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A freelance UX consultant who makes $80,000 a year shares how he built up business in a niche field and landed gigs with brands like Walmart and Staples

Jason Kogan UX Teaching
  • Jason Kogan, who's based in Toronto, has earned a lucrative living as a self-employed "user experience," a.k.a., UX, consultant working with brands such as Walmart, Staples, and LG.
  • He built up business by networking at conferences and cold calling potential clients.
  • Fee negotiation may not be comfortable, but it's important to set a target rate and stick to it, he shared.
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Freelancing has quickly become a viable career option for many professionals in a wide range of fields, and UX is no different.
"User experience" consultants manage the consumer experience, or "flow," on a company's online portals and identify issues that might turn customers away.
But what does it take to earn a decent income as a freelance UX consultant? Business Insider tapped Toronto-based Jason Kogan, who has earned a steady annual income of $80,000 working with agencies representing Walmart, Staples, LG, USA Foods, and more, to find out.

Don't be afraid to cold call clients

Kogan said that when he began freelancing as a UX consultant and strategist in 2012, he booked a vacation to New York and realized he might as well find new clients while he was there. He looked up digital agencies in the area and found the names of the UX managers at those agencies.
"One agency turned into five, then 10, then 20," he said, "and before I knew it, I had identified and messaged or called over 120 companies. I got responses from over 40 and set up over 10 meetings. That trip yielded three clients."
What does his pitch to new clients sound like?
"I list the companies I've done work for and the variety of roles and industries I've worked in. Second, I write what services I offer via a visual walkthrough of the best examples of each type of deliverable I do," he shared. He finishes by laying out what it's like to work with him, covering estimate costs and providing a summary of how he'll deliver on the client's expectations.
Jason Kogan
Kogan began to work with one of those clients directing a large project with LG. Through that contract he met a Canadian designer and developer who connected him with a business owner in desperate need of a redesign. And from there, he was referred to work with Nurun on Walmart's grocery launch.
"My initial two-month project [with Walmart] turned into an eight-month engagement," he said. "I helped design critical components of the Walmart grocery implementation, impacting the lives of thousands of Walmart customers."
Fast forward to 2018 and Kogan snagged a well-paying gig at Staples thanks to this project.
"It turns out the Staples team was full of former Walmart folks. We worked together very closely and I ended up leading a team spanning four vendors to help launch the new Staples.ca website," he said. "And now today, I'm once again working with the Staples digital team helping develop a new tool for schools."

Network in person as well as online

When freelancers attend conferences to learn from insightful leaders, they should also mill about on the show floor and network with speakers and vendors, Kogan advised. It might not come naturally at first, but he said starting with a "Hey, what company are you with?" does the trick.
"It's critical to develop people skills, to be the kind of person to go up to a stranger and introduce yourself in a coffee line," he said.
That interaction shouldn't end with a goodbye or business-card exchange. Email them as soon as you're back on your computer, or at least interact with them on LinkedIn. Posting status updates and articles on LinkedIn may not translate into instant opportunities, Kogan noted, but it keeps you top of mind.
"Really this is just about making a good impression in person," Kogan added. "Talk about relevant things, don't focus on the sale, focus on the person you're talking to and what matters to them, and ask about their product or services. I don't count on conferences for business. I use them as one of many touch points. You never know when someone might come calling and what might trigger them to think of you."

Be confident negotiating fees

Negotiating fees with clients can be a thorny issue. Freelance consultants may worry that asking for increased rates could turn off the client completely. But being secure in your abilities, and justifying to yourself and clients why your rate should match your experience, are essential skills to hone if you want to level up in your career.
"Every serious freelancer needs to identify their target rate," Kogan said. "Stick to your target. If someone offers me contract work that's too low, I gracefully turn them down."
It's critical to be confident in your skills and the value you bring to clients, Kogan advised. He typically charges a rate of $100 an hour, but that figure may fluctuate depending on the kind of work he's been assigned.
"I ask myself a few questions: Are they a bigger company? How badly do they need me? How badly do I need them? And I adjust the rate accordingly,"he said. "There is no science here. It's more about reading the situation and understanding what is reasonable. I would only go under my base rate in rare circumstances where I'd really benefit from the job."

Consider teaching as a side hustle

Kogan also earns extra income teaching several classes at BrainStation in Toronto, where he's taken on leading weekly professional development and career transition courses in the UX Design Diploma program.
The monetary benefits of teaching at BrainStation are somewhat comparable to his freelance income. Teaching can make him anywhere from 40% to 90% of his regular hourly rate, but it's loaded with several other benefits.
"You can increase your network as an educator," he said. "The more students you know, the more people can refer your work, or can vouch for you if there's a job or contract at their company."
Attend school events if you're interested in landing a position, he said. Kogan attended several "Demo Days" BrainStation held, which are day-long events to allow students to showcase their projects. Then, simply mentioning that he was leaving his job and was interested in teaching spurred someone to offer him a few assignments and landed him the gig.
Kogan ensured his teaching schedule was light enough to give him the flex time to tackle his usual UX projects.
"I wasn't turning away other work in order to become a full-time educator," he said. "I also had the savings needed to enable me to focus on things of interest for a time, like research and teaching. Money was not the focus, nor did I really push them to come close to my regular hourly [rate]. I also understood and wanted the extra value I was getting by teaching."
SEE ALSO: The top recession-proof master's degrees for grad students who are uncertain about the future
NOW READ: I make $200,000 a year as a freelance designer by capitalizing on my downtime to learn new skills and build products that increase my profits. Here are the tools and strategies I use to do it.
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Source
https://www.businessinsider.com/how-freelance-user-experience-ux-consultant-makes-80k-a-year?IR=T

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