Freelancing Success Story: Life on an Exotic Island and Working Abroad

09-01-2015 | Ramona |

I’ve known Gabriela for some years, since she started commenting on my Romanian blog. I was actually writing about freelancing and it inspired her to try it. Let’s say that, 6 years forward, she’s doing AMAZINGLY well, was able to afford living on an exotic island and now in Germany, with her partner.

Please take a minute to read her beautiful story and share it, if you’re inspired. It’s yet another example of a successful freelancer, who’s doing the work and getting the lifetime she deserves.

freelancing successCan you please give us few details about yourself?

My name is Gabriela, I am a 30 year old Romanian lady living in Germany and freelancing in web design. I started work as a freelancer almost 6 years ago and I’ve never looked back. I am both a designer and a developer I work mainly with WordPress and I frequently post my work on ThemeForest.

What made you start freelancing?

You made me start freelancing 😀 Well, you were at least a big part of the reason.

In 2009 my boyfriend got a job in a foreign country and I decided to go with him. Since the job was on a vacationing island and the only alternative for me was to be hired as a hotel maid or as a housekeeper, I preferred to start working as a freelancer in web design.

Of course I had some previous knowledge of “web design”, of things like HTML and CSS, I even created a couple of websites for myself but these skills were very basic, I don’t think anyone would have hired me in a company.

And then I came across a blog post you wrote for your Romanian blog where you described how you started freelancing and the methods of acquiring new clients, and this gave me hope. I said to myself “if she can do it then I can do it too”.

I decided to start small, learn with each step and improve my skills all while making a buck in the meantime.

How was the beginning?

It was difficult, like any other beginnings (and like everything that’s worth while).

I decided that since I knew a little bit of HTML and CSS and how to use platforms like osCommerce and WordPress my biggest challenge was the actual design of a website.

I was very nervous about this particular skill because I had a strong belief that you had to be a born artist in order to design stuff (of course I now know that’s not true).

Because of this I decided to first “try” my hand in design contests so I made an account with I never won a design contest, but the few competitions I took place in have taught me a lot about what’s good design and what’s bad design.

After I got a hang of what this “design” thing means and what it can do I made an account with Elance, the freelancing platform that connects the freelancers with their clients. I still remember my first job I got from there – it was a $50 job, I had to modify some small things on a website.

I was so happy that someone was willing to pay me for what I could do! I decided to reward myself with a big ice cream and on the way to the ice cream seller I was jumping to touch each high threshold I passed under and I was high-fiving all the palm tree leaves I could find 😀

Sounds silly now, but then I was feeling I was on my way to my own private heaven, and this proved to be true in a lot of ways

After the first job on Elance came the second and the third. I developed my own approach that was very different from the one my main competition used. For each job, no matter how low or how high I was payed I would always give 200% of me and I would go the extra mile in order to make the client happy.

Clients started to recommend me to their friends. I started to have too much work to do, I worked 10-12 hours per day, even during the nights. I learned that a balance must be maintained between work and family.

I started to be able to choose my own clients, more and more outside Elance. I was fooled by a couple of people for whom I worked for without seeing any financial reward. I learned to ”smell” these kind of people and the red warning flags and keep away from them.

I decided quality beats quantity at any time and applying the Pareto principle I kept just a couple of faithful clients with whom I knew I always worked well and “fired” the rest. Now I work only with people I like, only for projects that I find interesting and in parallel I also create my own projects for ThemeForest.

Would you consider you have reached freelancing success?

I’m not sure what that means… If it means being able to make a living + something extra then yes, I did reach freelancing success. If it also means to be featured in a lot of magazines, to be invited as a speaker to conferences and to practically be a spokesperson for the industry then no, I’m not there yet.

But overall I think I’m doing pretty OK even if it’s always space for improvement.

What are the 3 top things you love about freelancing / running your small business?

I have to say the flexible schedule. It’s great to be able to decide when and how you will be working and to be able to wake up late if you feel like it (but of course you’d have to also work until later in the day in this case).

Another thing I love is that my paycheck depends solely on my own abilities. If I work I have money, if I don’t work I don’t have any money, it’s as simple as that. In my experience there are a lot of jobs where you work your ass off for a boss/company and you still don’t have money so I think I made a pretty good deal when I hired myself as my own boss.

And last but not least, I love that I am able to fire clients and/or projects that I don’t like. If I worked for a company I wouldn’t get to choose, I would just have to do what my company assigns me. But as a freelancer I have a whole other kind of liberty.

For example I recently refused to create a website for a fire arms dealer simply because I don’t believe in fire arms. Having this kind of freedom is very important to me.

What are the top 3 things you don’t like about freelancing?

Hmm… you got me thinking here… There isn’t really anything so annoying that would make me want to stop freelancing. The part where you sit alone in your office and you don’t have direct contact with other people is indeed difficult, at least until you get used to it. But then you realize that you can have direct contact with people in other ways like meeting for a coffee with your best friend at an hour when other people are at work 😀

Of course this has to mean that your friend also has a flexible schedule…

A lot of people complain that the most difficult thing about freelancing is exactly the way you have to make your own schedule – meaning that you need discipline because you don’t have a boss anymore who can tell you what you need to do – but I never found this part difficult myself.

This doesn’t mean that I am some kind of a discipline freak, but in fact I find it much easier to do something I impose upon myself as opposed to doing something someone else has me doing.

The third thing is that sometimes you have to work during evenings and weekends – but I guess you can experience that with a “normal” job too.

Do you have any plans to develop your business further?

Yes, I plan to increase my presence on ThemeForest, to release more WordPress themes for this marketplace and to also work on my startup,

What would you say is your best advice for someone to reach freelancing success?

  • Don’t expect success in the first day. Take it slowly, small steps can take you a long way.
  • Put 200% of yourself into every project, after all you’re working for yourself and you deserve better than any company you worked for!
  • Have confidence in yourself and don’t accept low quality clients when you know you can do better.
  • Always sign a contract prior to doing any kind of work.
  • Don’t accept crowdsourcing projects – those are for beginners, not for real web designers.

Do you have your own freelancing success story? Please contact me to have your story featured on PFToday. I’d like us to prove that, with hard work and dedication, ANYONE can achieve success. Thank you for reading Gabi’s story, please share it, if you find it’s inspiring.

If you like what you are reading, please share. Thank you :)

Recent Comments

  • Dee @ Color Me Frugal

    January 9, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    What a great message, Gabriela! I am so impressed- it sounds like you taught yourself a lot of what you know about web design! I think this is a great message that if you have a dream you can likely achieve it if you work hard enough. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • dojo

      January 9, 2015 at 5:08 pm

      Gabriela is indeed someone to send a great message. Not only was she able to learn web design on her own (no college degree in this specialty), but, with a lot of work and dedication she was able to make something ‘extra’ into her main income. 🙂

  • Alexandra @ Real Simple Finances

    January 11, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, Gabriela! This is very inspiring.

  • Julianne F.

    January 22, 2015 at 9:15 am

    I absolutely love these stories. All the experiences and advice can help more prospective freelancers get the courage to try start their own side hustle. Really looking forward to the next interviews.

  • James W. @ London Web Design

    January 22, 2015 at 9:18 am

    I have a small web design agency and have also started as a freelancer years ago. The article is filled with great information and I thank Gabriela for taking the time to share all these details. There is money to be made online, there’s a lot of work needing to be done, you just need to be good and provide a great experience for your customers.

    • dojo

      January 22, 2015 at 6:06 pm

      I feel the same: as long as you can provide a good service and are willing to do the work, there’s clearly a lot of opportunity to succeed.

  • Malin

    July 10, 2015 at 5:26 am

    Why in the world would you drop Mallorca for Germany?

    • Ramona

      July 11, 2015 at 10:10 am

      He he, I hear you. My dream would be to move to a sunny location and Germany would clearly not be on my list. But it depends .. if your partner is moving there, you’ll go. Reason we still stay in our hometown here in Romania, husband’s business is ‘local’, so it’s not easy to move ‘outside’

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