How I made it: Yasmine Dyson
Tell us a little bit about why you decided to embark on a freelance career!
It’s been a series of fortuitous and deliberate reactions to opportunities that offered me a chance to learn and participate in work that resonated with my core values, creating solutions for pressing issues like poverty, food security, or health. I’ve been consulting for about 13 years, but, most of those years I spent within one big organization. So that was, a little bit different. I started with the World Bank Group at an entry level. As a matter of fact, I started as an administrative assistant in a country office, while pursuing a bachelor degree in computer programming. I had a few great team leaders that coached me and got me very interested in development work,. But after I graduated, it proved hard to switch to a technical position internally. So, I left and went to the private sector in management consulting and got further education. I came back as a consultant and went to the IFC, which is the private sector arm of the World Bank, where I primarily worked in Agribusiness. My last experience there working with smallholder farmers, in particular, gave me a glimpse of the possibilities in terms of partnering with vulnerable communities to create economic wealth and restore social agency. In the last two years, I’ve been working on assignments outside the World Bank, so I could see how the same issues are approached from different perspectives including by small to medium size philanthropic, private and academic organizations. It’s been hard sometimes, because you feel like you have to prove yourself all over again, outside of the familiar network.
What do you wish you knew when you first started out that would have helped you?
I wish I had joined groups of peers when I started, where I could learn from the success and the mistakes of other people working in similar contexts. Additionally, I wish I knew the importance of being upfront about assumptions that hiring managers can have about you and bring them up to clarify and possibly expand your chances of getting an assignment. For instance, I was in my early twenties when I graduated from college and was looking for work in development. It was easy for those looking at me to assume I didn’t have any experience, but I had already been working for about 4 years. Later on, in my early thirties, when I chose to marry, the assumption was that I was probably going to take a lot of time off soon because of pregnancies. It could also be that you want to switch expertise, so you have to be upfront about that since it won’t be reflected on your resume.
What are some pros and cons with freelancing that you don’t think people realize?
- Exposure to a diverse range of assignments and work with people from different backgrounds
- Flexibility to manage your time and location
- Opportunity to develop important personal skills, especially discipline with time and finances
- Increased probability to establish and earn what you’re worth
- No formalized structure in which you are mentored or trained (especially if you start young)
- Finding new assignments and perpetually developing your business
- Managing unrealistic expectations about the scope of work
- Financial unsteadiness
Is there anything you still struggle with as a freelancer?
I would say pricing. Pricing can be tricky because every client does it differently. You can’t know. People, when they look at your financial proposal, they pay attention to it and they can make a final decision based on it. I always have to spend more time on that than other things, but otherwise, because I’m a certified project manager, preparing my work, planning it, scheduling it, and monitoring it is easier for me, but that’s not something that all freelancers have as well.
The other thing is marketing. As a freelancer, you don’t realize you have to market yourself constantly. It can exhaust for people who don’t have the personality to do that easily.
Are there any resources you have found useful as a freelancer?
There is a Facebook group that I recently joined, I was not on Facebook, but I joined exclusively for that group. So something like that, or a LinkedIn interest group could be part of useful sources for a freelancer. It’s called, Women in Development. And there’s a sub-group to that. That’s called Black Women in Development and the resources that I found there were fascinating. I think, being able to share insights and experiences with people who can relate to your own experience is very helpful. This is also a great resource for opportunities to network, collect ideas and feedback, learn, volunteer, etc.
Are there areas you would like support but haven’t yet found anything useful?
I’d like to be part of a community where freelancers can be organized according to their interests or their skills and then allow them to collaborate. As a freelancer, you’re operating in an environment where you have to care for yourself in terms of organizing your finances because you don’t have a paycheck every month and you have to make sure to be disciplined about your time. You have to know how to plan your professional growth. Also, a place to access training that can help me grow in my field. All freelancers are not created equal. Some of them are more established. They have a whole, admin team that is working with them and some have a small group of two people or just a solo freelancer, and they would need support with things like building templates of certain common administrative documentation. Another thing is when you’ve been in freelancing for so long, how do you keep yourself updated with the trends of your particular industry. I have to look for those resources. I have to be intentional about them because they don’t come to me. I would really appreciate it if there was a way to receive the right resources based on my background and interests. Webinars that would help people understand themselves and put themselves out there, be confident about what they’re pitching. That would be helpful, very helpful. People assume that because you’re an independent consultant or a freelancer, you probably are an expert in your field. Sometimes you just have what it takes to continue learning and growing.
Finally, what are your top tips for people thinking about going into freelancing?
Don’t be simply reacting to opportunities without any plan about how you want to structure your career. Start with the end in mind. Ask yourself “at the end of this assignment, will I have invested more into the professional and person I want to be”? If not, does it at least provide a stepping stone in that direction? That will also push you to think and establish the core values and desires that define the professional and person you want to be, or in other words, your legacy. It is also very important to be clear and honest about what you can and can’t do. As a freelancer, your reputation is your greatest asset, and if you deliver what you promise, you’ll have less marketing work to do.
What would you do differently from Day 1 if you could time travel?
I would be more conscious about finding a mentor, getting somebody who gives me the right feedback. Also, I would have started earlier in putting structures in place for myself, for my professional growth because no HR or institutions was taking care of that for me