Anna Loughnan

Anna, based in Wellington, New Zealand, is a Salesforce MVP with over 15 years in the ecosystem. She’s the founder of Wellington’s Trailhead Tuesday and leads the local Salesforce Trailblazer Community group. With 12 Salesforce certifications and a history of speaking at global events, Anna is a recognized expert in Salesforce.

How did you get into Salesforce freelancing work? 

I was stepping away from full-time employment and I was looking for other income sources and started to pick up some independent consulting work because I wasn’t seeking to be working full time. I wasn’t actually rushing out there applying for everything because I was definitely wanting to take it easy and have a lot of flexibility in my time. It was actually people approaching me for work, which was really good. I think that’s probably something that’s pretty important to understand, that you need to be pretty well established.

For about 12 months, I freelanced, averaging around 20 hours a week by choice. This decision was driven by my desire for flexibility and the opportunity to travel. Since all my work was remote, I had the freedom to work from various countries, albeit for short durations. The primary goal during this period wasn’t to earn a substantial income but to intentionally take a step back and enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle for a while.

Particularly if you’re independent, you don’t have any backup; you rely solely on your reputation. If you have a good reputation, it’s likely easier to secure work. Yes. I’ve obtained contracts through others approaching me, assisting local nonprofits in New Zealand, and doing some advisory work for offshore clients. You have to be flexible.

What is your advice for finding work? 

I am quite active on LinkedIn, which I use extensively for professional social activity. That was the only platform where I shared updates. When I resigned a year ago, I updated my LinkedIn profile to indicate self-employment and made a post about stepping away, adding the hashtag #opentowork. That post was a trigger for many I knew to reach out. It actually went viral as it was viewed by more than 22,000 ppl – far greater than my own first connections! I received numerous responses and direct messages.

I always advise those trying to break into the Salesforce ecosystem that LinkedIn is crucial for establishing an online presence.

I believe that’s why I was approached years ago for work with Focus on Force. My activity on LinkedIn played a significant role in securing my current and previous roles. People could understand my professional journey by following my updates on LinkedIn. However, it’s essential to strike a balance. Some misuse LinkedIn, making their posts seem spammy or overly promotional. Authenticity is key; if you’re not genuine, people will notice.

I’ve amassed many LinkedIn connections, not all of whom I’ve met in person, but I’ve interacted with many. Having an online presence is beneficial. In my previous role, when assisting with hiring, I’d review a candidate’s CV, LinkedIn, and, if relevant, their Trailhead profile. These sources need to tell a consistent story. It’s surprising how many people have discrepancies across platforms. For me, a LinkedIn and Trailhead profile are vital. When considering hiring someone, I check for consistency across these platforms. I also verify certifications, as they’re not always accurate. Regular activity on Trailhead is another indicator I consider. If someone claims expertise but has few Trailhead badges, it raises questions about their current knowledge. I maintain my profiles because they reflect my professional identity. If there’s inconsistency in someone’s profiles, I wouldn’t proceed with further discussions. It’s crucial to maintain consistency.

What is your advice on the best way to use LinkedIn?

For me, much of my approach to LinkedIn comes from intuition, experience, and insights I’ve gathered over the years. While there are courses offering advice on maximizing LinkedIn, I believe in authenticity over strictly following algorithms. I don’t schedule posts; I share when I feel compelled. My posts often celebrate events, share useful links, and highlight the Salesforce community in my area.

I avoid directly soliciting business, especially with new connections. Instead, many have approached me. Engaging with others’ posts is essential, and I aim to add value with my comments rather than just boosting visibility. My reach on LinkedIn is significant, and I use it responsibly, like highlighting community members seeking jobs.

LinkedIn helps me understand colleagues’ backgrounds and vice versa. I check it occasionally during work and more thoroughly during commutes. Posts with photos, especially diverse user group images, get good engagement. Overall, I prioritize organic and genuine interactions over calculated strategies.

What is your perspective on the Salesforce Community?

To me, the most crucial aspect is community. I run the user group in Wellington and have dedicated significant time to foster what I believe is a supportive and welcoming local ecosystem. Often, individuals approach me, typically on LinkedIn, seeking job assistance. While I don’t offer jobs directly, I provide guidance on how they can help themselves. Attending local events tops my list of recommendations. If one resides in a city with a user group, attending in-person events is beneficial. However, numerous virtual events are also available.

It’s about establishing your name and profile, even if it’s just virtually. For instance, my group hosts an event almost every month, with half of them being virtual. These virtual events attract an international audience, including participants from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and other compatible time zones.

Engaging in such events allows us to connect with people globally, celebrating their achievements, whether they’re from Wellington or Detroit. It’s essential for individuals to take the initiative and get involved.

People are more inclined to take a chance on someone they’ve interacted with, especially if you’re freelancing without the backing of a consulting firm. Someone has to take a risk on you.

Should one aim to be a generalist or a specialist when freelancing?

For those aiming to work with smaller companies, being a generalist with knowledge across various clouds might suffice. However, if you’re looking to consult for a larger company implementing specific solutions like CPQ or Field Service, it’s beneficial to be an expert.

I was contemplating whether to invest time in upskilling in Omni Studio due to its demand. If I wanted to increase my working hours and focus on a specialized area, working primarily or exclusively with one contract, that would have been my direction. However, around that time, I realized I missed human interaction, so I didn’t pursue that path. For larger corporations, you need to offer a skill they lack. CPQ and Field Service Lightning, for instance, are in-demand skills. With substantial expertise in these areas, you can be highly marketable. Smaller firms might be hesitant due to the costs associated with some of these products. However, with Salesforce expanding its presence in sectors like the public sector in Australia and New Zealand, there are opportunities. Omni Studio and industry-specific solutions, including the Public Sector Cloud, are areas to consider.

What value do you place on certifications?

Personally, I place significant value on certifications. I’ve been in the ecosystem for 15 years, and it took me some time to pursue certifications. Once I began obtaining them, I recognized their worth, especially when combined with experience. If you have extensive experience without the certifications to support it, there’s no assurance that your knowledge aligns with current best practices. I realized this when I began with the admin certification; many methods I had devised on my own were outdated and not best practice, even if they were functional.

For anyone considering hiring a freelancer or for freelancers themselves, certifications are crucial.

If you aim to be recognized as an expert in a particular area, you should pursue relevant certifications. For instance, if you’re interested in Omni Studio, there are specific certifications you should target. Similarly, Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, and Non-Profit Consultant certifications offer deeper insights into their respective domains and are invaluable if you’re looking to specialize.

What sort of background makes a good Salesforce freelancer?

I’m deeply passionate about prioritizing customers and their needs, which has led me to choose not to work directly for a partner, though I’ve collaborated with many. That said, those who have worked for a partner often become outstanding consultants or freelancers. They acquire numerous skills, including the use of templates and structured methodologies, which I’d find valuable.

Starting with a partner background can be immensely beneficial for aspiring freelancers.

What is your advice on how to price Salesforce freelancing work?

I guess it depends on the type of work you’re targeting. Personally, I’ve always stuck with an hourly rate, but I know others advise against it. If you’re discussing specific deliverables, then you can clearly quote for that. Estimating time can be challenging; some people are better at it than others. If you come from a consultant background, they likely have good templates for this. What people often say is that the time you estimate usually ends up being about three times longer than anticipated. This can be challenging when bidding for new work and quoting a number that’s three times your initial estimate. Of course, it might seem outrageous, but that’s often the reality. Over time, you adjust. If you’re setting a fixed price, you’ll experience ups and downs and learn what works for you.

What are the main challenges in Salesforce freelancing?

The challenges, especially when managing multiple contracts, often feel like a feast or famine situation. If one contract demands full-time attention, it can be consuming. However, when relying on several contracts, striking a balance becomes tricky. Just because you’ve discussed work with someone doesn’t guarantee its realization. You might find yourself agreeing to multiple offers, aware that fulfilling all of them simultaneously would be impossible. Yet, you also understand that not all discussions will materialize into actual contracts. Even if they do, they might commence months after the initial conversation.

It requires immense flexibility and a readiness to hustle.

What advice would you give to those looking to stay relevant in the evolving Salesforce landscape?

You have to stay on top of all the Salesforce changes, and right now that means AI. It’s already quite clear that developers will be needed less in the future due to the immense advances that are happening.

Soft skills are very important. Particularly when you’re representing yourself, there’s nobody else.

So, you’ve got to be able to talk, but it has to go deeper than that and into the long term to protect your future as well. I don’t think it will be enough in the future just to be a really good developer.