Freelance Design Career
When I was working in the corporate world back in the late 90’s early 2000’s, I dreamed of someday running my own freelance design company. You might be in that position today, or perhaps you’ve recently made “the jump”. What I’ve found (as is often with a lot of other aspects in my life), is that what I imagined in my dream and what I experienced in reality were two very different things. This isn’t necessarily bad, but all too often I’ve noticed that people expect their dreams and reality to sync up perfectly – they rarely do.
If you’re considering a career as a freelance designer I’d first want to congratulate you, this can be a wonderful direct for your life. At the same time, I am reminded of a quote in the movie, “Rudy”, which is one of my favorites. One of the practice coaches barks out a grim reminder to a rag-tag group of no-name football player in front of him who were hoping and praying they would earn a spot on the Notre Dame team, “…let me tell it to you as clean as I can…if any of you has any fantasies of running out of that tunnel with your gold helmets shining in the sun, you best leave them right here“.
In the framework of becoming a freelance designer, let me tell it to you as clean as I can. If any of you have aspirations of making a 6 figure income by running a design firm from a beach lawn chair, all of your clients would be wonderful and all you would need to do was put in 3-4 hours a day – you’d best leave the right here. If you’ve been considering starting a design firm, and I just burst your bubble, I apologize. Better you learn the truth now, than go in being naïve like I did. Don’t get me wrong, with the right knowledge, training, talent and effort, you can make a load of money doing what you love, but it’s a challenging road.
Below you’ll see 2 different sides to the same coin, I first cover what I imagined running a freelance design firm would be like before I became one, the second section is what really happened in reality. You’ll notice that #1 on the dream side will match up with the #1 on the reality side, and so on…
- Set your own hours.
- Work with the clients that you want to.
- You directly control how much or how little you make.
- You decide what you’re going to do for the day.
- You can have a lot of variety in your day so you’re not always doing one thing over and over.
- You have much more creativity to design what you’d like in a freelancing environment than a corporate environment often provides.
- You won’t have to deal with those crazy people in sales and marketing anymore (if you’ve ever been in a corporate or production environment, you know what I mean)
- You’ll have an opportunity for more people to see and appreciate your creativity.
- You won’t have a boss standing over you demanding the impossible.
- You have the ability to make a lot of money as a freelancer. You’ll no longer be on a fixed income.
- You’ll find exhilarated and inspired at times.
- You’ll have the opportunity to work with wonderful business people and learn about entirely new industries you may never have known anything about before.
- Often the hours you set are long hours.
- Might be forced into working with clients you don’t want because you’re not getting enough business.
- How much you’re actually bringing in might not be enough.
- Some designers wake up and wonder, “What the heck should I do today – what should I be doing?”
- You have to be willing to do a lot of things you perhaps don’t want to (networking, dealing directly with clients, handling complaints, sales calls, etc.).
- Clients ultimately decide what you’re going to design. You’ll have more creative freedom most of the time, but you’ll quickly find that you can’t just design whatever you feel like.
- You are the sales and marketing department.
- Being more in the public eye, you’ll naturally be subject to more criticism by people that may or may not like you work.
- You may find you’re working with 5+ bosses all standing over you demanding the impossible.
- You may run the risk of losing a lot of money as a freelance designer. You may find your income going up and down.
- At times you’ll feel frustrated, uninspired and drained.
- If you’re in freelance long you’re going to run into some people that aren’t of the highest quality. In every group of people out there you’ll find bad apples – clients are no different.
This quick post isn’t meant to discourage you, only to paint a realistic picture in your mind before you make the jump to freelance designer. I’ve been a full time entrepreneur and a freelance designer for over 4 years now – smartest thing I ever did. I would never go back to work as a full-time employee for a company…I am not they’d want me anyway 🙂