When I left college, I had no idea how printing presses worked.
I didn’t understand why people judged me for how I looked and not what I knew.
I knew no one in the design industry except the on-campus staff and students I worked with, and I sure as heck didn’t want one of those crappy, entry-level, junior designer jobs.
And then I got my first real design job at a vitamin manufacturing company…as explained by my supervisor, more of a label production job than a designer.
My very own desk, business casual attire, coworkers, the whole bit.
I was ready to rain awesomeness on the entire building.*
But you know what? That job rained awesomeness down on me. For five years I soaked up massive amounts of design, print, and office knowledge that I didn’t even realize I didn’t know.
So here are my reasons why every freelancer should work at least one “real job,” even if it’s part-time.
* My coworkers and I did work some pretty amazing magic there.
Gain perspective on being an employee and teammate
To you, it might not matter if you get the project done today or tomorrow, but your contact’s performance review may be affected by your timeliness.
By being an employee yourself, you’ll have a better appreciation for things like:
- office rules
- business etiquette
- “design by committee”
- working with people because you are required to
- how many projects the average design employee is juggling at one time – without the ability to reject them (so you understand why they haven’t responded to the email you sent yesterday)
- how mind-boggling long it can take for three upper-level management personnel to respond to a proof (and then want the 3 pages of changes done in an hour to meet the print deadline)
*Note: Some “real jobs” are super-fantastic.
True story: My first freelancing client came from that “real job” I told you about. One of my ex-coworkers who had worked in the QA department (and was living in Ohio) knew an ex-coworker (living in northern California) who needed a designer.
We talk about it all the time on GDB – referrals are your largest source of new clients.
A “real job” has tons of connections – even my small company of 35 – and all you have to do is be friendly and do your best.
The connections don’t stop there, though – often times you’re in contact with vendors, design agencies, print shops, and customers.
When you strike out on your own, you’ll already have a large network of people who know and trust you to make recommendations or refer clients.
Learn from others’ mistakes
Everyone needs a good bad example.
It can be your supervisor’s silly rules that make your project take 5 times longer than necessary or a coworker who burns bridges by an idiosyncrasy.
Wherever you find those good bad examples (and you will), start an email to yourself that says, “When I’m freelancing, I will never…”
Vow to learn from the mistakes you’ve seen others making. It will save you a considerable amount of time, money, and stress.
Get an education on someone else’s dime
I was lucky.
In a two-person design department, I was responsible for at least half of the work, which included projects that neither of us had experience doing before.
We also had an in-house print shop, so I got to badger the press operators about every aspect of their machines/job until I could troubleshoot press problems myself.
Then I was promoted to supervisor, so I also learned how to manage a department. On top of doing half of the design work, it was also my job to improve cost-effectiveness, limit waste, increase productivity and efficiency, negotiate better materials pricing, and lay the smack down when necessary…heheheh.
(Okay, I was a fairly nice supervisor.)
Not a bad education for $17/hr.
The point is, a real job pays you money for new experiences and education. Take advantage of it and strengthen those weaknesses.
Did you have a job before (or during) freelancing that taught you something amazingly beneficial for your own business? Share it with us by leaving a comment.