Optimism. Full stop. The end.
And some sense of humour, of course.
Well, optimism is indeed essential, but for any freelancer no matter his mother tongue.
So what’s so special about not being a native English speaker? Again, that is common to the majority of the people on this planet, so you may wonder what’s the point I’m trying to make.
Actually, I should refine my initial question, to narrow a bit the meaning of the term freelancer.
I want to be a freelancer specialized in presentation design because that’s an activity I love and believe I’m really good at.
To accomplish that, I had to take the bold and thrilling decision to leave the so-called cubicle world to start sailing alone in the open sea of the independent professionals. I did so at the age of 49, and I suspect that I am not far from the average of the freelancer in that sense.
Fact is, within the dynamic IT world, presentation design is an area where experience and maturity can bring added value because it’s kind of a professional translator job: you get information, concepts, and intentions in a given language, and translate it into another.
To translate a scientific, academic, or business text you need to understand the meaning of it, and familiarize with the jargon and -to some extent- with the concept of that area. Only then you will be able to maintain the spirit of the text in the new language.
Presentation design is just about that: you receive a text (often not even a text, rather a bad PowerPoint) and translate it into a representational language, made of summarized keywords and self-explaining illuminating graphics.
Believe me, it takes creativity, analytic talent, willingness to learn constantly, empathy and some neuroscience knowledge, combined with certain doses of psychology, to design a good presentation.
Besides, of course, mastering the state of the art in terms of graphic tools.
Fascinating, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, not so many people ever thought that a good presentation can make the difference to win a deal, give a successful training, retain a customer, or accomplish other goals in business.
So most potential clients, who would benefit from delegating the design of their presentations, assume that they can do it themselves, just like they have been doing for years.
To use a metaphor (which by the way is the essence of presentation design) this is not different from believing that you can give yourself a haircut before going to a meeting with a customer or a recruiter, because your hairdo is not that relevant anyway.
Yes, you can prepare your PowerPoint, and yes you can cut your hair yourself, but if it’s really important you probably go to a barber shop.
This traditional belief that anybody can prepare an effective presentation is evolving to a better conscience of the importance of taking care of any detail of a business, but slowly.
My direct personal experience tells me that such a conscience is more common in English speaking countries. Disregarding any social or economic analysis, I just noticed, having operated for years in many freelancers markets in several countries, that by far the majority of postings for presentation design projects come from English speaking customers.
Apparently, this should not make any difference in a business where you work remotely and deliver pieces of software. Nevertheless, still, people prefer to interface with partners of their own mother tongue, and often ask for a combination of presentation design and copywriting.
So the market size for a freelancer that offers presentation design is strongly influenced by his mother tongue.
Honestly, besides when content generation is relevant, I believe that a good knowledge of the language of the presentation is enough to produce a professional and high-quality result.
Myself I am Italian mother tongue and most of my customer are from Spanish countries.
But the reality is that many projects specify the requirement “English mother tongue”.
To wrap up, let me restate the original question and formulate a possible answer:
Q. “What does it take to be a non-native English speaker presentation designer?”
A. “All that it takes to be a freelancer of any mother tongue, plus being a presentation design evangelist in your country”.
Finally, what does this have to do with Toptal?
A lot. Because Toptal is possibly the only freelancer community that screens it’s members carefully before accepting them. Correspondingly, the customers who publish projects in Toptal are selected, and there is more space for a culture of professionalism that takes care of all the details of a business.
I expect to find excellent customers as well, along with top class peers in the Toptal visual designers Community.