…WITHOUT PULLING YOUR HAIR OUT
is the full working title of this week’s Creative Business Chat. haha.
I’m not shy sharing that the road to being a freelance designer has been rocky for me at times (here, here, and here). Freelance isn’t easy but there are many benefits like the quote I shared in my first Creative Business Chat. Work and life are so intertwined for me. This kind of lifestyle isn’t for everybody. I know a lot of people who separate work and life beautifully and I really admire them for it. Turning work off and turning life on with a definitive boundary line is an art form in itself. I can’t find the on and off buttons like that so more flexible boundaries that freelancing allows works best for me. 🙂
Learning who you are and how you work best is the most important way to know if having a freelance career is right for you.
3 Tips to begin freelance design
So I want to share 3 lessons I’ve learned the hard way:
Save 6-12 months worth of earnings
I believe in taking calculated risks, not cross-your-fingers-and-hope-it-works type risks (usually 😉 ). I had 12 months worth of savings before giving notice at my first studio job. I saved a year’s worth to make sure rent, student loans, and other bills could be paid in worst case scenarios (ie: unexpected software expenses, killed projects, or sick days). Misconception: you’ll start profiting the very day you start freelancing. This simply isn’t true. Which leads me to next my tip…
Book 1-2 retainer clients before going full-time
Having a couple retainer clients will keep you afloat when other projects fall through. I worked with a great web design company designing websites and an iPad grocery store app when I first started. If you’re full-time job didn’t make you sign a non-compete, you’ll be able to overlap gigs until going on your own. Make sure whatever projects you’re doing on the side isn’t something unethical during this transition time. It’s bad practice and disrespectful to your full-time employer to be moonlighting within the same industry they are (you don’t have to take away business from others to find your own).
These large projects kept me booked 20 hours/week. It was the stability I needed to step out on my own and seek brand and handlettering clients for the other 20 hours/week. This stability kept me confident in myself when I had to kill a project for a new business in town due to scheduling and contract issues. A lesson in boundaries for sure but one that would’ve hurt me financially and creatively if I didn’t have other work to get me through that hard lesson.
Client-related resources: Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines / My Networking Tips / How To Rock Your First Interview
Part-time job for stability and creative breaks
Seems odd to suggest you work more to take breaks, doesn’t it? haha. I’m not saying this is the BEST WAY but it’s the way that worked for me. I maintained financial stability while building my brand and handlettering portfolio by having a retainer client and taking a part-time job.
Take a part-time job that isn’t design-related to reduce the chances of burning out creatively.
I worked at a greenhouse because I’ve always loved plants, gardening, and nature. Tending to plants was therapeutic and made me focus on something other than design. You have to step away to refill your tanks. I did for 20 hours/week deadheading plants, watering trees, and hauling 50lb. bags of corn to customers vehicles. BONUS: My arms got really toned. 😉
This is a good time to debunk another freelance myth: you’ll only work 40 hours/week.
WRONG, especially when getting started. From the 3 tips you may have noticed:
+ 20 hrs./week after 5pm with my own clients (and more when I went full-time freelance)
+ 20 hrs./week on brand and handlettering work for my portfolio
+ 20 hrs./week at a part-time job for financial stability and creative breaks
60 hrs. total/week
Chances are if you’ve read this far you’re a motivated and disciplined self-starter so this probably isn’t surprising to you. What you trade in for freedom you make up for in hours worked. It’s why loving what you do is basically a freelance requirement. 🙂
The hardest part for me was BELIEVING I could work this way as a freelance designer and knowing I DESERVE to work how I work best. Once you face your own demons of what’s keeping you from starting, then you can truly begin. 🙂
I hope sharing more behind the scenes about my experience can help you delve into why and how you can begin a side gig or full-time freelancing as a designer. Comment below: What questions do you have? Or a reflection we can build upon? Let me know!
Next topic: Why I started freelancing as an Introvert (+ a fun personality test I love!)
Photos by Leigh Ann Cobb Photography