What motivates you to be a freelance designer? Freelance for the right reasons.

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Each week at GDB, Dan Sweet provides priceless tips and helpful secrets to make your freelance design venture a success. You can connect with Dan on twitter or at dansweetdesign.com.

I  quit my job last spring, mostly because my wife and I had our eyes set on the “big city metropolitan lifestyle,” and we were getting tired of the small college town we lived in.

After several half-hearted attempts at finding full-time employment, we decided that it was time to go after that long-awaited self-employment prize. 6 months later and we’re still happy about that decision! Rejoice! It was a scary thing starting out since we didn’t have much of a financial cushion, but planning, budgeting, and some previous savings helped quite a bit.

Reasons

In a job interview once, when asked why I was looking for a change of career direction, I was told that my answers were too negative. The problem was this: I was too focused on what I was tired of in a job, and never really considered why I wanted to move in a new direction. Being so blinded, I didn’t consider whether the job I was interviewing for was really something I wanted to do.

I’ve noticed the same issue with people getting started with freelancing, myself included. Are you doing it because you really want to start your own business and work for yourself?

Or is it because you’re tired of the 8 to 5, your boss, or even just the stuffy office? Looking for something different can be a great reason, just make sure you’re looking in the right place.

Below are some of the reasons I came across for starting my own freelance business. The negative reasons didn’t do a ton to motivate me, and turned out to be a bit empty in retrospect.

Negative Reasons for freelance designing:

I don’t like working for other people.
Tired of the boss breathing down your neck? Try having 4-5 different bosses (clients) at the same time. All who want something from you NOW, and all who can affect your future ability to find work. Then there’s your conscience, who can really be a jerk if you’re slacking off.

I can’t find a job.
There are many reasons for being unable to find work, but if lack of skills in your chosen field have anything to do with it, you should think twice about making it your sole source of income.

To be honest, I actually started freelancing (partly) because I didn’t have a job at the time, and couldn’t find any work that I could see myself doing in the long term. However, working for myself was something I had wanted to do for some time, and it turned out the time was right. Sometimes I wish I had a bit more employment experience, just so I could have a better handle on the way business is done outside my own home office. But the learn-as-you-go technique is working alright so far.

I don’t like the corporate 8 to 5 lifestyle.
True, nobody likes to punch in and out every day. But if you’re going to have a few clients–and especially if you live on the West Coast–that may mean taking calls before 9am sometimes. Many people (especially those who do have to punch in at 8) are going to start getting impatient when they can’t get hold of you until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Something to think about.

Positive Reasons for freelance designing:

I like to do things myself and am super excited about starting my own business.
Take it from someone who has been working on setting up a freelance design business for the last 9 months or so. It takes A LOT of work. Especially if you don’t know what you’re doing/have no business experience (that’s me!). However, through researching, asking around, reading articles, and good old trial and error, I’m starting to get it figured out.

I like flexibility, but can manage my time well.
The nice thing about working for yourself is that you can work whenever you want. Or all the time. I’m finding the latter to be more true every day–it’s 11:30PM right now, in fact! I put more hours in now than I ever did as a full-time employee. The trick is managing your time well. If you’re used to relying on a project manager to schedule your work, there may be a steep learning curve here. The good news: the better you are at managing your time, the more time you’ll be able to keep for yourself, and the less time you’ll spend pulling your hair out at 3 in the morning.

I’m confident in my skills and what I can deliver.
When you’re out on your own, you don’t have coworkers to ask advice (though I recommend finding a fellow freelancer to converse with) or a project manager/creative director/supervisor to lean on for tough decisions. It’s just you. Some embrace this. Others can’t take the pressure.

Working for yourself takes a great deal of confidence, but also a realistic knowledge of what you can and can’t do. Few things shatter your self-confidence faster than not being able to deliver on a project because you bit off more than you can chew. Believe in yourself, but try to be realistic. It’s easy to over-promise, and just as easy to under-perform.

Of course, no amount of my yappin’ will give you the final answer to the big question. Should you take the freelance plunge? Ask yourself why you want to take that route, then take an honest measure of your strengths and weaknesses to determine if it’s even a viable route for you. Self-employment is not the easy way out, but with a fair amount of strategic planning and determination added to your already epic skill set, it can be very rewarding.

Calling all freelancers

Why did you choose freelancing? Did your reasons stand the test of time? I’d love to hear what you have to say, and how self-employment is working out for you. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

About Dan Sweet

Comments

  1. I have been freelancing for 14+ years out of a 25 year career in GD, and although there have been times in those 14 years I have seriously considered getting a full-time job, I never have – mostly because those reasons involved my reactions to unfavorable or difficult experiences, like slow periods, and difficult projects or those occasional ‘difficult clients’… But, the reasons I continue to freelance is because I really enjoy meeting new people, opening my proverbial tool box and mind to new challenges, negotiating and developing new relationships, being a part of a team, working for companies, individuals and organizations I would not otherwise have the opportunity to contribute to, LEARNING from my experiences, and also learning to roll with the tides with a little more grace and positive expectancy every year. I don’t think I would have learned half as much about myself, life, others and what I really love to do if I had been ‘indentured’ into a 9-5 full time work experience… The positives still outweigh the ‘negatives’ in my book. I’m very fortunate.

  2. …oh, and a word to the wise: ALWAYS use contracts. Be very clear with clients about what you will do for them, how you will do it, what you need from them and when, what it will cost if everything goes according to plan and how you intend to communicate overage and how much you will charge for that. Make it simple but very clear. I also find it necessary to spell out a plan of action or a time line for large projects to keep everyone on task and to provide rationale for extensions if absolutely necessary. A big part of being a freelancer is wearing many hats, and a big and important hat is that of business and project manager. People will be people – and this means YOU, too. Contracts hold everyone in integrity with their agreements and believe me, this is important!

    • @Marie Smith,
      Excellent point, Marie! Even if the freelancer and client have the best intentions, without setting clear expectations for the project in writing, everything can go downhill fast.

      That’s awesome you’ve had such a great freelance experience for so long! I know that’s not the case for many people. As I continue to write on this topic, I hope you’ll continue to provide your experienced insights!

  3. I believe that you should only be a freelancer if it’s truly your long-term career goal. If it’s not, you’ll go down the path of not returning calls, blowing off clients, and getting yourself replaced fairly quickly. Be 100% sure freelancing is what you want before committing. It’s a lot more work than you think!

  4. We work with many graphic designers and most (from discussions) say that they enjoy the flexibility. Being able to pick and choose projects they like due to the creative nature of them, but also the design challenges that each client presents.

    This is from UK graphic designers as opposed to US.

    Just from feedback :)

  5. wow.. i still been a freelance for 5 years and it making me think that my time was my rule. But if i’m not planing and managing my time wisely, it’s almost make me burn.
    But i wonder why i didn’t get the job for 5 month, but i still wondering if some client are commin this year. :) (i think my client list still few for count.. haha)
    Now, after read this article i get the info of what should and what not i do for my future as a freelance. Thank’s for everyone here who joining.

    @Marie Smith, thank’s for the point! i’ll remember that.. the simple CONTRACT! :lol:

  6. Right off I should mention that I’m not a graphic designer, but since 2003 I’ve been providing a group of various designers online with one main service: preparing their supplied images for print.

    I did prepress work at company after company for 25 years—where obvious, predictable foolishness always sank the ship. After 11 years at the last place that went under, I never again wanted to be an employee.

    With half a year’s wages saved up (it wasn’t enough) I launched Colorprep.us. It has been very satisfying to provide even better service, doing full-time Photoshop that I love, for a fraction of rates my previous bosses used to charge. Rather than losing my job, I’m the one telling certain clients “Dear John…”

    Twenty years ago I married a graphic designer’s daughter. She also works here, in her own business. We appreciate having all meals and down-time together.

  7. Alexandra says:

    I quit my full time job a while ago. Many would dream to have such job. I worked at local hospital, was only one there without a degree (got hired based on my portfolio). Had salary pay they actually offered me $10k more than I asked for! 100% paid health, dental/vision benefits. 7.5 hours work day, your own cubical and endless meetings etc.

    While working there was nice, there was no creative freedom. I somehow had to work with web developers very close and therefore was in their department rather than working with marketing department where 99% of my work was coming from. Going for 11 a.m. meeting and coming back at 3 p.m. to my cubical was not very productive.

    Then my deparment was moved with another department and I was left alone with my boss. My boss was never at his office and spent most of the day on meetings. If I needed something, I had to send him an email and wait for days sometimes.

    Eventually I grew tired of that and decided to finally quit my full time job.

    I went freelance but the work wasn’t pouring per se as I was hoping it would. I struggled a lot. Did everything from cold-calls (was yelled at for no reason), to mass mail etc. The only good thing came out of it was when I did mass email marketing campaign I only received 2 replies back but those replies were golden. First one was a logo project and another one was a small business that was looking for ongoing designer to do work for them from print to web etc – that was a dream client.

    Then I started networking and it was nice and steady. Being a freelancer I don’t get to do much picking but I like to be able shove away clients who show me no respect and the most important thing is being my own boss and having my schedule is the best thing ever. I can start as late as 10 a.m. or stay late as 10 p.m. Nobody will monitor me nor ask me for my progress.

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