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Turning Passion into Purpose: Interview with Leah Kalamakis of the Freelance to Freedom Project

40 Days of Blogging - Day 37
When I set out on my 40-day blogging challenge, I knew I wanted to interview a couple of my clients and one of my colleagues. Since one of the primary goals of my business is to promote my clients’ work (it brings me a tremendous amount of joy), I have been looking forward to this series for quite some time. You can check out the first interview with Soul Sparks here and the second one with RG Adoption Consulting here.

The final interview in this three-part, “Turning Passion into Purpose” series is a fellow web designer and developer who is making some seriously amazing things happen for herself and thousands of other freelancers and entrepreneurs.

Leah Kalamakis and I met (virtually) while taking an online web design course a couple years ago, and I must admit that I’ve had a bit of an “entrepreneurial crush” on her ever since. Talk about some mega drive, ambition, innovation, and all-out-awesomeness!

Leah created an incredible community of freelancers and entrepreneurs that is so active and inspiring that you just can’t resist popping into the Facebook group daily to ask or answer questions, get support from others in your industry or just other freelancers and entrepreneurs in general, and connect with people you can partner with and/or hire. It’s truly an amazing group of people! I could go on and on about why this woman is so inspiring, but I’ll leave it to the interview below to paint that picture for you. I’m so excited to share her story with you and, of course, showcase her business, freelancing community and two online courses. Read on to see why…

Leah Kalamakis

You are one busy woman who is doing some really amazing things! But first, let’s start with your company, leahkalamakis.com. Tell us a bit about what you do:

Yes, I like to stay busy! I’m a designer and developer for online entrepreneurs. At the moment I focus primarily on web design but also take on other design projects like ebooks, social media and PDFs.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering hiring a professional web designer/developer vs. doing it themselves?

Of course, I really believe professional design and development can help you grow your business online faster. Your website is your online home, your business card. How professional it looks and how easy it is to navigate can (and will!) make the difference between a client hiring you or clicking away to someone else.

That said, I do often recommend clients DIY their site if they are brand spankin’ new to business. The reason: we change a lot in the first year of business. Who we are, who our ideal clients are, the message/image we want to portray…it takes some time to grow into that.

As much as you may think you know exactly what your business is about, it’s not until you’ve been doing it for a little bit (with actual clients under your belt) that you’ll get crystal clear on your brand and needs.

So if you feel like you may not be crystal clear on your business and ideal clients, then DIY with a simple theme to start growing your audience and getting your first clients, then upgrade to a professional design as soon as you feel more clear.

You also started a website specifically for freelancers and entrepreneurs, and it seems to have exploded (in a great way!). What’s the Freelance to Freedom Project all about? How’d it get started, and is it (now) what you envisioned it would be when you first thought of starting it?

The Freelance To Freedom Project is a blog and resource to help people find freedom through entrepreneurship. I created it after I was able to quit my corporate job and start freelancing full-time with a skill I had taught myself only months prior.

I was so amazed at how easy it was to learn a new skill (and leverage the ones I already had), start a business and quit my 9-5, that I felt a strong need to share that with others.

In the beginning I imagined FTF to be mainly to help people do what I did. Over time, as I’ve evolved, my community has evolved along with me. So now I cover a lot of topics that go beyond just the “starting” phase of business: scaling, creating passive income, hiring team members, etc.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering taking the leap into full-time freelancing/entrepreneurship?

Most importantly: it’s possible. It’s hard to believe it’s actually possible no matter how many stories of people like me you hear about. You likely worry about making ends meet, where you will actually find clients and what would happen if one month you don’t have clients. You may have a good, steady salary right now and you can’t imagine actually being able to have that same salary as a freelancer, let alone more.

You can. You will. As long as you have a true drive and inner hustle, it will happen.

Once you have that itch, you’ve got to act on it. Otherwise you’ll just waste more years dreaming about it happening.

I run an online course called The Leap Guide, to help people prepare their business to go full-time. The #1 thing that stops people from getting to the leap is fear. So you just have to ignore that and take action. Easier said than done I know, but it’s important.

Once you have that entrepreneurial itch, you've got to act on it!

You also created an online course to help people with their processes and productivity. Will you tell us about that?

Yes! It’s called Stress Less & Impress. I never thought I’d be a “systems” chick, but it turns out I am 🙂 I struggled with so many aspects of my business (client management, inbox craziness, boundaries, etc.), and one day I put together a process that ended up being the key to solving most of my business problems.

I noticed a lot of my community struggled with the same things. So I created a course that walks you through my process step-by-step. From the first client inquiry on your website all the way to how to wrap up a project. It’s called Stress Less & Impress because a streamlined process will make your life easier, and your clients’ as well (which turns them into happy, impressed clients that will refer you to others so you can stop hustling so hard with marketing!).

It took me so long to get all the moving pieces in my business streamlined, and so I wanted to save others the time and trouble they would go through otherwise to figure it out on their own.

What advice would you give someone who is constantly struggling with their processes and productivity?

Put something in place that’s repeatable. Write down each aspect of working with your clients. How they contact you, what happens next, how they pay you, how you communicate during the project, etc. Then put together repeatable things (like a welcome package, contract, emails scripts) so that you aren’t constantly starting from scratch.

You used to have a more “traditional” job, right? What was it and what made you take the leap to the world of working for yourself?

I’ve always been a big traveler and have lived far from home (Seattle) since I was 19. The biggest thing that always held me back, whether I was in NYC, Italy or most recently, France, was a job. I hated that it was so hard for me to visit my family back home, let alone pick up and move somewhere else whenever I wanted.

So although I was drawn to entrepreneurship for soooo many reasons, the freedom to live, travel and work from anywhere was the biggest push for me to make the leap.

What’s the best part about working for yourself?

Freedom! More specifically, freedom of time and location. I’m a night owl, so I love being able to sleep in and choose my own hours. I like to be able to go grocery shopping when the store is empty, and take a three-day weekend or work through it if I’m in the zone. As I mentioned before, I like to move around, so being able to work from my bed, a coffee shop, Seattle or France is priceless. And I have to add as it’s huge: choosing my own income. I decide how much I want to make and there is no limit. Working for someone else just doesn’t allow that, no matter how good you are at what you do.

Walk us through your typical workday.

I don’t have one! And that’s something that I LOVE about running my business. Sometimes, I think I’d be more productive and reach my goals faster if I stuck to a schedule, but for the time being I’m enjoying planning my days one day at a time. I recently made a big move back from France to NYC (with a long stop in Seattle along the way), so the stress and never-ending to-do list that comes from moving means a regular schedule just isn’t possible.

That said – here is an average day when I am in a groove:

9-11am: slow wake up including coffee, checking emails, poppin’ in my Facebook group, setting my to-do list for the day. (Sometimes I feel bad I’m not an early riser, but I figure when the time comes to have kids, I’ll be glad I took advantage of sleepy mornings)

12-2pm: client calls, responding to emails, checking in on clients and starting design work.

2-3pm: Lunch if I remember 🙂

3-6pm: Client work, checking in and responding to questions in my course groups, writing blog posts.

6-10pm: Same as above if I’m in a groove, otherwise out to dinner and drinks or cooking with my Frenchy.

10pm-2am: Hangin’ out in Facebook groups, reading a book on my ipad or watching a show on my laptop in bed with a glass of wine.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve experienced while working for yourself?

Staying productive through the ups and downs. Working for yourself isn’t always easy. I’m constantly in an up and down wave of loving the hustle or feeling too overwhelmed.

I set big goals for myself and sometimes put too much pressure on myself to reach them faster and faster. The problem with that is that when you hit the wall, you hit it hard, and it’s tough to get out.

This year I’ve put a big effort into keeping things more balanced. Understanding that I can set smaller goals and get just as much satisfaction out of reaching them. If I’m doing things I don’t enjoy, I am much better now at cutting them out instead of trying to do it all. But it’s work to keep that balance, and I think that’s a part of the entrepreneurial life that I can get better at, but may never perfect… and I have to be okay with that 🙂

Tell me about some of the people you’ve met along your freelancing/entrepreneurial journey and how they’ve made a difference in your life:

Oh man, so many I couldn’t even start a list! The best part, most of the people that have made the biggest difference I haven’t even met in person. Of course, I’d love to be able to see their face in real life, but the fact that it’s possible to “meet” and be inspired by people from all over the world is just incredible.

I will give a big shout out to my accountability partner, Farideh Ceaser. She’s my rock when it comes to business and life. We started in a mastermind together, then started chatting once a week just the two of us, now we run almost every business decision we make by each other (and we’ve never even met in person…yet!)

I highly recommend having a mastermind and/or accountability partner as a solopreneur. It’s so much more fun to not have to do everything alone. I wrote a post on why I think it’s so great and how to find one here if you’re interested.

If you’re just getting started in working for yourself, surround yourself with people doing the same (Facebook groups are a great place to start!). It not only helps give you motivation to see what’s possible, but it makes the harder parts more manageable and the big wins more fun to celebrate!

Thanks so much for sharing your story and experience, Leah!

Be sure to click on the links below to learn more about Leah’s incredible freelancing community and her two online courses. The Stress Less & Impress links mentioned in this post are my affiliate links. I personally went through the course and absolutely loved it! If you have your own business and struggle with systems, this is the course for you!

The Freelance to Freedom Project

The Leap Guide

Stress Less & Impress

Happy entrepreneurial leaping!

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9 comments… add one

  • Jamie Galley April 16, 2015

    Great interview. I especially loved reading about Leah’s typical workday details 🙂

    • Stefani Harris April 16, 2015

      Ha – I know…me too! I love the freedom we get to have by being our own boss! 🙂

  • Beth April 16, 2015

    I’m a big fan of Leah’s too! Great interview!

  • Megan April 17, 2015

    Leah is awesome!! I especially loved reading that she doesn’t start her typical workday until 9-11am. Me too and I feel guilty a lot of the time also! It’s always so interesting to see how people schedule their days when they don’t have to adhere to the 9-5 hours. Great interview Stephani!

    • Stefani Harris April 17, 2015

      Thanks, Megan!! I love that part, too! Sometimes I choose to take a short nap or even TWO during the day because I wake up so early…but then I end up staying up very late. I think I’ve just come to the conclusion that my brain works better and I have more energy at night. 🙂

    • Leah April 21, 2015

      Haha, yes the guilt….and honestly, 9am is a rare occurrence 🙂 Just gotta always remember the reason we started this in the first place (freedom) and that includes working hours!

  • Leah April 21, 2015

    Thanks so much for having me on your blog Stef! I really enjoyed getting to share my story and love that people enjoyed my “typical work day”…I totally left out my usual nap 🙂 Thanks again for the opportunity!

  • Stefani Harris April 21, 2015

    Oh I LOVE naps!! It was an honor to have you on the blog and to be able to interview and feature you!!

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