Build Her Own U.S. Freelancing Platform with Ashley Rodriguez

[This episode has been transcribed from the Freelance Fairytales Podcast]

Alex: Hi, guys, welcome back to the freelance fairy tales podcast where we chat all things remote work, freelancing, mindset and financial freedom. This week, I’m very excited to welcome on my good friend Ashley Rodriguez who’s not too far away for me, so I have to go see her sometime soon. She is the founder of the first US focused freelancing platform freelance us as a freelancer herself who offers web design and chatbot creation as well as a US Army veteran and Mom, thank you for your service. Ashley is a woman of many talents, who is not afraid to create a platform that will compete against the likes of Fiverr and Upwork. Hi, Ashley.

Ashley: Hi good morning. It’s good to be here!

Alex: Okay, so I’ve a lot of want to chat with you about, I know you said you started self teaching yourself freelancing all the way back in 2012. And I love that you said you’re self taught with it. So many people will message me and say, I don’t have money. I can’t do this. And I’m like, you guys, it’s free. So I would love if you talked about kind of your like Journey to freelancing way back in the beginning.

Ashley: Absolutely. So yes, everything that I’ve done up until just recently with marketing has been self taught. It really started out no shame here, I just was too broke, starting out to take classes to afford courses to hire somebody to teach me, man, I was too broke to hire somebody to do it for me. So this is back in 2012. I was 19 years old, I started a photography brand. And in order to get myself out there to book gigs and things of that nature, I had to learn how to market myself, I had to learn how to design my own website, graphic design and editing photography. So a lot kind of went into that. But I knew once I purchased the equipment that I had no choice but to put it all together. And so I just started watching YouTube videos, even back then YouTube was a huge thing, YouTube videos, reading articles, playing around with my camera, which is something that I think probably people don’t do enough is is playing around with the software and really jacking it up, you know, so that you know, every angle of what you’re working with. Yeah, and that was the beginning of all of it.

Alex: That’s amazing. I know, I always say to people, I’m like you guys, you can learn anything on YouTube. There’s people who even like, I mean, I don’t recommend doing this. There’s people who teach how to do like operations at home, which they probably try doing on YouTube. But I mean, there’s everything is sitting on there. So that’s amazing. Were you were you working in a nine to five or like an office job at any point before jumping into freelancing? And like, what did that look like for you.

Ashley: So I actually was working in a restaurant, I was a waitress, which is very similar to a lot of college stories that are bartender waitress. And I really was just looking to do something more creative, something that was going to give me extra cash that you know that I didn’t have to be there actually working and serving people. And so I got into it. What I did first was I looked at where I was located, it was in a huge college town. So I was in Gainesville, home of the caters. There’s always graduation photos that need to be done, there’s weddings that are there and portraits for families. So what I did was I looked at that I actually had a friend there that did photography, and he made really, really good money doing it. But there’s not enough photographers to go around. So I figured why not jump in and do it myself? How hard could it be to take a picture and do some editing? And so that’s kind of how I started with that. Just I guess kind of early on having the ability to look around and see what needs to be met, like what needs there are that need to be met and just trying to fill that need?

Alex: Yeah, and I have so many people, they’ll message me and they’re they’re scared of that. You know, that whole leaving what they know what’s comfortable, what’s currently making them money and taking a risk or jumping into this. So would you say you like doubled up at some point between your work at the restaurant and freelancing, right, I’m sure

Ashley: Yeah, that was a lot of mixing in between. The good thing about that though, is I think it’s important to us where we are as a way to kind of get where we want to go. So I was in the restaurant industry. I was meeting so many people from all walks of life, tons of college students that we’re going to be graduating so hey, here’s here’s a business card. I’m doing photography. If you want portraits done if you want headshots done things like that. So using where you are to kind of be like a platform to propel you where you want to go. And I’m even seeing that today because I work a day job today. And it’s not because I have to, it’s because I see the value in doing what I’m doing now to kind of push me into where I want to go.

Alex: Okay, now, that’s exactly I couldn’t have said it better myself, because that’s what happened with me. When I quit my job. I was like, Okay, what skill set do I currently have, I know how to write a press release. So I’m just I’m going to use that to propel me to whatever is to come. And I think everyone thinks they have to, you know, go back to square one and come up with everything brand new. And it’s like, no, you don’t have to do that at all. You can overlap and do what you need to do to, you know, make your dream a reality. I’m interested, how did you you know, after 2012, after you started to get more and more into freelancing, did you ever use any freelancing platforms to get your clients or have you always kind of been like off of them,

Ashley: I’ve mostly been off of them. I did do Fiverr, for a little bit, I did do some writing with Fiverr. It wasn’t anything like ghost writing copywriting or anything like that. I mostly did some blogs. And I did a couple of like short story type of work. Again, things that were really creative for me that I enjoyed, I didn’t do it very long. But most of what I’ve done is finding people outside of those platforms. And it is a little bit difficult. But I think where I have been really fortunate is because my background is mostly in marketing, I have the insight to know where to look. And that’s kind of something that I hope to share with people more is how you can market yourself and get people to come to you offline. And so that’s my review. Look at my socials, I admire what you do, because it’s so amazing to see how much it explodes. But because I come from such a like private way of doing this, I really haven’t been on the socials very much. And I’ve had a lot of success. That’s something too, that I think is important to iterate is that our journeys don’t have to look the same. And that’s what’s so fun about freelance when I’m explaining it to people is that it doesn’t have to look like Alex, it doesn’t have to look like Ashley, there are there’s so much work that needs to be done in the freelance world that we can literally all share it and it can look all different, you can still have success. That’s really really fun.

Alex: Yes. Did you hear that? Everyone? It is not oversaturated people, right that I like melt behind my computer. I’m like, oh, no, that was perfectly put. Thank you for saying that too. And I love that you just said you don’t really use social media in the same way I you know, everyone sees me hit it so hard on there. Only recently though, I actually also freelance for four years, without using social drive any of my traffic, I of course was using fiverr too. But would you share you know where a couple of those places you’re finding traffic like if you want to name one or two?

Ashley: So don’t laugh because I’ve heard you talk about Craigslist. But I did do a lot on Craigslist starting out. So back into before it was overly creepy. That is where I got a lot of my clientele. And again, using the job that I was in, which was the service industry to meet people. So when I first started, it’s changed a little bit now how I do it. Now, of course, online marketing, paying for advertising, things like that. So again, not really in the socials. But I am more on line now, how it started out for me. And this is still great for a lot of people who live in really busy happening places I was in person networking, yeah, that was the biggest thing and just word of mouth. And when people see that you’re doing something really good, or you’re doing something that can also benefit them. People love, like, psychologically, people love to be that person to connect other people. They love to be that person that says, Hey, I know this person, or I know this thing. Let me put you in contact. It just makes people feel good generally, to connect other people and make things happen like that. And so if you can just get out there and meet people that are in the same space or meet people that would be like your ideal clients and just build those genuine relationships. That’s how I started out. And that was my first taste of like, oh, this really isn’t that hard if I just put myself in front of the right people. And so I took that concept. And now that’s what I tried to do online with marketing is just getting yourself in front of the right people. And again, that doesn’t have to look the same as other freelancers out there that are doing it in their unique way.

Alex: Yeah, it’s funny, I kind of I guess did the same thing. I was really into meetup back in the day that you ever use meetup as. And I was so into about a couple meetup groups. I got kind of weird sometimes though. Like, you know, sometimes the people there would be a little weird. So if you’re a woman listening to this, please always use your judgement. Of course, if you’re going to go anywhere and meet people, especially today, I feel like everyone’s just getting crazier by the day. You know what I’m saying? But no, I love that. I love that for everyone listening. You see, there’s so many different ways you can get your clients don’t panic if you hate Tik Tok. Don’t panic if you hate Instagram, you don’t need to use them actually, like, I mean, you are you do a good job on social media. So I’m not gonna say you’re not on it doing a good job, but it’s not mandatory. And and I think people need to realize that so they’re not so scared to do this whole thing. And we’ll quickly why don’t you just tell everyone what freelancing services you offer? Cuz you’re my first person on here that offers chatbot services?

Ashley: Yeah, I noticed that too. I’ve been watching a lot of your episodes. It’s actually interesting, because when I do a lot of the marketing conferences that I’m in now, chatbot creation is really where things are going. So I am really fascinated by the fact that not a lot of people are getting into it. And in fact, that’s kind of where I’m going to start taking my socials is helping people get into that, because it’s really, really lucrative. Yeah. So again, I started doing that as something from a marketing background. It’s not like I just saw this thing and was like, oh, I want to make robots that speak to people online. Like that was never my idea. I heard about it first through the marketing world that I’m in. And that was like, for me, this is something I need to add on to my service. Because I already designed web websites, I already do website building, if I can now add something on it to create a little bit more income, something that’s going to add value for people, why not do it, why not teach myself how to do that. So I found the software that I was comfortable with and learn that software, and I’m still learning it, which is a lot of fun. And that’s kind of how I got into that. So exposing ourselves to different business communities, I think is huge as well, because that’s where I get a lot of my inspiration from is specifically being in the marketing community and seeing how people are tapping into our income, more possibilities to generate income.

Alex: Yeah, and I love I feel like a big part of your story is you start with an idea or something that you want to do, but you’re also really receptive to what’s going on and what you where you see a need that you can fill more so than you being like, this is what I’m going to offer. And I don’t care if a client is there for it or not, because I see a lot of people kind of get that way with their business. And I’m like, I understand you’re passionate about your business, but there’s someone who needs to buy from it on the other end. So I feel like you’re very like intuitive with what’s hot, what’s going on, and kind of like adapting to it to provide a service that you know, is needed.

Ashley: Yeah, definitely. I agree with that. 100%. Because for me, I just kind of wanted to stay away from, I guess, getting into a pool where I would be competing against a lot of people, it’s not to say that anything is oversaturated. Because it’s definitely not, I just had to kind of line up what I really enjoy doing with how much work it would take to get somewhere with it. So for you, I know like with your writing and everything you were able to spin off and build kind of an agency out of that correct. So you know, you have a team of people, which is amazing, because now you’re reaping the benefits of that, I kind of went a different direction where instead of doing something where I could build it up with a team and recruiting people, which is incredibly beneficial. I just wanted to do something that’s kind of super niche, like super, super niche, and a lot of people aren’t in it and creates an opportunity for you to become a commodity. So that’s why you’re right, what I’ve done, what I started out doing is totally different. Now, nine years later, I still take a lot of those concepts that I learned starting out in 2012, and a lot of the marketing stuff that I’ve learned, but I’ve allowed that to kind of change over time. People are really uncomfortable with change, and people are really uncomfortable with pouring themselves into something and then you know, down the road, they’re not doing that anymore. A lot of it I think you’ve spoken on this too, which I really agree with. We are kind of conditioned to think that we’re supposed to be this one person this one career for a lifetime. And that’s just not realistic. That’s why we grow over time and growth is not just personal. It’s also professional.

Alex: I love that oh man, I you know, that’s one of the craziest things to me. I think I realized in this whole journey is no wonder people end up you know, unhappy, miserable, depressed feeling like they don’t have purpose all these things. Because we are you know, society schooling whatever says to them, pick your one thing. That’s it, that’s what you should go do for 40 years have fun. And no wonder people end up so unhappy because oh, man, that would make me miserable. Because I you know, I mean, I know you and I swear spirituality and everything together. But I just Yeah, I fully believe God made all of us to be more than just like the clerk, the local clerk or like the local mailman. There’s nothing wrong with those jobs, of course, but I just think he made all of us to just be more.

Ashley: Yeah, I agree. Yeah, I 100% agree with that. And I think once we realize that we have the potential to do more especially moving into the society that we’re going everything is online, which is which is We have a lot of freedom now. People just need that extra push sometimes to realize that they don’t have to be in this box. And that’s why I’m like literally this close to my my bachelor’s in business and IO psychology, my did communications, but I don’t feel pressured to finish it. And I’m totally fine. If I don’t finish it got a mean, because I realized along the way, I didn’t start out knowing that, of course, I went to college, I was 1819, in the college scene, and it didn’t. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized, well, I really don’t need a business degree to run a business like this stuff, I can learn online. And that’s exactly what I did. And now I’m in positions with, you know, business mentor groups and the local college here that wants me to do business mentoring, and I don’t have a degree in that that’s a completed degree, at least. And so yeah, I think people really underestimate the value of their knowledge and what they’ve learned up until now, there’s a lot of power. And what we’ve learned up until now, don’t need a degree for you can’t replace real world experience.

Alex: No, no. Oh, man, I love that. Right? Isn’t that? Isn’t that ironic that the local college wants you, you know, and it’s, that’s to me, the thing that people Yeah, they get stuck on that mentally, they’re like, I need to have all these credits, or I need to have all these certifications, or I need my master’s already my PhD. And it’s like, nobody is actually listening to you until you’re the one who’s done it, you you go out there, you get the experience, you’re brave enough to just work and do it. And then once you do it, everybody wants you and they don’t care about the other person with 18 degrees behind you, because you’re the one who did it.

Ashley: go check out the platform. Now. You’re gonna see me start spamming you with it probably soon. And 2022. So what about Ashley? Thank you, thank you so much for coming on. You are the best. That’s the difference, too. It’s like exactly what you were saying there’s a difference. And finding a box, creating a box and trying to step into that, which is what we do with degrees labels, cliques that we’re in with our friends, we try, we try to step into a box instead of just doing what we want to do and letting people define what that is. So essentially, by trying to get a degree and saying that, Oh, well, once I get this, I’ll start. Once I get up here, once I get this many followers, once I get this much experience, I’ll start. And the problem with that is we’re constantly putting a cap and putting a limit on what we can do with what we have now. And they creates a that cycle, that cycle of oh, I’m not qualified until, and the reality is, is no, like I’m qualifying myself through the process. So every step of the way, what you do that works, or doesn’t work out is a part of the process, a learning journey, it’s something that we can share with other people to just give them insight and help guide each other in that way, which is why I love the community that you have. I mean, you you find every type of person at every level in there. And everybody from what I’ve seen, has something that they can offer as help or service or insight. It doesn’t matter where you are in the journey, you can always offer what you’ve learned now to help other people get where they’re going. So it’s really incredible. It’s incredible. When you get the power and the knowledge to know that you don’t need a degree to get started, you don’t need a label to get started. And here I am. Now I’m a digital marketing manager for a multimillion dollar global company. And I have no degree, but because I have experienced in it over the over the past few years. And I could quantify that I have the position. You know. So definitely people underestimate the power of just learned experience and lived experience.

Alex: I couldn’t say it better myself. It’s a combo of that right and just being brave. And speaking of being brave will segue into your freelancing platform, I really want to talk about it. So all right, when When did you get the idea for freelance you asked, like when did this kind of pop into your head and go, I want to do this.

Ashley: So when I left the military, I finished my service and 2019 at the beginning of 2019. And I branched off to do business coaching. So I started another brand. And that’s another thing too, people don’t realize that sometimes you do four or five different things before you actually get recognized for who you are and what you’re doing. I’ve done a ton of like online ventures and things like that just to test myself and learn. So I had a business coaching brand that I was running. I had that for about two years. What I realized was that I needed help, I needed to outsource things. I was using fiber a lot to hire people to do different things for me. And then I thought to myself, and I was like Well, part of the business coaching industry that I was in is the psychology aspect of it. And I realized when I was outsourcing and I was trying to hire people that were in other countries because that was a lot of the choices I was getting to do what I needed. They didn’t really have the same insight into the community that I was actually working So what that did was it created a little bit of a disconnect. If I had them write things for me, you know, maybe they weren’t perfectly fluent in English, which is perfectly fine. But in the demographics specifically that I was working in, it kind of created a disconnect between me and my clients that I was working with, it just didn’t translate very well. So I got the idea. I was like, Well, why don’t I look at a US based company? Why don’t I try to outsource within the US. And I found that that was a little bit difficult difficulty that I have working internationally, which is not a bad thing, it works wonderful. For some people. For me, it was hard because I like to be very hands on. So I needed somebody that I could work with at the same time of day, not you know, opposite schedules or their nighttime and I’m mourning that wasn’t working for me. And then also somebody that’s really familiar with the way US business is handled and run. Because that’s another thing people don’t think about is depending on where you live, and what country you live in your business culture might be very, very different. And the way we do things here in America is a very specific type of business culture. We’re very, you know, capitalism office, you know, work, things like that stuff that we’re conditioned to be a part of. And so all of that combined, when I realized I was having those difficulties, I was like, Well, why don’t I just switch from coaching, and actually try to create something, because in the small business community I was in, that was a reoccurring issue for a lot of people. So there was my bad idea, okay, I’m in a business community, I’m hearing the needs that are that are not being met. Let me see if I can use my skills, I was already doing website design, and create something that will meet that knee. And so that’s kind of how it was born. And because I was in the military, I decided to focus heavily on the military community to meet a lot of those needs in that regard. So yeah, just using I mean, the communities I’m in for inspiration and meeting of needs.

Alex: I think that’s I think that’s amazing. I think unfortunately, today, there’s a lot of people who stick their nose up when they hear us only us focus, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to benefit the people who live in the country with you. I think if anything recently, with all the supply chain problems, I think people are finally starting to see that globalism, to the extent that we’ve taken it isn’t necessarily a safe thing for people, when you’re reliant on all of your goods and services coming from 4000 miles away. There’s nothing wrong with being plugged into the rest of the world. But I I really like that you are creating a platform that brings it in locally, right? Like it’ll benefit people in this country, there might be people who aren’t earning a lot and might be people who, you know, people in the military, notoriously are not taking care of too well in this country, not as well as they should be. So you know, I think that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. And I think that you should be proud of this platform that you’ve made. And I’m so excited for it. Do you have any like milestone dates coming up for everyone to be aware of with it?

Ashley: Yeah, yeah, it’s exactly what you said. So we do have a launch tentatively for spring of next year to be officially rolling. I’m actually hiring or outsourcing my first Freelancer that I actually got from you, which is great. Mikayla. Oh, yeah, she’s gonna be writing for the platform for me. And so that’s gonna be a really key component to testing platform, making sure that all of the payment processing is working. And yeah, I mean, it kind of goes back to what I was saying about the chatbots. And the web design is finding like a niche component, and really doing great at that was already a part of the military community and in the freelance world, so why not really just narrow down on that niche and do really good at that I don’t have to go global. I love what LinkedIn is doing. I love what these global platforms are doing. But they have big teams behind them. They have multiple founders behind them. I’m just one woman running the show here and making it happen. So for me, I knew doing it on an on a local national scale was more feasible for me to attain and so that’s why I went that route. But spring spring of next year, we’re looking to get out of community building mode. marketplaces are tough. They take a lot of time to build up and I don’t think people realize that even with Airbnb, I say it all the time. They took about four years of existing before they became the company that they are today. And so yeah, just being patient. That’s something I think that’s valuable for people to know too, is being patient with the process.

Alex: Oh man, I used Airbnb, like, eight years ago when it was it was unsafe, like it was not good. It was not. It was nowhere, nowhere near the safety measures that are in place with it today. So it’s always it’s always a work in progress. I can’t wait for when it comes out. I’ll blast it all over my stuff you already know I’m on Dude, I’ll just, I’ll just promote the crap out of it. Because I love competition for Fiverr and Upwork. I’m not shy about that. They’re obviously great places to get started and make some money in the interim, but I don’t love again, they take percentages of pips on freelancer and stuff like, come on, you know,

Ashley: It’s bad. And that’s what I said to it goes back into that corporate mentality. They’re a freelance company, but they’re run like a corporate entity. And so it is a lot about money every turn, you know, money in every way that they can get it. And that’s something that I really wanted to push back against which I’ve noticed a lot of the platforms coming up now are doing the same thing. And I think that’s really great. I’m also not one person that is afraid of competition or afraid of people doing this. It goes back to that scarcity mindset and feeling like things are oversaturated There’s never too many of us. Somebody may love my platform and not the others, or vice versa. Somebody may love, you know, a platform like Contra, which I’ve been following, and you’re very active in and maybe not my platform. So we just have to understand realize just do really good where you are, you know what I mean?

Alex: I love that, like, just focus on the present moment, what you need to do today, because I think so many people live in the future in their heads. I want to ask you just a fun question. Where do you where do you see the future of remote work? Rolling? What do you think the future looks like for all of this?

Ashley: Oh, goodness, I have thought about this quite a bit. Actually, I think we are going to move a lot more towards the remote working, I’m really foreseeing and it’s already being written about two, which is great. A lot of hybrid working. So even the corporate entities, if they want to survive, if they want to make it through this, they’re going to have to adopt most likely a hybrid type of work where you’re at the job, maybe one or two days a week, maybe one week out of the month, depending on how they want to spend that. But people are not afraid to stay home or afraid to seek out opportunities where they’re not at a nine to five job. And so if they want to keep up with that they need to go hybrid. A lot of these commercial buildings that we’re seeing, I know commercial real estate is is struggling a little bit it’s turning around now, especially in Florida, it’s doing pretty good, because we’re open. But a lot of the commercial real estate buildings had a really hard hit the last two years. And so I’m probably willing to bet that they’ll start renting those spaces for remote workers for people that want to work on their own their own hours work for themselves. So a lot more of like the shared working spaces. I would not be surprised if it goes there. Wow.

Alex: No, that’s all spot on. I actually was reading a hybrid article, I think it was on CNBC two days ago. That’s like what their call I was like, Okay, this is the term we’re gonna start calling it. I was just reading that. And I absolutely think these corporations are going to have to acquiesce and like, do something or they’re going to lose everyone. And I think freelancing is ultimately a good thing for everyone. I think it puts pressures on these companies to not treat people like crap. I think it gives people options to go control their time, their space. I know, as you know, as a mom, I’m sure freelancing has given you more flexibility and time to be with your family. Which is everything right?

Ashley: It’s so important in the fact that I can jump online when they’re asleep and get some work done or talk to people or network, there’s no wrong way to do it really. And and that’s another thing, too, you know, I’m not saying that everybody in the world is going to freelance, I do think a majority of that is going to be happening, we do still need our nines of fives in some capacity, we just still need our manufacturers and things like that. So freelancing is not going to be for everybody. But for a majority of people that work the nine to five, their jobs can be done remotely. If you’re not actually like a laborer, or somebody who enjoys working in a factory, those people are out there and we need them. Sure. Here’s somebody that does a lot of admin duties, or anything that we’ve seen the last few years that can be done remote. Those are the jobs that corporate entities are going to have difficulty retaining if they don’t go to that hybrid model. It’s about a balance. It’s about having a good balance and making sure that ultimately you’re doing what makes you happy.

Alex: Everything you say it’s like I don’t even have anything to add on to x. It’s just a perfect statement. It’s exactly Alright, so for everyone listening, where can they find you online and more importantly, do business with you?

Ashley: Yeah, so you want to check out my platform, you can look at freelance us.co co very straightforward. Like Alex was saying, I’m also on Instagram under that as well. So it’s freelance us.co. And I try to keep all of the social socials the same so it’s very easy to find. We are in community building mode so if you are US based, you don’t have to be located in the US you just have to be eligible to work here. So you can be on a visa that’s totally fine. Or you can be an expat somebody That’s us know us. And that’s traveling. That is not where the restriction lies. The restriction is simply, I’m eligible to work in the US, you can use the platform. And I’m hoping that everybody will just kind of jump on jump on, we have about 100 users now. So know that it’s not a place right now that’s bringing in income but also know that we’re going there. Our goal overall is to be the go to for the US market. That is where we’re headed. And so it does take some time to get there. But if we all support each other, you know, it’ll happen.

Alex: Alright go check out the platform. Now. You’re gonna see me start spamming you with it probably soon. And 2022. So what about Ashley? Thank you, thank you so much for coming on. You are the best.

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