Most designers come to a stage in their careers when they ask themselves ‘shall I go freelance?’
For some it is an urge that has burned within them from as early as they can remember. Others, can find themselves forced into the situation through circumstance, like redundancy etc.
So many people have asked me if it is worth the leap, but what I always try to explain is that it all depends on who you are and what you want to achieve. For some people it is the greatest experience they can get, and wouldn't dream of going back into a full-time role. For others it is the most terrifying thing in the world.
There are so many ways that you can approach your career as a freelancer designer. You can have a small stint and work for agencies whilst you look for your next full-time role, or you can set your path to a new career as a business owner.
The freelance circuit can vary across the world, and whilst I can only share my own personal experiences of freelancing in the UK, I do hope I can offer some worthwhile information.
Although I haven't gone into too much detail in some areas, I have listed places where you can continue to research and discover. Though please feel free to contact me if you do want me to elaborate on anything.
So, what kind of freelance designer can I be?
Well, this varies depending on what you want to achieve.
As a freelance designer based in the south-east of the UK, I have the good fortune of living just outside of London – a hub for a whole host of creative agencies. I divide my time by working directly for clients remotely on design and illustration projects and working across the city for various studios.
Working with studios means I can get a call from an agency (or creative recruiter), that need extra resource/specific talent for a project or over a period of time.
I have currently been freelancing for 18 months, though I also had another stint a few years ago which lasted for around six years. Freelancing in the design industry has allowed me to be flexible with my lifestyle and work on the projects that I want to. It has given me more time for my family and allowed me to be responsible for the amount of money I can earn. This can obviously be a positive or negative thing, as it can be great when I am in demand but can also impact me when things aren't so busy.
If you are considering freelancing, but aren’t sure in what capacity there are a few options. You could become freelance with the plan of working remotely the entire time. You can set yourself up as self-employed and go direct to clients for work. Alternatively you can offer your services to agencies and go into studios to work. The final option is to actually set yourself up as an agency and go after clients with the long term goal of growing your business and eventually hire staff.
There is no wrong or right answer to which route to take into freelance, it is all about finding the right fit. The beauty of working for yourself is that you aren’t set to one path. As you and your business grows (or if circumstances change), so can your direction.
For each of the options we mention above there are a different set of pros and cons, but ultimately is it finding what works best for you and your situation.
If you are tired of working for people and have a hunger to take control of the projects you work on and the money you earn, then this is a good place to start. There is no hiding that this will be hard work and that is why you will always be told to have money set aside; just to cover your first few months whilst you attract clients. Being your own boss is incredibly rewarding, but always be aware of the fact that everything now falls onto you. There are no account managers to liaise with the client, or copywriter to proof the project etc. You will have to be all of that and more rolled into one, but with this brings more control over projects. You can be more influential and push for a more creative result. If you are or have previously worked within an agency environment, working for yourself and direct for a client (especially more local-based ones), could be a real eye opener. Smaller clients don’t always have the same vision as bigger clients (and the budgets) and so you will have to sometimes educate them along the design journey.
Never underestimate how hard it can be working in isolation. At times it can be liberating, but make sure you have time for family and friends. Not only will it keep you positive, but it will help to keep you focused and heading in that right direction.
We live in a world now where everything is at out fingertips and just a click away. Use this to your advantage and go after that dream project and mix and talk to like minded people across the social platforms. Learn from them and interact. It will help you so much as you grow. Just talking and sharing what you do can bring you all kinds of new avenues of work.
Maybe one of the easier ways to grasp more experience as a designer across agencies and brands is to freelance in various studios. It is a role I am very familiar with, as it is how I began my freelance career.
I made the mistake (this is just from the of view of my personal career aspirations), to have stayed in my in-house design role too long. When I came to the realisation that I needed a change of job, I struggled to find an agency that would hire me. They were concerned by my lack of agency experience and my ability to work across various brands.
It was from here that I decided I had two options. To freelance or to stay in the in-house design world. I opted for freelance with the intention of doing it for six months and then actively look to find my dream role. I ended up working across various agencies for six years and, personally, found the experience invaluable. I learnt new skills, learnt good ways to set-up and run a studio and also the wrong way. I was a very nervous person pre-freelance, but this experience really helped me grow and develop personally and professionally.
Freelancing for agencies can vary from year-to-year in terms of the demand, but you will always find a certain pattern when it comes to the quiet spells. The quiet spells will always hit at some point, but use that time to update your portfolio, learn some new skills or to network and introduce yourself to other potential clients.
The key ways to find studio freelance work is by either approaching agencies directly, using a creative recruiter or using online networks like Linkedin or YunoJuno. You will find that not all agencies or recruiters will get back to you. That can be frustrating, but it is unfortunately the nature of the beast and you have to get used to it. No matter how annoying it is.
I have always enjoyed freelancing within studios, as it keeps me in touch with the day-to-day agency life and gives me a lot of human contact. You will have to appreciate that you won't always get the greatest of projects to work on. That won't always be the case, but sometimes the studios will keep the juicy projects for their teams, which is fair enough. Over time they will trust you more and allow you on the bigger projects, but don't be offended by this. An agency's reputation is based on their work and so it is understandable for them to be like this at first. Just be patient and enthusiastic and your time will come.
Setting up a studio
If you have done the agency thing and are tired of the office politics or if you have always seen yourself as a business owner, then setting up a studio is a fantastic option. Like becoming a self-employed designer, the challenge will be big. There is no hiding from that, as ultimately the success and the failure will fall with you.
You will need to get the work in, completed and make sure the clients are happy. As well as that challenge there will also be the task of finding more work and growing your business and then hiring the people you need to to support you. The beauty of the industry now is that you can easily hire people across the world on a freelance basis to help support you until you are sure you need that extra help on a full-time basis.
As like many things in life, you will probably find out that you will learn some things the hard way. As you cannot always prepare yourself for all circumstances, no matter how much we try to. Though there are so many amazing resources online now that can aid you in running your business. The Futur is a fantastic resource that can really help guide you. Following key influencers, like Chris Do from The Futur (amongst others), will really help drive you onto your goals. There are so many fantastic people and sites to discover. You will find so many inspirational people by just delving into the communities.
I hope this brief overview of the potential opportunities you can get as a freelancer designer has helped give you a little direction. There are so many aspects to cover and even more opportunities to look into than I have even mentioned above. A lot of freelancing is about discovery and finding your market.
The most important things to remember are to always choose a path that makes you happy and to do everything in your power to keep your happiness going. That will be the ultimate way to get the greatest growth from your business. Everyday won't be perfect, but it is understanding that it is no problem if you do have a lousy day. There is always tomorrow. As long as you have that passion and belief, then the world is your oyster. Good luck!