Faces of Freelance Austin is a monthly feature to get to know one of our many members just a little bit better. For this month’s installment, we check in with Amy Gelfand, Website Chair of Freelance Austin. Want to nominate a member to be interviewed for this feature? Let us know!
Name: Amy Gelfand
Number of years freelancing: 10
Located: Round Rock, Texas
Accepting new work? Yes
How do you describe the work you do?
I design and build custom WordPress websites.
What’s your superhero power?
I pride myself on being super responsive. I don’t like to wait, so I don’t make others wait.
Dead time can create a lot of anxiety for client, particularly when they’re hiring someone to do a complex job they may not completely understand. My goal is to minimize that anxiety!
Was there an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to strike out on your own?
I have always found office environments harsh and stifling. I have always wanted to set my own hours and work in an environment of my own design.
Describe your path to becoming a freelancer/small business owner/solopreneur.
I took the long way. In college I was single-mindedly focused on getting a PhD in literature, but I didn’t fully grasp the reality of becoming a professor of literature (not to mention the reality that most PhDs never become fulltime professors). Once in grad school, I confirmed that a life of academia and teaching was not for me.
I got a job in tech communications at National Instruments and hung out there for a number of years, not really wanting to be there but not having a clear direction of where to go.
However, the path to entrepreneurship opened through this job. Our publishing software upgraded to a version that was XML enabled, and I volunteered to figure out how it all worked. Both the hard skill of learning how to mark up documents into XML and the softer skill of “figuring things out” appealed to me.
From there, I did everything I could to gain on-the-job experience, and I also studied visual communication at ACC to fill in my software skills. Eventually I transferred to the Marketing Department as a Web developer, and I held a few other “starts with Web” type jobs at other companies before I finally went freelance.
How has career independence changed your professional and personal world?
I am grateful every single day for the freedom that comes with owning my own business. I am willing to accept the uncertainty that comes with freelancing in exchange for the freedom to determine how and where I spend my time. For many years I felt trapped – physically as well as emotionally – in a cubicle.
I also feel more appreciated by my clients than I ever did as an employee. On the whole, I am a happier and more confident person.
Has there been a point when you’ve taken a big risk to move forward?
I spent several years trying to work up a full-time clientele for my Web design business while keeping a full-time job, but I found it very difficult and exhausting to serve two masters.
I finally quit my job and started building my business from scratch. It took several years to build up a full-time clientele, but I had saved for this situation. It was a frustrating and sometimes disheartening start, but I have been busy and well established for many years now, so I’m glad I took the plunge.
Tell us what your day is like. Do you have a routine?
Every morning, I get up, make breakfast, and commute the 12 feet or so to my office, where I work in the company of my dogs Athena and Artemis. If it’s summer, I start the day with a dog walk or sometimes I sneak off for a road bike ride, but I really prefer to get the workday started, as my most productive hours are before 2 pm. In the afternoon I go to Camp Gladiator, maybe a final dog walk to cap off the day, and then it’s time to eat and relax.
Once a week I attend my BNI (business networking group) meeting, and I schedule at least one “one-on-one” networking meeting with members of my group each week. I am looking forward to adding the monthly Freelance Austin meetup to my routine.
What was the biggest surprise or shock you found in freelancing? If you could share a bit of wisdom with your newbie freelance self what would it be?
It was difficult to build up a clientele. It took a good two years to get to a comfortable point, and during the first year, if it had not been for one enormous project, I would have had no work to speak of the entire year.
I experienced many moments of panic that first year! I attended many networking meetings that I found on meetup.com, but it didn’t seem to help my business. I don’t know if it was because those meetups weren’t valuable or if I was just too green to network effectively.
It could have been a bit of both. My advice to myself was, do not give up. Keep digging and keep looking for opportunities.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
Seek out power referral partners – people whose businesses complement yours – to network with. Don’t give up. It can take a year or longer to build up a sustainable clientele. Save money before you strike out on your own to get you through the dry spell.
Don’t forget to nominate someone for a future Faces of Freelance Austin interview! Who should we feature next?
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