“I encourage clients to understand what the process is—not just what they want but the roadmap to get there.”
Sam N.
AI Expert

Working in artificial intelligence (AI) wasn’t part of the plan for Mayssam “Sam” Naji, a Zurich-based AI consultant, but it’s a field that’s always drawn him in. He was fully immersed in a career, working as a data scientist and machine learning (ML) engineer with companies like General Electric and Levi Strauss, when OpenAI released ChatGPT.

He soon realized what a game changer it would be.

“There’s a huge category of things we can do that we couldn’t do even six months before ChatGPT was released,” Sam said. He quickly transitioned to freelance work and committed himself to helping companies navigate AI transformation.

“We had a digital transformation period where businesses learned to adopt and integrate this new digital space, and we’re going through something similar with AI,” he said. “Businesses need to be prepared.”

Helping clients understand what’s possible

Experiencing moments of “Wow” with clients helps Sam thrive. “They have an idea they’re really excited about, then I make it really work and they're mind-blown when they see it happen,” he said.

Sam works with individuals or small teams as well as larger teams within bigger corporations. “When it’s a small team, I focus more on trying to understand their vision and their hopes for the project,” he explained. “When it’s a bigger team, it’s more about learning what they do and deciding whether it’s a fit for my skills.”

He’s noticed one particular gap that larger organizations often have: The leaders with a vision for AI transformation aren’t always the ones who will be hands-on with the results. When he started working with one enterprise organization, for example, Sam scheduled one-on-one calls with everyone on the team. With more comprehensive input, he can go back to the client with a better-informed solution.

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A consultation is a great first step

Businesses often underestimate the complexity of projects that involve AI. “ChatGPT is absolutely amazing but software development is more complicated than that,” Sam said. “I encourage clients to understand what the process is—not just what they want but the roadmap to get there.”

For example, Sam explained, you can ask a model like GPT to act as a lawyer and it will take on that role. But to build a paralegal app, you need consistency, stability, and quality assurance—something GPT models don’t necessarily have out of the box. Getting consistent results can take a lot of development, including customizing the model and integrating robust machine learning operations (MLOps).

“It isn’t just the chat interface. Getting all of this into software is still a lot of work,” he said.

To bring transparency and alignment to every project, Sam likes to start with a consultation, “so I can understand what the client wants, or what they think they want.” This discussion is the collaborative foundation for a detailed proposal that describes what the client should focus on, what he can do to move the client closer to their vision, and the cost of the contract.

“I recommend that businesses book a consultation on Upwork—whether with me or someone else,” Sam said. “Thirty minutes can really help provide clarity around what decisions a client needs to make, what budget they should expect, and whether their idea is even feasible. It’s a really high return on investment.”

Collaboration builds trust as projects move forward

For Sam, becoming a trusted partner is one of the most meaningful aspects of being an independent professional. “The clients I work with become friends and I get to see them grow as I continue to support them,” he said. “I see how my work starts a whole story for them.”

One early client is a startup that’s raising funds for a product he helped to build. Another client has turned one project together into a cascade of activities that Sam continues to support.

One newer client quickly captured his enthusiasm because the work represents a milestone for the enterprise-level business. “It’s a huge company with well-established processes that have been used for many years—maybe decades,” he said. “I can see that a lot of it can be augmented with AI.”

From new user to top 1% in less than a year

Sam quickly distinguished himself on Upwork with a 100% Job Success Score and multiple five-star reviews. It didn’t take long before he also started an agency on Upwork, an AI consultancy called 1001Epochs. “An epoch is one iteration where AI learns something and it’s the same process regardless of the kind of AI you’re working with,” he explained. “It’s a good fit because different projects tell different stories.”

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The agency was a natural step as Sam connected with more clients. He found that many businesses wanted to get an entire project done, not just one piece. To deliver what his clients were looking for, he often connected with other professionals who could take on non-AI-related elements of work.

“I needed professionals to collaborate with whose skills I could trust, and I realized it would also be nice to partner with more junior professionals whom I could mentor,” Sam said.

Starting an agency with people he’d met on Upwork made sense. “Upwork is full of people with other skills. The global talent pool and networking features have been a big help.”

He quickly saw that the skills he’d learned getting his first clients were as important to growing an agency. “I realized I already knew how to get results. I’d already learned how clients work and what they expect. Upwork prepared me to act and feel like a business, which made it easier to start my agency.”

Sam has also connected with clients outside of Upwork and uses Direct Contracts to help with administration, which often crosses borders, legal systems, and other considerations. “Upwork makes me and the client feel safer because we know that taxes are taken care of, payments are streamlined and 100% safe, and, if we ever have an issue, Upwork will be an objective third party.”

Follow AI as it continues to evolve

Sam thinks it’s important to follow AI’s evolution regardless of the industry you’re in. “Businesses should be aware that there is something coming and, if you're not aware, maybe your competition is,” he said. “You need to learn what’s happening on the ground in your industry.”

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He even started an email newsletter to help keep business leaders and AI colleagues in-the-know with high-level information that isn’t too technical. “You don't really need to know the technical stuff, but if there is some noise somewhere you should definitely tune in.”

Looking for clarity around your next AI-related project? Book a consultation with Sam to discuss your ideas or connect with one of the many other independent AI professionals on Upwork.

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