The thing I miss most about working on a team is having a support system encouraging and challenging my ideas.There's no one with me on a Monday morning to chat about my weekend with or ask advice on a pair of shoes I'm thinking of buying. But on the flip side, I'm your typical creative introvert, and I always get my best ideas when sitting in my own space with headphones on––so, I guess it makes sense that I'm happy working independently overall.
With all this said, I'm learning more and more everyday what it's really like to work as a freelance designer. Below are some helpful tips if you're considering leaving your nine-to-five job to go freelance or start a small business.
Ask yourself some questions:
When someone faces a hardship or major life decision, a good friend or counselor will lead you to discover the truth about yourself by asking lots of questions. If you feel led to start a small business or work as a freelancer but maybe aren't exactly sure where to start, I'd recommend writing out the answers to these five simple questions.
• What are your strengths?
• What do you enjoy?
• Where's the money?
• What do you already have to work with?
• What are you passionate about?
Get inspired about what you're ready to face! There are so many great resources out there to educate and pump you up about finding and managing your new work and schedule.
• I just got my first library card in years, which is motivating me to discover a ton about what I love––I'm currently obsessing over home design and business. You can actually order books and audio books from your local library on this app here: OverDrive. Here are some inspiring reads for small business owners/ freelancers: Creative Ink, Good to Great, The Go-Getter, and EntreLeadership.
• Visit some of my older posts on business and design podcasts I've grown to love here and here.
• Consider taking an entrepreneur course with StartupCamp.
• Check out Coursera. You can find a ton of free online courses to help you improve your strategy and focus.
• Go offline. Get out for walks in the middle of the afternoon with a pen and paper to gather your thoughts. There's really no better way to clear your mind and encourage yourself. I like to write out weekly and monthly goals and then visit them later to better learn how to set my future goals and expectations.
Find and keep work:
• Use social media. I find Instagram and Pinterest to be incredible sources for finding cool businesses who share my aesthetic, ethics, and who may even need my design services in one way or another. Inspiring people always follow inspiring people so reach out to people and brands you connect with and a handful of others they follow.
• Building work relationships takes time so make sure to properly invest by always delivering your very best work and by being a strong communicator. Some of my clients are on the other side of the country, or world, so being open and upfront about expectations and being available to talk at different times in the day is important.
• Connect with an agent. Meet with a local agent to help you find more opportunities you may not be aware of or have time to search for. Be passionate and very clear about what types of work you're looking for.
• Upwork and 99 Designs are two helpful sources for freelancers to find work.
• Think outside the box! Honestly, most of the work I currently have wasn't planned or expected. Be open to offers that may initially throw you off. For instance, I'm more seasoned in apparel and graphic design but I've also been offered to help brands with social media and do part-time floral work for pop-ups and events.
• In the beginning you may need to take a side job. Make sure to set boundaries and be very particular and strict about how to spend the time you're willing to give up. Don't choose an extra job that will drain all of your energy or that stresses you out.
Have a good attitude:
Or at least try your hardest! One thing you must know if you're going to quit your nine-to-five for freelance is that there are so many ups and downs. There are days when I feel like I'm on a high, and then there's days where I break down and feel completely defeated. The best solution for this is to prepare for the inevitable roller-coaster ride.
• Cover yourself with affirming words. You're super valuable and there's only one of you in the entire world. It's the truth! I have to remind myself of my worth a lot; it's a practice that's helped me be more patient with myself, and to delight in my accomplishments.
• Don't compare yourself! Easier said than done, but I like to start my morning with coffee or a run in complete silence. This time allows me to really just appreciate where I'm at in life and to be thankful for what I have. You can read more of my morning rituals here.
• Be confident in your work. If you're challenging your skills, beating expectations, and communicating well than you should stand by it and express all of these positives to future possible employers. And don't ever feel bad for turning down work if the job doesn't meet your pay rate or aesthetic.
• Be enthusiastic and set high goals. I don't know about you, but if I put 30 things on my to-do list for the day I'll accomplish 15-20, and if I put 15-20 things on my to-do list I'll accomplish around 10. So basically, I've learned to make really long lists for each day with time limitations to help me stay focused.
Sometimes I'd like to believe our culture when they say we can do everything on our own, but that's just simply not true. People don't just all of a sudden believe in themselves. You need a good, healthy community of people to lift you up, encourage you, and remind you of who you are. We are wired to be in community! I meet with some friends a couple of times a week to get out of my usual work routine and build each other up in what we're doing with life and work.
Manage your money well:
• You don't really have to invest much money to start making money. A business or freelance career that starts out slowly will be wiser by the time big money decisions need to be made. Invest in your first few work relationships and they'll most likely refer you to more gigs. Once you build your clientele and work more consistently, then invest in better supplies, equipment, technical support––whatever.
• Always set aside money for taxes. To be safe I put away 30-40 percent of what I make so I know I'm covered and not scrounging for money when my quarterly tax payments hit.
• Don't neglect retirement savings. Meet up with a financial advisor and set up a Roth IRA or something similar. I also use Betterment which allows me to manage and set goals for different long term savings categories.
• Use a money budgeting app like YNAB. This handy little tool will help you assign a job to every dollar you earn keeping you more organized and ready for the financial ups and downs that will come your way.
My hope is that these thoughts and tips will inspire you to take the leap into freelance if that's where you're at in life. Feel free to share any freelance/ small business tips you've learned along the way––I'd love to learn from you too!