If you want to become your own boss to achieve work-life balance, freedom, and an easier life, then I am afraid, I have bad news for you! Freelancing is not the idyllic “home office on the beach” image that you have always dreamt of.
As with all things there are pros and cons.
However, the cons: endless hours of hard work, inconsistent income, handing stress and pressure, being your own support network (this can also be a pro!) are generally balanced out by the pros: unlimited opportunities to engage in all kinds of projects in a variety of industries, working on multiple projects with different clients, working virtually from anywhere in the world, the ability to constantly upgrade your skill set and work on your self-development. The biggest pro of all of course is that you are doing what you love and making your ideas a reality.
Here are some insights from the lessons I’ve learnt so far:
1. Remember the importance of a healthy work-life balance!
At the beginning of your creative business journey, when you are building up your portfolio, looking for work and attracting potential clients, it’s easy to blur the line between work and personal life. Working days can easily stretch to 16 hours, as day turns to night and you are still in front of your computer screen. “The bills need to be paid” you say – and this is of course true, but you must remember to keep balance, otherwise your passion will quickly turn into burn-out. You think that by working longer hours, you will miss out on a potential project /client? Very likely, but I assure you that the next, possibly even bigger, gig will come along in no time and by allowing yourself downtime you will be more energized to give it your all! So, go for a family walk, have a glass of wine with your friends, and above all, find ways to take care of your mental state – starting a project refreshed will always foster creative thinking.
2. Build the right foundations.
We’ve all heard of the phrase ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’. When you’re freelancing it’s important to focus on your area of expertise, concentrate on your specialty and master that. If there is an area you need more expertise in, don’t be afraid to collaborate with other creatives and bring them in to strengthen your business so you can build a broad and repeat client base.
Know your brand, what is its ethos, its goals, its core services. What sets your brand apart from other brands? Stay true to your brand and your clients will stay true to you!
3. Don’t expect the road to always be smooth!
Challenges, miscommunications, obstacles – yes, that will happen on your journey – more than you can imagine! Wrong projects, imperfect collaborations, unfulfilled ideas, or unpaid invoices, all these things will come your way, and more, but you will learn from all of them and be the better for it!
Proposals being rejected, sometimes more than once, can be soul destroying especially when you consider how much time and effort you put into them. Don’t take it personally. Your vision might not resonate with everyone, creative design is subjective – learn from this and move one.
As a freelancer you will definitely have quiet periods with no projects and no clients on the horizon (COVID anyone?) During times like this, the question is how do you stay unbeaten and keep going? The answer? Concentrate on the why and how! Why are you here? What you CAN do now, not what you can’t and how to get there. No projects? That’s not great, but not bad neither. Use your free time to focus on your digital presence and spread the word on the amazing work you have done so far. Get in touch with your network – perhaps there is someone there that needs your magic. Alternatively use the downtime to skill up in areas that you want to improve and will enhance your business in the long run.
4. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver!
Maybe you don’t consider yourself to be a people-pleaser? Think again! For a client creative relationship to work you have to be a people-pleaser to some extent, but at the same time you must remain true to yourself and your ideals. Don’t forget, that “your” ideas need to be approved by your client, so it needs to be a two-way street.
To make clients happy, it’s easy to say yes to all potential requests, even if that means – working around the clock, but this is unlikely to yield the best results for them or for you. So, here’s what I’ve learnt about getting the most out of the client creative relationship over the last four years:
– miss deadlines
– overpromise (because your client will lose trust in you)
– be accountable (don’t blame circumstances for an imperfect project)
– keep an open and honest line of communication with your client
If you’re unlikely to deliver your draft on time – say it. If you feel the project is beyond your abilities – say it. Most of all, don’t look for excuses of not delivering, but offer solutions as to how this can be improved and resolved. Your client will appreciate your honesty and commitment to living up to your original promise. When you are running your own business, building trust with your client base is essential!
5. Remember that the customer isn’t always right!
A positive freelancing experience works both ways. Sometimes you will come across a client project that doesn’t feel right for you. Remember you don’t have to say yes to every project that comes along. Trust your instincts, if you have a “funny” feeling about a project don’t take it!
6. Value your efforts.
The creative world is very competitive – there are millions of designers like you out there, they also want a constant flow of income and a strong network of clients. Your potential clients have a big, hungry pool of creatives to choose from. This doesn’t mean you should sell yourself short to get the job. From my experience you will meet all sorts of clients. Some know what they want to get out of a project, and some who need your direction. Some will be open to your ideas and others will have a definite idea of what they want, whether it feels right or not. Many will appreciate your efforts and money is not an issue, some will expect the work output of a Ferrari, for the price of a Fiat. At the beginning I was wrongly advised that you have to lower your prices if you want to get a job. No! This is the biggest mistake you could ever make as freelancer, it creates “deflated fee expectations” for the client from the start, and they will expect the same low prices for future projects. So, value your work and time! A good client will be happy to pay what you are worth, if they are not willing to remunerate you appropriately for your efforts and expertise move on.
7. Keep learning and enjoy the process!
Building your brand from scratch is a long process. In a competitive creative world, you need to stay up to date with new developments and the demands of the market. This doesn’t mean that you need to follow every new trend fanatically. In fact, I believe in the opposite – try to be the one that set the trends – stay inspired and listen to what is going on around you but focus on finding your unique style and way. Learning new things, new software, new skills every day will always set you apart from the crowd / competition.
Remember, building a great business is a marathon not a sprint, if you stay curious, be authentic and true to yourself, you’ll win the race time and time again!
Agnieszka Eva Juszczyk
Graphic Designer & Founder