The Freelance Designer Life

Most freelance or solo graphic designers that I know purposely set out to become one. I did not.
 
They didn’t want to work for “the man”, they wanted to make more money, or they just wanted a more flexible work schedule due to having children. Some just didn’t like working with others. It’s probably a good idea for those folks to work solo. 🙂
 
Moving from out of state into a small design market like San Diego, and not knowing a soul, freelance was the only way for me to get work. Six months later I found a steady “freelance” gig for 4 years – not my ideal kind of work, but I struggled to find my niche here and it was a reliable income.
 
In San Diego, I am too senior level for most designer positions, and have earned higher salaries in past jobs that employers here can not match; nor I do I have enough staff management experience to become a creative director or similar…well, I am really not interested in managing other designers anyway, but the pay is higher…I just never fit in…
 
…until the company I was working for got bought out and the office closed down. I was one of the lucky ones to be kept on for freelance work. And I was able to work from home. This gave me the sweet taste of the freelance designer life.
 
shutterstock_129057911-designer
 
13 years later, I’m still at it. And I love it!
 
Many emerging students I have met in the recent past have visions of rainbows, unicorns and sugar plum fairies in their head about what freelancing is like. They only see freedom in their schedule, how much more money they could make than a full time job would pay, and without having to work as much. I have to let them down slowly and then give them a reality slap in the face…
 
Yes, there is freedom in having a flexible schedule. However, most clients want you available during their working hours, which is between 8am – 6pm. Some even want you available on weekends when necessary. They do understand you are not chained to your computer and that you will have times of unavailability—so there is that.
 
The rude awakening is that somehow your work days get longer than you thought they would!
 
A typical day, on average, is about only 4-6 hours of billable work. More if you have mastered the ebb and flow of projects/clients {I still have not – it’s hard to control the world}. There’s the unknown future of income to worry about if you don’t have retainers or steady client work. The rest of your day is all non-billable.
 
Because you are a solo designer, you are also a small business owner. You have to wear all the hats if you want to be successful: accounts receivable and payable, IT person, marketing, sales, social media, replying to emails, and everything in between.
 
It’s all up to you to keep up with technology, learn new software and programs, the latest marketing trends, and stay on top of your industry. We also must remain sociable and schedule 1-3 nights a month for networking events, seminars, workshops, or happy-hours with peers. And…I haven’t even talked about getting in workouts, meal times, family time, and sleep! Oh, and then there is the non-paid vacation and sick time to boot.
 
When I tell them all this, their eyes glaze over and their smile goes upside down.
 
However, the pros outweigh the cons. It’s all what matters to you most, what you’re willing to put up with and what makes you the happiest.
 
For me, what makes me happy is being able to work directly with my clients [one on one], design in my style [that fits their needs], work in my ideal environment [at home in my pjs, on my souped-up mac, with my favorite tunes playing] and basically have the flexibility to go to yoga or pilates class at 11am, sleep in when I can, and not have to drive in traffic every day.
 
I’ve learned to love the business side of being a solo creative person. It took many years of workshops, books, tutorials and being involved with AIGA and other nonprofit organizations to get there.
 
Now, if I can just control the world to keep a steady stream of projects and stay in the flow! 🙂
 
There are many articles written about the freelance life that can give more insight or other perspective, that are all true > from Design Professionalism, The Graphic Quarter and Rasmussen Edu.

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