Our latest Featured Soloist is a technical project manager running her own boutique agency.
Julia Kozlov first dipped her toe in the world of tech at the ripe old age of 11 and hasn’t looked back since. With a keen eye for photography and experience as a WordPress developer, she spent 5 years creating her boutique digital freelance agency Profile Studio which specializes in providing technical solutions for clients.
As someone who has build a company from the ground up, Julia understands the art of the hustle and why a freelancer’s journey never really ends.
Do you brand your agency with your own name, or your company name, and why?
I use a company name, Profile Studios. I don’t have my own brand under my own name, I don’t promote myself that way, so it makes more sense for me to use an agency name where I don’t have to brand myself. Plus we are multiple people, not just one person. We are a studio, even though everyone is contract. I do hire out myself as a sub-contractor as well. For those personal contract jobs I approach it as me individually going for the contract, not necessarily under my studio name (but those clients like the fact that I have the skills to run a studio).
How many freelancers do you contract in a single year?
I work with about 20 freelancers in a year. I like to hire domain experts for the skills I need on Profile Studio projects. But I love it when my contractors give their own approach and contribute heavily to my projects. I use LocalSolo a ton when I’m looking for new freelancers to join my team, it’s way faster and more targeted than doing raw searches on Linkedin or google. And since I’m also a freelancer on LocalSolo, it’s free for me to use that way.
What are the pros and cons of running your own boutique agency versus doing individual freelance work?
Different type of work. I do both to maximize my income.
You explicitly say on your studio agency page that you are a remote agency. How do your clients react to that?
Most of our clients come for specific technical problems, so they don’t care if we are local or remote. They just want the problem solved.
How would you describe your freelance services?
How did you start freelancing?
I started doing CSS and HTML at age 11. Then in my later teens I started doing WordPress and photography freelance work. In university I was going to school for criminology with preparation for law school, but on the side I was a freelance WordPress web developer, hacking existing themes + handling lost of photography assignments locally. As I was graduating SFU, I started working full time out of school for Lululemon as their brand photographer, but then decided to start my own digital studio full time as I wanted to work for myself.
What do you love about freelancing?
Some people are meant to work for themselves, while others are not. Some people thrive on site and on in-person teams, while others don’t want to do that. My personality is better suited to freelance work, and working for myself. I’m able to do digital production the way I want to. Work the way I want to. I have full freedom over my schedule, I don’t need to call HR to ask for a day off.
Also, the feeling that you’re investing in yourself and your team is great, not working for someone at the top who is profiting off you. I can work with the type of people I want to work with, and on projects and clients I want to work for. Cons, it takes a lot of grunt work to become successful. It took me 5 difficult years. But then once you hit your stride, you really have to keep pushing, and always get better. The journey doesn’t end.
What’s some advice you can offer to other freelancers?
Keep at it! Recognize your flow. When you get too busy, then potentially hire some help. Try not to say no to good projects if you’re busy, change your model and expand your business to take on more work. Mold your business around the situation you’re in. Learn how to go with the flow!
What recent work are you most proud of?
We had a really cool project in Australia with an investment banking group. A custom web app/platform that’s similar to Airbnb, but made for workspaces. Primarily targeted at remote nomads who want to work in Australia.
What’s your secret for keeping the work and new clients coming in?
What has worked for me is time, patience and skills. Everything is backwards. Networking, marketing, Business groups, nothing worked for me. After failing with that, I decided to do no marketing at all. Instead we focused on relationships with partners that know we have great complimentary skills and need our services. Most of our business is referrals from our partners. My advice, have a niche in the market and find partners that need those skills. Let them do the biz dev for you.
What’s your freelance tool stack, the tools you can’t live without?
Everyday all day, is Atlassian tools. Jira and confluence for all the agile builds. I use Basecamp for waterfall. Also Active Collab. I’ll also use Paymo. Notism we use for design reviews. Slack is a regular communication platform. Also Google hangouts and Skype. I use Freshbooks since day one, but I might be migrating to Quickbooks just because my accountant uses it. For proposals we keep it really simple, we don’t do huge proposes. We do more of a Statement of Work than a creative brief proposal, because we are not a branding agency. We use Google docs for our proposals. We use HelloSign for proposal signatures.
What are common challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?
The lean years were tough, just a matter of survival. Figuring out how to turn the young company into a successful business that has a recurring monthly cash flow. I did this by landing some more complicated projects over time. These skills and reputation led to eventual success, and allowed us to get known as a niche service.
What’s next for your business?
One thing I don’t want to do is double in size just because. I want to focus on refining what we’re doing well and what we could be doing better. I do want to travel for work more next year. Since I can work remotely, I should, but I get busy and need to be in the same time zone and still be at my computer on a full time basis. So I need to figure out how to make that work a bit better so I can travel and work, without compromising the work. The dream! I’m going to make it a reality.
Check in every few weeks when we’ll feature our next LocalSolo Freelancer. If you’d like to be a featured Soloist, just send us a message or leave a comment!