2 Years Full-Time!
Wow. It’s been a while since I’ve wrote on this. Coincidentally, the last time I wrote a blog post was on my six month anniversary...
Hard to believe, but it’s officially been TWO YEARS since I left my full-time job in favor a new journey. That’s 731 days without a regularly scheduled paycheck (yes, I’m counting). While I know that two years may not seem like much to most, to me, it’s a pretty big deal. Being self-employed is a rollercoaster of all kinds of emotions. I’m my two years of doing so I’ve experienced the highest of highs, the absolute lowest of lows, as well as all the flips, turns, and twists in between.
Over the last two years, I’ve been given the opportunity to work with some of the biggest and best clients in the world, creating pieces that I'm truly proud of. I’ve been recognized as one of the top 15 new visual artists under the age of 30. And I’ve stood on stage in front of hundreds of my peers to tell my story. On the flip side, I’ve had serious struggles with depression. I’ve found myself unable to move under the pressure of not knowing where my next check would come from. And at one point, I found myself with literally only $6.82 to my name. Like I said, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
Freelancing isn’t for everyone. I’m not even sure it’s for me in the long run, but right now, it’s what feels right. It gives me the opportunity to explore, to create, and to finally take the reins on my own life.
18 months ago, I wrote this blog post giving some very novice advice to others preparing to “make the leap” into freelancing full-time. At the time, I knew that it should be taken with a grain of salt because I hadn’t been on my own for every long at that point. I thought that at 2 years I would reevaluate that list and have a bunch of new things to share, but I don’t. What I learned in the first six months is what I’m still learning today, and will probably be what I’m still working to perfect years down the road. So here’s my (Revised) Idiot’s Guide to Freelancing Full-Time:
1 - Prepare to do more than just designing.
This is still very true. There are days and weeks that I get almost no designing done. Spending time taking care of the administrative stuff is boring, but those things are incredibly important in order to get paid and stay paid. It can be frustrating at times, but know they days of answering emails and sending out estimates won't last forever!
2 - Brace yourself, it’ll be hard.
Like I said, I’ve struggled. I’ve been flat broke and didn’t know where my next check was going to come from. This career path is inherently hard, but you just have to prepare yourself the best you can, both mentally and physically. That could mean finding balance through meditation or exercise. Or it could also mean changing your lifestyle so you aren’t spending as much money on things to don’t matter. Find ways to deal with the hard times because tough times never last, but if you're tough enough, you will.
3 - Develop a good support system.
Over the last two years I’ve definitely learned the value of a good support system. Having people around you that are truly vested in your success and well-being is so damn important. They can recommend you for projects. The can provide you with moral support. And they can help pick you up if you ever reach the bottom. Find and build your own support system of friends, family, and even reliable clients as soon as you can. You'll need them if/when times get hard (see: #2).
4- Hold yourself accountable and get in a routine.
This is a big one for me. It’s so important to be on some sort of routine just to keep yourself honest and focused on your goal. I always make sure to get up, workout, and go to my office at a reasonable time most days. I have a studio space and I try to be there from 10a-4p at least 3 days a week. I may not have anyone to report to, but having a little bit of personal accountability is a good thing, in my opinion. There’s routine there, which helps with productivity, but know that you don’t have to punish yourself if you fall short from time to time.
5 - Show no fear.
When you’re on your own, everything is sort of scary. Quoting a project is scary, and following up on a late payment is even scarier. But the scariest things are often the best things for you. You have to be able to stand up, put your game face on, and let people know that you are for real. You are a company, even if you're just a company of one. Stand up for yourself, don't let large clients or agencies push you over or scare you, and make sure that you get paid on time. Remember, it's your livelihood. In the words of my man Jigga, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a BUSINESS, man! Let me handle my business, damn.”
6 - Know your worth.
Speaking of showing now fear...I think this is the most important thing on this list. Knowing what you’re worth and sticking to it not only makes freelancing possible, but it makes it all feel good. It makes it feel like all the hard work is worth it. Determining your rate is a difficult thing to do. It’s a learning curve, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to figure it out. But once you figure out what you think you’re worth, try you best to stick to it. Yes, you’ll have to do projects with smaller budgets from time to time, but that doesn’t have to be the norm. Pick and choose your projects carefully, and if the budget isn't right for you, maybe the project isn't either. The more projects you do that you feel underpaid on, the more resentful you'll be and those are projects you won't feel proud of. Another rap quote here: “Know yourself, know your worth.”
7- Hang In there.
Like I said, freelancing is a rollercoaster of emotions. Remember that the all of the struggles and bad times will make the good times feel that much better. A few scrapes and scratches are worth it in the long run, so just hang in there. Okay, one last rap lyric. 50 Cent once famously said:
"Sunny days wouldn't be special if it wasn't for rain. Joy wouldn't feel so good if it wasn't for pain."