Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shop Talk: My First Year As A Freelance Designer

With 2011 coming to an end, I've spent a lot of time reflecting on the year and making plans for 2012. At the beginning of this year, I quit my restaurant job (which had been my bread & butter) and jumped into freelance design work full-time. It was an interesting year to say the least consisting of break throughs as well as break downs. But overall I made it! The simple fact that I managed to find consistent work for a full year and was able to stay out of debt, pay my bills on time and still have some fun is definitely an accomplishment! Here are some of my struggles and lessons learned from my first year as a freelance graphic designer:

Struggle #1: Was I making a big mistake? Jumping into full-time freelancing brought up a ton of insecurities in myself, my work, and my own abilities. I struggled a lot with self doubt and my decision to work freelance rather than full-time. I knew freelance was a better fit for me and the life I wanted to live, but did I have enough work experience to be successful? Was my portfolio good enough? Was I worth what I wanted to charge my clients?

Being on my own felt extremely vulnerable and I was terrified of failure. I wanted the path I had chosen for myself to be justified. I wanted someone to tell me I was making the right decision. Most often I was told the exact opposite. I was literally told by a recruiter to "suck it up and grow up. A full-time, 9-5 job is the only way to be considered successful and the only way to have a legitimate career." I practically lost my mind when I was told that! For me, the idea of working the same job, doing the same thing, 40-hours a week seemed like a prison! Luckily, I have some great friends that supported me and my "non-traditional" career choice and even referred me to new clients!

Lesson Learned: Stay true to myself. Surround myself with people who support my decision to work freelance and tune the rest out.

Struggle #2: Finding interesting work and gaining new clients. At first, I took on any work I could get. I had no idea of what type of work I actually wanted to be doing and ended up feeling unhappy about the low-budget, low-creative projects I was accepting from clients. It wasn't until September that I actually realized who my ideal client was and the type of work I'd be most excited about doing! Once I figured that out, I redesigned my portfolio to reflect that and within one week, won a project with my dream client, Lisa Frank! (Project TBA in 2012).

Lesson Learned: Identify my ideal client. Knowing exactly what type of work I wanted to do inspired me to rebrand myself to appeal to that specific market. And once I did that, it paid off almost instantly- Hurray!

Struggle #3: Financial planning, running a business + work flow. Money was a definite worry. How do I make a budget? How much money do I need to make to get by? I have to pay my own taxes? What? One month I was overloaded with projects, the next I was twiddling my thumbs. I experienced some drastic changes in my workload and it freaked me out! Then I realized- this is the life of a freelancer. It's ok that I don't have any big projects right now and it's actually a good thing! For example, December was a slow month for freelance work. At first I was worried about not having enough income to make it through the month, but the money I had made in the busy months previous helped me through and I was able to focus on other things! I was a vendor at Crafty Wonderland, I visited friends in Seattle, did some reading and even started planning for 2012.

Lesson Learned: The ebbs and flows of freelance life is what makes being my own boss worth it! When I'm not fully booked with freelance projects I can change my focus to personal projects, reorganizing, and planning. I still have A LOT to learn about running my own business. One of my goals for 2012 is to design an easy system for keeping track of financial stuff and filing quarterly taxes.

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