Gabriela Cardoza is a prolific brand and marketing consultant, Twitter networking savant, and mother of two. I recently hopped on a call with her to discuss how she runs her empire from the home, and how she manages her workflow as a freelancer to stay on top of the game.
Can you tell me about the path that led you to become a branding and marketing specialist?
As a senior in high school, my interests oscillated between traditionally, rigid studies, such as law and politics, and creative fields, such as art and design. All on different ends of the spectrum, I was often in the midst of a tug-of-war. I yearned for a creative outlet, yet found a sense of purpose when advocating on behalf of others. Eventually, I chose to pursue the latter, after discovering, while interning at an immigration law firm, that there was a unique sense of beauty in allowing the voiceless to be heard.
I did a year of college in the states. However, I seemed to outgrow the honors program rather quickly. Eventually, as a result, I came to the realization that I needed a challenge beyond the classroom. As a result, I transferred to a university in Europe. I majored in communications, with a specialization in political communication.
By the time I was a junior in college, I created my first business, an e-commerce venture. I sat on the Spanish Ministry of Education’s student panel and I worked as a research assistant. The following year, at the age of 22, I found myself interning at El Palacio the Moncloa (the equivalent to White House in Spain). While there, I worked alongside the Spanish President’s communication advisors helping define branding and marketing strategies, to reach certain segments of the voting population.
In branding and marketing, I discovered a way to blend my passions for design, business, and leadership.
At 24, I obtained my master’s degree in visual and digital media. My dissertation, itself, was written in the form of a business plan and it was through this plan, that my consultancy business came to be.
What made you decide to go freelance?
Truthfully, it’s almost as if it was decided for me.
I consider myself a citizen of the world. I was born in Venezuela, to a Venezuelan mother & a Colombian father, who met in France. My family moved, due to my father’s postdoctoral work, to the United States when I was six. Meanwhile, I grew up traveling between the U.S, Europe, and South America. I’ve always felt that a part of me belongs in each of these places and that my purpose, professionally and personally, is not just to help people in one, but, in all of these communities. As a result, I sought and continue to seek mobility.
Additionally, I am wholeheartedly invested in lifelong learning. I’m a polyglot that loves to learn new languages. I’m innately curious about the world around me. I love to immerse myself in cultures and new experiences. I’m committed to maintaining my passion for knowledge. Working freelance allows you to allocate your time and resources as you see fit. You can arrange your work in a way that works around, or in some cases, even incorporates some of your other interests.
Lastly, and perhaps what drew me in most, is something I often stress when I speak to new clients. You are more than what you do. I’m not just Gaby, the brand strategist and a 9-5 doesn’t define me. I define me. I want my work and my legacy to evolve with me and that’s something that can be and, for the most part, will be, reflected in the work that I do as a freelancer.
Let’s discuss your workflow as a freelancer. Do you schedule time for daily routine tasks such as answering emails or replying to people on social?
The answer to this is both yes and no.
While I do indeed block off time for these tasks, it’s important to differentiate doing that, from say, automating these tasks, or allotting the same amount of energy and resources into them every single day.
The reality is that no two emails or tweets are created equal. Therefore, the amount of time and effort needed to respond to them might differ. Flexibility is necessary as a freelancer.
That being said, I find a lot of people are eager to dismiss simple, everyday errands as menial and mundane. Yet, answering emails and replying to social media comments is far from. It’s, in a lot of ways, the lifeblood of your business. Today’s market values dialogue and community building. Humanizing your brand and your business online, by taking the time to listen and genuinely take an interest in your audience, might require you put your routine on hold. You might have to spontaneously add 10 minutes in the middle of the day to respond to notifications on Twitter, and if you can do that without disrupting your larger project timeline, those 10 minutes and 140-characters could turn out to be invaluable.
A little flexibility, the extra 10 minutes, and a sincere interest in my Twitter family has allowed me to grow as a person and has led to some of the most fulfilling friendships, exciting development opportunities, and job offers.
How do you stay organized for long-term projects? How do you incorporate those tasks into your workflow?
First and foremost, every project begins with a clear vision.
I meet with my clients and we talk transparently about what it is that they envision at the end of the process. What are their short-term objectives? What are their long-term goals? We take into consideration their needs, budget, resources, limitations and the time the project will require, among other things. This information then gives us an idea about how we ought to structure our efforts moving forward.
Once we’ve agreed upon the desired result, I often ask my clients to plan backward. We create a visual timeline with the end result on the far right and the ideation process on the far left. Filling in the steps, together, allows us to see the long-term picture even as we get closer to the beginning stages.
After a series of additional meetings and discussions, we’ll attach smaller, more actionable steps to each of the stages listed in the timeline. These steps will include deliverables from both the client and myself. A date is then attached to each task. That gives us the blueprint we need to proceed and allows us to stay on track.
Do you have any tips on how to work effectively with clients or stakeholders to ensure they give you any feedback you need for a project on time?
The key is to be more than the consultant they hired.
What I mean by this is, don’t just be an email address in their inbox or an unsympathetic voicemail on their machine. Build a relationship with those you work with. You are a part of a team and the work that you do is collaborative. It’s important that there is transparency, fluid communication, and empathy.
Call to check in, even when nothing is needed, reach out to thank each person individually, assist whenever possible, listen, and offer encouragement. By showing that you are invested in them, they will be invested in you. They’ll realize that you helped them achieve their goals and that your success is their success too.
You’re very prolific at networking on social. How much of your daily schedule is spent networking vs. billable work?
Oh goodness, you’d be surprised at how many people think that social media is my job!
In reality, there is a balance between the two. Networking is something that is ongoing for me throughout my day. I’ve tweeted from my cardiologist’s office, from an airplane, from a marketing conference, after a sales pitch, and during labor in-between contractions!
It sounds quite excessive, but social media is not a social network for me. It’s a social family, a community. It’s a passion, it’s a sense of purpose, it’s a sense of belonging and a place for growth for me.
Billable work takes up the majority of my day (and night sometimes). The great thing about being your own boss though is that you can schedule meetings, design work, writing, family time, and so on, as you wish. Social just happens in the in-between.
You and your husband both work from home. How do you two stay focused?
Both my husband and I are home during the day. I’m working and he’s studying for his MBA.
It sounds quite commonsensical, but he has his designated work area and I have mine. Since, I have to do a lot of work that is visual, both on my computer and on paper, my workspace consists of a large table with a dry erase board, a computer, and lots of colorful art supplies. He does a lot of tedious work on excel, so he often retreats to his desk in another room, for peace and quiet.
Fun fact: we tend to not get distracted too often when we work.
Why? I have no interest in data tables and oddly enough, he’s color blind! He can’t see a lot of what I do.
You also have two kids! How do you manage a balance between your work and your family?
There’s no such thing as a perfect balance.
However, the beauty of working from home and working freelance is that I have the ability to hit save and get up from my table to watch my child take his first steps. I’m able to schedule my meetings around their appointments and take phone calls, after, they refuse to eat the three different lunch options I’ve made them. I’m even able to run out and grab last minute anniversary presents, when (not if) I forget.
I am incredibly lucky to have that opportunity.
Of course, there are sacrifices you have to make as a 27-year-old, working mom with two kids, but I’m proud that I am able to show them that hard work pays off.
Do you have any productivity tools you use to stay on track with your workflow?
Sure do, although nothing beats a good planner, a well-written to-do list, pen, and paper. That being said, my go-to for work is Google Drive and for social media, it’s Buffer.
What is one thing you can’t do without when working on a project?
When I choose to work with a new client I make sure that I am fully invested in what they do and what they stand for. I’m motivated by a brand story that I can relate to and a brand purpose that I can support. Passion fuels my creativity and desire to help others succeed.
Finally, what advice would you give someone who is transitioning from agency/corporate work to freelance?
Know your worth. Own your unique selling proposition. Don’t fear failure or the unknown. Enjoy the journey.
Gabriela Cardoza is a branding and marketing consultant based out of Boston, Massachusetts. She helps personal and corporate brands across Latin America, Europe, and the United States define, design and deliver value. She can be reached at Gabriela@CardozaGab.com or @CardozaGab on Twitter and Instagram.