Ania Krol is The Freelance Coach and helps freelancers all over the world grow and scale their businesses. And she’s speaking from personal experience, too…
Ania, can you tell us a bit about your own self-employment adventure?
Absolutely! I started freelancing in 2015, after realizing pretty quickly that being an employee was not for me. I worked on corporate for less than a year, it was path I was following because it was the thing everyone around me was doing. I didn’t enjoy it – I didn’t feel in touch with the company’s ‘why’ and there were hardly any opportunities for learning and growth. I also got addicted to my paycheck: I was living from one salary to the next, not a way of life I enjoyed or wanted. I began wondering: if I was putting in all this effort, why not do it for myself and reap the fruits of my hard work?
I started out as a virtual assistant and project manager for a few years and this really helped me accelerate my knowledge about online business from existing business owners. Then, I began mentoring groups of women online. These women were so happy with the mentoring that they asked me about one-on-one coaching. I hadn’t given it much thought until then, but realizing my content and ideas really helped people was a great nudge to start my business as a coach. Obviously, that’s the story in a nutshell – there have been lots of challenges as well as wins along the way.
You say you didn’t resonate with the company’s why. What is your why these days?
I want to inspire as many people as possible to live an independent and free life. Freelancing is the first step to doing that. It’s a perfect way to discover how business works. Being a freelancer teaches you how to create value, how to create a proposition, how to pitch your idea, how to interact with people and how sales and marketing work.
I believe that marketing and business should be easy to learn, you just need to know where to start. When I was just starting out, I didn’t have the resources to invest in coaching and online courses, and online communities were far less developed back then. I really needed to dig deeper and find it. Now, I really want to transfer what I’ve learned.
These days, there is much more information available of course, but there is so much and it can be hard to put it together in one coherent whole. With my coaching I personalize general knowledge and broad perspectives to the specific situations of my clients to help them navigate the dynamic and confusing online business economy. I want to make launching a business more accessible.
You mentioned learning several times now. What’s your advice to other entrepreneurs when it comes to learning?
Of course it’s good to explore online courses and do your own research, but my approach to learning is ‘WHO, NOT HOW’. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel – you can ask someone who already succeeds at what you do how they accomplished their goals.
Surround yourself with people who lift you up. People from the same industry or similar professions who are farther along. Many of us think that when we ask strangers about their business, they won’t respond to us, but many actually will, so if you ask enough strangers you’ll get your answers. Many entrepreneurs are happy to share their experiences.
Ask people for a short virtual coffee on Zoom or WhatsApp. This will give you a much more personalized version of their background than you’d get out of a blog post. You’ll see the logical path they took between the challenges they faced and the results they got.
The other thing I recommend – if you have the resources for it – to invest in coaching, either for groups or you individually. Coaches really help you see the bigger picture, show you how you can reach your goals. We often stick to our bubble, our own little challenges, obstacles and limitations. Coaches, consultants and mentors help us zoom out and show us the many possibilities we can explore.
The other thing is that if you want to succeed in business, even as freelancers, you need to learn about the ways business really works. How do sales work, why do people buy? Analyzing your ideal client is important. Talk to your target audience and ask them about their challenges. Ask them about your offering and the pricing. Really talk to people, not just through surveys but in actual conversations. When I created my coaching offering I talked to 15 or 20 people over the phone. I asked them all about their problem, like what specifically they were looking for when looking for information on Google. Based on this, I crafted my content strategy and my messaging. I know how they communicate, so I can communicate to them in a way that resonates. Invest in research, because your offerings, products and services should solve real problems.
You are a digital nomad yourself, meaning you work all over the globe. Just a short while back, Spotify announced they will let all of their employees do the same. How do you feel about businesses transitioning to location-independence?
I’m a remote work advocate. I will always say I love the fact more people are becoming location independent. For most people, being location-independent means better productivity, better efficiency, a better work-life… not even balance, integration.
So I think this trend is great. It has so many benefits, not just for the company and employees, but also for societies. People no longer have to live in big cities. They can move to a nice beach or a small village and live where they want to. They also get more time to spend with their families at home.
Of course, this is only the case when the employees are actually doing the job, but when you work with people who are committed and everybody knows their responsibilities, this situation truly contributes to everyone’s happiness.
You mention a better work-life integration. Of course, many of us are working remotely these days because of COVID and the restrictions that are in place. Although many people really enjoy this, others struggle with loneliness. Of course this can be an extra issue for entrepreneurs who don’t even have co-workers. How do you deal with loneliness and what’s your advice for us?
It’s very important to take care of the social side of your lifestyle. Even if you can’t go out, you can still connect with other people online. We tend to be shy and afraid of rejection, but just reach out to someone and ask them for a virtual coffee. Contribute to online communities, like Facebook groups. Share information, join conversations.
If you are allowed to go out – even better. Do so! Join local Facebook and WhatsApp groups and invite people to join you for co-working. You can work in the same place and then talk over coffee breaks – while still adhering to social distancing.
Don’t fall into this trap of being closed in a small room with just your laptop. Take breaks. Know when to stop working. Many of my freelance clients tend to overwork. I always tell my clients to analyze their core values and write them somewhere they see them, like their laptop or their desk. If you care about freedom, live a free life! You didn’t quit the corporate job just to spend 70 hours each week working for your clients.
Close your laptop and go outside. Work-life balance includes having a life, so you know… Get a life!
You mentioned different social media already. What’s your take on Clubhouse?
I started using clubhouse recently. I’ve been hosting a room about content creation. It’s definitely something different. There is no pressure, you can just sit there in your PJs and talk when you have something to say. Random people are joining and sharing their opinions. It’s a great way to meet new people and connect to them, especially in smaller groups. It’s a platform that gives you a lot of opportunities to position yourself as an expert, but i myself will not use it to the same extent I use LinkedIn or email marketing.
How do you use LinkedIn, apart from the obvious?
I share my content and I connect with people through direct messages. I do lead generation and sales, I talk to people whose profile might resonate with my offering. LinkedIn is great for starting conversations through a cold message, much better than Instagram or Facebook. It’s also easy to invite people to join my Facebook group. People openly talk about their profession and challenges. That’s why I also use LinkedIn for small market researches, just to understand the challenges of my target audience.
You say your target audience is mainly women. Is being an entrepreneur different if you’re a woman?
It is. Men and women both struggle with the same knowledge questions, the same eagerness to find out how something works. But once guys learn how something is done, they usually just go ahead and do it. It’s different for women – women are often held back by limiting beliefs. “I’m not worthy, I’m not enough, people will judge me, society will reject me.”
That’s why in my program I put a lot of emphasis on mindset work. Because you are in the right place. You are just as worthy as everyone else. You are knowledgeable and beautiful and this is your time. You are a professional and you are ready, now we just need to work on your confidence.
Apart from affirmations, what are some other ways to build confidence?
Affirmations and daily journaling are important, but the most important thing is building some momentum of courage. You just need to get out there and do things. Start with just a little bit of bravery to take a little step. Post something on LinkedIn. Send that first e-mail. Call someone. Then, judge how it went.
We tend to judge situations before they even happen. Are you worried that something won’t work or people will laugh at you? Maybe they will, but you can’t know for sure. Test it. Have the curiosity of a scientist. You won’t get kicked out of your community for wanting to develop yourself professionally. Sure, your blog or offering might not work out the way you want it to, but the only way to improve it is to put it out there, analyze the results and go from there.
We all have this fear of rejection. “Oh, the client said ‘no’ to me!” We take it personally, even though it’s completely normal. My coach told me to get out there and call people before I was ready, because she wanted me to get comfortable with rejection. Hearing ‘no’ often is good – you realize it’s not personal, it’s just part of business. Once you truly embrace that, it’s easier to move forward.