Is being a freelance designer worth it?

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Someone asked me recently if all the work and stress that goes into being a freelance designer is worth it.

(Before I jump too far into this post, I’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment and answer the question: ‘Is freelance designing worth it?’)

It’s worth what you make of it

My answer to this concerned designer about to make the switch to freelancing: you get out of it what you put into it.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to make money, freelance designing is not going to be your diamond in the rough. On a daily basis you deal with unpaid invoices, unreachable clients, low budgets (from your clients and yourself) and many other obstacles.

But, you get out of freelance designing what you put into it.

How to make the most of your freelancing

So how can you get the most out of your freelance design career? You learn to enjoy the benefits of being your own boss- to name a few…

  • You get to choose when you work and how many hours you put in each week.
  • You define success for yourself and your business – then work hard to achieve success.
  • You choose where you work which means you get to set up your own home office, rent office space or work in the coffee shop on the corner.
  • You get to find your clients which means you only work for and with people you want to work with.
  • You choose how fast your company grows or shrinks which means job security for as long as you like.
  • (Add your freelancing benefit by leaving a comment.)

Take off the rose-colored glasses

But obviously my friend wouldn’t have asked if it was worth it if every aspect of freelance designing was all peaches and cream. Many freelancing blogs paint an all-to-rosy picture of freelancing. They show endless photos of designers sitting on the beach with their laptops or talk about how you only have to work a few hours each day – and in your pajamas no-less.

Clearly, these people have never really been freelancers.

There are difficulties and downsides to being a freelance designer – some of which include:

  • You are not only responsible for creating amazing designs (the part you probably enjoy most), but you also have to do the dirty work of finding clients, paying bills, etc.
  • There’s no guarantee of steady work. Unlike working for a firm or as an in-house designer, your workflow (and cash flow) depend entirely on your ability to find new clients.
  • You’re usually a one-person show. Although I always recommend pairing up with other designers or outsourcing some of your work, the bulk of the responsibility to make your business perform lies with you. That can be a lot of stress for one person.
  • (Add your freelancing downside by leaving a comment.)

So what’s my answer?

Enough of the back and forth already, right? I’m sure you want to know what my answer was to the designer who posed the question. My answer:

Of course it’s worth it.

I love the new worlds and opportunities that freelancing brings me every day. I love interacting with other designers, clients, businesses, etc.

If I didn’t genuinely love it, do you think I would blog about it multiple times a week? Of course I wouldn’t.

I love freelancing. If you’ve been wondering if you should take the plunge, the answer is “YES!” We’re here to help you at GDB. Make the switch – slowly at first if needed – and you’ll not soon regret it.

Add your questions or words of encouragement…

If you’re concerned about making the switch to freelance designing, leave your questions and concerns in the comment section of this post. Conversely, if you’ve been freelancing for while and can offer any words of encouragement or reassurance for any designers out their who are nervous about freelancing, please add.

Best of luck to all of you in your freelance designing efforts!!

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

Comments

  1. Preston I agree, Freelancing is worth it. That is if you can manage yourself and don’t need other to do that. If you are disciplined and can manage yourself then take the plunge.

    • @IgniteWebsites,
      I totally agree. I think the designers who end up hating freelancing are the ones that have a hard time managing themselves. They pretty much NEED a boss in order to be productive. Hey IgniteWebsites, what’s your name?

  2. YES, YES, YES. Freelancing for the past 15 years has allowed me to stay home with my kids as they have grown up. It offers a freedom that no job can compare to. Are there times when it’s stressful? Yes! It always seems to be feast or famine, but a part of me loves that.

    • @Andrea Schultz,
      That’s the best part of freelancing! How many kids do you have (just out of sheer curiousity)? :)

      • @Preston D Lee, only 2 kids of my own, but sometimes it’s 3 with my nephew. I started freelancing when my oldest was 6 months old — he’s now a freshman. I love being home with them and being there when they need me. My business has had it’s ups and downs, and there was a period after we moved from NJ to NC when I lost all clients and couldn’t find work here. I have supplemented with other positions when necessary, but always end up going back to what I love and do best. (that may be more than you really wanted to know!)

        • @Andrea Schultz, I’m curious to know if you had childcare in place while you were in work mode when your kids were small or did you just sort of work around their schedules? I’m planning to make the full-time leap sometime next year and I’ll have an under 1 year old so I am trying to figure out that part of the equation.

  3. I just became a full-time freelancer as of this past Friday so I sure hope it’s worth it! ;)

    No, I love it and that’s why I quit my job. I think if anyone is interested in it that they way I did it is the way to go: Try doing it along side your full-time until it’s actually supplementing your income. Then try cutting your hours at work to part-time while staying busy with your freelancing. This is probably the longest step. The final step is freelancing full-time. If you can get enough work right off the bat then go for it but I’d say that doing it in stages is the best way to go.

    • @Travis Ulrich,
      Travis!! Congrats on taking the plunge into freelance design! That’s some great advice to take it in steps. Too often people try to go 100% freelance before they even have any clients. If you can keep your day job, do it for a while until you get the hang of freelancing.

      Thanks for sharing! – How long was the time you spent in step 2 – the overlap step?

      • @Preston D Lee, In January 2010, I went part-time at my job (25 hours a week) and part-time freelancing. So a year and 9 months. But I’m not married, no kids, so it might be longer for others.

  4. Totally worth it.

    I just quite my steady part-time (I’m a full-time student) gig as Graphic Designer for my church to pursue my own business.

    It was nerve-racking to say the least, especially in the middle of a recession, but at the time and looking back now it was definitely the right decision. I’m so much happier and love being my own boss! Also I enjoy picking my clients and which projects I take on.

    Yes, self-marketing and the stress of not knowing are hard, but the trade offs are amazing. If you have the self-motivation and skill, I’d say go for it. :)

  5. It’s great to hear so much positivity around freelancing. It is scary and I wouldn’t agree that you can always choose how fast or slow your business grows, but it is well worth it for the freedom and autonomy it brings.

  6. Good:
    The more effort the more the reward
    No dicatorial bosses or working in a sweat shop bashing out endless junk

    Bad:
    lack of bods to bounce ideas off!
    Tough in a resession to hold on to your scruples and hourly rate

  7. This post was perfect timing! Today is my last day at my full-time job. I’ve been freelancing on the side for a while now and recently came to a fork in the road… steady job? or freelance? Both was not an option anymore so freelance won! I’m pretty excited, and I all keep hearing is that it’s totally worth. I’ll work as hard as I can to make sure I stay as far away from a cubicle as possible ;)

  8. YES, YES, YES. Freelancing is so much better than the office ball and chain. Mind you, there is a lot of selling of your self.

    Try to add skills to your current set. 7 years ago I had my first digital camera. Now I’m incorporating photography in my skill set, solid photoshop skills helped a lot, especially if you are good at retouching.

    If you haven’t taken the leap, start small. Start letting people know your available, make sure you can handle it, working from home

    Good Luck, I think the freedom is worth it, and I will never be talked to again the way I have been talked to when having a full time job with some certain boss who’s a jerk.

    DEAR BOSS…..

    I QUIT!

  9. Staying home & being there for the kids is priceless! But there are hidden costs, such as not having colleagues to learn from on a daily basis. Escaping from freelance back to staff designer may not be easy, either.
    I took a tour of 5 design firms recently, and each had a strong alliance or a symbiotic relationship with a client, or another company, or a service. So you’d be well advised to cultivate alliances, suck up to your best clients, empower your symbiotic para-sites ;)

  10. In this economy, you don’t get to pick your clients. You’re lucky to find reasonable or likeable clients.

  11. I do agree with all of your comments. It totally worth it!

    when I was in college I only have one thing on my mind…”I’ll never work for anyone or any agency”…so I do start working as a freelance back in 1998!

    at the beginning my only experience was working in printing jobs, then I start doing web design with HTML using only tables! can you believe it… my first contact with flash was with FLASH 5 and my vectorial software was Freehand*, both from Macromedia, most of the new generation doesn’t know it

    I do love freelancing with all the ups and downs, it helps me travel and knew all kind of new stuff, it force me to learn something new in order to satisfy the clients needs and just keeping my laptop with an internet connection was all I need to keep my business running

    been a freelance it’s a lifestyle, and when you combine that with a profit, it make a good thing to wake up every day

    *I still have Freehand 10 installed!

  12. Love your blog….FUN STUFF!

    Just starting out as free lancer…but learning a ton from your blog!

  13. I’ll never go back. Nothing is bad enough in freelancing to put me in the middle of office politics again. Not to mention, it’s a 9-5 job with a fixed income (unless you negotiate a percentage rate). You;re always at the mercy of those above you.

    Working for myself…I always get 1/3 to 1/2 up front depending on the final price. That not only locks the client investment into the project on a financial level but also emotional, which makes their wiggle room less, and I have now made my time into the project almost all the way, the rest is gravy. If there are expenses, the client gets billed as they come in. It’s in the contract. At first, getting clients is the hard part. I was lucky as I worked for a school district, had a zillion clients and a percentage of them came with me. It’s still a bother when it thins and it does. But mostly I’m working on something, even if it’s my own work as a fine artist or photographer, making art for sale. Like a side business. My work is in galleries, exhibitions and I have a separate website for that side business.

    Back to freelancing, my greatest bother is the client that comes in for YOU to design but the truth is they came in to do THEIR disign, using your skills and/or name. It’s exhausting and they usually don’t produce quality work that adds up to their business being effectively served. When I’m left alone, I work at the time of day I want and there is so much freedom working for yourself, in your mind and heart, total freedom.

    You need to learn to read your clients fast. They are not all the same and I don’t treat them all the same. Boundaries are good. A few samples of what they want go a long way so they think they have choices. It works the best, and makes them feel they ARE a part of process. I work out of my home, meeting clients at coffee shops or the Library, which cuts my overhead. The word freelance communicates all sorts of permission to do it whatever way you want.

    Having good references and a killer website with a good client list, and variety of work on the website, is invaluable. I have joined any and all social media clubs for exposure, referrals and credibility. If you can overlap a money making job into freelance so you don’t go from income, to no income, do so. It’s easier and less stressful.

    My business really took off when I was able to say “no” when my gut told me too. Some jobs aren’t worth the bother they will be or the person you’re working for/with. It’s when you say “no” that clients begin to really trust you, even in the middle of the project. I am always ready to give the reason why, putting it all in designer world jargon. I use the principles and elements in my reasons. It sounds sound, credible and you sound sure and smart at what you do. I will not produce work I would not put into my portfolio, they’ve seen the portfolio…they get it. (Truth is I have done work, just don’t put on site. For smaller clients. As long as customer is ecstatic, I’ve won a client.) I do best I can with what they give. But everytime I’ve given in to “attitude” I’ve regretted it. Hope this helps. You’ll never make the income you want working for someone else. The worst that could happen…you go back to working for someone else. Gotta try.

  14. This has been a really helpful post! I am finishing up a design certificate program and am constantly looking for real-world information on what to expect.

    Thank you.

  15. Bjørn van der Linden says:

    Hi,
    I’ve been working in a studio for 3 years as an 2d/3d animator and doing some graphic design as well. My work was on tv and I it all felt great! But…this was more than 10 years ago! The studio closed down and I couldn’t find another studio to work for. I’ve spend 10 years doing all kinds of helpdesk jobs ect just to pay the bills. Now I’m unemployed again and want to pick up my passion again and work on more creative work. Because it is hard to find a studio again that wants me without the work experience I was wondering if freelancing would be an option.
    I already spend €2000,- on a new computer to have the newest version of the programs I used to use work on it. I want to make a portfolio for myself that is up-to-date.
    But all that is spinning in the back of my mind is: Is this all worth it? Will I ever get enough clients that will get me a good paycheck to pay the bills? Isn’t it better to look for some job instead of spending time and money now on the gamble to be a freelancer?
    All these questions and doubt are really affecting my creativity as well.
    Can someone please give me a comment and give me some advice?
    Thanks in advance.

  16. I’ve been freelancing a little over a year and I love it! I’m doing everything in my power to not get back into a traditional 9-5 job. The benefits far outweigh the negatives of this job. While it is more work finding your own clients, etc., I feel like I’m in the drivers seat. I’m sick this week with a cold. I’m still working, but it’s way better being sick and working at home than in a cubicle.

  17. SquishyFever says:

    Freelancing isn’t for everyone, I believe there is two kinds of designers. Ones that require self motivation from an art director and others that will shine on their own without orders.

  18. Marcel Fortune says:

    Im about to graduate in a couple of months and I’m really considerating freelancing after. I know it’s going to be a hard trip. Would be great for some advice about getting your foot in the door.

    Twitter: @MarcelFortune

  19. What about insurance, retirement and the like?

    • You have to save money for you retirement etc. but there is no price for freedom.

      I have been freelancing for over 2 years and it is great, yet not always easy (if it is fun it doesn’t have to be easy). If you manage your business well, keeping your skills up to date, communicate well, you can make good profits.

  20. Kathiegasen Chetty says:

    Hi there. I’m a finishing artist/designer. I have 13 years experience and have taken the plunge to go freelance. Can you give any tips on getting my first client. I’m in South Africa, Gauteng. Help would be much appreciated. I’m also a family man and I want to give more to family so I will be a stay at home dad & freelance finishing artist/designer.

    Thanks
    Kathie

  21. I am somewhere at the beginning of freelance thing, its like additional job for me. I can’t get much clients and the income is not worth to make it the only job. I don’t know how you guys are so happy about it. How do you find clients ? Most of the time i am either too late to the party(it looks more like chasing for food in hungry days of humanity) or didn’t response to email in time(i can’t check email all the time). Also some people dumped me, thats sucks as i am in highschool again and hear another “no” from a girl.

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