Melissa Boban

Melissa Boban is a Creative Lady Directory member and the brains behind SMAL Marketing, a social media and digital project management studio that prioritizes simplicity and authenticity as a driving force.

Her journey to freelance began when the agency at which she was working lost her account. It was the job she had always imagined having and losing it felt scary. Part-time freelancing was a temporary solution that has turned into SMAL Marketing and she wouldn’t change it for the world! So much to enjoy in this interview including an inside look at how she stays organized and productive.

Mel Boban | Smal Marketing | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance social media and digital marketing professional.

My freelance journey was an accident and I set out with the intent to do it only temporarily. I was working at a large agency as a social media manager here in St. Louis, MO and we lost the client I spent 100% of my time on. The agency luckily had me stay as a part-time employee, but I felt very stuck and lost in that role knowing that I would have to transfer jobs eventually. Luckily, the stability of part-time allowed me to have some cash flow while I took on freelance projects and looked for another job. I applied for over 50 jobs and interviewed for over 20, and none of them felt right. I was enjoying freelancing, the freedom, the clients and the pay, too. I eventually left the part-time agency role to pursue freelancing "until I found the right job" but it turns out, freelancing was the right job. My clientele grew and it inspired me to see where I could take it. About two years in, I gave myself a business name and established branding for Smal Marketing, and I never plan to turn back!

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

In the beginning, I took on any and all work I could find to fill my time (free time was tough for me, it felt weird to have a whole day to myself). I was mostly finding work through creative staffing agencies and luckily a lot of those clients kept me on for ongoing continuous social media management work. I still work with some of those clients today. I also trained to become a fitness instructor to stay social and try something new and keep my energy up. Once my schedule was full with project work, I started trimming and shaving my workload down to my favorite projects that had the best rates - and it's still an ongoing process. Three years in, my top clients are still a mix of work I found from the temp agency (several of them bought me out of our contacts so they could work directly with me), and clients that came through as referrals from other clients. My instagram account has been a great way for potential clients to find me and I cater my messages very particularly to attract my dream client. I still teach fitness classes, and it's a great way for me to meet new faces, release stress through movement and balance out all of my digital work.

Mel Boban | Social Media and Digital marketing | Freelance Wisdom

What do you love about the work that you do?

I absolutely love my clients and the relationships we've built. Although I am a small piece of their larger marketing puzzle, social media is impactful - especially to small businesses. Work is work at the end of the day, but the people make it special and meaningful. I have met some true change-makers, traveled to some amazing onsite projects, and have accepted the winding ride that it's been. I love the surprises and the excitement that comes with freelance - you never know who you will meet or what kind of shenanigans you'll get into. My husband and I took a river cruise through Holland and Belgium last year, and I met a new client on our cruise. ;)

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

Working solo and especially at home is the ultimate test for productivity. The boundaries get crossed, and you find yourself changing laundry on a conference call or leaving the dinner table to make a last-minute edit for someone. The only way I've been able to stay sane is a project tracker that I use daily to be sure I'm on track with every client, and a work block system on my calendar. Every task I have is an appointment on my calendar, and I follow it through the day as a guide. That way, I can physically see if I have time to take on additional projects from clients, or if I have a lot of open time - to either enjoy the peace and quiet or look for new projects. My favorite part is that it's up to me.

Mel’s Project Tracker

Mel’s Project Tracker

For my calendar, the colors are all meaningful so I can visually see how much white space I have (literally) in case I get more requests, and in this example you can see I packed my Monday-Thursday because I have a planned "unplugged day" on Friday. All of my fitness classes are orange, my work is purple (onsite is deep purple), personal is blue, and I share the green items with my husband for items we are doing together. Little one-off emails or quick 5 minute tasks are to-do's at the top, as well as holidays/home reminders. You wouldn't believe how many times I forgot to put out my trash on the curb before I just added it to my calendar - calendar or it doesn't happen!

Mel’s Work Block Calendar

Mel’s Work Block Calendar

Knowing exactly when I'm planning to get something done is really helpful when a client pops in and says "when can I see my calendar?" and if they want to see it sooner, I can simply swap some tasks around, but everything is accounted for.

Kinda crazy, but organized crazy :)

Many in our community do their own social media management. Do you have any tips to share with our community for stress free yet impactful posting?

Yes, I sure do! Social media often falls to the side when time are busy, and I am guilty of doing the same with my own. Making a plan or just spending an hour mapping out your monthly content plan can help big time. The months fly by, but consistency is key. Whatever you do - don't let your social media lay dormant for too long!

How about telltale signs that someone should hire management or digital marketing help?

My biggest sign that a client needs my help are a few things: lack of quality posts, lack of consistency, or lack of passion for the posts. Today, social media is often the first impression you have, so it's really important to make it stellar. If you don't have the time, or lack the interest in making it really represent who you are - it's time to delegate! Passing it off to an expert frees up your time to focus on your core competency and creates efficiencies.

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Mel Boban | Smal Marketing | Freelance Wisdom

Social media algorithms keep changing. How do you stay on top of all the changes for your clients?

Woof, this is a hard one. I wish I could say I know everything about each change, but I stay as up to date as I can by reading articles from reputable sources, and staying in discussions with other social media experts. We're a community - and it's important to pick their brains. Nobody knows it all! Luckily, having over a dozen clients gives me a birds eye view of how everyone is doing and what trends I see across the board which REALLY helps.

What are you most excited about in the social media / digital marketing space right now?

I absolutely love how social media never gets stale. Although the constant change is impossible to keep up with, I trust that all the changes are making social media platforms better for the everyday user. It is exciting to learn how to be creative in using the platform to get your message across. I welcome the changes with open arms and enjoy chasing down the best new solution to the latest challenge.

Mel Boban | Smal Marketing | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?

This is an ongoing battle for me. I struggle with the time it takes to run a business and find new business, along with billing, invoicing and staying organized. Hiring an accountant really helped me stay on top of taxes ( I have no interest in learning that monster!) and keeping a very detailed tracker of every expense, mile driven, invoice sent and check received has been my saving grace. The spreadsheet calculates my average hourly rate, my average hours worked per week, what my salary is so far, and about how much in taxes I should owe. It's my bible! I learned fast that my memory is useless when it comes to those little details - it needs to be tracked or i'll lose my mind.

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?

The loneliness and the lack of structure. There are no rules and no bosses to guide you through this uncharted territory. Sh*t gets real when you are IT, HR, Accounting, New Business and everyone else in between, alone in your house with your laptop. It is difficult when everyone around you has a lack of understanding , and sometimes a lack of respect, for what you spend your day doing. As hard as it is to venture out on your own, it's my favorite part. There is no cap on my earning potential, nobody I need to call if I'm taking a sick day or feel like blowing off steam at a yoga class, and nobody to tell me how many vacation days I have. The weight of running the show is balanced out generously by the freedom I have to live the life I want to. I've given myself the highest salary, the best bonuses, the biggest promotions and more vacation time than any boss ever did. That makes any paper jam or internet connection issue worth it.

Mel Boban | Smal Marketing | Social Media and Digital Marketing | Freelance Wisdom
Mel Boban | Freedom of Freelance | Freelance Wisdom

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out?

As cheesy as this sounds, I just wish I could tell myself that there are handsome rewards for sticking through times that feel impossible. To just keep pressing on, day by day. It is extremely important to find people who are doing what you're doing and band together, lean on them. The advice from my peers and support has been everything - even just following an account like Freelance Wisdom. It makes me feel like I'm not alone, and like I'm not so weird for doing this.

Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?

I absolutely love space-related books and movies. I've read Rocket Men (Robert Kurson), Endurance (Scott Kelly), Brief Answers to the Big Questions (Stephen Hawking), An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth (Chris Hadfield), No Dream is Too High (Buzz Aldrin), and I'm currently reading John Glenn's memoir. Outer Space peaks my imagination and reminds me how small everything down here is. It gives me perspective! It's also so intriguing to me that when we all put our smart heads together, anything is possible.

Mel Boban | Freelance Wisdom

Anything else that you'd like to share?

I've spoken with a lot of people who tell me "they wish they could do that I do". I truly believe that anyone can do anything they want, but you have to be willing to put up with the challenges and not-so-glamorous parts of the journey. A good portion of my day is spent writing content for companies with products I'll never use, learning how to organize myself and meet everyone's deadlines, and administrative tasks like taxes and billing. And then, in the middle of it all - I have to call the cable company when the internet goes out and update my books every time a new payment comes through. It's not all fun! Some projects are going to be boring with clients you don't connect so deeply with, but they balance out and often result in better work. It is SO important to give the little, non-glamorous clients your full attention and best work, free of errors and typos. If you make typos, you're done. Trust is everything with remote work, and if you can earn it, you will keep getting work. Being a steady, reliable resource for your clients is a sure way to get referrals and rate increases.

Mel Boban | Trust and Remote Work | Freelance Wisdom

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

courageous, consistent, resourceful

Get Social with Mel

website | Instagram | Facebook

Fiona Humberstone

Hey Creative Ladies we are back and so excited to share our interview with Fiona Humberstone, The Brand Stylist, and best selling author of How to Style your Brand and Brand Brilliance.

Fiona’s spent almost twenty years working in this industry and along the way has seen firsthand the impact that branding can have. She has made it her mission to empower entrepreneurs to create incredible brands and businesses that work for them. In this interview we discuss her decision to self publish, the inspiration behind her second book, and unlocking the potential within your brand, enjoy!

Fiona Humberstone | Design for Go Getters | Freelance Wisdom
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Tell us about your path to becoming the Brand Stylist.

This is my second business and I'd become wiser to what worked for me and what didn't. I knew those elements of my work that I loved (working with clients, creating a powerful vision, creative direction) and those which drained me (managing a team, overheads, managing deadlines and kids summer holidays). When I launched The Brand Stylist, I was determined to create a business that really worked for me. I didn't want to compromise on things like being around for the kids in their (many) school holidays so I designed my work so that I could be off every 6 weeks.

I'm a bit of a seasoned pro in this industry. I started out in print in 2000, launched my own design agency in 2005 and have worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of entrepreneurs on their brand identity. I've learned so much over the years, about branding for sure, but also about the fact that business owners need to know more about how the process works so that they can make smarter, more effective, efficient and long-lasting choices for their brands. And that's my mission.

The Brand Stylist empowers entrepreneurs to create incredible brands. I like to think that I'm making the job of designers easier, because business owners who've worked through my books, online courses or worked with me at a workshop, day or consultancy are so much more focused and clear about what they want that it makes designing for them a joy.

Fiona Humberstone | The Brand Stylist | How to Style Your Brand | Freelance Wisdom

You are well known for your best selling book How to Style your Brand, which you self published! What inspired you to share your vision and work in the form of a book?

I'm a complete book worm! I'd been collecting hundreds of beautifully designed cookbooks, interiors books and floristry books for years and had never understood why no one had created a beautiful business book. In the studio, we had design books which featured inspirational work (a Pinterest forerunner!) but they were aimed at designers and didn't educate on why they worked, only showed what was there. All the books I'd read on branding had been black and white, text heavy books and I couldn't see why, with a subject as visual as branding, you wouldn't create something beautiful.

It was a long term dream and I'd tried to write the book a couple of times when I was running my agency but there was just no way I had the time to pull it together, Thank goodness! It would've been a very different book!

The catalyst finally came once I'd sold my agency and I was on sabbatical. I had the time to create something worthy and I knew that there was such a need for a book that gave entrepreneurs the insights into how branding worked so they could make smarter choices.

Self-publishing is a tremendous feat. How was that process and what advice would you share with someone looking to do the same?

It really is! It's not for the faint hearted and honestly, it's one of the very few stress points in my business. I don't love the managing of stock levels, liaising with distributors or the pressure that comes with managing the print runs. Saying that, when you're writing, styling, creative directing and designing a book, there's really nothing like it! I've shared a lot on self publishing on the blog - if you really want to do it, make sure there's a real need for what you're doing and go for it!

Fiona Humberstone | Brand Brilliance | Freelance Wisdom

You just released your second book, Brand Brilliance. Can you share a bit about how this publication expands on the content in your first book?

Thank you for asking! They are completely complementary. Brand Brilliance was meant to be the follow up to HTSYB - I wanted to focus on creating a great website. The more I wrote, and listened to the questions I was hearing, the more I realised that it needed to be about more than that. So this book is all about elevating your brand - creating a business that sets you apart from your competition, avoiding the hustle and just doing your thing. The first part of the book is focused around helping you find your space, and the second, about enchanting your audience. We cover websites, copywriting, design, photography and styling... All those things you need to master to create a brand that attracts the right clients.

Our community is made up of creative women who work for themselves. In stepping out on one's own like this a brand is being created. If you could give one piece of advice to freelance creatives just starting on their own brand journey, what would it be? Would this piece of advice differ for creatives who are perhaps 5-10 years in?

I think the advice I'd give every creative is to find that thing that you do better than everyone else and build your business around that. Don't try and be all things to all people. Create a destination brand. Be known for a particular style of design and make yourself the go-to person. We so often focus on trying to show a bit of everything - especially as freelancers, but actually, that doesn't set you apart, it confuses your clients, undermines your creativity and sets you up for a rocky ride with clients.

Show your clients what you're capable of, embrace your creative style and curate your portfolio down to only what you want to do more of and you'll find you attract clients who adore your work and are prepared to invest (and wait) for you to do your best work.

Fiona Humberstone | The Brand Stylist Rebrand | Freelance Wisdom
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You balance many different offerings for the Brand Stylist, do you have any tips for being your most productive?

Stay inspired and give yourself headspace. Don't let others set your priorities. Remember the value you add and protect your creative confidence.

What has been your greatest struggle as a creative business owner so far?

Honestly in this iteration of my business, I don't think anything has been a struggle. When I was running my agency, it was without question, the challenge of running a team!

You recently revamped your website; it is beautiful and really well thought out, congratulations! What advice would you give to someone looking to breathe new life into their online presence?

Thank you! I think the most important thing is to not over-research, actually. I did a little research right at the beginning, but the new website showcases my love of typography and is actually really quite simple. It feels like me and that's the most important thing. Don't try and replicate something you've seen on someone else's just do your own thing.

Fiona Humberstone | The Brand Stylist | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?

I use Xero, which I find absolutely life-changing for managing everything. I used to have a book keeper in my agency, but I really don't think that's necessary when it's just me. I do need to rethink my approach to accountancy though - I think Xero is revolutionising the way I do my accounts. I feel more empowered and I need an accountant that can support me in that. At the moment it's all feeling a bit disjointed and that stresses me!

Are there any projects on which you're ruminating that you'd like to make time for someday?

I'm always ruminating on a project ;) Right now I have something really big and exciting bubbling away which I'll be scoping out over the next few weeks and hoping to bring to life in the autumn. Watch this space!

Fiona Humberstone | Creative Flair | Freelance Wisdom

Get Social with Fiona

Website | Instagram | Facebook

Creative Lady Directory

We wanted to pop in and make sure we are supporting you in the best ways possible. This includes reminding you about our Creative Lady Directory!

Through this directory we promote the work of our community, foster increased client outreach, and most importantly creative collaborations, and friendships. We also use our directory to pick our next interviewees on Freelance Wisdom. We’d love to have you join!

Check out some kind words from our current members:

Laura Fischer | Creative Lady Directory

“I've had so many great clients from being in the directory! At least six...everyone has been wonderful to work with and had beautiful projects.”

- Laura, Front-end Developer

Megan Hampson | Letterform Creative | Creative Lady Directory

“Joining the Creative Lady Directory is one of the best investments I've made! It has landed me my highest paying client and every inquiry I receive is of the best quality.”

- Megan, Letterform Creative

Lindsay Jane Kelly | JANEMADE | Creative Lady Directory

“Not only have I been able to find other amazing women to partner with, I’ve had several clients find me from the site.”

- Lindsay, JANEMADE

Leslie Becker | Graphic Designer | Creative Lady Directory

“One of my biggest clients found me through here. They are about 80% of my current workload and are the client that pushed me into full-time freelancing from part-time freelancing. I also receive a ton of referrals to my portfolio site through the directory!”

-Leslie, Graphic Designer


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