Talking Shop is an interview series where we talk to freelancers about freelancing. In this interview, we talk to Natalie Semczuk, a remote and contract project manager in Austin, Texas.
Who are you and what do you do?
Natalie: I’m Natalie and I’m a remote project manager and operations director. I work freelance on long or short term contracts with in-house or agency teams, all from my house.
How long have you been freelancing?
I just hit the three year mark for being completely freelance, which is really exciting.
Congratulations! What made you decide to make that jump?
I was working in-house and found myself with some free-time on nights and weekends, which I filled with working for a small company part-time. I really liked the feeling of working from home and had been thinking about working for myself for a while. I ended up getting the right amount of freelance opportunities to quit my job and take that risk, so I did.
What does the day in the life of a remote project manager look like?
It depends on the project. Generally, I’ll log in and check my emails, make sure there are no fires, check my Slack notifications, my project management tools, and then dig in for the day on estimates, proposals, budgets, ticketing, and a lot of communication in general.
I spend a lot of time in meetings and checking in with team members every day to make sure they’re doing well. It’s almost as though I’m in an office anyways with the amount of communication I’m doing, which is great because I’m a huge extrovert and I really like people.
Is it challenging to work remote and be an extrovert?
I like the quiet time to be able to think. I think the biggest challenge is really just constant communication. A lot of people tend to disappear when they’re under pressure or stressed out and that becomes even easier when you’re working remotely. I need to make sure everyone feels comfortable reaching out when they need help, something that takes a little extra effort when you’re not in a physical office together.
Do you have any techniques for dealing with that?
“I’m a huge fan of kind of getting to know the people I’m working with on a deeper level than just their role on a project. That can mean bonding over where we’re from or finding a mutual interest — even the similarities of working remotely.”
It’s helpful to have a touch point that’s a little more casual than just work, so if there is that point of stress or people start to recede, it feels more natural to reach out and get the conversation flowing again versus being purely transactional.
How do you approach your projects?
I try to have regular check-ins with everyone I work with, whether it’s a person or a team. Sometimes that’s weekly, daily, or whatever feels necessary. Prioritizing that is key. I save mornings for east coast clients, the afternoons for west coast projects and making sure that I get that in every day.
What are some of your favorite projects to work on?
I really like complex development-heavy projects. I work with a really great tech team, and I really enjoy seeing how people who are so intelligent in that area work. It allows me to learn a lot on the job, as well. Things that are a little out of my comfort zone are a lot of fun because they stretch my project capabilities.
Is there anything you wished you knew before you made the jump to full-time freelance?
I did a lot of research before making the jump. I read a lot about finances and taxes. I prepared myself for working from home by getting dressed each day and doing a little walk around the block for a commute — all those tips you hear.
“I think the only thing I would have done differently is just to have done it sooner.”
Freelancing wasn’t as scary as I thought, but there was definitely a level of admin, all of the things you do for yourself that you take for granted elsewhere. I think if you really do your homework, though, you’ll go into it knowing all of that ahead of time.
Is there any advice that you would give to a freelancer just starting out?
Always reach out for help or advice if you need it. I did that a lot and it has really helped. Not only does it give you advice from a different perspective, but it also builds your support network, which is really nice.
Where do you hope to go next?
I hope to grow my practice more. I’m really interesting in taking what I do to a higher level by helping companies better understand their needs, and focus that into building a project or improving their systems and processes. I’ve started working under a company named ’Cause and Effect’. I’m hoping to grow that in the next year or two and really focus my energy there, while still working remotely for myself and embracing that lifestyle.
You can visit Natalie Semczuk’s website at talkanatalka.com.