Freelancer Q&A: Michelle Teo

by Rachel Smith
26 May 2023

I met Michelle at a virtual business meeting some time ago and have been intrigued by her story ever since. She’s the very definition of a digital nomad, having lived and worked in multiple countries – and now runs a marketing agency out of Paris (with a remote team). Michelle is also a bit of a legend when it comes to conversions and her side hustle, Naked French, has benefitted from her strategies and number-crunching; it grew to 50,000 IG followers in just a year (and now sits at around 80,000). Here’s a bit about Michelle and her career journey.

Who are you and what’s your story?

I’m Michelle. I’m kind of nomadic.

I’ve lived and worked in Australia, New York, Paris, The Hague, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bali.Travelled to over 50+ countries.

I’m obsessed with all things entrepreneurship and digital nomadism.

You’re an Aussie living in Paris… talk me through how you ended up in the city of love.

After living in New York for years – and as amazing as it was, I really missed some aspects of the European mindset and lifestyle.

I’m not particularly political, but I do prefer living in societies where there’s accessible healthcare for everyone – and I’m happy to contribute to the taxes necessary to make that happen!

I knew I wanted to move back to Europe, but I didn’t know which city – I was tossing up between Berlin, Madrid and Paris. After speaking to a lot of my European friends on their experiences, I drew up a table with pros and cons for each city, and finally decided on Paris.  

Give me your one-line elevator pitch.

I run a marketing agency called Demand Conversion, that focuses on demand generation and sales enablement for B2B SaaS companies!

Do you feel you’ve ‘cracked’ it as a freelancer? Is there any one thing that’s helped, or something you do personally, that’s led to your success?

I think I’ve had many moments in my life where I feel like I’ve failed, and where I’ve ‘cracked it’.

I think my lifestyle does have volatility inherently built into it (running a business, travelling, living in different countries) and so I feel like I’m on a constant journey of evolution.

My first ‘real’ job was an economist at a multinational energy company. By the time I was 25 I was making multiple 6 figures per annum, living and working in The Hague, with a fully paid luxury apartment next door to the Queen’s palace.

Funnily enough, although I had ‘made it’ on paper I didn’t feel like I had. I just didn’t feel like I was on the way to becoming the person that I wanted to be. So I quit. (Everyone around me thought I was nuts).

I then moved to Bali and started my first company which was in fashion design and production. That’s when I realised that everyone has their own innate values and beliefs about what it means to lead a fulfilling life, what it means to do meaningful work.

Financial security is a large part of it, but you also have to be doing work that you feel is creating the impact you want it to.

And although that company ran well enough, I realised that it still didn’t fit my day-to-day interests of activities that I enjoyed doing, nor did it align with my vision for where I saw myself in the future. So I sold the site to a fashion design company in London and decided to move to New York.

There, I met a guy from MIT who had created a video compression algorithm using computer vision technology. So I joined him as a co-founder and we raised 1 million dollars in funding to build a startup. However, there were many challenges around commercialisation and we fundamentally disagreed on many issues. In the end, we decided to part ways and he ended up working for a tech company in New York.

That was when I decided to move back to Europe.

Being in Paris, what do you do to earn a baguette crust? (Sorry, very bad joke.)

Nowadays, I run Demand Conversion with an amazing team. It’s 100% remote so everyone can work where they want, on schedules that suit them best. And I feel like I’m finally in the right place, doing work that I love, working towards building a future that I can be proud of.

There are definitely objectives that I’m striving towards, but I feel like after a lot of experimentation, I learned a lot about what I wanted and what I didn’t want. And that’s allowed me to design my life, and my company, around things that I love doing. So in that sense, I feel satisfied.

However, don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of things that I’d love to do so I definitely have a sense of being on a continuous journey, made up of a continuum of moments where I feel like I’m struggling or I’ve cracked it or I’m grinding away or I’m killing it. It’s all just part of the experience.

How did you come to start Naked French as a woman who struggled to learn languages?

I failed Chinese at University which was quite embarrassing because, well, I have Chinese heritage. So for many years I just believed that I was ‘bad at learning languages’.

However, one day in my mid-twenties, I decided that I wanted to learn Spanish – not in an academic way – more so just to speak a few words and have fun with my Spanish speaking friends when we were out.

So, I began learning in a more ‘hands on’ way. I didn’t take any classes or sign up for any academic courses. I just figured out what I needed to learn, and went about learning it from free YouTube videos, podcasts, downloaded HelloTalk and iTalki.

My Spanish speaking friends loved this new ‘hobby’ of mine and supported me a lot. And, by the end of the year, I had created a little learning framework for myself based upon how I enjoyed learning, and I had built up a good level of fluency.

I could have interesting conversations. I could follow podcasts and media. And it made me realise that I wasn’t actually ‘bad at languages’, I just didn’t learn very well using conventional classroom methods.

I’m a kinetic learner. I learn through experiences. I learn by doing.

One of the big reasons I wanted to move back to Europe was because I wanted to immerse myself in a different language. I wanted to see what it would be like – who would I be without speaking English? So using the same framework I had created for myself, I started to learn French.

And here we are today!

Talk us through what Naked French offers and why it’s so popular.

I think that a lot of language learning resources focus on more academic aspects of learning a language. E.g. ‘Here’s how you learn the grammar’.

However, I don’t think that’s the challenge. That’s not why adults struggle to learn languages. We are all capable of learning languages – but learning a language can feel like ‘constant failure’ to most adults. You basically have to learn a whole bunch of new sounds and words from scratch – and each time you forget a word, you feel very, very silly.

Screenshot of the Naked French website

However, what adults don’t realise is that it’s 100% normal to forget words that you’ve learned 50 times. It’s actually part of the language learning journey – and it doesn’t mean you’re stupid.

And from school, we’re taught to believe that if we’re failing at something that we’re bad at it and we should stop doing it.

Naked French is built on this belief that we aren’t stupid, and that learning a language is just a constant process. And that we need to embrace how we like to learn, instead of ways that others tell us – which has resonated with a lot of adult French learners around the world.

What platform did you build the Naked French brand on?

Instagram + Podcast + Webflow for the website.

Is Naked French your side hustle? What else do you do and who else do you work for?

I actually haven’t ‘monetised’ Naked French yet. It was kind of more like a passion project at the start. However, we’ve had a lot of requests for courses / teaching etc, so I’ve teamed up with some certified French teachers to create an immersive French Course.

It should be finished sometime in 2023.

How do you typically find clients?

Mainly by referral in my network. I also have partnerships with other marketing agencies and platforms who refer clients that would be a good fit. But my favourite way is to approach companies who make products that I absolutely love.

Rounded is a really good example of that. Prior to Rounded, I used a lot of other solutions and everything seemed to cause me more headaches – but once my accountant advised me to get it, I was hooked. It was so simple and easy to use.

I decided I would pitch them on a collaboration, and we started working together. And here we are, now I love their product, and I absolutely love working with their team!

You’re an expert on business growth and audience building – and you attracted 50,000 Instagram followers to Naked French in a year. How did you do it?

I’m quite quantitative and we have data-driven frameworks for all the work that we do in Demand Conversion.

Although Naked French was a hobby project, I still leveraged the analytics to see what was gaining traction and optimised accordingly. (Eg: What was being saved? What got me new followers? What was being shared? What content got a lot of comments?)

Different types of content tended to drive different types of engagement. I also analysed the best days / times to post. Posting 1-2 hours outside of our optimal time actually leads to 20 percent decreased engagement!

And of course, you have to have great content that resonates with the audience, with a unique voice and point of view.

As someone who was a French learner, not a French teacher, that allowed me to understand how my fellow learners were feeling and create content accordingly with a unique take compared to the other language learning accounts out there.

Does having that many followers naturally translate to conversions or are there other pieces of your business ‘pie’ that have been more successful?

We’ve collaborated with multiple language learning companies out there and had quite good success for those partnerships.

I’m not sure how the course will ‘perform’ when we release it.

I guess we’ll just have to see and iterate accordingly haha!

What are your tips for other freelancers trying to grow their platforms – especially on Instagram? It seems to change all the time.

One of my friends in New York actually worked on the algorithm behind the IG feed for years, and I have it on good authority that yes – things do change and different formats are prioritised. However, the objective of the algorithm is to identify and promote good content, so that needs to be the #1 priority. I do also think that short form video seems to be the future for now, so being able to create high quality reels is key.

Are you a fan of using AI and if so, how have you incorporated it into your workflow?

Yes – I love leveraging anything that automates mundane and repetitive tasks, and admin.

Anything that lets me do more in less time is amazing.

What are the top tools you can’t live without?

Notion, Slack and Calendar.

Any freelance goals moving forward?

I’d love to grow my team and continue to watch my clients have bigger and bigger successes.

Got a comment about Michelle’s amazing career journey? Share it below. You can also find out more about Michelle at Demand Conversion, listen to the Naked French podcast or sign up to the newsletter here.

Rachel Smith
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