Choosing a nontraditional career: 6 Reflections from a freelance digital marketer
We need more Women of Color in digital marketing.
By Nivita Sriram, Contributor
After 4 months in the freelance, startup digital marketing space, I can confidently say that choosing a nontraditional career path was the best thing I did for myself—in every way. Although it can be scary to take the plunge to start freelancing, it’s also been so rewarding. I currently work at LifesforSocial, a startup digital marketing agency. We bring together a collection of WOC freelancers (myself included) to bring our clients’ social media and brand vision to life. I’ve learned a lot more about digital marketing in the past few months than I ever have before. Here are 6 reflections on what I’ve realized and observed so far in the digital marketing space.
1. My view on what marketing looks like in our world today has expanded significantly.
Marketing isn’t just the theories we were taught by our professors in school. More tangibly, it’s the way you present yourself on social media, how you interact and engage with others, build your portfolio, and implement what you learned into marketing strategies for your client. It’s so important to take your client’s culture into consideration. I’ve noticed that my ability to market and strategize social media content according to these changes in audience has improved greatly—but only after I decided to dive into the freelance world.
It’s important to possess knowledge about other cultures in order to reach them effectively, while making the impact you desire.
This allows us to: 1.) see the reality of our world reflected in our media, 2.) reduces biases, stereotypes, and complacency, and 3.) ultimately works toward normalizing the differences we have with one another.
2. Working with Women of Color has changed how I interact with social media.
Before, I truly saw social as a highlight reel. I’d close out of apps feeling slightly annoyed or that I was lacking something compared to others. What I didn’t realize for a long time was that my feed didn’t reflect me or how I saw the world.
I didn’t realize the importance of interacting with fellow WOC or second generation Americans. Working with WOC has pushed me to find my voice and express it loud and clear.
If you have the power to change your Instagram feed, or who you interact with to better reflect your world, do it.
3. South Asia isn’t a monolith; there is so much diversity within South Asian cultures.
Having a diverse work environment promotes diversity within the work itself. The differences in opinion, background, and upbringing reduces confirmation bias and stereotypes. Although I work with South Asian women, we all have different cultures, religions, and backgrounds. I realized that I didn’t know much about South Asian cultures before freelancing. I’ve found myself learning more about South Asia every day. Diversity in South Asia is vast—even if it may not seem like it to non-South Asians. Imagine the reality of diversity within America; it’ll increase by tenfold, even if what we see in our offices and media doesn’t reflect that reality. Seeing and being a part of the diverse, multicultural digital space has allowed me to show up as my most authentic self and has helped me figure out how I want to grow as a professional and individual.
photo credit: Nivita Sriram
4. We need more Women of Color in digital marketing and social media strategy.
While freelancing in social media has pushed me to build my own platform, I’ve had the privilege to help marginalized people and minority-owned businesses build their personal brands. It makes me think:
Without Woman of Color owned agencies, would these individuals or businesses find social media strategists to help and encourage them to build their brand holistically and find their voice in the digital space?
My answer is no. Until I shifted to a professional world that matched how I see the world —filled with all races, religions and ethnicities— I didn’t think to build my own brand. I didn’t think people would care. I didn’t think my story and experiences were worth sharing. I know that’s not true now.
5. Diversity in digital marketing has truly improved my mental health, confidence, and my ability to see social media in a positive light.
As Women of Color, we often find ourselves trying to mold who we are to seem more acceptable.
Confident (but not too arrogant), intelligent (but not a ‘know it all’), assertive (but not confrontational), high-achieving (but not aggressive). It’s difficult finding your place in a corporate role while also trying to find yourself and figure out where your skills and passions lie. For young Women of Color starting their careers, imposter syndrome often sets in. The world, afterall, is constantly telling you that you aren’t good enough.
The concept of social media being purely a highlight reel is false. Social media has proved to not only be an amazing marketing tool, but a way to revolutionize. Digital marketing and social media are the future—allowing us to connect with and learn from others around the world. Shifting my Instagram feed and profile to accurately reflect how I see the world, and how I want the world to be seen, has improved my life drastically.
6. Normalizing and celebrating nontraditional pathways is crucial for how our generation and future generations view work.
Although creating a path for yourself isn’t the easiest and isn’t often praised, especially in South Asian communities, I believe it's important. If I don’t do it because I’m scared (of failure, and what others will think if I fail), then younger generations won’t have the space that I longed for while growing up. My previous corporate positions certainly helped me get to this position. Without them, I wouldn’t possess the client relationship building, social media management, or marketing strategy skills that I have now. But when I went freelance, LifesforSocial has allowed me to put these skills to the test—and jump right into the digital marketing space.
Representation matters; the deeper I get into freelancing and finding my footing in the digital space and entrepreneurship, the more I find others like me who are trying to make a name for themselves in a nontraditional way.
The more that people give visibility and transparency to nontraditional pathways, the more that younger generations will be encouraged to follow their passions.
It’s important for marginalized people to also have accessible resources in fields where they’re underrepresented. I’ve always wanted to build a diverse space for BIPOC, but I was scared to do so, and I didn’t know how. But working on my own terms with clients I enjoy working for, while working on the LifesforSocial brand itself, has truly opened so many doors that I never imagined would be possible—including writing an article for Kulfi Beauty. I hope to build a platform that bridges my 2 worlds: the U.S. and India, Western and Eastern, and my experiences of neither fully belonging here or there.
About — Nivita Sriram is a freelance digital marketer based in the Pacific Northwest. She studied Marketing and Psychology in college, and fell in love with freelancing as Digital Marketing Strategist + Account Manager at LifesforSocial. Nivita re-discovered her passion for reading and writing during quarantine. Bridging the gap between America and India is something Nivita is working towards every day, and she’s constantly looking for new ways to learn more about herself, her heritage, and history —while using her knowledge of marketing and social media to tell her story.