One of the things I have been wanting to do for SO long (read: years), but haven’t actually put into action: writing more about freelance & creative life. I have a dozen half-written, unpublished drafts sitting in my archive… stories that popped up in my mind at some point – probably during a late night – and then were neglected the following morning. But, with the year coming to an end and us all setting resolutions for a fresh new year, I figured I’d get a head start and get a first post out on the blog! Fi-nal-ly.
There are so many interesting things to say and read about entrepreneurship and I personally always love getting insights into other people’s lives and taking note of successful habits they have developed. I have also been getting a bunch of questions about my career path, struggles, routines and tips over the last couple of years, so I’ll dive into some of these topics soon as well. But let’s start from the beginning...
As some of you might know, beside the blog I have also been working as a freelancer for about 3 years. It has been my plan from a young age to lead an entrepreneurial life, but I always thought it be about products rather than services. Which was the case at age 19, when I founded a jewellery company. It was hard to combine growing the business in such a saturated market (and social media was juuust in its early stages), while going to university, so I sold my stock after a few years. I was ok with it: I didn’t feel as passionate about it and felt more motivated to climb the career ladder in a big company instead.
My First Job
As part of my thesis at the end of my Communication Management studies, I did an internship in the Internal Communications department of a relatively large consumer electronics/automotive company in Amsterdam. I was part of a very small team (of two), which meant I was involved in a lot of different projects and quickly took on more responsibility. Because of this, I was able to land a full-time position directly after graduation. My responsibilities were pretty wide-spread; from managing the employee magazine, intranet and newsletter to helping organizing events and advising other departments & senior management on effective communications. In total I worked here for a little over a year, before I quit my job to... move to Canada.
I moved to Vancouver without having a job lined up, which at the time felt stressful, but had it been different, I wouldn’t have been where I am now, I’m sure. With all the spare time in those first few months I decided to launch my first blog. I had been a reader for many years and thought it was a good moment to give it a try myself. My dad had gifted me my first DSLR camera for my birthday months earlier, so I took the opportunity to tap into my creative side (which, I thought, was pretty much non-existent at the time). I liked playing around with photography, editing and publishing posts, and I quickly discovered progress in my skill development.
About 3 months after the move, I got a job as a Marketing & Project Manager in a translation company. It didn’t last long; the company was run by a couple and too small with not enough projects for an extra hire (me), so we parted ways after a few months. It wasn’t a successful experience in that sense, but I did learn a lot about myself and realized that I really needed a job with more responsibility, challenges and freedom to work things out on my own. So with that in mind I went back on the job hunt and soon got contacted by a headhunter whom I had already been in contact with (for a job at their company). She had found a new opportunity for me at a biomedical company.
”Growing” Two Jobs
After a few interview rounds, I got hired at that company and started my job as a Marketing Coordinator. The biomedical industry was completely new to me, and slightly out of my comfort zone, but it was interesting to learn more about the field and to work with dental professionals and hospital staff. Things were going well (despite my fear for dentists) and, after the company went through some internal changes after the first year, I got promoted to Marketing & Business Development Manager. This meant that I was not only responsible for the marketing activities, but also sales and business development. I had never considered myself to be a sales person at all, but things went very well (by focusing on building relationships rather than selling) and I soon grew my sales territory from one Canadian province to all of the English-speaking Canadian provinces and the Mexican, Asian & European markets. Turns out that things can be successful even if you have no other choice but to take on tasks that make you uncomfortable and you simply have to learn by doing.
Besides working that full-time job, I had continued with my blog and created a small network of fellow bloggers, PR agencies and brands. Collaborations were now part of the deal and I had really become part of the Vancouver fashion industry. Most of my close friends were bloggers too, so we teamed up and helped each other out with photos, negotiations and introductions to brands.
Fast-forward to the end of 2014, more than 3 years after my move. I was still working at the biomedical company and my blog had continued to grow. I had grown too, and my style had changed… I felt like my first blog wasn’t a good fit anymore. It was time for a rebrand: my first introduction to strategic branding. Who am I? What do I stand for? What do I want to reflect in my brand (the new blog)? And how do I do that? Which designs do I find inspiring? What should the content be like? And the photography? I LOVED figuring all of this out. And after weeks of late nights, my new brand was there: NOA NOIR was launched in October 2014.
This was also the time I had started planning another big change: my move back to Europe. I had enjoyed my time in Vancouver, but I felt like it was necessary to change things up. I couldn’t really put my finger on why I felt that way, I just knew that the job at the biomedical company made me feel unfulfilled and stuck in a rut. I didn’t know what I wanted exactly, but it wasn’t this.
And there I was, crossing the ocean again nearly 4 years later, this time back to my roots, but still without a job lined up. The same thing happened again: months of freedom, which I tried to fill with networking for NOA NOIR. Breaking into the German fashion industry turned out to be more difficult, probably because there are so many bloggers with much larger followings. But I kept trying and went to events despite feeling uncomfortable going alone. It’s all about meeting people… your network can be an important factor to your success after all.
I also applied for jobs, but felt very hesitant about it all. I absolutely didn’t want to get back into an unfulfilling job for the sake of having a steady income, so I became very selective and probably, secretly, hoped for a way out of this rat race… and maybe a sign from the universe that I should pursue something on my own. What exactly, I didn’t know yet. At least not consciously.
Then I came across a job opportunity at a creative agency. They wanted to hire me, but on a freelance basis. So before I could sign the contract, I had to get everything set up and register myself as a freelancer. The contract was for 5 months and in the time at the agency, I realized I really wanted to do something more creative. I had always thought I’d stay in marketing, focus on strategic communications, and leave the ‘fun’ part for someone else. But working with so many creatives, especially at the agency’s HQ in London, I knew I had to figure out my creative direction. Then one day, while working at said HQ during a quick trip, I got an e-mail from a brand I had collaborated with for NOA NOIR. They told me they liked my photography and were wondering whether I’d be interested in creating content for their social media on a project basis… I believe that was perhaps the nudge I had been waiting for. And so, after finishing my contract with the agency, I started my life as a ‘real’ freelancer… almost 2 years ago now.
I can’t believe it’s been such a long time already! Despite never considering myself to be a creative person, looking back it makes complete sense that I am doing what I do now… As a kid I was always focused on writing and “making things look pretty”, I loved looking at packaging and critiquing design flaws (in my opinion, of course). I always had an interest in art & design, but from a perspective of admiring and taking inspiration from it, rather than learning all about the meaning and history. As it turns out, I’ve always been focused on analyzing visual communication and thinking to myself how it could have been done differently – how a brand or its design elements speak to me and evoke an emotion.
Writing this post, I can see so many signs that have lead me to where I am now. These freelance years have been the best, but probably also the most challenging years in my life. And because that’s the juicy stuff, I’ll be sharing those experiences with you in the next post… stay tuned!
P.S. If you like this type of post, check out my good friend Sharday's post about how she got her job in fashion.