The #1 Thing to Ask Your Clients if You Want to Be Indispensable

Since last week’s update was a long guide, I’ll share a quick tip for you this week. It’s something you can start doing TODAY.

[Sidenote: As much as possible I like sharing simple, tactical things that freelancers of any industry and any experience level can apply. Para lahat tayo may ma-achieve na improvements, kahit pa-konti-konti. :) Plus I try to make sure these are things I’ve done or am doing, para may ma-report akong authentic results. I’ll do my best to stay away from generic tips with no next steps.]

Here’s the tip, the next time you’re in a client interview, ask them this question:

 “What’s the most frustrating thing about your business right now?”

Why this question will make you indispensable

Image by brainloc from

Among all the questions I ask my potential clients, this is the most powerful (which is why I’m sharing it). I have many other versions of this question, including “What’s the most painful problem in your business right now?” Basically the goal is to know and understand the things that truly hurt your client, the things that worry them, the things that keep them up at night. Here’s why this question is so powerful:

This is one of the “great questions” that clients tend to praise. To those who have been following my material for a long time, you already know that I ask 10 to 20 questions during my first meeting with new clients. This is one of those questions where a handful of my clients say “Wow, that’s a great question!” and hearing this boosts my confidence during the meeting. I’ve been doing this for a while, but every time I hear that during the first few minutes of a meeting, nawawala yung kaba ko. It’s like I magically transform into a serious, assertive business person.

For someone as shy and introverted as I am, that’s reason enough to ask the question because it helps me get into the right mindset for the rest of the meeting.

It shows that you are the type of proactive freelancer who is really interested in helping their business - even if it’s just to hear them out - and that you’re not only interested in getting paid. Another reaction I tend to get is hearing the client give a deep sigh, often followed by a long rant about everything that’s wrong with their business (the one with the longest record among my clients is this U.S. speaker and marketer who spent more than an hour and a half just answering this question!) This is a good thing. Not only are they telling you everything you need to know to help them out, they will also see you as a trusted confidant.

Anybody among your competitors can do an OK job performing the task. But how many among them will be the client’s trusted confidant? I’m guessing not many. Probably only you. From now on, as long as you do end up addressing their most frustrating problems, the client will think of you as “The person who listens to and solves my most painful business problems” and not just “a VA” or “a designer” or “a writer”.

It gives you “openings” for new projects to propose. When your client opens up about the most frustrating thing in their business, make it your #1 job to take a look at your own skills and see how you can minimize or eliminate those frustrations - then turn those into suggestions or project proposals. You’ll have a better chance of getting your projects approved this way, because you’ll be proposing tasks that address their most painful and frustrating problems.

Usually, akala ng mga freelancers na it’s their website or social media accounts that will help them get more business - but in my experience it’s usually this consultative approach that leads to more recurring projects and more referrals. Because of the different apps available today, every freelancer and her mother can quickly come up with a stellar-looking website and an automated social media account. Still, there’s no app that transforms a person into an interested, attentive listener, so you’ll have an edge in the key department that your competitors might be neglecting.

 Just Ask

Applying this is simple: the next time you find yourself in an interview with a potential client, just ask “What’s the most frustrating thing about your business right now?” Here are some ways you can introduce the question (note this down where you can see it the next time you’re on an interview):

  • “I really want to do my best to help you out. With that said, can you tell me what’s the most frustrating thing about your business right now?”
  • “Is it alright if I ask you a few questions about your business, just to understand it a bit better?” (Wait for their answer.) “My first question is: What’s the most frustrating thing about your business right now?” (You can follow this up with a bunch of other questions, including the ones that filter out scammy clients.)

That’s it! You’ll be surprised that something as simple as asking the right questions can have such a dramatic impact in the way clients treat you, and even in the way you see yourself as a professional.


3 Simple Ways to Avoid Being Scammed by Bad Clients

Sometime within my second year as a freelance writer, I was scammed by a client.

The client was the owner of a modeling agency based in California. He asked me to write content for the agency’s website, but before that he hired me to write a legal document (I forgot what, but it was some kind of contract).Red flag na dapat yun.

Image from by user Ayla87

If a client is running a legitimate business, lawyers or notaries or even online legal template sites should be doing this stuff for him - not a freelance writer with no background in law. If I just dug deeper, I would’ve realized that this meant that he did not care how tight or accurate his contracts were - and these contracts could make or break his business.

After I finished writing up the contract, I billed him for $15. And he did not pay.

I chased after him, sending him email after email - but he wouldn’t respond. I was so angry, not even because of the amount, but because of the principle. The cost to me wasn’t just $15 or a few hours of my time, the real cost was that I was actually easy to exploit. If I didn’t find a way to fix it, clients were going to do this to me over and over again. I didn’t want that.

So I looked for his posts on several online forums and posted a response to ALL his discussions. This response included screenshots of our emails and a warning not to do business with him.

Eventually, he found these posts and emailed me. I then demanded payment of the $15. He paid me, but within a day PayPal canceled the transaction because it came from a fraudulent credit card number.

Only You Can Protect Yourself

Image from by user coffeemug

I quickly learned that there was no organization, system, or department that could look out for me. And even if there was, how would they chase the scammer? I wasn’t even sure if the name I had on file was real. It eventually became clear to me that any information he gave me about his business was fraudulent.

More surprisingly, I found that things like contracts don’t really do much to protect freelancers - especially if their clients are overseas. I had a contract with that client, yet he did not honor it.

Since I don’t like playing the role of “helpless victim” and I didn’t want to gamble, I wondered if there was any other way to protect myself. After some research and trial and error, I decided to establish a system that would help me avoid and prevent being scammed. And I’ve never been scammed since.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

#1 - Know more than one way to reach the client.

Upon first contact with the potential client, I try to answer the following questions:

  • What is their full name (if an individual) or the full name of your contact person (if an organization)?
  • What is the name of their business?
  • Where is their business based?
  • Does your main contact person have social media accounts? How many and how old are his/her accounts?
  • Can you find their full street address? What about their phone number?

All of these questions can typically be answered with a bit of Googling, or by asking new potential clients to fill up an information sheet before your first meeting or before you discuss the details of the project.

If you’re going to use an information sheet, you can use tools like Wufoo or SurveyMonkey to create this information sheet (the free accounts will do). Here are some of the key fields you should include:

  • Contact Person’s Full Name
  • Business Name
  • Complete Business Street Address
  • Business Email Address
  • Business Phone Number
  • Website URL
  • Business Social Media Account URLs
  • Optional preliminary questions like:
    • “Briefly describe what your business does:”
    • “Why do you need my help?”

While most job bidding sites have some security measures in place that prevent freelancers from getting scammed, it’s still helpful to know their identity and business details. What’s even more surprising is that once in a while, I see seasoned freelancers work with clients outside the verification process of job bidding sites without even knowing the client’s full name! In all cases where I’ve seen a situation like this, the freelancer was scammed into doing a lot of work upfront, and the client disappears by the time they have to make the first payment.

Even if I’ve personally never used job bidding sites to get clients, I have all the above information about them and have verified it with simple searches.

Knowing all the possible ways to contact your client isn’t just a way to protect you from scams, it’s a standard business practice for consultants. (Even your doctors or lawyers do it!)

#2 - Start the relationship by asking the “Inside Look” question.

It’s easy to meet a new potential client, just receive instructions, and start doing your work. Yung hindi ka na masyado mag-iisip, naka-depende sa ideas ng client lahat ng gagawin mo. All you have to do is say “yes”.

While that approach is fine for some people and it was fine for me at first, I found it very risky later on because:

  • I didn’t know or understand how my clients made money. If you don’t know how your clients make money, you don’t know what your role is in the business. If you don’t know your role in the business, it’s hard for you to justify pay increases, or even your existence as their freelancer.
  • I didn’t know how stable the job was. Relevant to the above point, if you don’t know how your clients make money, you don’t know how secure your position is. Kumikita ba sila at all? Passion project lang ba nila ito or business talaga ito? The stability of your job or project depends on the stability of the client’s business. If they are losing money, you wouldn’t know it - magugulat ka na lang na wala na yung project.
  • I didn’t know if my clients were scammers or not. There’s more than one way to be a scammer. Clients could be paying their freelancers, but this doesn’t mean that what they do is 100% legit. If your client’s business model is scammy, it could fall apart or change any day. Remember how my scammy client tried to pay me but PayPal canceled the payment? This was because my clients’ credit card number was reported as fraudulent! Who does that? Scammers.

This is why I developed the “Inside Look” question. During my first meeting with my client, this is the first thing I ask:

“Can you give me an inside look on how your business works? Take me from the moment that your target customer first hears about you, to the moment when you make the sale. What happens in between?”

Though it’s best to ask this via an audio call/chat, which scammers often hate doing, shy freelancers can ask this via email or via their client information form (see above). The advantage of the audio call is that you’d be able to hear any hesitation or overthinking in your client’s part. (Plus, you’d hear how impressed they are with your question! I find that most clients are impressed when you have a deep interest in their business.)

 #3 - Send the “Sandwich Schedule”.

Another way that I’ve avoided scams is by presenting the client with a concrete work schedule that sandwiches the payments in between. See a sample from one of my archives below:

As you can see, work is sandwiched between payments. I ask for an upfront downpayment (this could be anywhere between 10% to 50%), then I submit some deliverables to the client, then they send another payment, then I send more deliverables until the project is finished.

A lot of Filipino freelancers seem hesitant to ask for upfront downpayment. Some of you might feel shy about it, or you might think “Baka isipin ng client na ako naman yung scammer at itatakbo ko lang yung downpayment niya!” Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t worry about it:

  • It’s a standard business practice among consultants and freelancers almost everywhere.
  • There are many ways to build a client’s trust before you even discuss pricing. If you show them your previous work, LinkedIn profile, and testimonials from previous clients, it’s unlikely that they will be worried about you being a scammer.
  • Besides, what’s the worst thing that can happen if your client doesn’t want to give you the downpayment? They will say “No” to the downpayment and ask you if it’s possible to waive it! It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t mean that they won’t hire you - especially if they saw that you put the work into preparing such a detailed and itemized work schedule. If they passed the other tests you had for them (the information sheet, the “Inside Look” question, the thorough Google searches about their name and business name), then you often have nothing to worry about.

The goal here is not to get the client to immediately agree to your Sandwich Schedule - it’s to observe and analyze your client’s reaction to it. Did they hesitate? If so, how? Were they calm and clear, or did they panic? What are their reasons for hesitating? Can you address those reasons? Do they seem legit anyway and did they pass your other tests even if they hesitated with the down payment?

Other Things That Worked

While the above 3 things are simple enough for you to start doing TODAY, there are some other more long term and more difficult things that I did that protected me from scams:

  • Charging higher rates. Once I started charging at least $20 per article, I was no longer approached by scammers. I don’t know if it’s the number itself or the fact that when you do charge higher rates, you tend to look for clients in scam-free zones. I suspect it’s also because legitimate businesses know that you get what you pay for and that a $20 article is more likely to give them better returns than a $1, while those who are obsessed with cutting costs and getting as much free stuff as possible would browse more towards the lower price points.
  • Looking “legit”. If you look at my online folio, you’ll notice that it’s very bare, contains the logos of my highest-profile clients, and has a big picture of my face. Having a well-designed portfolio with client logos and containing your best work makes you look like a pro. And nothing terrifies a scammer more than a pro, because pros know what they’re doing.
  • Having an initial “phone call” rather than relying on email to discuss the project. As I mentioned earlier, it’s best to gather your potential client’s information via an audio call at the very least. This helps you build rapport with them, gives you the opportunity to ask as many spontaneous questions as you want, and helps you hear their real-time reactions to your questions and statements. I very rarely get into a working arrangement with a client without having an audio call with them first.

Staying Scam-Free

I’ve mentioned earlier that since that first time I was scammed, I was never scammed by a client again. But scam clients and fake job opportunities are still out there. There will always be scammers who are out to get articles, design work, research, and any other services for free. The question is: what can YOU do to repel them?

If you find yourself being scammed by a client more than twice, it’s time to ask yourself if there’s something that should change in the way you attract, acquire, and communicate with potential clients. Even if you just copy one thing from my process above, you’re already setting up your first layer of armor against them.

How much do you want me to reveal?

This is going to be an unusual update since I won’t be sharing any tactics and strategies with you today. Instead, this is a personal appeal. I want to hear what YOU think.

See, something’s been bothering me a lot lately. It has to do with transparency.

As many of you know, I am a freelance writer and marketer. I’ve been freelancing online since 2003, when I was 20 years old, initially as an effort to support myself through college. It didn’t become a regular, stable thing until 2004.

Since 2013, and a little bit before that, I started helping out other Filipino freelancers. At first, informal yung attempts - someone would hear from a friend of a friend that I was freelancing online and they wanted to learn how to do it. But by March 2013 my mentoring efforts became a paid 6-week course, Pinoy500 PRO. Since then I’ve relaunched the course a couple of times, and also created a new course on negotiation (Negotiation Toolkit), which I’ve also launched twice.

The tricky thing about being a mentor or sharing knowledge with others is that the mentor should be held accountable for the advice he or she gives. Madali lang maghanap ng information online - whether it’s about freelancing, starting your own business, how to diagnose your medical symptoms, or how to train your dog. For each topic you want to learn, there are hundreds of web pages out there giving you answers.

Pero papaano natin malalaman kung reliable ba itong information na ito? Do they come from specialists who have studied that field for years? Do these specialists have practical real-world experience? For example, there are many ebooks or courses out there that teach you how to train your dog - but how many of the people who offer these courses have actually trained dogs? How many dogs have they trained? How many of those trained dogs succeeded with the training?

So that’s what’s been bothering me, especially since I don’t really like talking about myself or my personal life and experiences. As someone who is selling information and training to other people - information that’s supposed to work and help them achieve concrete goals - how much of what I teach do I actually apply? How much of it has worked for other people? How can you know that I’m really walking the walk and not just talking theory? Has freelancing made me as happy or as free as they said it would?

That’s what I want to learn from you. How transparent do you want me to be?

If I were to send you a monthly update of the details of my freelance work, or even my courses, what do you want included in those updates? For example:

  • What facts about my work, clients, or courses should I mention?
  • What doubts do you have about my character or my work as a professional, and how can I help you confirm or clear up those doubts?
  • Which details of my professional and personal life would be useful to you?

Let me know. Because if I can find a good balance between keeping my personal privacy (for safety reasons, of course) and giving you full transparency, I want to do that for you.

There are two ways of letting me know the level of transparency you want from me. 1) Hit “reply” to this update if you’re reading it via email, 2) Leave a comment on this blog post.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Fast-Track Freelancing: How to Go From “Newbie” to “Experienced” in Just 6 Steps

Last week, you read Aimee’s strategic approach for picking skills and services to sell as a new freelancer. This week, she’s taking it up a notch by talking about how she went from a freelancing newbie who suddenly found herself without projects, to quickly becoming someone who:

  • offered services her target clients really wanted to pay for,
  • and started charging premium rates.

It’s an awesome story and I suggest you read every word.

Here’s Aimee:


Networking is scary.

The first time I spoke to an expert was via Skype. I was so nervous. My voice was shaking throughout the interview. My best responses were “Uhh…”, “Y-yes” and – my favorite – “He, he.”

Kabado na nga, kailangan ko pang mag-English! Nosebleed.

Embarrassing as it is, I shared this to tell you it’s possible. You can connect to the people whom you admire – even if:

  • You are completely new to online freelancing
  • Kahit wala kang kakilala in the industry
  • You are a shy person.

But before you learn the steps, I will show you how networking with experts helped me.

The fast track to better rates

When meeting successful freelancers, I love asking their opinion on different topics. One of them is how to increase one’s rates.

I mistakenly thought that my rate would increase if I had better skills - but I was surprised to learn that it’s not necessarily the case.

Highly-paid freelancers said that skill isn’t the only one that determines your rate.

Yes, skill affects your income. But it is only one of the many factors. You should also consider:

  • Your mindset about rates – I had initial doubts about how much I could charge, asking the experts “Can Filipinos really earn that much?” or “$100 per article? Hindi ako ambisyosa. Haha.”
  • Your soft skills – This includes negotiation and networking skills.
  • Your chosen industry or niche – Are you in lucrative industries like finance or business? Or are you serving an NGO with limited funding?
  • Your clients – Are they bootstrapping startups or big companies?

I used to just spend time and effort learning this on my own. I read blog after blog, trying to find ways to get paid higher. I also applied for projects with slightly higher rates - but I must have been doing something wrong because I either got rejected or ignored. It was like that for almost two years.

By just talking to expert freelancers, I was able to increase my rate within a month, as shown in the graph below.

That’s the magic of asking an expert.

So you’ve seen how it helped me. Now, it’s your turn.

You are going to learn the step-by-step process of how I network with experts. Hopefully, you’ll benefit from it as well.

Step One – Start with a relationship-building mindset.

You are going to reach out to an expert. That person has more influence, connections, income, and privileges than you. It wouldn’t hurt to ask for one tiny tiny tiny little favor, right?

Wrong. It’s actually a sure-fire way to be ignored – for good.

Unfortunately for me, I’m saying it from experience. (He, he).

Instead, see this as an opportunity to learn and discover new things. Your focus is to establish an on-going relationship with them.

If you begin with that mindset, you’ll gain not only a mentor but also a new friend. :)

Step Two – Ask permission first.

Assume that all people are busy (and can never be proven otherwise!) Still, most online entrepreneurs and freelancers are kind. They will be happy to help you out.

If you are a seasoned freelancer, you might already be in contact with other professionals. That’s good. You can skip this part if you want.

If you don’t know anyone, you can find them via their blogs, forums, Quora, FB groups, LinkedIn, Twitter. You can also google your field.

In reaching out to top dogs of your industry, however, try establishing a relationship first. Do something for them. Help them out. Otherwise, you’ll get this:

(Note: This is an email from a famous blogger.)

Since you will have to talk to people directly, it is best to begin with by asking their permission:

AppSumo founder, Noah Kagan, advised: Read your email aloud. If it goes beyond 60 seconds, shorten it.

Step Three – Prepare good interview questions.

(If you had no replies, don’t worry. It’s very common. Out of the 30+ emails I sent, I only talked to five experts on Skype. But as I said before, it was worth it.)

Once you receive a “yes”, settle the time and date of the meeting immediately.

Then, prepare your questions.

First, research as much as you can about the person. If your chosen expert has a blog, read as many entries as possible. You will begin to notice subtle patterns in beliefs and personality.

This will give you an idea how you can establish rapport during your meeting and what kind of questions to ask.

Second, make a list of everything you want to find out from the expert. Ask yourself: “If he/she can only answer one question, what would I ask?”

This will lead you to your first question. In case there will be a connection failure or any unforeseen interruption, you still get the answer you are dying to know.

Get four more questions. You are prepared for a 45-minute interview.

If you have no idea what to ask, here are some suggestions:

  • starting rates (for newbies)
  • where to find clients
  • industries that are hiring [job title]
  • courses to take to improve your skills
  • how to earn a living as a freelancer
  • better solution to your current problem

[Celine’s Note: I’ve created a thorough primer on how to ask good questions in a previous post here.]

Lastly, say your questions in a conversational tone. From my experience, straight-up questions startle people.

For example, you want to find out about the ‘starting rates’ for a web designer. (Note: I just threw random numbers)

  • Straight-up: What’s the starting rate for a web designer?
  • Better: I was researching about rates for web designers. [Site 1] says $100 per project while [Site 2] says $600. The gap seems too wide. What do you think about this?

This will also tell the expert that you did your homework – meaning you’re not looking to be spoonfed and they are not wasting their time on you.

Step Four – Zip up your lips and pay attention.

Best-selling author, Ramit Sethi, suggests that you allow the experts to “speak 90% of the time”. during your interview, encourage them to hog the conversation and speak about themselves. If they are excited about the topic, they will ramble on. That’s even better. You will learn more.

I say this from experience: a 5-minute chat with an expert beats 10 hours of Googling. No exaggeration.

For example, I asked them: “how do you get your clients?” Their answers surprised me:

  • “I’ve not really done any active marketing for a few years now. I mostly go on referral.” - K. L.
  • “I usually reached out to them by joining entrepreneur groups online. LinkedIn is a great place for this…” - A. M.
  • “I never had a job from bidding sites since I started working online. I have an account but I never used it.” - C.R. (Guess who? =D)

Notice their answers all have to do with referrals and building their network. These are alternatives to popular advice like:

  • “Go to oDesk, Elance, Guru, etc.”
  • Ayusin mo ang profile mo para maka-attract ka ng maraming clients.”
  • “Create your own FB page.”
  • “Start a blog right away.”

Does the popular advice work? Sure, sometimes. Some of it I experienced firsthand. However, not all of them can help you land a high-paying project.

For example, I quickly learned that job bidding sites are usually for clients on a tight budget or those who want to maximize profit. So, it is rare to find someone who is willing to pay $50 or even $100 per article in those places.

Here’s another crucial way that talking to experts has helped me: I was able to change my service offering from something they didn’t need or want to pay for, into something they desperately needed for their business.

See, I didn’t plan to become a writer at first. My aim was to be a social media manager for online coaches. But after talking to them, I learned that they were not hiring SMM. They didn’t want to pay for one right now. In their words, they “don’t need one at the moment”.

(Note: The actual list of target clients I interviewed was much longer.)

Because I wanted to earn money, I had to let the idea go (for now).

Instead of SMM, I discovered they need help in writing blog entries, “copywriting”, “formatting posts” and “managing guest posts”. One even paid writers!

I was a research assistant before so I thought MAYBE I can try writing web articles. So I made the switch from pursuing social media management to writing.

If I never asked, I would’ve continued on with a bad business idea. Asking their advice had saved me a lot of time, frustration, and possible heartaches.

Step Five – Say “Thank you” and follow-up.

In saying your thanks, include your intention to follow-up.

(Note: Maybe not as chummy.)

Read the underlined words again: “Balitaan kita.” and “follow your recommendation”. You have to mean it though. If you think their advice is not applicable to you, then just say: thank you and that you will update them with your progress.

Derek Halpern, founder of Social Triggers, says 5–10 days is a good interval for the first follow-up.

These are some examples of follow-up email:

Remember to always include “No need to respond” if you are only updating them. The busiest VIPs would love you for it.

Step Six – Return the favor.

Over time, I realized that receiving an answer is actually a privilege. It is only right that you try to help them out as well.

You may share their posts on your page. You can ask your friends to subscribe to their list. Feature them in your blog. Send students to their affiliate links.

The key here is to help them with what they need. From experience, if you continue communicating with them, opportunities to help will surface eventually.

If it did, you can use this script:

If you still doubt your ability to help a VIP, think of it this way:

They maybe great in business or your chosen field, but they are not masters in everything else. There is always a gap somewhere.

You could be the one to fill that gap. Or, if they’re all set, you can always pay it forward and tell them about it! :)

Leveraging Other People’s Expertise: The Fast Track to Success

It is possible to learn all of these through many years of experience. You can spend many hours reading blogs, listening to podcasts and studying further. That’s valuable too, but it’s not the most efficient use of your time and energy - especially if you’re in a hurry to make freelancing work for you.

You could cut the years into weeks or days by simply asking someone who has been there.


Author Bio: 
Aimee Espiritu writes about freelancing, psychology and technology. You can connect with her on Twitter or Google+.

Which skills will help you find online freelancing projects?

The following article is by Filipina freelance writer Aimee Espiritu. She called me out of the blue a few months ago and convinced me to spend 30 minutes on Skype to let her pick my brain. That’s right, she “convinced me”. See, I get A LOT of requests to go on Skype or meet face-to-face from freelancers who want 1-on-1 help. The problem is that sometimes I decline because 1) the requests are very vague 2) it’s clear that the other person isn’t really sure what he or she wants to get out of the conversation.

But Aimee was very clear and very specific. She set a clear time and date for the meeting and told me exactly what the agenda was (to learn what I do as a freelancer, where I got my clients, what a typical working day is like for me). That’s why I didn’t hesitate to get on a call with her. That’s also why I didn’t hesitate to invite her to share her insights with you today and next week.

Today she’s going to share with you the exact process she went through for picking skills and services she can sell as a freelancer. Her process is so specific that she’s laid them out for you in steps - all you have to do is try it.

Take it away, Aimee.

- - - - -

I have a confession to make.

When I started looking for freelance opportunities, I had all sorts of insecurities:

  • Newbie lang ako! Wala akong skills!
  • My degrees are not applicable sa ganitong work.
  • SPED teacher dapat ako. Paano ‘yun online?
  • Wala akong alam sa office or corporate world. Di ako pwedeng mag-VA.
  • Wala akong professional license!
  • Hindi kasi ako web developer at wala akong alam sa IT or software development.

But the fears are not true. If you dig deeper:

In short, the problem is not having skills but finding out how you can earn money from them through online freelancing.

(Note: my stick masterpiece )

If you are a newbie, I’m going to suggest ways on how you can choose skills that are relevant to your strengths and interests.

If you are a seasoned freelancer, you can still make this a guide to specialize further.

Here’s how you do it:

The Process

I got the idea from a program by NYT best-selling author Ramit Sethi – “ Find Your First Profitable Idea”. In a nutshell, you look for services to offer and check if someone’s paying for it.

But in this post, I’m going to address specific issues – particularly how can a Filipino freelancer transition from offline to online. I will also add insights from other experts and courses. Above all, I will share my experience and mistakes; and recommend ways on how you can do better and score projects faster.

Step One – Brainstorm

In this step, you have to quickly list down all possible freelance skills you can think of. Personal development author and speaker, Brian Tracy, recommends jotting down at least 20.

If you are a beginner, try to recall your:

  • specialization / educational background
    – ex. “I specialize in PR/events.” [Organizer of online product launches]
  • responsibilities in your previous company
    – ex. “I use Excel to encode receipts and billing statements” [Data entry or Bookkeeping]
  • workshops / seminars attended
    – ex. “I enrolled in a paid online course on becoming a VA” [General VA]
  • computer tasks at home
    – ex. “I design invitations for my inaanak’s 1st birthday.” [Print design]
  • other roles outside home/office
    – ex. “I’m the official photographer of my Church. I adjust lighting to make pictures more beautiful.” [Image editing or photographer]
  • leisure activities
    – ex. “I use FB a lot.” or “I surf the internet.” [FB posting/management or Web research]

Look at the example:


Bakit di na lang mag-apply ng work agad?
Why do we have to brainstorm?

In brainstorming, you examine all possible options. Sometimes it is easy go ahead with the first few services that come to mind. After all, who knows your skills and strengths better than you do?

But in this context, it can work against you.

What if your “obvious” skills don’t involve computers? Should you stop trying? For example, I saw a newbie who was a chef. On the surface, cooking is really not an online skill. You can’t cook using a computer. So he followed the popular advice for beginners – go to data entry.

(Note: Don’t.)

Truth is, a simple search reveals this:

He can write food reviews and original recipes because some online food magazines are paying for that.

Plus, he uses Facebook. So he can also start learning Facebook management – specializing in catering/kitchen equipment businesses.

That’s why it’s important to brainstorm. You rediscover skills that you never considered initially. It becomes an “Ay, oo nga pala!” moment for you.

Plus if you don’t this, you might second-guess your decision later on. When that happens, you will be constantly shifting from one field to another.

It wastes a lot of time and effort. From my experience, it is also very tiring.

Your turn (Action step #1):

  • Get a pencil and sheet of paper or open your notepad/Word.
  • Write down your question at the header – What skills should I sell? / What skills should I specialize in?
  • List down at least 20 skills.

Quick reminders:

1. Have fun. Just write them down no matter how simple, obvious or impossible.

2. Don’t worry if the skill doesn’t require a computer. You’ll get to that later.

Step Two – Create your core skills inventory

Now that you have listed down at least 20 skills, you are going to classify them into three groups – A, B and C.

  • Group A – you can offer the skill immediately and execute it well enough
  • Group B – you like it but you don’t know how / you plan to study it in the future.
  • Group C – you’re not interested and you have no plans of doing it.

Your list now should look like this:

According to Jay McLean and Kathy Lacuna, Group A becomes your list of possible services. You can also write them in your resume or online profile under “Core Services” (if you want to apply for work immediately).

Please note that the list is not set in stone. You may change this as you gain more experience. What’s important is that you have an idea where to start.

Your turn (Action step #2):

  • Get another paper and divide it into three.
  • From your list of 20+ skills, classify them into Groups A, B, and C.
  • Use these dialogues as guide in categorizing your skills:
      • Group A – “Kaya naman at pwede i-offer ngayon.”
      • Group B – “Next time. Pag-aaralan ko pa.”
      • Group C – “Ayoko.” Or “Wag na lang.”

 Optional step – Translating skills online (for newbies)

What if after going through the exercise, your best skills (Group A) are still not applicable online This is where you need to flex those “Google muscles”.

There are many ways to achieve this. You can be very creative in your approach. But here are some suggestions:

1. Google with the keywords: “[field] related to online” or “paid online jobs for [field]” or “online jobs using [tool/website]” – e.g. online jobs using Facebook. If you want to be more specific, add “Philippines”.

2. Check job bidding sites, online classifieds, and craigslist too.

3. Visit groups in FB, LinkedIn and forums.

If it appears in the search engine results, there’s a good chance someone’s getting paid for it – which means you can earn from it too!

For example, let’s try: Engineering.

First of all, I don’t have a background in this area. My initial thought is that the related projects are confined in the office or project site. I *think*
this is not something you can freelance. But let’s see what happens after using the keywords above.

After searching the web, I realized I was wrong:

(Screenshot from

Based on the picture, BS Engineering graduates can be researchers or assistant researchers. The job post requires commute so it’s impossible if you live in
the Philippines. But what if there are opportunities similar to this one back home?

Using the keywords “online jobs related to engineering Philippines”:

(Screenshot from

(Screenshot from

The job posts say engineering graduates can also act as consultants and report to the office twice a week. Or if you really prefer to work online, you can design for clients abroad.

As pros might have observed, this is common sense. Unfortunately, I’m one of the sad few who forgot about it. (He, he)

Instead of starting with my interests and skills, I went out of my way to follow the popular advice such as “become a blogger” or “be a General VA”. And I paid for those courses.

There’s nothing wrong with learning. But I could’ve begun freelancing without spending a cent. This is also why I included this step. So other newbies can start with effort as their sole investment.

Once you are sure that the skill can earn you a living, that’s the time you start paying for classes or workshops.

Your turn (Optional action step):

  • If your skills in Group A are not applicable online, you can search the web for possible opportunities. Some places to search are:
    • Google
    • Quora
    • Social networking sites – FB, Twitter, LinkedIn
    • Job ads

· Use the keywords:

  • “[field] related to online”
  • “paid online jobs for [field]”
  • “online jobs using [tool/website]”

Step Three – Research and Specialize

From your Group A list, you are now going to pick one to specialize in.

But this time, you are going to explore more about each service/skill through research. You can either google about each skill or interview other freelancers in the same field.

Since your goal is to earn money, find out what you can on the:

  • potential rates
  • possible “level up” options

Here are some examples:

For newbies:


General VA

Social Media Manager

Possible rates Usual starting rate in online job post ads is $10 for 500-word
Monthly fees around $450 to $750 based on salary guide by Chris Ducker as of 2013 Ex. Retainer fee of an SMVA, Kimberly LeRiche, is $50 per hour
Possible next step Copywriter –Ex. Natalia Sylvester charges $300 for
homepage copy
Multi-VA setup – create your own team of VAs either by hiring or subcontracting them.Ex. Ella Pelayo’s The Office Escape When you get more experience, create a social media course or ebook for sale. Lewis Howes created LinkedInfluence, selling at $97.

For pros:


Technical Writer

Marketing Professional (Content Marketer or Social Media Marketer)

Possible rates In a post by, Joshua Black: initial rates
may range from $200 to $500 for 350-word web copy
Range from $20 to $70 per hour. May increase depending on contract. Based on sales page by Susan Bilheimer. Starting rates for marketing professionals can range anywhere between $20 to $69 per hour.
Possible next step Specialize in direct mail copywriting at $50 to $150 per hour. Technical writers are highly specialized in a particular industry.You can switch industries or add other writing services, like proposal and/or grant writing – around $40 to $80 per hour. Online Marketing Strategist –If your client’s business expands, you may oversee the company’s overall web strategy.

The point is NOT to copy my examples. As I pointed out earlier, you don’t have to become a writer, general VA or social media manager when starting out.

The crucial takeaway here is there are MANY ways you can start and grow your career/business. Later down the road, you can:

  • be a remote consultant for foreign small to medium sized businesses
  • create a remote/outsourcing agency
  • sell info products online
  • manage projects for big corporations

It’s your call.

Your turn (Action step #3):

  • Research about the skills in your Group A through:
    • web research
    • interview with other professionals in your field. (Note: I’ll go into detail about how you can reach them later on.)
  • Choose one and check if it can earn you a living.
  • If yes, specialize in your chosen skill. 

It’s a Compass, Not a Map

When you go over the process, don’t think of it as the “ultimate strategy/path” or a map to success. It’s not exact, and no one will tell you what the next concrete step is - because it depends on you and your unique combination of skills. Imagine instead that this is your compass. It points you to where you can start your new adventure or a new chapter in your freelancing journey.


Author Bio: 
Aimee Espiritu writes about freelancing, psychology and technology. You can connect with her on Twitter or Google+.