7 Things I've Learned Jumping Into the Freelance Game
Within the social media universe I have a no negativity policy. I try to preach the positive design gospel for all of Twitter to hear (....crickets) and I assume my friends and colleagues are aware I'm in absolute love with the profession. It's obvious I'd rather be riding bikes to meetings, taking a long breakfast or designing beer growlers with my buds than working for someone else. Regardless of how much fun I'm having working for myself.....freelancing is the scariest shit I've ever tackled in my life and by far the hardest.
August will be a full year of self-employment for me, and I still shit myself a little each day hoping I have all my ducks in a row. I'm constantly trying to reassure myself the finances are straight, I've saved receipts for tax time, I haven't double-booked meetings, I'm not over-committing myself and that the contracts and quotes I write are accurate and tidy.
Regardless of these worries, the benefits and rewards of self-satisfaction, making your own rules and not wearing pants for weeks at a time has outweighed any anxiety I incur. Making the freelance jump is not an easy thing to do. Before you think about making the switch, I would encourage you have a few things squared away.
- Make sure you have some money stashed in your savings. This life is exciting but unpredictable, so you need to be prepared to cover your ass when things get a little rocky. You never know when you will need that emergency fund. I would recommend having no less the $3,000 in savings, but preferably $5,000. If you don't have a little buffer you will have to take on anything that comes your way. This is is surest way to self-implode.
- Make sure your online portfolio reflects the type of work you want to continue creating, not just the work you have been doing. I wanted to specialize in branding and packaging, so I filled my site with those examples. If you don't have enough of the things you want to do in your portfolio, start busting your ass and making concept (fake-ass) projects that will be a better representation of your aspirations. Concepts will suffice just fine as long as they are well-designed thought out examples that show you can solve problems as a designer.
- Examine the stream of projects you have in the pipeline and be realistic about what pricing you will need to charge to maintain your quality of life. You have to be confident in your own abilities to charge what it takes to make things work as a sole-proprietor. In addition to this, creating some general estimates and contracts for common work such as logo design, packaging work, lettering or a basic website will streamline your workflow. Refer to the Graphic Designer's Guild Handbook starting out as a clear reference for ethical questions, pricing and licensing of work. It's an invaluable resource that every creative should adorn their bookshelves with.
- Get your shit together and get organized. Plan for tracking your invoices and expenses. There are plenty of time-tracking web applications to manage, track and invoice your work, but the one that seems the most effective and intuitive to me personally is Harvest. Harvest makes tax time a snap. With features like uploading receipts/expenses from their mobile app, exporting all invoices to Excel or PDFs, and it also has the ability to add multiple users as you grow your business. I honestly don't know what I'd do without it.
Prioritize tasks with Asana. My go to, to-do. My life changed for the better when I integrated this into my workflow. I've used Basecamp and Trello as well, but Asana provided more value for me personally. (Thanks Marcus!)
- Create a plan and set aside money for taxes. Unfortunately the government doesn't give us freelancers many tax incentives, so you have to make sure you are setting enough aside to come out even in April. To be safe take whatever you've made on a project and multiply it by .35 and put that in a separate account so that you won't be tempted to to dip into Uncle Sam's money when the going gets a little tough. Do this and pay an accountant to prepare your taxes. I promise it will be the best $250 you will spend all year. (plus you can write it off)
- Define a workflow that works for you. Every studio has a customized process for getting work done and how they interact with clients. Establish this and inform potential clients of how it is that you work. It keeps the client integrated into how you create, but also helps define a system that you can rely on for making the magic happen. Stick to it, but be conscious of when it needs to evolve.
- Lastly, don't be a dick. I've said this shit repeatedly. No one likes working with a talented asshole. Be humble, outgoing, genuine and put the client first. That's your job, be gracious that you are enabled to live the life you want! Quit making excuses, work tirelessly and be nice to people. Your network will grow exponentially by the contacts you make. These are the same folks that will spread your gospel as a freelancer and help build your personal brand.
Good luck on making the switch! If you have any questions email me or hit me up on twitter I'm happy to share more specifics if you have questions.