This month’s Fearless Fridays interview is with Joana Ferreira, who left her dual role in a digital marketing agency and a tech company to go freelance with her marketing and to become a part-time lecturer.
Joana’s is an interesting (though not unusual) case as she didn’t dislike the work she was doing – it was more the logistics around travelling back and forth, as well as the profile of the clients she was working with, that led her to take the leap. She talks about how it was other people’s concerns that led her to question herself, and how she found a supportive online freelancing community to both encourage her and exchange experiences and expertise.
Leaving a corporate job behind to follow your passion: From marketing agency to freelancing and lecturing
Joana Ferreira began a career in digital marketing in 2011, securing a junior role at a digital marketing agency. Within five years, she had climbed into senior management, running a very busy team, working across two locations, re-branding the company, and working alongside the head of agency to make decisions on the company’s future. By the end of 2017, she realised that although she loved digital marketing, she was no longer happy working at that intensity, under so much stress and in the 9-to-5 corporate environment. She set up her own digital marketing consultancy for small businesses, as well as becoming a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.
1) At what moment did you decide it was time for a change?
I suppose the biggest motivator for me was having to travel from London to Manchester every week, so that I was spending three days in London, two days in Manchester. At the time, I was living in Stoke-on-Trent, so I was pretty much travelling across the country every single week, multiple times.
It was very tiring, and of course it means you can’t really have much of a social life, and even for things like planning when you’re going to go to the gym, you need a whole schedule just for that. So it was a case of life was work, and work was life, and that’s not really how I like to live my life.
Apart from that, it was also very a corporate environment, and very demanding, very long hours, a lot of long meetings, a lot of conversations before we actually made any real decisions.
And for my style of working, I just prefer to get stuck into things; do things, be creative. Especially because I work in digital marketing, I like to experiment, try different things, and see if it works, and that was something that I was missing a little bit.
And then of course when you work for an agency, the clients that you work with are bigger companies that can afford an agency. I always wanted in my heart to work with small businesses that need support but haven’t got the budget to hire an agency, and so that was in the back of my mind, eventually to be able to do that.
So I had been building up in my head that we were reaching that time when I wanted to go out on my own, but I hadn’t quite figured out when and how that was all going to work out.
And I think I’d just been having a really tough week. It was one of those weeks where I was in the office until late in the evening, and spending four hours in a meeting, and feeling like we still needed another meeting after that to finally get things going.
I was meant to be staying in a hotel and, when I went to check in, they’d overbooked me, so they had to move me to a different hotel… It was just one thing after another, and it was one evening after dinner when I just said, “Okay, this is it. I’m going in tomorrow and I’m going to hand in my notice – and that was it!
It happened to be at the end of 2017, so I gave myself until the end of year and then I took a couple of months off to just clear my head, and travel, and then start my new business.
2) What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the change?
I think the first one that I came across was people. I wasn’t scared when I made that decision, and then suddenly people were scared for me, and I started thinking, “Should I be scared??? And then that’s when the worry started to creep in.
Then I decided in January in 2018 that I was going to do absolutely nothing – I needed to clear my head, I needed to give myself some time… And that was the biggest challenge for me, actually, because I had been moving at such a fast pace. I had been constantly busy for five, six years, travelling and having a million things to do every day. Suddenly I had nothing to do, and that was really challenging.
After that it was just about figuring out, “How am I going to find my new clients? How am I going to sell myself? How do I represent myself? What do I call myself now? What’s my job title?”
3) Where did you get the support you needed to make it happen?
When I started freelancing, I didn’t really know any other freelancers because I had been employed for many years and all my friends from work were also employed. So I thought, “Well, I’m a digital marketing person, social media is what I do!” and I went on social media and started looking for different communities – Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, and events as well in and around Manchester – where I could meet other people. Actually, I discovered that there was this whole world out there, a massive community of really supportive people who were also freelancing and were very supportive – it didn’t feel like a competitive world, it felt like a community.
So I signed up to loads of Facebook groups, and I attended a couple of events, and I just got to know a few people… and then I just asked loads of questions. “How do you do this?” “How do you do that?”
And everyone I came across was really open and willing to share their experiences, good and bad, willing to give advice without asking for anything in return. This was an eye opener in a very, very positive way and I still keep in touch with even the people that I met at the very beginning. I’ve ended up working with some of them or recommending them when I’m not the right fit, or they’ve recommended me when they’re not the right fit.
And I think that’s probably what helped me the most in terms of figuring out how to go about being self-employed.
Apart from that, friends and family have all been super supportive to the point where I’m even surprised at how supportive they are! I thought they would have been thinking that I was crazy, but actually a lot of them said, “Yes, you can do this,” and very proud and very, very positive.
4) What’s the best part of your lifestyle today?
One of the things I love the most is the freedom to choose what I work on. Obviously we have to be realistic in that we have to have enough work coming in so that we can pay the bills, but generally speaking, I’ve been able to work on projects that I really enjoy, and for clients where I really feel that we create almost a friendship rather than a client-supplier relationship.
Apart from that, I had had in the back of my mind that I loved training. In my previous role I was a manager, and I got to work with graduates and apprentices and really nurture them from the very beginning of their career and watch them grow. That was something that I really enjoyed, and I had always thought, “Could I get into training or teaching or something like that?” And, now that I’m a freelancer, I’ve actually got the time and the freedom to be able to try and see if this works, which you can’t do when you’ve got a full-time job.
Now, I’m almost 50/50 teaching and freelancing.
5) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is considering making a big career or lifestyle change?
I always follow my gut. If it doesn’t feel right, then I try to fix it; and if it feels like it is the right thing for me, then I always go with it. I try not to listen too much to the people who might be doubting it.
So my advice is always follow your gut, follow your instincts – because they are usually right.
I was very lucky that I had some savings so that I could afford to leave my job without having an immediate client and be able to take a couple of months off. Obviously, not everyone is in that position, so of course I wouldn’t say, “Leave your job tomorrow!” if you haven’t got enough savings.
Everyone is different, so if you feel it’s right for you, then you don’t need to listen to anyone who’s doubting you.