After that little diversion into blogging last time, I’m now going to talk about my hop, skip and a jump to freelance, promise! First things first I NEVER saw myself as being a full time freelancer. Leaving uni I was very quick to tell people I wasn’t interested in going it alone and just wanted to work in house at a design studio, where I would have a steady income and somebody else to take care of the business side of things. People warned me that most creatives end up going freelance at some point but I wasn’t having any of it. Perhaps part of it was doubting I could do all of what it takes like the finance, planning, legalities, promotion etc. Sure, I could design but the rest totally freaked me out. I’m not naturally business minded and having an in house job was certainly the safe option. The same lump of money landed in my account every month, my working hours were the same everyday and once I shut down my computer at the end of the day I could check out in every way.
As I said before, blogging gave me exposure and opportunities I hadn’t even expected and it wasn’t too long before freelance requests started coming in. To begin with it was sporadic, small jobs and then more and more wedding related projects were landing on my lap. I was working my full time in house design role and doing other non-card related private commissions on the side so it didn’t interfere.
It started out fine but the more it went on the more I was completely burned out. I basically never rested and that wasn’t fun. It’s how I hear lots of creatives start they’re freelance journey and is in a way necessary to start with but isn’t sustainable. There came a point in the summer of 2013 that I started getting freelance offers from people further removed from myself. For the first time I had no link to them through mutual friends or contacts, which was exciting but I also realised something had to change if I wanted to pursue that sort of thing.
And so followed the anxiously anticipated conversation with my Boss with the hope I could go down to 4 days in the office whilst pursuing freelance work on the other. I wanted to first be honest about things outside of my working hours, to make sure it was all above board. I was at a point where I felt l had enough work to at least make up my earnings on that one day a week, whilst managing the same workload in the office within 4 days. Hey presto!… Freelance Friday’s were born! I was over the moon that I could devote a whole day to that side of things rather than grabbing time on evenings and Saturdays and I was excited to see where it would go but I still wasn’t thinking this little adventure would eventually turn into working for myself full time! At that point it simply seemed like a logical solution to more freelance demand and a chance for a bit of variety.
As anyone who’s made this move knows, it’s hard once you start a day freelance, not to long for more. My in house job felt a bit like a hinderance at times because I had very little to stretch my creative muscles there and so much I wanted to explore outside. It’s hard to do half measures when you really care about something but it was still paying the bills and was totally reliable which was a very handy trade off. There were many reasons aside from just my passion for my freelance work that sparked me leaving my job but eventually it got to a point where I needed to make a decision to either fully commit or essentially kiss freelance good bye and I knew with such a conviction, then and there, that I wanted to make the jump. There’s nothing quite like a bit of a push to send you on your way as I’ve heard time and time again. On paper it sounded crazy but for some reason I was certain I wanted to make it work. I myself didn’t even understand the sudden turn around in what I wanted to do!
Have a safety buffer!
I’m sounding a more than a little irrational and spontaneous here but there was a lot of praying, talking and planning that went into the decision, even if it was made in a relatively short space of time. The key thing was sitting down and working out how long we could survive if, in the worst case scenario, I earned absolutely nothing. We had a decent chunk of savings that were available to make up for any short fall in the interim and I would whole heartedly say don’t make the jump without a pocket of money to help while you get on your feet. Either that or a partner with a very healthy income you can both live off for a while because the jump rarely has instant results. I didn’t have a solid client base to provide any stability in the beginning as wedding clients aren’t generally repeat customers (you’d hope) and aside from that I had mainly been doing logos and branding which once again you’d hope those clients would only want to do that once. In the beginning I needed time to pour into developing collections, setting up my etsy shop, expanding my portfolio, self promotion and swotting up on business practises. These were all foundational parts of going it alone which may look different for different people but there is always a reasonable amount of groundwork that needs to be done at the beginning which is unpaid at the time but hopefully goes on to pay in the future. The more of those foundations you can lay before you make the jump, the better but there is only so much you can do with a full time job. It was liberating that time suddenly opened up for those things when I started out, in fact it felt like a total dream!
Have an action plan!
In preparation I also made a list of all the potential places I could target, agencies and websites, online magazines etc. It was really important to form some kind of action plan before diving in. That way I could see how many options I had, going into it with a plan mapped out, to get started on. Obviously plans sometimes change or fail and that’s fine but it’s important to be ready for day number one with what you intend to get done in the coming months and how that might actually make you money. Within that I think it’s a great idea to really think about where you could be most fruitful financially. It sounds a bit like I’m killing the ‘follow you dreams’ ideal right now but creatives still need to eat. I could see the potential in wedding stationery being a higher earner for me because of the slight premium people are willing to pay for weddings and for the higher order quantities which make great financial sense when it comes to printing. I also could see that starting with DIY printable sets would be low risk to begin with. I knew I wanted to do other things as well and I was very willing to try different routes to bump things up but it was really handy having something of a focus so that I could think about my time and efforts in line with that.
Test the water!
If possible then decrease your hours to trial some freelance on the side. It was really helpful for me to see there was interest out there and people were finding me but it was also really handy to see I could work from home without going completely stark raving mad! This might sound silly but don’t underestimate how different your working environment could be going full time freelance. You may be wanting to rent out a studio space somewhere but realistically that may not be an option straight away as it really raises your overheads. It was a relief to see I didn’t go totally stir crazy and even though I missed working with a group sometimes, most of the time I actually quite liked working on my own. I definitely get more done! Plus I was never totally on my on to start with as my husband worked completely from home back then too. You may not be the same as me. You could be rocking back and forth in a corner come the end of the day or find it a big challenge to stay focused and say no to distractions or even just find it hard to get out of bed if you don’t have a train to catch. These are all good things to know in advance, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Decide on your routine!
Try and think about what your day to day routine will be before you’ve even begun. If you are deliberate in deciding your working patterns from the get go then you’re more likely to keep on going with them and they’ll become the bear bones of what each day looks like. Ironically my first day of freelance was spent trying to help my crippled husband out of bed and running back and forth to the doctors and pharmacy to get an armful of painkillers. You can’t control each day because none of us are God but you can create a framework. I decided that I would…
- !wake up at the same time as when I went into the office.
- never work from bed unless I was ill.
- workout 3 mornings before work to keep me active and alert.
- would always get dressed to start work even if it was just some ugly old leggings (made a whole lot easier to follow with my next point in mind)
- go for a walk each day to the park or around the block to get some fresh air in my lungs and fake a commute and the sense of arriving at my desk.
- start work by 9am
- have my lunch break at 1pm (I’ve found this one very hard to stick to admittedly)
- finish work between 6.30 and 7pm (made easier by planning things in things in the evening to stop me working forever).
- not work on Sundays!
This has pretty much been every week day since. Obviously sometimes it’s good to meet with people or have a more free and creative day out but I knew my basic structure from the start. You may think I’m mental, hate routine and even feel like you’re much more creative without it but I think if most people are honest we need a little to get us motivated and productive. However your day probably won’t look exactly like this. You might come alive in the evening and have all your best ideas then but at least working out what helps you to be productive and what doesn’t is a good thing to think about in advance.
Try, try, try to get a decent website up and running before you leap out of your 9 – 5. If you get that done and dusted before then at least you have a web presence that represents you right from the start. Don’t even think about going for it without a website. I would hope that seems obvious in a day like today but I’ll say it anyway. With freelance, even more of your work dealings are over the internet so you need a shop front even if you aren’t selling anything yet. In many people’s eyes, if you don’t have a little piece of the web then you don’t exist! I decided to rebrand and relaunch my site as I went freelance. In fact it went live the evening I left my job. That marked a fresh start and gave me some oomph to get started!
Don’t ignore the boring stuff!
I realise that this is the kind of stuff that some people (I wish I was you) actually find fun but either way, get check all your tax boxes checked. Tell the tax office you’re self employed or perhaps you’ve formed a company. Make sure you’re A-OK with VAT, insurance, National Insurance contributions etc. Make a file if you’re old school like me or a spreadsheet to keep a record of all your invoices, receipts, bank statements etc and be ready to update monthly (never leave it for two months…I speak from experience). When you have a designated place to put all this stuff you’re probably more likely to do it and when you’re on top of it you can get back to the creative goodness.
And there you have it, the plan before the plummet…I mean jump! Next time I’ll chat about the realities of freelance and my emotional roller coaster of a journey.