How to thrive as a Freelancer in Bakersfield
Hi there, Freelancer. It's nice to meet you!
My name is Tabari I am a co-founder of MESH a coworking space in Bakersfield, and I want to share with you a secret; I might have never met you, but I know all about you. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell your deepest secrets, but I bet I know a few of them. Are you wondering how I can make such a bold claim?
The story of the Freelancer
I can make that claim because your story is my story.
You dream of working for yourself while living wherever you choose. You want to experience the freedom of time and live life on your own terms. You fantasize about ditching your 9 to 5 job and being your own boss. You want to work for yourself and live the American dream. Who doesn’t?
Unfortunately, I have a hard truth to tell you.
For many, their dreams were turned into nightmares.
They dashed into freelancing and learned it's not as easy as all the blogs made it seem. It was not as fun as all the podcasts said it would be. They discovered a hard cold fact that working for yourself takes actual work, often more work and more hours than they were doing before.
I launched into working for myself full-time a little under a year ago. I’ve seen freelancers flourish, while others withered and ultimately failed. Ever since I began this journey, I have wondered why some are successful as freelancers and able to realize their goals while other people struggle. Of course, I also wanted to know how this applies to the city I now live, Bakersfield, CA.
I am interested in this topic partially for selfish reasons.
A place where you belong
My co-founder Scott Burton and I run a coworking space that caters to freelancers and remote workers who have the freedom to work from anywhere. We have thought about this problem a lot since the success of our members is ultimately the success of our business.
During my, research I found that freelancers in Bakersfield have a problem with finding consistent work and acquiring clients. It seems that some clients don’t value the work of freelancing professionals in Bakersfield. They are unwilling to pay market rate for services, or sometimes even pay at all.
On the other hand, we have also met freelancers in Bakersfield who are thriving! However, I’m still curious as to why some freelancers can make it in Bakersfield, while others struggle to make ends meet.
What MESH members have to say
I reached out to MESH members and other freelancers I’ve met and asked them some hard questions. Journey with me as I discover how to realize our dreams as freelancers and how to thrive in Bakersfield Ca.
I first started with the freelancers who are members of MESH cowork. David Latchman has been doing LateX consulting for over five years. When I talked to him about his success, David told me that he is open to an international market, and believes that he would not be able to survive if he only had clients in Bakersfield. To date, David has not had a single client based in Bakersfield, CA.
I also talked with the co-founder of MESH cowork, Scott Burton. Scott is a remote worker, and he runs a boutique software consultancy. Scott states most of his work and clients have been outside of Bakersfield, with only a few exceptions.
I also facilitated a roundtable discussion with a group of MESH members and listened to their stories. A theme emerged. I kept hearing “people don't value our work.” Even worse than people not valuing the work, I listened to horror stories of clients merely refusing to pay for services rendered.
In the face of such seemingly insurmountable circumstances, how is it that some people are fortunate enough to have success in Bakersfield as a freelancer?
What community members have to say
I decided to branch out from the MESH community, reached out to a long-time local web and graphic designer, Alan Urquhart. Over lunch, Alan and I discussed how to be successful in Bakersfield.
It’s no secret that Bakersfield is a city that is very community and connections driven. Most of the time doing business here is about who you know. Alan claims that attending local networking groups has helped him out tremendously. Regardless of the type of networking group, it’s clear that as a freelancer, you need to be connected to a community.
In addition to being a part of networking groups, Alan talked about being outgoing. As a freelancer, you have to deal with the public. You must be willing to say hello and talk with people. A successful freelancer should also spend some time in the community, seeing what is happening, and making connections.
What freelancers on Upwork have to say
Next, I turned to the online platform, Upwork, to find local freelancers and to see how they are doing. I reached out to some of these individuals and got some interesting responses. I asked them a simple question, “What is your biggest challenge as a local freelancer?”
The responses varied, but client problems were common. As one Upwork freelancer put it, “[I need] business development and other ‘hustler-type’ people to hold hands with clients, so I don’t have to." Others simply stated, “Finding Clients.” Networking is another hurdle here in town. "My biggest need is the recurring business. I need to be working with somebody as much as possible to build partnerships and stable relationships. I’m actively looking for that.”
While it looks like client acquisition is bleak, there are freelancers who are finding success. I spoke with two freelancers in particular who reported having success on Upwork. This was particularly interesting because on Upwork you are competing in a global market, and it's usually a race to the bottom for the cheapest bids.
One freelancer, Karalee, reported her success is in her pricing strategy. Her prices are high to filter the work that is coming to her but then offers to complete the task at a lower rate. Having name brand clients also allows her to stand out from competitors who also speaks to the quality of her work and credibility as a freelancer. Karalee added, “I NEVER liked blogging or working in Bakersfield until Cafe Smitten opened.”
Karalee is a flight attendant who lives in Los Angeles, CA and frequents Bakersfield. Being that I am in the business of workspace, I was intrigued by this statement. When I asked her about her attraction to our local coffee shop, she stated she was attracted to many of the advantages of working in a public space. The owners and staff are friendly, there are ample seating options available, the Wifi connection is fast and strong, and of course, the coffee is strong and high quality. Beyond that, Karalee noted that the other patrons are often good contacts, there are outlets available for her devices, and the design of the space helps her creatively.
How to thrive as a Freelancer
I spoke to another freelancer, Rachel, who was also having success on Upwork.
I asked three questions; “How do you find consistent work?”, “What has been your experience with branding and marketing?”, and “How much of your clients are local as opposed to domestic or international?” Her answers intrigued me. She stated,
"Consistent work doesn't exist in freelance, there will always be ups and downs. The trick is making sure when you have an up that you push through it with quality effort, even if it means sleepless nights, missed vacations, etc.”
Rachel's bottom line message is that you must always aim to do your best. You must also provide a quality product, no matter what. The reputation that you build a business lies in the client’s experience, and providing a quality product is the bottom line. As a freelancer, there will be ups and downs, so it’s what you do with those ups and downs that matter the most. Rhonda also stated,
"For sure. There is something bizarre that happens in Bakersfield. It is just isolated enough that most of the people here are set in their ways or are skeptical of new techniques. That said, these customers also don't appreciate new techniques, and therefore are sometimes less useful than they would be in another market, say LA or the Bay Area. This needs to be recognized, and processes should be tailored to each client’s needs and adjusted frequently.”
Rachel's insight is fascinating to me. The fact the people are skeptical of new marketing techniques makes them less useful in this particular market. In any market and any industry, your process should be unique to your region. Beyond that, you have to adapt your marketing efforts to what works for a particular sector.
You must be flexible. I think one of the biggest fallacies of marketers is that “everything works everywhere.” While there are some techniques that will work across the board, there also must be a healthy respect for the uniqueness of your particular region.
Rachel also shared the secret of success in balancing in town clients and out of town business. “I’m about 50/50, but when I get busy its because I’ve pushed for more jobs nationally through programs like UpWork.”
What did I learn through my search? Freelancing is not something that is easy. There will be good times, and there will be bad times. The number one tip is to make sure you connect yourself with people who will encourage you and expand your professional network. I am clearly biased (being a co-founder of MESH) but there some amazing people at MESH all working toward their dreams. Remember that if a local approach is not working, try a mix between local and national clients. Lastly, of course, you must always do your best work no matter how many hours it takes. Stay hungry, stay humble.