Kat Loughrey: Living in Berlin as a full-time freelancer

Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance. 

Dealing with the logistics of moving overseas as a global Australian is often the least popular part of the process, visas included. One of the reasons people are drawn to living and working in Berlin is the ease with which this can this part of the journey can be facilitated – working under what’s called a Freelance Visa.

No stranger to this is Kat Loughrey, a global Australian communications professional and digital consultant, who has worked in many corners of the globe across many different industries. Advance spoke to Kat about her journey to living and working in Berlin as a full-time freelancer, being involved with startups like CloudPeeps, building community with Aussie.EU, and the opportunities she’s been afforded in Berlin that wouldn’t have been available in Australia.

Can you tell me about your experience leaving Australia to set up in Berlin? What were some of the challenges you experienced?

I had been working as a digital communications specialist within various organisations for many years in Melbourne, however I was always interested in exploring a more adventurous path. Upon meeting entrepreneur Kate Kendall, I became involved with her startup (The Fetch) as a side project, and this gave me a fascinating insight into the whole startup/entrepreneurial world, ultimately encouraging me to explore freelancing as an option for me and follow my own entrepreneurial spirit. 

I decided to take the leap and left Australia for several months to travel, spending time in the USA, Europe and the UK. I landed in Berlin after hearing about the Freelance Visa that I was eligible for – it really made it a no brainer to move here. I had heard from other Australians who had been living here that it was a great stepping stone to living and working in Europe. During this time, I also started to learn a little bit more about Berlin’s growing startup scene – and discovered that it was very vibrant and fresh. Throw into the mix that it’s very affordable to be a freelancer here (and not a lot of cities are!), with an amazing music and arts scene, – and overall it was a great choice!

How is Berlin different from other international cities you’ve lived in?

I previously had lived in Japan for a while, and in comparison, living in Asia is a lot more difficult, as the culture is very different and challenging for an Australian. Berlin is not as complicated but there is a cultural difference, and you need to be mindful of a city with such a fascinating yet unique history. Some things work a little bit differently because of that. The city has only been reunified for 27 years, which is not that long ago, and there are still things that maybe haven’t moved at the same pace as what some Australians would expect. I feel that sometimes expats arrive here not understanding this and complain about things that in this context would make better sense - so always good to understand Berlin’s history as part of your move here.

What challenges did you face moving to Berlin?

Restarting your life is a challenge anywhere! You need to get used to a whole new way of doing things and build a whole new network. There is a really good cohort of Australians here, working in the startup scene, on own projects, freelancing and working in the music industry, who are all on the Freelance Visa. Thanks now also to communities like Aussie.EU, there really is such a good support network here for an Australian when they arrive.

What are some opportunities that you’ve been afforded in Berlin (or elsewhere in Europe) that you may not have come across in Australia?

As a freelancer, the opportunities have been mostly centred around affordable living. To be able to live comfortably and to be able to have a good work/life balance that you may not be able to get in Australia is great. Here, the day-to-day costs are a lot lower – the city is well connected with public transport and it’s affordable. There’s a train ticket that’s valid after 10am that everyone calls the “freelancer” ticket because freelancers aren’t usually out of the house before 10am! If you’re working solo, it’s much easier to come here and set up your own freelance business or work remotely than it would be back home.

There are also a lot of things available socially that you can enjoy again on a budget. There’s a very active music and arts scene, and a lot of the events are free or low cost. You can eat out very comfortably and very affordably as well. You can also have a great weekend away exploring other cities in Europe very easily.

Getting all these creatives together in one places means it’s an exciting cultural melting pot and mix of innovative ideas and creative minds. I think that’s what makes it exciting to be here right now. There’s not a week that goes by where I don’t hear of a new co-working space!

Because the culture here is a little more relaxed – there’s more space and time to think creatively. When you’re always on the go in life, it can be very stressful and not as conducive to being creative. There’s also a strong culture of work/life balance, taking time off and enjoying weekends, which is fabulous.

Is it inspiring to be working in the midst of such a successful startup at CloudPeeps?

I work with clients across the globe but one that I’ve been involved with the longest is CloudPeeps. 

Speaking as a freelancer, CloudPeeps has been (and continues to be) just awesome, thanks to its super supportive community and how it’s designed to provide indie workers the opportunity to create their own freedom journey. I really admire what they’re doing with the platform and I love being involved - both as a member of the community (I use it as a freelancer and to hire other freelancers) and as part of the CPs HQ team - as it aligns with my own personal experiences in taking the leap.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve known the founder for several years, Kate Kendall - Kate’s amazing, with so much passion for what she does. I really admire her drive and commitment to empowering freelancers to carve out their own path and build their own independent business. We’re a fully remote team too, so that’s been a great learning environment for my own business. CloudPeeps is really just getting started and I look forward to seeing how they continue to grow over the years to come (they’re really ones to watch!).

We also run another event called Freelance Friday, a coworking meetup for independents, creatives and entrepreneurs that’s run in various cities around the world. I’ve been hosting the Berlin Freelance Friday for over a year, and have been able to connect with the freelance community here on a local level, and meet more people who are using the CloudPeeps platform. It’s an amazing community and one that I’m proud to be apart of.

Why is Berlin a good city for Australian entrepreneurs?             

I’m also involved with the Aussie.EU network with entrepreneur Jock Gordon. We’re focused on bringing together Australian entrepreneurs, investors and service providers (like consultants) together across Europe, to collaborate and seek new business opportunities more easily in the EU. Through this community, I’ve been some talented and creative Aussies doing very cool stuff in Europe. Aussie.EU continues to grow rapidly and is yet another reason to make the move over as the network is already here to help you! AusTrade also recently launched their Berlin Landing Pad here for startups, which is an excellent opportunity for startups looking to spend time here and grow their business in this region. 

I think what is key about Berlin, and what makes it a great location for freelancing and entrepreneurial Aussies, is the focus on lifestyle and health. While San Francisco might be all about faster, bigger, more; Berlin is more focused on playing the long game, balance, enough. Germans prefer a healthier balance - if you're sick, you rest, not just take tablets to get back to work (the doctors will even tell you the same). Therefore the first impression may be that Germans don't work hard enough, or have not enough drive or ambition, but this is not necessarily the case. It's more of a healthy focus on general well-being, assessing what is "enough" to be happy, healthy and to be satisfied. This slower approach to getting to the same place (career-wise) is what I love about Berlin and the European lifestyle. It's a great place to step off the treadmill but still do great work, creative work and innovate without the same pressures or toll on your body.

What qualities would you recommend sharpening to successfully be a Berlin resident?

If you’re thinking about moving to Berlin, I’d recommend a couple of things at different stages:

First of all is that before you arrive, I’d recommend familiarising yourself with the history of the city. I think it’s very important because it is unique and fascinating. Even though the city is reunified, we still talk about the city in terms of the east and the west. It will also make sense as to why some things haven’t been improved or gentrified.

Second, if you can learn a little bit of basic German that always helps, even just as a courtesy. Particularly when you go through a visa process, having even a little bit of understanding and being able to introduce yourself is useful.

Third, if you want to start as a freelancer, I recommend looking into networks and communities you could transition into. Communities are very important here and everyone knows someone, so it’s important to reach out to someone and connect. The Berlin Startup Slack Group community is a good example, there’s a bunch of great Facebook groups to join as well (such as Aussie.EU’s and Berlin Startup Employees). Get a feel for what you’re about to come into, an understanding of the startup scene, the movers and shakers, basically get some knowledge before you arrive so you can dive right in!

Once you’ve arrived, I recommend making yourself regularly available to attend meetups and events across the city. Joining a coworking space to meet people is beneficial. And once you’ve ticked off the initial arrival/visa process checklist, you can embrace building your business and the fabulous lifestyle in Berlin!