Podcaster, speaker, social media and marketing consultant, and mental health and DEI advocate, Candra Burns wears many hats. Candra’s been involved in the forestry industry since childhood, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, Future Farmers of America, and 4-H. However, with getting into the industry for work, Candra has had to navigate a number of challenges and barriers from financial hardships to being a military spouse to coping with invisible disabilities of c-PTSD and GAD.
Now, Candra works to break down these barriers for women, disadvantaged, and disabled people getting into forestry and the outdoors. Candra’s company and podcast, Talking Forests, creates a space for people in forest management to share their stories and helps them learn to amplify their voices through social media.
In this interview, we discuss how Candra got into freelancing, the challenges around working and being a military spouse, and what it’s been like moving from the US to Germany and back while freelancing.
Year started freelancing full-time: 2018
Age when started freelancing full-time: 28
Preferred Pronouns: No pronouns
How do you typically explain what you do?
My value proposition has changed a lot, but I think the mission is still the same for Talking Forests. I am bridging sustainability, age and diversity. And the way I’m doing that is showing the sector how to use social media to do those things.
My motto is the voice for hardworking people. And that is true. I try to help people have a voice. To be able to talk openly about things and have that open forum on social media.
I originally started on managing people’s Facebook page, and then it moved into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram. Recently I’ve been doing trainings that are worth $500 to $600 on LinkedIn because LinkedIn is what got me into the forest sector.
What did you do before freelancing?
Before freelancing, I worked any job that I could get my hands on — landscaping, waitress, hostess, and bank teller. I was supporting myself in having an apartment over my head and putting myself through college since my mom was in poverty.
After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I was looking for a position in the field and it didn’t happen. Eventually, I ended up as a forest policy assistant for about a year and a half.
What made you decide to start freelancing?
I was talking about starting my own business — Talking Forests — back in 2015 when I worked for the Washington Forest Protection Association. They taught me how important messaging is. I wanted to do better and make a difference. I realized I could do that by working as a contractor. Our clients value diversity, equity, and inclusion because it is important and everyone has a story to tell.
Also, my husband was in the US military, so I knew we’d be moving around. So if I didn’t create a mobile business, I may not have been employed. My husband went to Korea and then we got orders to Germany. When we moved to Germany, that meant I lost my state job.
When I contract someone, the first meeting is usually a get to know each other meeting. Then the first stage is usually a proposal. So I will set out what I’m able to offer at the price range I’m able to offer it in and we will negotiate further if they are willing to pay the price. If they’re not, I have to drop services that I can’t provide since I am just myself right now.
I’ve learned how important it is to value myself and what I have to offer.
Not valuing yourself and not aligning your values with other clients leads to burnout. I highly recommend therapy of any kind that works for anyone. Plus, to have friends to lean on and have freelance friends, so go into groups that help each other.
What has it been like freelancing as a military spouse?
I have a few different thought paths about this.
There are days where I throw up my hands and ask to work at McDonald’s just for the mundane art of flipping burgers. I think the reason why I go into that mental space at times is because the responsibility of running everything in a business, being a military spouse, and now being a first time home owner on half an acre in a state that I don’t know anything about — North Carolina — because I’m from Washington State, it’s a lot.
Military spouses have unprecedented unemployment numbers. Being a military spouse was a whole other level of challenge. I didn’t know what it would be like when I entered.
It was a rude awakening when I had my mental health crisis and spiritual awakening in 2019. I knew I needed trauma informed care and they didn’t have it and they couldn’t provide it overseas.
I didn’t fit into their boxes and I had to learn that the hard way. We also move constantly so I moved from Washington State to Germany to North Carolina. Now luckily, my husband is four years out from retirement from the military and he wants to retire at the 20 year mark which is when we’ll be getting full benefits for life.
How did you manage your freelancing when you moved to Germany with taxes and paperwork?
So the legal portion of going to Germany, I made a big mistake and I put my mom as a signer on my business account. That was before I knew that she had abused me for 29 years. I had no idea that she was going to steal from me. So I put everything in her address, not knowing.
Something that military spouses face is we are not allowed to use our APO — it’s like a PO box but for the military — and we were gatekeeped from being able to use those for business even though I had a service business that would literally just have letters back and forth for tax purposes. So everything went to my mom’s house. After two and a half years, she eventually took money from one of my checks in my business.
When you’re setting up a business and when you have a business, you have to have a permanent address. When you become an expat and you’re moving around a lot, you don’t have that anymore. So I didn’t have a forwarding service or a virtual box or anything like that. I didn’t know I needed one. I didn’t know what would happen.
Then I went to base legal and they said, here’s a list of translators, go on to the German economy and talk to them about how to do business. They refuse to help you on base. This is not just me. It happened to many other spouses as well who have been overseas for many years. So I had to go into overdrive, handling burnout several times while this process was happening, and I had to go to my local town hall and register my business. I didn’t know German. I know a little bit of German now, but I still call it survival German because it’s the bare minimum. When you don’t know the language and you’re told to work with people that you don’t know, it’s very intimidating.
I went through the process with my town hall and then got a letter from the finance mat, which is the equivalent of the IRS in Germany, and they want a piece of the pie. They want some of your money even though you’re not a resident. I will say that for most people, if you fly out of the United States, and you are a United States citizen, you still have to do taxes in the United States.
So I had to do taxes in the US and I had to do taxes in Germany, even though I didn’t profit enough for them to actually tax me in Germany. I never met the threshold of more than 10,000 euro to be taxed. Even still, I had to pay out of pocket, hundreds of euros for an accountant.
I just submitted my 2020 German taxes and I’m hopefully closing that chapter and my Washington State chapter because I don’t need to be at my mom’s address anymore. I need to be independent.
When you moved back from Germany to the States, what was that like transferring everything back?
I ended up closing my German business in December of 2020, before I flew out to the USA. I did have a German bank account that I had to close and I had the town hall. Once you close the town hall and you close the business bank account, then you’re no longer operating within the German territory. I was no longer living there anyway.
This entire time I will say I never closed my sole proprietorship in Washington State until the end of 2021, so I was still a Washington State freelancer and I was also a German freelancer for three years. So I had two licenses at one time and that’s why I had to do taxes in both countries.
Once I closed that door, and I turned all that 2020 paperwork in for Germany, I am no longer liable for reporting to that country. Now, thank heavens, I’ve simplified everything to North Carolina and that’s the only thing I have to worry about. I have accountants in Washington state working on closing and updating addresses with the IRS on the Washington State side.
Do you have any tips for managing international moves as a freelancer for other freelancers?
The most important thing right now in our world is protecting our data. I have 15 years worth of photography, interviews, and content creation, and all of that goes onto this Synology disk server.
I made sure to scan all of my paper files and medical records and put them all on the cloud base drive.
Then I was able to have all my equipment flown ahead of time as unaccompanied baggage and we got all of that equipment and I was able to set it up and work on plastic chairs and totes in March of 2021.
I think you have to let go of perfectionism. Because when you’re doing Trans Atlantic moves, you have to do what you need to get things done.
Another tip is to document the heck out of your primary possessions and your possessions for your business that your business has bought.
What tools do you use for your freelancing work?
In my office, I have a Synology disk server that’s a backup server. Then I have external hard drives that are backups.
I also have a printer/fax/copy machine set up. Even though I’m 31, that makes me sound like a dinosaur, but you need it, especially the scanner.
Then I have my audio board and my mic, my headset. I have two monitors, keyboard, mouse, an L-shaped desk that I’m sitting on, and a chair.
And I use my laptop.
How much did you make in your first full year freelancing full-time?
You don’t make any money. That’s the thing. You don’t.
I probably “grossed” with my first contract when I was part-time $3,000, but I didn’t pay myself — it went straight into my business’s bank account.
For me, it wasn’t about making money in my first couple years. It’s about building the business and its finances.
Approximately how much would you say your business makes annually now?
I can start making about $25,000+ gross. That’s not including expenses, paying myself, and anything that comes up.
If you could give one piece of advice to a newer woman freelancer getting into the outdoor industry, what would it be?
If you have a passion, if there’s something that you want to do more, and expand on, but you can’t find that in your workplace or you can’t find that in the traditional nine to five job, it’s okay to create your own space and pave your own path.
Basically, girls, roll out that red carpet because it’s okay to pave that path. Even if someone’s not doing it, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t space for it. Create it and keep moving.
Keep hiking. Keep going out for forest bathing — I love forest bathing. Go out and hear from nature what is possible and find within yourself what you can do and how you can move forward creating the business of your dreams.
Is there anything else I didn’t ask that you’d like to mention?
As a woman in the outdoor industry, it is really hard to navigate when in some people’s minds, you’re supposed to be at home. And disability is really misunderstood, especially invisible disabilities, which is what I have with c-PTSD and GAD. So it’s been really hard to navigate why I need to be outside.
And with the work that I do, it’s so important that I have a business. People are sending me jobs and trying to get me to go to 9-5 positions quite frequently in my messenger and I can’t do it. I’m a disabled military spouse who needs to have the ability to work on contracts and be a contractor because I don’t fit into the employment regime as it is today.
And I think that more remote positions are coming, so that is something that we should keep creating space for and innovating.
More About Candra Burns
Listen to some of the recent podcast episodes: