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Jo Juliana Turnbull

Host: Isaline Muelhauser

Guest: Jo Juliana Turnbull

In this week's episode, Jo Juliana Turnbull shares tips for freelancing that no one talks about. Jo finds that many people talk about how they make more working freelance than working at an agency or in house and how much better their life is when going freelance but sometimes we do not always hear the stories of how to do this, the tips to getting those good clients, to having enough cash in the bank, to managing our own time and not feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. Jo shares how she manages her time and her workload and 3 tips that helped her avoid burnout over the years. She discusses how to deal with money that flows differently when one is a consultant and reflects on how she found leads as a consultant. We also find out what inspires Jo and what empowers her to be the brilliant woman she is today.

You can connect with SEOJoBlogs through her LinkedIn, Twitter and website.

Follow Women in Tech SEO on Twitter.

Episode Transcript

Isaline: Hello, everyone. This is Isaline. Today, we are discussing a very interesting topic. Are you a freelancer? And you wonder how you can last many, many years as a solo consultant? This is exactly what we are discussing today. This is the one where we discuss hidden aspects of being a solo freelancer, like a solo consultant. We'll discuss things no one talks about. 

Today is the story of SEO Jo Blogs, who has been a solo marketing digital consultant for 13 years. Today's show, Jo shares hidden aspects of freelance life and how to manage them so that you last as a solo consultant. Welcome, Jo, to the podcast. 

Jo: Thank you very much, Isaline, for having me on the podcast today. Great to be here. 

Isaline: Jo, you are a freelance marketing and SEO consultant with over 15 years of experience working with both clients and agency sites. When the company you were working for was bankrupt in 2010, you started your freelance business in London before moving to Perth, Australia, Sydney, and then Spain. This is where you are today. And, in October 2022, you set up your own limited company called Turn Global. Preparing for this interview, you mentioned that you see many people talking about how much better is their life now they are a solo consultant, or things like how much more money working, freelance they make. But, you see that there's a lack of information on how to actually do it. And, those tips on how to manage your time, having enough cash, getting these leads. 

I think we'll jump right into the first question and tell me like, what are maybe the three things that helped you avoid burnout over the years and manage the huge workloads than one has when you start your freelancing?

Jo: Thank you. Isaline. Yes, very good question. The three things that sort of helped me to avoid burnout over the year, I just want to say that I think I did maybe have a bit of that. A little bit maybe during the pandemic, but I've learned from it and that is why I can see when maybe you're taking on too much or one is taking on too much, and trying to prevent this going forward. Tthe three things that I would recommend is, number one, take stock of what you have, not what you do not have. That is actually something that my mother says a lot. It's like focus on what you have. Don't be worried about what you don't have, and keep trying to chase that. It's really important to sort of see how far you come, which takes me to the second point. Write down your goals. 

It's when you were younger, maybe you had these New Year's resolutions of what you're going to do. I have a journal that I've been keeping since I was about 12 or 13. My sister, I copied my sister. She had it since she was like 8. And, used to say like, what do I want to do this year? And now, everything is digitalized. I still keep that journal, but what I do is every month is I say, "What do I want to achieve that month?" And then, at the end of that month, I write to myself, "Oh, did I tick that off the box or not?" It would make sure that you're on track. If you're not, then you can move that the next month without feeling guilty. And then, the third thing to help avoid burnout is to listen to yourself and others, what others say about you. If you have a partner or a close friend, sibling, they may say things like, "Oh, you look really stressed," or "You've always been so busy," or "Why don't you take time out?" Even parents. If you're close to your parents, you can still, obviously accept advice from them even though you're old. But, the main thing is to be self-aware. If there is something where maybe you are stressed out, people would notice that you're looking more tired or maybe you're not getting enough sleep. Make sure that you address it. And, if you don't want to talk to someone close to you, speak to a professional. There's nothing wrong with asking for professional, neutral advice. Or/and, another thing I would recommend is perhaps get a mentor. Those are the three areas that I would recommend to help avoid any burnout. 

Isaline: You mentioned setting intentions monthly. I've heard many people set intentions daily. Why do you choose this frequency? Why monthly? 

Jo: Oh, because I just have piece of -- I do things offline. I have a calendar per month of what I'm going to do. And then, I actually write down in my piece of paper, that's actually a calendar, what am I doing outside of work, where can I fit that in? And then, sometimes, you can't fit something in daily. For example, if you want to finish a course. Well, that might take you a couple of months to do it. So, you might need to spend, I don't know, a couple of hours a week doing that. 

Isaline: Right. These would be intention, both private and professional. 

Jo: Yes. When I said about, writing down your goals, I think this is important to emphasize it's your professional goals and also your personal goals.

Isaline: I remember, I think you need to explain to everyone, what you explained before to me about the five categories on how you organized your time because I really loved it and that's very insightful. 

Jo: Great. I'm glad you enjoyed it. In terms of the time, I divide this into five areas. One is you need time for yourself. This is the free time: going out, doing exercise, doing a hobby, doing something that you've always wanted to do or enjoy. Number two is time to network. This is building up your connections. This is going to different meetups. This is any events that you, yourself, run. I know you run SEO in Switzerland. I run Search London and Search Barcelona. This also includes as well virtual networking. When you're taking part in Twitter chats, or you're taking part in any other webinars, or/and doing things on social media because it always takes longer than you think to share things. 

Number three is time for family and/or friends or both. You might not live that close to your family. Like, I don't live that close, so it's not like, "Oh, I'll just pop in after work." It's like, well, my sister's a 24-hour trip, so you know. The fourth one is time for self-development. So, this is about learning and improving your skills. The Blue Array SEO Technical course or the eCommerce course. There's other courses that you can take. Or if you're a chartered marketer, you have to keep up with this continuous professional development or continuing professional learning. Maybe you're doing French classes or German classes. 

And then, the fifth one is time to work. This is paid work. It's really important that you separate the time that you have in two. I found these five areas because it helps you then to manage that with your first question about burnout. Because you need to have time to relax, do stuff for yourself. Because we're maybe not like some of our parents where some of them are like, "Oh, I'm just going to wait till I retire, and then I'm going to do this." Uh, no. I think we'll be working for a long time. We need to have a good work-life balance. 

Isaline: But, the thing is, as a solo consultant, you need to do all of these things. And, you, also probably other people, feel the pressure to do all of these things at once. So, how do you manage to do all of them? Like, how do you organize them or give time? Do you know how much time you need to give to each of these activities? This is a nightmare. 

Jo: Yeah. So, if you want to do all of those, I would say it's very difficult to do a five-day week doing a 9:00 to 6:00 and have your one-hour lunch break. I would actually look at, "Can you do this maybe in four days, or maybe in three days?" Because also, when you're doing work for clients as part of this self-development at point 4, you need time for that. If there is something that has just come out, there's always something that's come out, you need time to do that. And, you may have underestimated the time because, obviously, you didn't plan that in. So, if you book yourself up 9:00 to 6:00 every single day, you'll be working yourself into the weekends. And then, you won't have time for point 3 to see family or friends, or point 1 allocate time for you during your fitness activities. 

Isaline: I got it. This is like an epiphany for me. No, but seriously. So, the thing is, out of all of the work thing, you don't plan them on a 9:00 to 5:00, five days a week, because we know it's never going to be enough. And then, you end up dropping other things like not seeing your parents. You actually plan less time knowing that it's going to probably take longer, or some like unplanned event or news, or things you'll have to deal with will eat this buffer sort of. Is that correct? 

Jo: Correct. Yeah. You need to have a buffer. It's like when you're doing, I don't know, if someone's doing renovation of a house. People always, they say, "Oh, we'll have a 20% budget for contingency, or if anything goes wrong," and things always go wrong. And then, you end up spending another 20%. It's like, well, try and spend 40%, and then 60%. Try and allocate 40%, and then if it goes under, then you saved. Yeah, I would say try -- One thing that I've learned over these past 13 years is really try not to think about, "Oh, I have 40 hours a week. I'm going to sell 40 hours." No. Try and be like, "Okay, I have 40 hours a week, maybe I'm going to see what I can do within 25 to 30 hours," for example. 

And, there are other things with running your own consultancy, depending on the country that you're in. They may require more paperwork, like in many countries in Europe, you have to do a lot of admin and that takes into your time. I know in Spain, it's a lot of hours that I spend that is not paid, that's doing my quarterly tax return, my annual tax return, going to visit the administration, which in some countries, you don't have, and you can just do everything online. You need to factor that in as well. 

Isaline: That's very interesting. Also, the fact that you think free time and time for hobbies and seeing families that you factor that as an activity. You have to plan and that you don't think about your time as wholly dedicated to your work. It is fascinating. Yeah. And, I can see why I made lots of things wrong. Because I filled my time with work things. And, obviously, had no time to do other things.

Jo: Well, I would say I have made lots of mistakes. This is just from many years of seeing what I've done. And, I would say, when I look at their friends visiting or the family visiting, that as a freelancer, this is your, I guess it's a bit like your holiday. You need to also factor that in. And, depending on which country you live in, let's take, I don't know, somewhere like maybe Germany. I think they have maybe 30 or 20, 25 days holiday a year, over the course of the month. That's the equivalent of two days, two days a month holiday. You need to try and factor that in if you really want to try and have a freelance life and get paid well and have the freedom, then you need to try and factor in how many days, working days minus my holiday. And, minus my, in case, sick days, do I have to fill with work? 

Isaline: How do you fill these days with work? Like, clients' work? Where does it come from, those leads? Because this is the point of it all. Like, you need to have these leads and convert them and do some billable work. Where are the leads? 

Jo: The leads come from your network. That's why my point 2 about dividing your time to five areas. One was time for free time, and going out, and doing exercise. Two is time for network. That's building your connections; either going to these different meetups, running your own meetup, going to/taking part in webinars. And, also being active on social media. 

A lot of the leads that I have received are through my own network. This is through Search London. I've been running that for 12 years. I've also generated some leads from other channels that I'm part of. I mean, we are both part of the Women in Tech SEO. I'm also part of the Digital Marketing Union, and I'm part of a few other communities in Barcelona. And, of course, if you're at a co-working, that's a great opportunity to network with other people. If you work for a big company, don't forget that that is a great opportunity for networking. You may be working full time, and you may not of course be thinking about freelance yet. But, just thinking about where some of these leads may come from in the future. You never know.

Isaline: And, very practically when you say you network, like what do you do? Because you can't go to someone and say, "Hello, I'm a freelancer in SEO. Do you want to be part of my network and send me leads?" 

Jo: Yeah, you can't just go and sell yourself. I would say sell yourself in that way. What I found is that some people are better at selling themselves than others. So then, if you are not as good at selling yourself, that goes back into your time for point 4, time for self-development. I found in my field that you've always got to promote yourself. It's not bragging if it's based on fact. That was from the #IAmRemarkables from Google. I found that if you are focused on a certain area because of course, we can get distracted with SEO or online marketing, in general, where there are so many different areas. But, if you can focus or hone in on a couple of areas, write about it, or promote it on social, or maybe speak about it at events. You may get, then people coming up to you afterwards and say, "Hey, I really like your talk. Oh, and I saw that you're a freelancer," or "I saw that you also offered this X, Y, and Z, would you be interested?" 

It's about building up your own awareness. If you're at an actual networking event and someone is saying, "Oh, I've got this website and it's really not doing very well, and I'm not happy with how it's going. Oh, I wonder who can help." You can of course say, "Hey!" Wow, let's talk about this. Let's have a chat. An actual follow-up with them, and then see where it goes. But, there's a lot of, I would say, these types of chats you can have at networking events, which can go somewhere. Other times, they don't. So, don't also be disheartened if like it doesn't happen. It's still a good connection. It was still good to go to that event and meet other people. 

Isaline: We talked about in-person events, going to events. What about when you are remote? 

Jo: It's very important to do events, including webinars. Online events. I was running Search London because I lived in London at that time. I don't necessarily think that we always need to go to the big cities because it's very, one, expensive; two, it's not always that easy to get there. Whether Visa restrictions or to this just like, I don't know, cancellations on trains and planes. Webinars are very important. It also accesses a broad market. I've always been interested in doing things more internationally. We moved around a lot. We were very lucky as children, and we moved around a lot when I was at school. And then, I moved around a lot as well as an adult. I've been able to connect with lots of people. But, at the same time, I've also worked across different borders, pre-COVID. Just because that's how the teams were. It's very important to network and spend that time. It's also what you can do virtually. 

I did a Tea Time SEO and we had a lot of people coming from all over the world that wouldn't have been able to come if it was in person. And then, I ran Turn Digi as well in the pandemic. Simply because I didn't see anyone doing these -- nobody was replacing in-person events with online events. These massive conferences and nobody was actually saying, "Hey, let's do an online event." And, it's like, "You guys have the budget." I just thought, "Okay, I'm going to set up this StreamYard via YouTube. And, yeah, I got a lot of leads. Well, it would be the equivalent of leads if it was for a business. But, a lot of people taking part. They were entrepreneurs, people from diverse backgrounds, from all over the world. I do believe that networking, in-person and online, is just as important. 

Isaline: Does this mean you have to be fluent in the language of the country? Let's say, you are an SEO and you speak English, and you want to target clients in a country where you don't speak the local language. How would you approach that? Would that be even possible? 

Jo: Yes, it is possible to get clients that are in another language. There's a lot of people that are speaking English as their second language. And, they also get clients in English, and the clients, that's their first language. I have worked with clients, and I don't speak their fluent language, but I still work with them. You can still do, for example, things like a technical audit on a site, that is in, let's say, I don't speak German, for example. You can do a technical audit on a German site. You could probably do a technical audit on a Danish-Swedish site. 

I know I speak French fluently, and I speak sort of B2-level Spanish, so university-level Spanish. I have had clients that are French and Spanish. I don't do translation. I would work with someone else that does translation and is native in that language. But, you can still win clients and you can still work with them. They know that you don't speak their language natively, and they appreciate that you are speaking, and you are speaking conversational, at least, language. 

I think the main thing is that you were just transparent about it. But, nobody expects someone to speak all the languages. The overall marketing will be the same as in the objectives of the marketing, or the SEO will be the same. But, of course, the way to execute it might be different. You might be living in Portugal for some time, for example, and you may know that a certain way of doing the marketing is completely different too, for how you might do it in English. But, you might not know Portuguese fluently to do on-page optimization, but you could still help them with the marketing. 

Isaline: And, you would find, get to meet those clients through events where you are either the speaker or you host them?

Jo: Yes. You can meet them through that, or/and through your previous networks. I have met people when I have worked with who were colleagues of people that I worked with at an agency years ago. Or, if there are events that, like for example, you're hosting, SEO in Switzerland, I might go to that and I might meet people that are based in Switzerland, or maybe they're based in Germany and they may want to do business with myself, or they may want to do business with yourself, or they may want to do business in a collaboration with both of us. And, that's something that is a nice win-win from that event. But it's not, on the other hand, if I was just to have a good conversation with someone, that's also great for me. That's part of my networking. 

Isaline: I see. Yeah. It's a lot of nurturing the relationship. 

Jo: Yes. Building a relationship and then nurturing, yes. You may not get a sale then, but you may get it after a while. 

Isaline: Mm-hmm, yeah. Do you think it works when you go to events with other SEOs and digital marketers? Or would it make sense also to go to events where you have a different kind of job around websites? Like, let's say, in a developed technical community, like development or graphic design, or these kind of things. Can other jobs about websites be allies? 

Jo: Yes, they can be. I think it's always good to expand your network. If you're going to, let's say, the first one, the digital marketing events. Yes, maybe you are working a lot with a marketing manager on a client side, or you're working a lot with the agency, you're offering some maybe white-label support. Then, if you were to go to a dev type of conference, or maybe a WordPress one, or I think Word Camp, it's a different audience, but they're also working with websites. They may also need someone to help them with their marketing. And, you may be working with web developers that actually may need some help with their own marketing themselves. Yes, it's worth going to both of those events.

Isaline: I really like this approach because there are lots of ways to get in touch with different people, and it's not only about going to SEO events or digital marketing. But, I feel like everyone can find a way to network, and because it's just not one thing, it can be many different things than just going to an in-person event and having a drink. It's lots more varied than what I had in mind at the beginning of the interview. Thanks for that. 

Jo: Thank you. 

Isaline: We are coming at the end of the interview. I wonder for someone who's in a similar situation, let's say someone who started freelancing, having an established business, but wants to hit that 10 years or 13 years mark, what advice would you give them? Like, they've started but how to really last as a solo consultant? 

Jo: The tips of what I would suggest to someone to sort of continue with their solo consultancy track. I would say, if you can, think about why you wanted to do this solo consultancy at the beginning. Can you remember that far back? Maybe you actually wrote it down. Yeah. What were your objectives? Have you met those objectives? If you have, and maybe you're a little bit, I don't know, tired about it, maybe things are not going as you wanted after you've met those objectives, then perhaps you can sort of pause and then see if there's any other opportunities that are coming along your way. And, if there is a good opportunity, whether maybe it might be going back to work full-time or closing your business for a short time, then you can do that. 

If, on the other hand, you've looked at where you were and look at where you are today, and you're not happy, then look at, to sort of maybe analyze without too much, I guess, deeper analyses. Think about what maybe went wrong and how can you sort of correct that path. If you've diverged off that path that you wanted, just think about maybe there was one or two things that happened that kind of led you down this maybe smaller dirt track that you didn't want to be. 

But, the main thing is you need to just go back to see, first of all, when you started your solo consultancy, what is it that you really wanted? If it's something that you've been able to achieve, that's great. And, there's another opportunity that's, as I said, closing your business. You go back to full-time work, working for a client, or you work in an agency, great. But, the thing is just to be self-aware. If there is something that you're not happy with, you still have time to fix it. 

Isaline: I see. Yeah. It's really about checking in and looking at the why and not being afraid of changing course. Thank you. I like that. This is awesome. Thank you, Jo. It's true that in everyday life, in between every activity, we tend to forget to think about why we've actually started doing that in the first place, and does that actually suit us or not or is there anything else we can do or change? 

Jo: Yeah, definitely. And, I also would just want to add another point as well. It is easy to feel overwhelmed. Try not to compare yourself with others. You want to sort of focus on your own goals and don't get distracted. So, there's a lot of things going on. Take out one of those things that you originally said that you wanted to do. Because you just don't want to keep having more things that get on top of you because that's how you can get burnt out. 

Isaline: Thank you, Jo. Thank you for taking the time to answering all of my questions and to supporting us, all the solo consultants. 

Jo: Thank you very much for having me, Isaline, on the podcast today. It's been great to be part and to share just a small fraction of what I've been doing. If anyone has any questions, I'm very happy to answer them. 

Isaline: Do you want to say where everyone can find you? Also, in case if you want to do other public speaking about that topic or all the podcasts, it's time to share your Twitter handle and LinkedIn and everything. 

Jo: Thank you. Well, everyone can find me on Twitter, @SEOJoBlogs. And, I'm on LinkedIn under just J-Turnbull, T-U-R-N-B-U-L-L, Search London, of course, and Search Barcelona. We'll have some meetups in the autumn of 2023. 

Isaline: Of course! Everyone, go network with Jo. Thank you, Jo. Thank you so much for being on our podcast. 

And, thank you everyone for listening. This is the WTS Podcast. We are on a mission to amplify women in the SEO industry. You can join the Women in Tech SEO community. It is open and free for all women in the SEO industry. You don't have to be a seasoned SEO to join. You can be someone who wants to know about SEO, and that's 100% okay. You will become a part of 5,000 active members in our Slack group. Check our website and we are happy to be here to help you out and answer any questions. 

I've been your host, Isaline Muelhauser. You can find me in Woman in Tech SEO on Twitter. Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. And, thank you so much, Jo, for being our guest today. 

Jo: Thank you very much, Isaline. And, thank you very much, Women in Tech SEO.