Secrets of Sharing - Social Media Consultant Uli Schulz
For German freelancer Uli, it all started with sharing. Using Twitter to share and make reality her dream of living and working in London. Since then she's been sharing work spaces, sharing in communities, sharing thoughts, groups, content, challenges, knowledge and now she shares it with us.
From leaving agency life to nurturing (or naturing) an entrepreneurial adventure with her company Secrets of Green. Maybe the real secret is in the sharing.
More from Uli
Who the hell is Steve Folland?
Steve's a freelancer helping businesses use and make video & audio content in much better ways. Find out more at stevefolland.com, track him down on Twitter @sfolland or lay a trail of cake and he'll eventually catch you up.
Check out Steve's Being Freelance Vlog that documents his weekly wanderings and wonderings as a freelancer.
Transcription of Being Freelance podcast interview
Uli Schulz and Steve Folland
Steve: “So, let’s find out what it’s like being freelance for social media consultant Uli Schulz – Hey Uli
Uli: Hi there
So you know the drill normally we get started by hearing how you got started being freelance, so yeah let’s start there”
“Ok cool basically it started really in my last year at Uni where I was thinking that I want to move to London that is what I had in my head, didn’t know how to do it, how to connect with people and I started like a Twitter account so a little bit of very…little bit of very unusual thing to do trying to look for a job to be honest on Twitter.
I shared normal stuff like my skills and my CV and then articles from the industry, I wanted to tap into the advertising/ social media industry and long story short I got discovered by The Guardian who wanted me to write about my experience with them and see how it is to look for a job on Twitter.
So, I wrote for them a couple of articles and I had a little campaign where I asked for people to support my job hunt on Twitter by them taking a picture of themselves with a sign #hireulirike which is my full name – first name and yeah at the end I think it was a couple of months I found a job not a freelance job but a job in the social media agency and then I moved to London.
So, I worked in the social media agency and I have to say my English was not that great so I never really thought about going freelance especially in another country with my skills of the language – so for me it was just a normal thing and enter a full-time job.
I was just happy that I found a full-time job abroad, then I worked in a couple of agencies and I moved to Singapore with an advertising agency and came back and I moved around so many times that I kind of always thought I need to find a job.
I never really thought I could maybe just you know do it on my own but then yeah after a couple of times and different jobs I was like I am trying it now and I want to be freelance and I want to do it on my own and because I had a social media background that was my first thought that I can be a social media consultant manager”
“So, which year did you move to London to put everything into perspective?
“Yes, I moved 6 years ago 2011 September 2011”
“So, 2011, then when was it that you finally thought I am going to go freelance?”
“I think the thought started really maybe mid-2015 and then my last day at the agency was 31st December 2015, so I started really on the 1st January 2016 – so two years almost now”
“Crikey I like the fact we got the Christmas party out the way first”
“I know I took everything with me in the last week”
“Yeah this might be the last Christmas party that I ever have so I am going out on a high! Just to rewind slightly though – you were discovered by “The Guardian” in quotation marks – how does The Guardian – which by the way if you are listening from around the world is a big newspaper in the UK umm yeah how did you get discovered by The Guardian?”
“So, I don’t know I think because I was putting myself out there and my mission on Twitter of like Job hunting they found me somehow on there. I didn’t get in touch with them or no one introduced us they just observing Twitter and yeah that is how they found me or one particular person actually and she got in touch with me, and I was also part of podcast predicting the social media of 2012 which was crazy and great.”
“Wow that is awesome ok so in 2016 January 2016 you suddenly freelance – how did you go about finding those first clients?
“So there was a bit of a mix as well I have to say it was risky I didn’t have any savings not did I have any clients- I did reach out to some people and had some discussions, but it was really hard actually for me to meet up during the week when I had my full time job so I kind of decided I will just risk it and pour all my time into finding people at the beginning.
I was very lucky I have to say so I had a contact with an agency I worked for two weeks randomly before I got another job and I told them I am going to freelance if they needed me, and they needed me in the first February or so.
So the first month only where I worked for them for a couple of weeks and that really saved me in the first month because I could just work for them.
Then in general all my clients over the last two years are very kind of a mix of everything so social media plays a big role , people discovered me on social media so really twitter or Instagram mainly.
I had referrals of friends, I am now a freelance social media consultant so I got a couple of clients through friends – I am going to a lot of networking events although a client didn’t me out of that directly I would say maybe it was kind of a referral again
It is a mix of things how I got my clients; by the way I also tried cold calling, cold emailing and stuff like that so trying that strategy really didn’t work for me. I hated it so much I was like no I better put more effort putting myself out there online in social media or networking events rather than you know randomly sending emails saying I am social media consultant do you want to hire me.”
“When you say networking events obviously based in London there is a ton of stuff going on all the time, so what sort of things are you or were you going to?”
“So for example I co work from Google campus they organise a lot of different events, so it is a lot of things about technology or social media and marketing and that kind of areas. These are the areas that I am basically interested in and I go to networking events”
“So they are quite informal rather than dealing with loads of business people as such in suits its more like people like yourself? “
“Yeah totally like it is always super relaxed, I don’t even think about the other things because I think I couldn’t enjoy it, like people who you know play by the rules a lot
Like I like to over the last two years I could see that I work so much better with people who are like minded you know – who like to experiment for example, since my first thing what I really love to do with clients and a lot of them don’t have the experience with social media but if they have the right mindset and say look I just want to try new things, content and stuff like that can you help me? Then I am basically their girl”
“You mentioned co working there as well now I have been following you on Instagram stories for a while and it seems almost daily, like you have found the coolest place in London to co work – I see it and I think oh that looks like a cool place to work and then a couple of days later oh no that looks like a good place to work and then another day, yeah chat to me about co working basically how has that worked for you?”
“Yeah I have to say at the beginning when I started freelancing I worked from home and that didn’t really work out for me at all. I had to change my whole behaviour because at home you have so many habits and it is a place where you relax, you eat and sleep and it was really hard for me to add another kind of task to it like working sitting at a desk and working.
So co working spaces were like one solution, at the beginning it was less co working space to be honest it was more cafes, I was thinking ok where is it cheap to work from apart from maybe getting a coffee or two.
I am part of a lot of groups as well, Facebook groups and stuff, again Google campus actually they are really great, so you meet people there and they recommend stuff so it is a lot about recommendation as well.
I actually like to go, that is why you can see so many places on my Instagram stories is because I like to really carry it. I wouldn’t be able for example to go to Google campus co working space everyday because I think it would feel like going to an office everyday so I like to spice it up a little bit and try out new spaces.
One that works really well as well is hotels actually. I don’t think it is a new thing but kind of rediscovered that I mean hotels – lobbies especially have the guests and they maybe spend 5minutes waiting for someone otherwise it is unused, so it is a new thing that hotels provide a space for you to actually work from and you know you can also have a coffee there, you can have lunch and whatever and they don’t really bother you to consume a lot, and they are ok for you to hang out there the whole day”
“What do you think makes a good co work space?”
“Well definitely all the normal things like you need for a plug in which I have found that actually once you don’t have it you realise how shit a place can be (laughs) so definitely having a platform for charging your laptop is the most important thing.
Then also I think if you basically – it’s quite or ish, it’s never really quiet to be honest but if it’s an ok level of working from there it’s not too much distraction that is also a good indication for a good place, and then I don’t know I quite like creative vibes so then again it would be I am hanging out a lot in Shoreditch because that is where I am based in London so it is quite a creative environment and that is personally what I really like, that helps me to be creative myself and to work.
So if I every now and then meet people as well then and exchange some thoughts I think that is really, really cool as well. Yeah and good coffee that is the last thing!”
“You mentioned being part of groups – are they like community groups or mentoring groups what kind of things?”
“It maybe applies a lot for women now but there are a lot of female groups kind of support groups, and I am talking really mainly about Facebook groups but there are also a couple of groups or like websites specifically for women and entrepreneurs and freelancers, so these kind of groups so people who do their own thing, you know have their own projects and freelance and have their own clients and customers.
These kind of groups I am part of and I think I had one or two clients actually through these groups because there is always someone who is looking especially entrepreneurs they have different things they need to cover in their business, so a lot of people – a lot maybe exaggerated but a few people are looking for social media consultants for example – just to name a few of people that are interested in that there is a huge group called Adaslist, and it in the space of tech and women, female entrepreneurship that is a website you can basically post if you have a question or if you want to tell people about something then everyone gets an email and you can connect with people, or other female kind of groups are blooming founders- that is quite a big group now.
Again it is very supportive it is not a specific industry or anything it is just people who have their own projects, their own businesses and their own clients – I think these are the main groups. There are a couple more – London start ups for example is also an interesting Facebook group where you can learn things, people post tools they discover or any hacks or interesting articles and stuff like that”.
“Do you ever meet these sorts of people in real life?”
“Yes actually I do, all these groups organise meets up and events every now and then so I try and go to these events. I actually like very much to connect with people online but also have this offline connection that is why I mentioned the networking events in general, because it can be crazy just hanging out at home on your computer and connecting to the world there – I really like to connect with people offline.
When this whole twitter thing happened when I was looking for a job I actually flew to London, I don’t know maybe once in two months or so to meet the people that I meant on Twitter and that was really important to me to go a step further and make the connections - how do you say like deeper you know?, and meet the people.
It is very important to have that, not everything has an offline arm to it but I think people know how valuable it can be to meet the people you met online also in real life if you can.
So luckily the groups I am part of have a big arm in London and as London is such a big city a lot of people are based their so it makes sense to have a couple of events or meets up that you can go to”
“Do you have anybody within that, not just getting to know them but who you talk regularly about business with setting goals together or whatever it might be?”
“Absolutely actually so Emelie Fagelstedt she is a good friend of mine and she was on your podcast a couple of episodes ago so with her I really meet regularly, we met at Good campus they had an introduction day that you can meet new members and that is how we met and that was two years ago, so literally when I just started to be Freelance and as you know she is a couple of years already a freelancer and then with her we have a little group of really just like 10 people or so women as well, and we call it boost women where we support each other and we meet up regularly to co work together again from all these places that I mentioned earlier – hotels, co working spaces, cafes.
We talk about what we have achieved you know and we meet once a month and if we have any struggles we talk about this and get some advice from each other and it is really an amazing group to have and I think it has really developed out of meeting at these events and meeting some people online and making the offline connection”
“That is so cool, how important to you would you say that is?
“So important, I think I couldn’t do it on my own I don’t know I think I probably could go insane, I think it is really amazing to have someone listen to you and even if they are in the same space they can give you some valuable advice they can give you things everyone needs to have. I don’t know if you can really do it on your own you need someone to talk to and the more they are in your field or you know at least in that kind of area the better I think because they will be able to understand you and what you are going through and all the challenges you are facing so it is 100% important to me”
“Yeah you mentioned earlier, well a few times about learner thing here, learner thing there it sounds like learning is quite a thing for you?”
“Absolutely and I think that is one reason why I went freelance actually as well, it was also a bit like I am such a sucker for learning – I really want to improve and continue to learn all the time and I always felt in the jobs I did I was good and they were satisfied but I could never do more than just my title allowed me and I thought I can do so much more. Learning is obviously a bit part of this kind of development, personal development and now I love it.
I watch so many videos in general and I talk to people and I read books, it is so fascinating especially in the social media world which changes all the time, so you kind of have to keep up with things all the time anyway and now I can do it and it benefits my own business”
“One thing that I am keen to talk about as well is the fact that we have spoken so far really about freelancing but I know that your business has evolved beyond that right?”
“Yes so yeah I went freelance two years ago with the social hunter social media consultancy and now being surrounded by all these other freelancers but also entrepreneur really sparked my creativity and I was like I might want to do something else other than providing a service which social media consultancy is.
I wanted to have something more tangible so I started pretty much like a new project tapping into the more entrepreneur aspect and started Secrets of Green which is an online market place inspired by nature.
So I work with lots of talented individuals and smaller companies together and they have these products which I say in general are inspired by nature so they either have natural ingredients showcasing nature in some point, and yeah I started this 9 months ago and it is my side project but I think it’s getting bigger and bigger and I can use my social media skills a lot to use that now in my new endeavour and use it as a case study as well, so even now I still have social media clients and I say look this is Secrets of Green, this is the Instagram, Twitter, whatever I am doing it and you know and when you look at the Instagram you realise that maybe you can see hopefully that it is handled very well and I can say we can do the same for you”
“That is good yeah feeds back in, that is so cool we will put a link as well to Secrets of Green at beingfreelance.com. How do you split your time across all of that especially when you are starting up they can be time consuming but you have got to pay the bills”
“Yeah I mean so I do social media more but for example I had an experiment the last few 3 months before Christmas – I kind of dedicated so much more time to Secrets of Green planned some pop ups so going out again in the real world even though it is an online business and testing you know what I can do if I can concentrate a little bit more on that.
So normally it would be it depends like you said you know you have to pay the bills so I prioritise social media when I need to pay the bills and when I have a little bit of buffer or time then I try and concentrate on Secrets of Green – so it is like a balancing thing.
I have to say because I am really on my own I don’t have any you know no one who tells me how I can spend my time, I always feel like I can work in the evening or at the weekends so I feel I actually have more time, now you might come to the next question of work and life balance (laughs) because it sounds like a lot of work but I think I have found quite a good balance in general.
I basically have sometimes an hour or two or maybe longer like yesterday I met up with these women from Boost women with Emelie and we just had like an afternoon of a Christmas party and I made time for that because I think it is so important to have that again, so again stay sane and enjoy life rather than work, work, work, but then again I also know I have an evening or weekend where I can work if I missed out on some time”
“Yeah it’s like flexibly managing your time to do what you have got to do but have fun at the same time (Exactly that is exactly how I see it) and it is helpful when the people I don’t know that you are meeting up with in co working spaces and places like that are also people that you want to go and have a beer with or prosecco with or whatever it might be”
“Yeah that definitely helps, I mean I luckily always had a good time even in the agency that I worked for and met amazing people there so for me it was never really work, it wasn’t that I just go to work and don’t talk to anyone I always made friends with people at work – so I think now being freelance and meeting people you know other freelancers and entrepreneurs I am very much like yeah lets hang out a little bit.
It is obviously not everyone suitable to be your friend or colleague, but I found a lot of great people and now they are friends as well which is definitely great to have”
“And you mentioned going to talks and things, have you other than being in the audience have you stood up and given that a go?”
“Oh yes a couple of times, I did some Instagram kind of workshops last year, which I actually want to continue because I had so many people and when I talk to people and meet new people like oh do you do any workshops I am like oh no but maybe I should, then getting invited to panels either talking about social media – actually most of the time it is together talking about social media and the entrepreneurial experience and then with Emelie again actually we came up with this talk or subject on how to become your own brand influencer because when we talked about all our experience and how we got you know – we had different projects like we mentioned the Twitter one earlier and Emelie had a lot of interesting stuff going on and experiences and experimented a lot with things.
She got coverage and stuff like that –we were like we need to may be do a talk about this and tell people because it is a really difficult subject it is more about being creative, thinking out of the box putting more content or doing things and then getting coverage of getting discovered by magazines or other people and stuff like that – so that was our talks we did one at Google Campus and then also recently the same one we had in a group of entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs who wanted to learn a little bit more.
That was really fun it was a very interesting experience as well to talk in front of people I have to say I really enjoyed it”
“Yeah that is an interesting thing, so it is kind of about creating – we here the phrase personal brand but like more than that, stepping it up so people notice you?”
“Yeah exactly it’s really about what you can do because a lot of people are like how do I put myself out there, how do people find me – the whole question everyone asks also in this podcast – how do I find my clients you know and we try to have a different approach to it and say there are all these channels like social media channels for example or others – how could you use them with whatever you do – what your subject is or your industry – whatever it is how can you stand out a little bit.
Really it is about standing out and communicating what you are doing and what I said earlier of me trying to write random emails or cold calling people that just didn’t work for me – for me it was so much better to produce a lot of content.
If you look at it from a business perspective it would be really about producing content and creative ideas – you know even going outside I did it as a side project as well where I invited people to make paper flowers and we did a little bit of an installation in Shoreditch and out of fun and then people walked by and took photos of it and shared it and stuff like that, so coming up with different things which help you to then shape your personal brand”
“Nice, yeah so thinking beyond just a blog post”
“Exactly, blog post, social media updates and all these things are great and they can be really helpful and I think we went a little bit deeper and said what can you talk about and where can you make a difference basically rather than saying I am here please see me – it is more about the content you create”
“What would you say has been the biggest challenge of being freelance?”
“Definitely the cash flow to find a good balance of having enough clients and planning in advance – you have to pay your taxes a year later and stuff like that, then maybe having clients who don’t pay or don’t pay the whole amount you charged them and sorting this out or giving up.
At the beginning the first 6 months or so everything was fine, but it doesn’t only come at the beginning for me it came a little bit later – 1 and a half years later where some problems arose and it was very annoying, it is all about money at the end so that is definitely the biggest challenge to earn enough to pay your bills like you said earlier as well”
“Yeah that sucks, how have you overcome that?”
“There is one thing in the UK there is a small claims court thing which is actually like a serious thing, but you can use the court to send out serious letters and you pay a small fee depending on how much they owe you it can scare them and it is a legal thing – so they send an official letter saying you owe this person money so you pay otherwise we initiate the next steps.
It is a process I want to say successful but for me it is still in a process the client paid me partially because of the letter of the small claims court, so I hope it will work so that is something you can do otherwise I am not quite sure how you could handle this moving on.
I have contracts in place and that worked for me for such a long time and the majority of the clients I think there is always someone who just doesn’t respect it but I do have my contracts and normally I receive payment after two weeks of works and then basically I work two weeks in advance and then the other two weeks are already paid so that is my way of securing a little bit at least half of the money because if they wouldn’t pay me after two weeks I would just stop working for them and maybe the risk is to have worked two weeks, but I have to say it is not like working 24 hours a day, it is a couple of hours in a week so I haven’t wasted too much life.
Like one client just went bust so they couldn’t pay there is not just one solution I would say”
“Does it affect your morale and positivity?”
“Well it does when it happens but the thing is, it happens you know and I just you know move on and keep an eye on the type of clients that do these things and if I have already a feeling of this client might be difficult and I am frank with them and say this is my terms and because of the experience and stuff I am sure you are not this kind of person but I want to be sure and I put that in place before I start working with a client.
But no it doesn’t really affect my positivity I think I am still happy that nowadays it is so easy to be a freelancer, and we are going towards more and more people want to be freelancers and I think the whole environment of working will shift a lot and I am really glad to be one of the people who can experience that and benefit from it”
“ok now I always do these things where I ask for three facts about yourself make two true and one a lie and let me figure out the lie – what have you got for me?”
“Oh my god you know I am such a bad liar so I had to write it down! Here we go so number 1 – I was on the cover of the biggest fashion magazine in Austria twice, I once played poker in a media fair in Vienna and I never played poker before but someone actually briefly explained it to me shortly before I started playing and I won twice, and the last one is I was late getting my driving license because I failed the theory test twice”
“Ok I like the twice thing here - I like a good theme, so Austria – you are German did you go to Uni in Vienna or something”
“Yes for four years I studied in Vienna”
“So cover in fashion magazine in Austria twice, how did – did you model when you were a student”
“No actually not it was like they have an annual thing where they kind of ask girl next door to apply for being on the cover magazine, so I just applied and there was a little show where you had to walk down and take some photos and I think there were 10 candidates and yeah I won that kind of competition, so I ended up on the magazine but only because I am a pretty next door girl not because I was a model”
“Ok you played poker and won twice despite not knowing how to play poker – you see that kind of feels believable then in what better kind of poker face is there then one where you genuinely don’t know what you are doing (I agree with you). People will be thinking she doesn’t know what she is doing and that is because you don’t but actually you have got a really good hand but oh I don’t know – did you win big?”
“There is something called beginners luck as well, so I think that for me was applicable – um it was actually I won a prize it was not about money it was a poker suitcase with all the things in there”
“You failed your theory test twice was that in Germany or in the UK?”
“No that was in Germany I have to say for excuse my boyfriend left me at that time so my head was not around trying to get all the information into my head so yeah I failed it twice”
“See the first two are so brilliant that I don’t know why you would make the theory test up – I am going to say that is true so did you win at poker and were you on the cover of a fashion magazine… I don’t think you won at poker”
“…That is true! I am so happy right now – I made it, yes!”
“That was such a good lie, you even thought about the prize, so which is the lie?”
“It is the driving license - I passed it the first time”
“But you even had a sob story, I felt so sorry for you (I know) clearly that was true – you are such a good liar, you lied about being a bad liar! Now if you could tell your younger self one thing about being freelance what would that be?”
“I think that would be – maybe it is personal to me but it is really good to set yourself goals, I really know when I do it I work so much better and going freelance I should have had a little bit more of KPI saying I should have a client, one client by the end of the month and stuff like that, because I know it helps me a lot. Even now I am struggling so it is not only for my younger self but for my older self now as well. Set yourself goals and work towards them it will help you a lot to focus”
“It is interesting that you say by the end of the month, because I was going to say when you set a goal and you set a timeframe that works well right, now as we sit here – I know anyone can listen to this at any point in the future but we are sitting here right now on the cusp of the new year so would you sit there and think what do I want to do in 2018 or do you think you know January, February, March like smaller chunks – I don’t know?”
“Maybe actually both you know, I think the more detail you can go into the better, but I mean for example my mindset is I am not feeling disappointed if I don’t reach a certain goal.
I know people can get crazy about this and feel really down if they haven’t reached a goal. I think for me it works really well that I set myself goals and I am happy if I reach them, and if I don’t reach them I just like reshuffle and give it another timeframe and another month, but I think both is really good to have and I haven’t done it yet for 2018 and I am very late, but I think it will be weekly and monthly goals but also in general what do I want to achieve next year in general”
“That’s ok I think that what do I want to do next year is a good one is a good one between Christmas and new year just sitting eating left over pretzels or sausages and things like that that are lying around. Uli it has been so good to speak to you – all the best being freelance!”
“Thank you so much, this was really fun, thanks for having me”