In the ‘Freelance Tips With…’ series, freelancers from all over the world reveal their best-kept freelance tips and advice. Today I’d like you to meet Maria Carvajal, entrepreneur and business coach.
Our paths crossed thanks to a coincidence: her Instagram name is @thezenfreelancer. When I found out there’s another person who came up with this expression, I got super excited and got in touch with her immediately. That’s how the idea for this collaboration was born.
Hi Maria! Please, introduce yourself and what you’re doing with a couple of sentences.
I’m Maria Carvajal. Although I studied Audiovisual Communication, I have worked in different markets and collaborate in various projects and business, so I consider myself a ‘multipotentialite’.
In the last years, before becoming an entrepreneur, I worked for a digital marketing agency because I found the digital path my natural next step to use tools that can amplify our message.
My focus being always on people and ideas was part of the seed that made me jump into the entrepreneurial path once I found I had an idea that was worth to make it real.
That’s how I became the founder of Otter.es, a platform that connects professionals who are looking for a carpenter with the ideal carpenter to make their idea come true.
Besides from Otter, I developed another business around coaching other entrepreneurs and freelancers to improve the relationship they have with their business or project. In the case, they want to work with me to implement a new business or do a redesign of the current one I have a fantastic team of collaborators that I count with for these processes.
What’s your freelancing niche?
In Otter, our niche is architects and interior designers, especially since this month that we pivot our business to B2B exclusively.
My coaching clients are mostly creatives, freelancers, artists, or businesses that are looking for someone who can empower them, both the company and the team itself.
Why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I didn’t! During my time as an employee, I also did freelance jobs sporadically, but what I did was not a “proper” freelance. I quit my job to build my own business, and it was one year and a half after that that I started having people asking me for advice or consulting sessions based on I had built with Otter.
There was a time when I implemented everything for the client (in the typical freelancing fashion), but now I delegate almost everything except the coaching sessions and project management.
So that’s a good question for me. It makes me realize that nowadays I’m an entrepreneur or a business person more than a freelancer. My vision was to work with a team and not just by myself. I’m happy to see it’s already happening!
What was your job before that?
My last job before launch Otter was as a part of the SEM team in a top agency called Runroom here, in Barcelona.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a freelancer?
Finding the work-life balance. I don’t think a real balance exists though. But for me, it means to disconnect and to be present the moments I’m not working or solving business problems.
Related: What is Stress and How to Avoid Burnout?
What’s the best advice you can give to the people who’re making their first freelancing steps?
If you don’t have experience and you need to build your portfolio, do some low-budget projects to be able to experiment and develop your brand. After that, start with budgets that are aligned with the lifestyle you want to have.
This wasn’t my case though because I had quite a good work network and had some experience (that’s a positive thing if you become a freelancer or entrepreneur at your 30s). I’ve always put my budgets at a level they’re profitable for me.
Although this year, I have to do a new budget strategy because the structure of my business is not related only to me anymore. For me, work is always related to learning!
What would you say to the people who hate being trapped in their office from 9 to 5 but don’t see another option to make a living?
Stop complaining and do a plan for your “exit.” Block some time during your weekdays (I recommend first thing in the morning if you’re a morning person) and start working on your idea.
Invest time in yourself if you’re not sure what you want to do or learn something new that helps you move faster. Start working on your personal brand.
It’s also a good idea if you can save an amount sufficient to cover a year of your expenses. This will let you have enough money to navigate your first year as a freelancer in a calm and confident way.
Related: Become a Successful Freelancer by Getting Into This Mindset
What advice would you give to the freelancers who’re struggling to find clients? What’s your secret to finding clients?
It sounds naive, but for me, it’s to be a good person and do what’s right. Work on yourself to be genuine and charismatic. Be impeccable and do your best. Leave the best memory you can in people. The excellent skills and knowledge, as well as the continuous learning process, are a crucial part of the “basic pack.” But what makes you different is your emotional intelligence.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made as a freelancer?
A couple of times it happened to me I didn’t trust my gut when I had the intuition a client could be toxic or problematic, and indeed they were. I wouldn’t say I like to work with too neurotic or unstable people or people that are not able to separate professional from personal. When this happens, it’s not easy to deal with. So lesson learned.
Tobias Van Schneider wrote an interesting article (Red Flags to Watch for with Potential Clients) about how to identify when a client it’s a potential toxic client.
Related: The Biggest Mistakes You Can Make as a Freelancer
When are you the most productive: when working from home, from a coworking space or from a cafe?
I found I’m the most productive when I work from a train (I’m currently answering this interview from one!). This happens from time to time, so in my daily life, I go to my beautiful coworking space called Pasaje Montoya (for me it’s like going to a work-spa). Sometimes I have a nomad-day on Friday. Then I work from a coffee place around Barcelona.
How do you stay focused? What are your best time management practices?
I use the Pomodoro technique combining two apps called FocusList and Todoist. And also leaving my iPhone away from me when I have to do deep work. If you speak Spanish you can check out the free mini-course I have made to share my method.
I combine these tools with time blocking for specific tasks. I have a quarterly plan to be sure my strategic tasks (those who bring money to the business) are done.
How do you boost your productivity? And creativity?
I’m more into efficiency than productivity. We are not machines! Sometimes I find this kind of “productivity hacks” make us frustrated and thinking that if we don’t do this or that we’re wasting our time. According to me, you become more productive by investing your time in being focused and especially being away from social media distractions.
Find time to do nothing and being with yourself and you’ll be more productive. Do one thing at a time. Sounds easy but it is not!
To boost my creativity, I read every morning and always book time during the week to learn new things. I’m a very visual person so scrolling a little bit through Pinterest also helps me make some new connections in my brain.
Read also: 6 Simple Tricks to Ditch the Freelance Guilt
How does one of your best days look like?
My ideal day is waking up at 6 am, read for one hour, and do some body work at home. Then have a shower and prepare to go to the coworking space.
I’m working on my new routine now. I want to leave the coworking space at 6 pm and start practicing yoga at 6.30 pm. This way I can get back home earlier while being able to have some time to decompress (I need it!). But this is only the beginning so sometimes I still leave the coworking space around 8 pm.
How do you stay zen?
I don’t stay zen 24/7 at all! I find my life is quite a roller coaster. My mind and focus help me stay strong and stable most of the time. For me being zen is to know the way you can come back to your center.
Yoga has a positive impact not only on my body. It’s also a reminder in my everyday life about how important it is to stay grounded. I think life is a work in progress. That’s why I use my zen mindset as an anchor when the storm knocks the door.
Once a person told me: “But you work so many hours! This is not really zen, don’t you think so?”. I disagree with this because being zen is not being in a top of the mountain meditating. Being zen is to navigate your life with calmness and strength while being coherent with your soul and values. You can work and live the way is best for you. You can hustle and maintain your center and strength. This is my ideal zen mindset.
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