from whatever you were doing five years ago or so to be a freelancer, what were you trying to freelance in?
Steve: So, I started doing video and audio production and I started doing it on the side of my full-time radio job. I started doing things like script writing or video presenting for people. And then so people will come to me and say, can you present this video? And then I would say, I can, but I can also edit it because I was trained in that years ago. And this was just at the crossover point where people started using video online much more. And so, there was suddenly there was this need and the technology was such that we could edit it at home and not need to be in offices and things like that. So, I was doing it on the side and I just started getting more and more freelance work on the side of my normal job until maybe I’ll be up. And you know, only getting a few hours’ sleep a night. And clearly, clearly that had to stop. But also, clearly there was kind of a neat there. There was this, there was a need for people who could write scripts, do voiceovers, edit videos and create storytelling in that way. So, I decided to go for it. As soon as our son was about to start school and we had our second kid and we needed people, you know, we thought, maybe I can work from home, maybe I can make this work.
Ramesh: Okay. Excellent. So Steve you already talked about the motivation for you to freelance and one other motivation I keep hearing from freelancers is a freedom, like if it's, you wanted flexibility, but people also are looking, they said freedom, but the unspoken truth is that freelancers are probably working lot longer than if they're employed. So, what was your experience freelancing, what you are looking and what you got out of it.
Steve: Yeah, you are right. You can end up working a lot, but at least you're in control of it. And what I quite like about it is, if I'm busting my gut and working really hard, at least I tend, if I'm doing it right, to be financially rewarded for that and also creatively rewarded for it because I tend to work with lots of different clients and lots of different things at once. So yeah, it was freedom for me, but it was creative freedom to work on lots of different things with different people. But also, that financial freedom, not in a way that suggests I am going to retire in two years’ time, but in order to set my own levels and to reward myself as I want to. Whereas, you know, if you work for a company, you can really work incredibly hard and maybe not even get a thank you, let alone a raise. So yeah, so that wasn't why I went freelance, but it was a nice side effect.
Ramesh: Correct. So, one of the things about this show is that we want to reduce the fear of starting a business, right? A lot of people, they want to start a business, but there's a fear of uncertainty, fear of unknown kind of stuff. So, for you, when you, you started this as a side hustle, right? You were working full time and then you're working. But when you did a complete switch, I mean, how did you manage the fear?
Steve: I don't, I don't really think I had the fear of such, I always just felt that if it didn't work out, I could go back and get a proper job in quotation marks. I knew I had the skills, I had lots of experience and so ultimately, I could go and get another job, but it was more like a determination to make it work. There's nothing like having two kids and a mortgage and so on and so forth to just make you really get your head down and work. So, I’ll be sending out cold emails and like building relationships and gradually things started to pick up. So, I don't think there was ever a fear as such for me. Maybe it was just blind naivete. But like I say, I did, I had been, I had been doing on the side, I did feel like there was a need for it. And so, and so I just knew if I get kept looking and kept doing good work, then things would pick up.
Ramesh: Okay. So good. So, you started the side hustle and at some point, you made the switch over and then afterwards you also picked up podcasting. And nowadays I'm seeing lot of for training courses, Hey, do your own podcast and start your own podcasting. It's really picking up. So, I wanted to ask you, when you started the podcasting, how was your learning experience? Did you have to go to the coaching class? A training courses? How did you do the podcast?
Steve: Well, you see, so I had a head start in, I worked in radio for years. And so even already had a microphone, because I was doing voiceovers as part of my freelance job. So, I had the microphone, I had the laptop, I knew how to edit audio. You know, other people were paying me to do already. So, it's kind of, I was already there. In fact, for the radio station I worked for, we already made podcasts. So, I even had an idea of, you know, adding the metadata and adding the titles and all of that. We've been doing it for years already. So yeah, I didn't coach as such. I kind of knew how I wanted it to sound and I knew how to interview people. I've been doing it for years, I’m probably very different in that respect to a lot of people who need a hand. And sometimes now I help people launch their podcast or they, you know, I don't do a course. I don't offer a course, but I do offer help and I get that. I think a lot of it is to do with confidence, but there's the technical side of it as well. And yeah, I had an unfair advantage in that respect.
Ramesh: Excellent. Excellent. And let me tell you about my own motivation for you know, doing the podcast and I want to understand your own motivation. One is that it's a content generator, because by talking to people, there's a lot of content that gets generated that can be used for blogs. It can be repurposed in many different ways. That's one piece of it. The other more important one is the networking, the connection to the people, right. Talking to people, we mutually learn from each other. That is really, really important. And then in the long-term, it could be monetarily, you know, it could be monetized in terms of sponsorships and other things like that. I mean, right now we are not at that stage. I wanted to understand your motivation. Why did you start podcast and why do you continue to podcast?
Steve: Well, so the funny thing is I think I really did start it to learn. I started from a place of wanting to talk to other freelancers. I didn't know any other freelancers. There weren’t meet ups, they weren't co-work spaces. I was just reaching out to some people that I’ve met on Twitter and then interviewing them. So, I wanted to learn. And also, it felt, and I hear this a lot from the audience, like you feel, it can feel really quite isolating, especially if you work from home. So, it feels less isolating to know that people all around the world as well, not just in your country, have a very similar story, a very similar feeling. And it's all trying to figure it out. So, there is a lot more stuff out there now for freelances than there was five years ago, even a couple of years ago.
Steve: So, I started it for that reason. Now you're absolutely right though, that I have now of course, I’ve nearly interviewed about 200 peoples. I've met all of those people effectively. Had all of those conversations, but also you, you're also networking in a way with your audience because they are feeling like they know you. And so even though I don't, I don't create a podcast in order to get work, that's an excellent reason to get to do one. But that's not why I did it. It's more I guess philanthropic than that really. It's just to help people. And to help myself. But yes, you know, people do. I guess my profile has raised and so people see, I'm a much more visible, put it that way. Or the work that I might get from my video and audio work. And also, I guess it shows to people even if they're not going to hire me for making this podcast, if they want me to create videos of them, they're looking at my website, they can see that I have been, you know, consistently putting this out for say, five years. And, but it sounds a certain standard and it's obviously popular. Like all of those things are ticks, I think if you were sort of independent creator. So, in that respect, that's been great. And really, it's only been in the past year where I realized actually, I’ve got a large enough audience now and it's a niche enough audience that I can sell it. I can make money out of it because I can clearly appeal to advertisers who are trying to target freelances with a service for, I believe in helps a freelancer. So, you don't, when it comes to podcasting, if you've got a niche audience that actually is a benefit when it comes to monetizing it in that way, because you don't need tens of thousands of listeners, hundreds of thousands of listeners in order to actually be really effective for advertising for a niche product.
Steve: So yeah, so actually now you know, I do have sponsorship on the podcast, so in theory, yeah, it pays its way, but definitely I put way more hours into producing it out of the love of it, passion for it than I do. But you know, I could definitely make more money doing my video and audio stuff when doing the podcast. But it just fulfills me creatively and those are socially since meeting all of the people I’ve met and the audience as well
Ramesh: Actually, excellent reasons and I feel the same way. The people that I interviewed so far about the 50 of them, I mean, I feel connected to them. I feel when I send out an email to them, much better response pretty much close to 100% respond. So, a lot you know, a higher quality connection than a cold email.
Steve: And definitely and you know, and your audience will be getting to know you as well. For anybody who starts a podcast. It's a really close relationship in a way, even more so than video because you write in their ears, you tend to have their attention. And it's amazing, you know, that used to be something that only people on the radio or in films or TV or whatever you used to be able to do and now there's nothing stopping any of us doing it.
Ramesh: Excellent. So, Steve, let me switch topics a little bit. You've interviewed about 200 plus freelancers. So, if I could ask you a few questions about the freelancing industry, if somebody wants to go into freelancing, maybe it will help them. So, what characteristics have you seen across the board that made some of these freelancers successful? More successful than others who are not.
Steve: Crickey, I think you need to, you obviously need to have the skills, good at what you do. With that some self-confidence as well because you are doing everything. Therefore, you have to do for selling of your skills to some extent. You need to be organized to stay on top of your time. You need to be, I think self-aware so that you can develop yourself, you can see what's working, what isn't working and sort of improve like your work life balance and your actual professional skills as well. What else do you need? I think having people around you helps. Well, so not feeling like you're just going to do it all yourself looking for collaboration or just looking for support in other people, be it online or in real life. And then there is the entrepreneurial side. Like I said earlier, like I think every freelancer has an entrepreneur inside them, but they have to in order to realize that their services are worth selling. But then others take it up a gear, maybe they start to productize their services. So, they like creating packages or may be, and I see this a lot, you know, people are starting to create actual digital products or physical products in the case of illustrators and designers. Maybe they are creating apps, you know and then on top of that stuff like courses and communities. So, they're realizing that, they can sit back and wait for other people to pay their bills but offering them work but also if they can create another revenue stream and could be in charge of that themselves. And actually I think that's in there, mixed in there is a key thing is that having, I think if you want to be successful long-term, it helps if you have multiple revenue streams that all of your eggs aren't in one basket and that if certain things die off slightly, you can pick up others. But definitely the more, you don't have to be an entrepreneur, you don't have to call yourself an entrepreneur. But the ones who take up a gear certainly have that element in them that lets them see opportunities and start embracing the business side of it. And in fact, some of the people I’ve spoken to have taken it further and you know, brought on employees and created agencies or production houses and ended up effectively not being freelancers but going further. And then some of them decided they don't like that. They don't like managing people. They've got too far away from the creative side and so they pay strip it back down again. Cause that's the great thing is that the core of it, you'll still have freelance or you still have your skills. You can just retreat back into that. Yeah and like me, myself, I have grown my business by bringing on other freelances to work with me. So, I'm selling more than just my skills. And so, there's, having your eyes open to those opportunities, listening to your clients or potential clients and seeing ways that you can help them and being helpful and nice. Like these are all things I think that can help you have a successful career as a freelancer.
Ramesh: Excellent segment, excellent segments, Steve. Thank you very much for that, those insights. So, couple of other areas we typically have discussion on our podcast is what I call the first paying customers. For any business person entrepreneur when they're starting out. The biggest fear is how do they get the first paying customer. Once you get the first paying customer, the anxiety levels go down and then hopefully you can get a referral or a testimonial from them that will lead to a second paying customer. So, what do you advise these freelancers who are starting on their own? I mean, what are the different strategies that you give them or tell them that they should go after to get the first paying customers?
Steve: I think one of the key things to begin with is to think about the people you already know. So that might be friends and family. So, like tell your people. When you're a freelancer you have to go out there and make opportunities. So, tell people, because I think we even neglect like even our brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, like they're not just solo people. They know, they have connections all over, but you won't even be aware of. So, you have to let people know when it is and actually even telling them what it is can be quite useful cause it forces you to think about what it is that you actually do. I guess your elevator pitch, you know, you should be able to vocalize it. And then also the people that you used to work for, let loads of the guests that are being freelance podcast have found their first clients through either being hired by the company that they used to work for or from people who were within that company who have since moved on. So, there's that key thing of not burning your bridges. And then quite a lot of people give freelance job sites a chance. And you know, some of those have better reputations than others, so I won't get into this, but certainly here's the thing with those sites. In theory that are clients approaching those sites with a job, they want doing and money ready to pay it. And so actually if you can put forward a good pitch and not sell yourself short and it is a good way to get started because you can start to build your portfolio and maybe your confidence and lots of people would say they were based to the bottom. And I would say that you should always just remember you don't have to work for anybody you don't want to. And not for price but you don't want to. But I know lots of freelances who have had a lot of success on those sites. Social media is really powerful. It's a great way, not just, I guess board cause what you do, you know, share your portfolios and stuff. But to connect with people, to connect with other freelances, because you have to realize they're not like the competition. So, to connect with people they might end up referring work to you. Also, to follow companies that you want to work with. You know, gets in, know people. Don't just pitch to them straight away. But just to I guess build up a connection. So, one day when somebody, it's amazing how many people, for example, on Twitter or LinkedIn suddenly say, Hey, I'm looking for this job, I'm looking for a graphic designer and you'll say, Oh, I'm a graphic designer and say, Oh, I'm aware of that person. Cause I’ve seen their little avatar so many times. So actually, social media is a really useful one. And LinkedIn, the obviously it depends where your potential clients are. Obviously, it’s a really useful one for lots of people. Then there's the wave, like I mentioned earlier, I sent out loads of cold emails and some of them have turned into extremely valuable long-term gigs.
Ramesh: So, email is not dead, huh?
Steve: Definitely not. I think if you, as so long as you pitch it right. You know, so long as you're not, so long as you're researching who the person is and you've actually got a reason why you're contacting them and what they want, what you're offering them. Or you know, lots of illustrators do this, for example, you send them something in the post that's going to get you standing out even more. And I’ve even knocked on doors and I’ve spoken to people on the podcast to knocked on doors and introduced themselves. I did that like years ago when I worked in radio, I went and knocked on doors of an independent production company in London. And it was so rare that anyone did that, that the managing director came out to see me. And I ended up doing work for them. And then I guess probably, like one of the biggest things is just meeting people like getting out there and it might be to networking events, be it more formal ones or more informal one meet ups, whatever it works, meeting people online, meeting people in person, going to conferences and just not being shy, actually putting yourself forward. One of my guests said that you just have to keep meeting people. That was like, he was convinced that was the key to it. Just keep meeting people and the reason freelancing kind of gets easier as time goes on is just because you get to meet more people. So yeah, I reckon those are good places to start when you are first starting out.
Ramesh: Excellent. So, let me switch gears a little bit and let's talk about Steve Folland. So, Steve as a person, right. So, who are you, what motivates you? What inspires you? What are your hobbies? Just talk about you, if you could
Steve: Well, like I mentioned, my kids what motivate me. But to a certain extent they still do. And also, they, as far as hobbies go, they pretty much to sucks up all of my time as well. So, I'm definitely at this, but gladly because they're at this age, they are aged six and nine, nearly 10. They're at that age where actually they still like me, pretty much most of the time. So yeah, just being, you know, being freelance, the podcast is so demanding, and my work is so demanding and family time is actually the rest of it sort of just becomes hanging out with friends and stuff when you get a chance rather than a hobby. You know, I used to go salsa dancing, you know, in my twenties, and I don't get to do that anymore. Recently though, I have started doing way more fitness, which was really linked like to just getting older frankly, and not wanting to have that dad belly. And so just, I do realize that staying fit gives me more energy into my work. I'm really not like a gym type person, but I’ve been going and because of our son has been learning tennis and so I’ve been playing tennis against him, so I’ve started playing tennis. So, it's yeah, it sounds terribly dull. I want to tell you something, like I go skydiving and kites. I don't, I barely watch. I barely even have time to watch TV and films and stuff like that, so it's not exciting.
Ramesh: That's, that's fine. That's fine. Couple of things. Like going back, looking at your own journey any things that you think you should have done differently but not in a regretful way, but things that would have improved in many aspects of what you are doing right now?
Steve: I always kind of think the only real regret or the only thing I would've done differently was years ago when I worked in radio and I always had this thing, you know, I wanted to be on like the biggest radio station in the UK, you know, like to be a really big presenter. And I ended up on the breakfast show of this sort of commercial station just North of London, but it was relatively small, but I had so much controller I could play whatever I wanted. It was crazy. We had so much fun and I just got comfortable and I always thought that just because I was good at what I would do. Eventually somebody at the big radio stations would notice. It was stupid. What I should have been doing was going out there and putting my demo out and making opportunities for myself. Like one, I was sitting there at the end of the, I guess the street where the big radio stations were thinking they might notice me. Other people were knocking on the door of those buildings where the radio stations, other people were climbing through the windows. And so, it made me realize in hindsight that being good isn't good enough. Like you actually have to push yourself forward and make opportunities if you want stuff to happen. And that was something that I then learned and has made me much better as a freelancer because I realized that, you know, if I decide I quite fancy speaking at conferences like I did last year, that's not going to happen unless I start applying for conferences or I tell people about it and then they go, Oh, actually I know somebody who's organizing the meet up. How about you? Like, stuff doesn't happen unless you start taking positive steps to make it happen. And I learned that by just getting comfortable and not pushing myself forward and I'm not letting that happen again
Ramesh: Excellent. Now we can’t go back and do it, but as you are talking about that pushing into one thought that came to my mind is my belief that anything a product or service is only 30% of the business. The remaining 60 to 70% is a marketing slash, promotion. And then, you know, all those aspects. Right. I agree with you. So last question Steve. I mean you talk to a bunch of people, 200 plus freelancers and you have your own experiences. So, what advice would you give to people who are aspiring entrepreneurs, but they're just waiting to see what they should do?
Steve: Oh, I think one thing is to stay close to your finances, keep your overheads low. I reckon that translates nicely between freelances and entrepreneurs of any sort. Also, especially as a freelancer. But you know, you get to define what your vision of success is as well. You know, it's wonderful, but we live in this world where there were so many people sharing their experiences online. But I think you have to be really careful about what are you actually aspiring to and what are you trying to achieve? And so just because somebody is living one set of lifestyles doesn't mean that is what you're after. So, I know what I want, and I don't want to like hire a big office with lots of staff and stuff. I like the fact that I can stay really agile bringing on freelances and being there for my family and picking them up from school and stuff like that. So, I think be really clear about what your success, what you want to achieve is and that can change over time. It's fine for that to change. So, yeah. And then I think just time, time and patience, perseverance. Again, so many people feel, it feels like they're in a bit of a rush and actually something to be said for just consistently turning up and doing good work or putting out that podcast or that video, like being regular and yes, you have to keep promoting it and pushing forward and telling people about stuff. Yeah, it can take a little bit longer. I think sometimes people in a bit too much rush and possibly that, you know, that crosses over into lots of different business fields as well. Sometimes companies grow way too quickly.
Trying, you know, and they lose control of it. I swear there were a lot of freelancers in this world who are probably way more profitable than a lot of companies. I sometimes look at these massive companies which suddenly collapse. Isn't that ridiculous? I am actually more profitable than that massive company because they're living on such small margins and they've grown so big out of greed that suddenly everything has collapsed underneath them. Whereas actually I can adjust and be flexible. And so actually I'd rather be where am. So yeah, just don't get dragged into other people are doing and do what you want to do. It's cool to be inspired, but you don't have to be sucked in.
Ramesh: Yeah, that's right. Hey, Steve. Excellent discussion conversation. Thank you very much for people who are listening. For other excellent episodes like this go to www.rameshdontha.com and go under the podcast. You will get it there. So, Steve, thank you very much for coming in.
Steve: Thank you. I've really enjoyed that. Good luck with it all. Really appreciate it.