Freelancer Success Stories: Barry Choi
Name: Barry Choi
Location: Toronto, Canada
Bio: Barry Choi is a personal finance and travel expert. He makes regular media appearances in Canada and the United States where he talks about all things related to travel and money.
How long have you been doing freelance work? More than 5 years.
Tell us about your freelance business, in 200 words or less.
I’m a freelance writer, media personality, brand ambassador, content marketer, and media trainer. Having worked in television news for close to 20 years, I know what audiences are looking for. Although I specialize in personal finance and travel, I’ve also written about relationships, home improvements, insurance, and more.
What do you consider to be your specialty? How does it help you in your business?
I don’t have an ideal target client, but obviously, I work best with the ones who are aligned with what I do. That could be brands that are looking for my expertise or just people with whom I have similar personalities. Obviously, when I’m pitching for new business, I focus on brands where I have the most experience.
What made you become a freelancer?
When I started my blog in 2014, I often shared my articles on Twitter. One of my tweets got retweeted by a news reporter I know. A marketing manager who followed the reporter saw the tweet and read my article. By coincidence, they were looking for a freelance writer for the same topic so they reached out. Ever since then, freelancing has become a regular thing.
What do you love most about freelance work, and why?
Being able to work from home and set my own hours is the best thing about freelancing. The main reason I quit my full-time job was so I could spend more time with my daughter. I obviously also get to spend more time with my wife.
What do you hate about it?
The reality is that I work much harder as a freelancer than I ever did at my old job. Some people like to say you’ll only work 4 hour days and you’ll travel more, but that’s not always the case. I physically work less than 8 hours a day, but work is always on my mind. Fluctuating income is always concerning even when you have good savings.
Tell us about your first paid job. How did you land your first client?
See a few questions above for the answer. I’m fortunate that 80% of my clients have found me, so I rarely have to look for new business. That said, when COVID hit, I had to expand beyond my network for work. I looked at industries that I felt were growing at the time (insurance, home renovations) and reached out to brands that I felt needed a content boost.
Do you think aspiring freelancers should take unpaid work to gain experience? Why or why not?
It depends. If you’re a formal intern where it’s clear that you’re not getting paid, I think it’s fair. I would also consider any personal work e.g. your blog or video projects for photographers to be unpaid work. Every situation is different so you need to decide if it’s worth it for you.
Do you feel you’re charging what you’re worth?
I don’t believe in charging what you’re worth as it’s all subjective. What you should focus on is what the market will pay while understanding that not every brand has the same budget. Way too many freelancers get obsessed with being paid what they’re worth because they read someone else is doing it with great results. That’s just not a realistic way of looking at things. I’m not suggesting you should undercut or take low pay, I’m just saying you need to have a better understanding of budgets and expectations. That said, if a huge brand said they’ll pay me $25 for an article and exposure, I’ll pass.
Describe your process for finding new clients? Where do you look?
I usually look at my own network first to see where people are currently working or if they’re connected to someone who may be interested in my services. I’ll then reach out with an informal email that says what I do and include a link to the work I’ve done. I’ll often also look at brands who work in the same space as me but currently lack content.
Have you ever had to ‘fire’ a client? If so, why and how did you do it?
I’ve fired multiple clients. I just tell them I’m too busy or I’m no longer available to them.
Name 3 tools (apps, equipment) that you can’t live without. What makes them so great?
Todoist – To keep track of what I need to do daily Google anything – Gmail, Calendar, Sheets, Docs Twitter – I love social media and Twitter is what I prefer
What is your #1 productivity hack?
Using Todoist to manage my tasks is my productivity hack. As long as I complete all the tasks I’ve assigned myself for the day, I know I’m good.
Do you outsource tasks? Why or why not? If so, which ones?
I do outsource when I need help. I typically outsource anything related to design since it would take too long for me to do it myself. I’ve also outsourced some writing assignments for my own site when I’m too busy working on freelance articles.
In your opinion, what is the most important skill required for freelance work, and why?
Time management. If you can’t respond to emails quickly or meet your deadlines, you’re destined to fail.
Do you consider yourself a strong time manager? How do you stay organized?
Time management is arguably my #1 skill. At my old job, if you were 1 second late, you’ve set everyone back. As mentioned, I used Todoist to keep me on track. I also use Google Calendar to keep me on track.
Do you also work a 9-5? If so, how do you balance it with your freelance business?
I full-time freelance now, but for 3 years I kept my old job. It was a very tricky balance and I was starting to burn out.
Where do you do most of your work?
Pre-COVID I did my work at home, in my condo library, the regular library, and coffee shops. The change of scenery was needed.
Do you use a co-working space? Tell us a bit about it.
I do not.
Name an entrepreneur/freelancer/influencer who inspires you. What is it about their story/message that resonates?
I don’t know if a single person has inspired me. A lot of my fellow freelancers have encouraged me to grow, so that’s who I look for inspiration. There’s no specific story/message, it’s more like having someone you can talk to about the struggles of freelance.
Name 1 thing you would do differently, if you were starting over today?
I think paying more to outsource is the number 1 thing I’d change. Too often in the past, I’d try to handle everything on my own because it would save money. The reality is that I ended up losing money since it required more of my time to do things. Even paying for premium apps is something I should have done early since it would have also helped my productivity.
What is your #1 tip for aspiring freelancers?
Not to get obsessed with what others are doing. It’s easy to read about people earning $10,000 in passive income every month, but you don’t know the details behind it. No income is ever really passive, you need to build something to get there and it needs constant maintenance.
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