SPF 002: How To Start Your Freelancer Agency and Find Out Your Niche | Althea Sagayno

Althea  Maefe  Sagayno  has been a successful freelancer for 3 years. She has her own blog, The Quirky VA. Find out how she discovered freelancing agency, how it works and how she found her niche.

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 Notable Quotes

  • Iba na ang playing field ngayon because one major reason that I see is if you’re going to start an agency on Upwork you have to consider stuff like the fees, there will be a 20% fee sa Upwork for new clients.  Secondly, yung work na available for people is not that bountiful compared to before.  Especially, the people that I work with, they’re not really yung parang expert level or managerial level work, more on ad-hoc, mga menial tasks and there’s a lot of people that would be there parang tipong nakaantay doon parang mga vultures na nakaantay sa mga bawat job ad alam mo yon.  So para sa akin if hindi pa sila ganun, they still don’t have a clear grasp of freelancing in general, wag muna.  Try muna nila magexperience muna sa sarili nila.
  • Agencies, okay in general. if you’re a freelancer, experienced freelancer ka na, you can get jobs by yourself, that’s fine. Siguro magstick ka nalang don. If you wanna go with an agency kasi, there are a lot of things you have to think about. One thing is doing your own research, check mo muna kung maganda yung feedback dun sa agency, okay ba yung history ng agency in terms sa ibang freelancer. Tanong-tanong ka kung okay sila. Kasi with agencies, the way they work is the payment goes to the agency first before the freelancer and talagang there’s a really big loophole there na parang what’s stopping them from running away with your money.
  • For newbies naman , I think okay na ang agency especially if the agency is established na, especially on marketplace.  Magandang pangexperience na at least nagkaroon sila ng feedback. Kasi major role of agencies in marketpleaces such as Upwork, they look for the jobs for you so kung medyo nahihirapan ka sa client acquisition ganyan, fresh from call center, so ang alam  nating gawin magcalls pero nahihirapan tayo on other facets of looking for a project going with an agency with an established agency would be a good thing. In any case make your own research and protect yourself from other people like for Upwork, ask muna if you’re going to join the agency na magiging exclusive member ka ba, for those who don’t know, being an exclusive member of an agency means na ang every job na pumasok sa profile mo on Upwork, papasok sa agency, whether or not, nag-apply sila for you, or ikaw  nag-apply non sa agency papasok yung contract and yung money. So think about that.
  • If you find that thing that you’ve stuck with that you didn’t get bored with that you’re having fun with and you’re passionate about, try to focus on that more as your niche because you can keep growing that rather than transferring from one thing to another.
  • The market changes all the time.  Don’t let the market or the trend make a decision for you and yun lang kasi parang we always get that eh,” ano po ba yung pwede kong gawin na work na madali akong matanggap?” and the answer that I can, that I always come up with this don’t ask the market, ask yourself, start with what you already can do, rather than-
  • Communication is one of the things that I get really hired for. I always get that comment from clients na, “I really like how you sent that application, you sound like someone that I can talk to, you sound like a nice person,” that’s always the comments that I get, because daw parang I don’t know kasi inviting  daw ako, the way I do my cover letter, the way I send emails out, its professional.  Wala naman akong jokes doon. I don’t use smileys until maging friends kami ng client but that’s one thing that I can say na you guys should really think about is communication and not just English, it’s actually about showing the clients that you’re personable.
  • With more experience you gain more confidence, you just keep moving up. And then, once you can find that niche, that’s another level that you jump up. So, as you gain more experience, as you gain more feedback, you will be able to increase your rate. It’s one of the things though, yet that’s important, is just do good work for your clients and your rates can slowly increase. Of course, if you get bad feedback then it’s kind of hard to increase your rates. That’s improper.
  • For newbies, number one, research. You can get all the support that you can from Jason, from Jason’s group, they have awesome admins, they have awesome content. But at the end of the day, whether or not you paid for the course, at the end of the day it’s you helping you. What they provide, what people like us provide the support that we have, it just supports, it’s just there for you. It’s like giving you materials.  So, make use of that there is a lot of stuff out there that you can use pero kailangan niyong magtiyaga, kailangan niyong magresearch.
  • Experienced freelancers, confidence, it’s something that because you and I and mommy and other mentors and other influencers or community managers, we can tell them how to do stuff, we can help them, help you hone your skills whatever you have but attitude, professionalism, and confidence it doesn’t come from us, so yun lang.  So konting bilib sa sarili guys, kasi we can do that. The work that we do for our clients are top level, world-class level so, yun. Try niyo lang so, yun, confidence.

Althea Sagayno’s Journey to Freelancing

  • Thea has been freelancing for three years.
  • Before freelancing, she worked as a call center agent in Davao Center Industry.
  • She resigned from a call center and tried to find jobs with a good rate and near her place.  Then one of the friends mentioned about home based freelancing.
  • Althea took her time and effort to research, read and watch videos and tutorials about freelancing; she joined freelancing groups and explored different freelancing tools online.
  • After one month of studying and learning about freelancing, she landed her first job with 5$ rate.
  • Thea started her own blog called “The Quirky VA”, an entertainment blog.  She thought of this blog because everything is inspirational and informative.  She wanted to have fun while working.
  • Aside from being a blogger, Thea has numerous activities right now:
    • She runs her own agency of 10 people that have regular clients;
    • She has one outstanding contract;
    • She also does community management so she’s managing another community, smaller community;
    • She’s creating community of affiliated for local clients;
    • She’s managing events which Jason is one of the speakers;
    • She’s an event director of Manila Workshops; and
    • She’s one of the hosts of VAKS.  It’s a daily FB live show that is all about fun.
  • She started her own agency three years ago with her two elementary friends.  Thea’s initial purpose was to help them transition in freelancing.  However, her two friends pursue different career paths.  One concentrate to business and the other one got an offer to work on Riyadh as a nurse.  Since then, Thea hired different people and she gradually learned the step by step of managing an agency.
  • Since the members of the agency have been with Althea for three years, she only spends maximum of one hour managing them.  Thea’s only task is to get clients payment and then send to her people’s BDO accounts.  Her people already know how to handle clients and problems on their own.  They just inform Thea the issue and the resolutions they made.
  • However, the agency is not as active as before.  They more on keeping their regular clients that they have.  Right now, they started marketing outside Upwork to get new clients.  They planning to hire additional people whenever they become stable.
  • Time management is Thea’s biggest challenge in her freelancing career.  Since she has to do a lot of things, there are instances she sacrifices some client giving them poor client experience.
  • Althea admitted that she has “shiny object syndrome” and that she ended up knowing a lot of things but never go from basic to intermediate to expert level.
  • So when she realized she has to niche down, she found what she’s really good at and what she really enjoy which is community management.  She’s been doing community management for a year now and she enjoys doing it.
  • Right now, her priority is her agency because she thought it is easier to do and will bear fruit right away.

Q&A Highlights

What would you say you did in that month in order for you to land that ODesk (now UpWork) job?

  • I didn’t do anything but read. Yun lang talaga. Nagbasa ako nang nagbasa kasi at that time there were support groups but not as supportive as the groups that we have now, like WAHP and other groups. Parang nang pumunta sa group na yon mas ano sila on experienced people and they just really go there to hang out.
  • Walang blog na my step by step na information na, okay you do this and then this and then this, so it’s all parang jumbled information. And then you have to make use of that information that you have and then paminsan minsan you ask other people, ganon three years ago.

How did you come up with a name, the quirky VA?

  • I’m a quirky person.  The real reason for that blog I was looking for something funny, I was looking for something entertaining, cause everything is inspirational, informative, and their good kaso lang for me sabi ko gusto ko yung parang natatawa ako kasi minsan nagwowowork ka, for in my case, in the wee hours of the morning.  I figured why isn’t anybody blogging about that although meron paminsan-minsan pero my blog yun talaga yun ang pinakafocus is really to entertain people.

How much time would you say goes into you managing other people in your agency and how much time is you actually doing client work?

  • Actually, I’d say maximum a day would be an hour for the agency and that’s the reason why there is no opening because we’ve been together for three years as well, me and my staff, so they know how to work, they’re proactive. Actually, the only real work that I do right now is get the payment and then sends it to their BDO accounts. So yun, kasi I think trained them to be proactive, I trained them how to manage themselves and if they have problems they go to me lang, if there are problems, they talk to the clients kasi the way I operate is I’m very transparent. So, they know exactly how much comes in and how much I get versus how much they get. So, they can freely talk to the client so usually pag hindi ko na alam na may problema, na nafix na siya, nagrereport na, “Thea ganito pala yung nangyari.” Okay.

What would you say was your biggest challenge in the past three years of being a freelancer?

  • Time management siguro.  As you guys can see I do a lot of things and that’s not really like a good thing talaga. It just means na ako yung tipo ng tao na pag may nakita ako tapos, I find it interesting and fun, I’ll pick it up so ang ending if you’re like that tanggap ka ng tanggap and hindi mo namamanage ng maayos yung time mo. Chances are may mapapabayaan ka and that will be a poor client experience. So yon, time management.

Ang bilis mong nahire at ang bilis ng progress mo. Ano yung mga qualities mo na nakatulong sayo para mahire agad at maging successful agad?

  • Siguro because I’m like this, I always do well in interviews. Not like yung mga FB live interviews, but interviews with clients. I always do well in client interviews. And siguro yun, I’m very maboka and hindi kasi ako mahihiya na magsabi na, “ay sorry, hindi ko to alam, sorry hindi ako masyadong magaling diyan,” ganon, so I tell the client outright pero hinahaluan ka ng konting-konting, fake it to make it.
  • I found out confidence. Kasi if you don’t give it to me yung parang di mo ako bibigyan ng experience, I’m not gonna sit there and feel sorry for myself and mope around and tell people, “di ko siya nakuha, para akong mahire kung wala akong experience, pero hindi ako makakaexperience kung hindi ako mahihire,” Yung ganun, dead luck. I’ll go out and do it myself, I’ll go out and get it myself, I’ll go out and do something about it.

How did you find your niche?

  • For me po, I decided that was my niche because hindi ako nagsawa sa kanya. So, you can decide for your niche depende sa personality mo. Pwede yung niche mo is actually the work that you’re doing right now, kailangan mo lang siyang ispecify. So that’s already, you’re already niching it down if you specify.
  • So try to figure out what you’re good at or what you really like. Ako kasi I’m really big on, because this my personality and I know myself, I’m really big on what I enjoy kasi pang hindi ako nagenjoy even if I’m really an expert at it, hindi ko na siya gagawin which is a bad thing about.

How to increase freelance rate?

  • What I did then was kasi the nature of the jobs that I had before was parang fixed.  It’s not long term.   I did was after jumping from one project and I learned how to do that project, the next project would be on a higher rate. So, unti-unti may times na babalik ako pero I try na next project, tataasan ko na siya. And by doing that, I stocked up on knowledge, I stocked up on skills. So yung parang naging advantage ko, and sometimes ano eh, sometimes kapalan lang talaga ng mukha, kapalan ng face.

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