Open degree - student stories
Larissa Bauml, Freelancer
What is your occupational background?
Initially, I started as a customer service agent. After several years of working in that position in different companies, I felt like I had learnt everything I could about this job, so I went on to work in a fraud/risk department, after which I moved on to be a payments analyst. I then decided to become a freelancer. The majority of time I worked within the gaming (video and online gaming) industry.
Tell us a little about your working life currently
At the moment I am working from home, mainly as a freelance translator for the gaming industry, but I have a few projects in other areas as well. Not too long ago I also took on a freelance role as a project manager, which is something I became very interested in – we will see where this might lead.
What did you study at the OU and what was your motivation for study?
I graduated with an Open degree, although all of the modules I took were psychology-related. My motivation to study was a combination of different reasons- of course, a degree is a chance to progress your career, but it is also a great opportunity to learn new things about a subject you love and yourself. It took me a while to realise that when you do something you enjoy, the career that follows will be a fulfilling one, so it’s best to study what you’re interested in rather than what you think will result in a great job.
How did your OU study support you in fulfilling your career ambitions?
Studying at the OU provided me with a lot of skills. A successful freelancer has to have skills in time-management, endurance, self-motivation and critical thinking, e.g. being able to judge whether a source is actually helpful and trustworthy. Meeting deadlines, being able to keep good clients in my work is very important and that can mainly be done by working effectively, knowing how much work I can take on at a given time while still keeping to deadlines. The ability to find relevant information quickly and knowing how to apply it saves me a lot of time. In addition, I also think that I get hired more often because I have a degree. I also had a fantastic career mentor, as part of a pilot project organised by Careers and Employability Services, during a time I needed him most.
What was the main catalyst for making the move from being employed to being self-employed?
The main catalyst was a negative experience during my last ‘traditional’ employment linked to bullying. Being self-employed was an alternative to doing nothing and using up my savings, or forcing me to keep looking for a new job. This decision was not hard to make; what was difficult, however, was to turn it into a full-time career and allowing myself to realise that this is what I really want to do, not just temporarily. I turned what was a horrible experience into a positive move for me. The path less well travelled is more exciting, but it is also frightening. I first signed up to a website called UpWork, built up a portfolio and then also applied to companies directly. The more experience I gained, the more clients I got and now I am at the stage where I can pretty much choose who I want to work with – the ultimate goal for any freelancer.
What are the varied services/roles you carry out as part of your ‘portfolio career’?
As a translator I translate various types of texts from English to German. These include, but are not limited to, in-game dialogues, function buttons etc. for computer games, websites and other kinds of web content. I also work as a Content Writer, providing web content, such as blog articles.
It is not uncommon that a client who is happy with your work asks you to take on additional tasks, so I also provide services as a Social Media / Community Manager and lately project manager.
As a Social media manager I provide the customers of my client with information, fun activities, posts etc. to keep them engaged with the game. The overall aim is that existing customers stay and new customers join. As a Project manager I basically do what I do for myself as a freelancer, but on a larger scale: I keep track of a project’s progress, make sure that deadlines are kept, that it stays within the budget and that the end-product is perfect.
In terms of key skills, what are the distinctions between these in the varied roles you do? And what are the skills in common that you apply to them all?
Translations and content writing is something I do ‘by myself’, which is why skills like great attention to detail, knowing where to find relevant information quickly, being able to focus for a long period of time, self-motivation and creativity are important. Creativity is also needed as a social media and project manager, for the latter in the sense of problem-solving. Here people skills and multi-tasking are far more important than as a translator or content writer. However, to communicate with clients, people skills are also essential. The ability to learn new things without much help (especially tech-related) and a good portion of common sense, are also great skills to have for any type of freelance work.
What are the main areas of satisfaction in being a freelancer? And what are the challenges?
The main satisfaction comes from the freedom that I have as a freelancer. I can work the way I work best, without having to justify why I did it this way or another. The end result is what counts – a rather different approach to what I experienced in my previous jobs. Working like this has also helped me to gain a much better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. But this freedom also brings a few challenges; depending on your own weaknesses, it can be either tempting to get distracted by other things or you will find yourself working pretty much around the clock. The greatest challenge therefore does not lie with the job itself or the clients, but in having to deal with my own short-comings and fears. Furthermore, not having any immediate colleagues and working long hours can make me feel a bit isolated from time to time.
What do you wish you had known before embarking on a freelancing career? What key pieces of advice would you pass on to other OU students/graduates that are considering a move to freelancing?
I wish I had known that it is possible. I wish I had known that working as a freelancer would teach me so much about myself and that I would enjoy it as much as I do. Having ups and downs are part of the package – every freelancer will feel like giving up once in a while, but when you battle through that you will be stronger than ever. I wish I’d also known that I would work much harder than I ever did in my life.
Becoming a freelancer can be a scary step. There is no need to go freelance full-time right away, should you want to take it slowly. Start by doing a few hours alongside your current job and see whether you enjoy working this way. As soon as you start working full-time, keep routines that work best for you, including fixed times for work and pleasure. A quiet work environment, fast internet connection and ideally a good computer you use only for work are also beneficial. Otherwise, there is not much I can tell you about how you should approach this; being a freelancer is all about finding your own way, and what works for me, might not work for you and vice versa. However, I want to leave you with this: You know that you’re on the right path, when what you do feels right for you.