Thrilled. Bemused. Proud. Grateful… Just a few of my emotional rumblings. To be fair, that doesn’t really do justice to either the hard work I put in, or the unfailing support of my wonderful wife. As any business owner, entrepreneur or freelancer knows, the blood, sweat and tears is never solely your own. I can never pretend to have mastered this whole freelance thing (looking back at my first stumbling years as a self-employed graphic designer fills me with embarrassment) but for anyone who’s thinking about starting a freelance creative career or for folks anywhere along this exciting journey, here’s a few thoughts I’ve discovered during the last 10 years.
I wonder how many self-employed people make the leap out of choice or forced circumstances? I’d love to know.
A key advantage of freelancing is flexibility. I always explain that I don’t work any less hard, just at different times. Although I’ve been designing for over 20 years, only half of that has been as my own boss. 10 years ago I was travelling around Europe and the UK as a marketing manager for an Italian multinational. Exciting? Perhaps, if we hadn’t started a family at the same time as the promotion came along. The money was OK, the lifestyle was not. We decided that something had to change.
Embrace this freedom. Freedom to choose time with your children; freedom to choose clients you respect; freedom to pursue your creative urges, however unorthodox they may be!
Of course, that freedom comes at a cost.
If you’re coming from regular employment there will be sacrifices. Who wants to eject a steady, guaranteed income? Perhaps plans for getting on the housing ladder will take a little longer than planned and jet set holidays take a back seat to family staycations (not forced by Covid) for a few years more.
As a Freelancer the beginning is likely to be hard and bumpy; you’ll make mistakes along the way (hopefully fewer than I made). Overwork, the wrong clients, the wrong product, too cheap, too expensive… as you progress, you may wonder how you’re ever going to get it right (though you’ll probably avoid learning that Google would ban you using your own name;‘ Harrod’).
You will get over this hump and learn from your mistakes! I now have the luxury of immersing myself in a big brand project and making the most of the sunshine with my family on a nice day.
Developing as a Freelancer
Some Freelancers find they branch out and try new things during their careers. Some find their niche and specialise. I’ve done of the latter. As the years pass, you’ll discover the things you really, truly, love and that came naturally to you.
From a business perspective, this is a great tactic. You get to hone skills while enjoying the work you create and this makes it feel – well – not like work. What more could you ask for?
As a Freelance creative you can forge a path to become well-respected in you field. Along the way you can patiently build your income whilst doing what you most enjoy. That’s a freedom you rarely get during typical employment.
Freelancers rarely do this on their own. I’d always suggest Freelancers make the best of their friends and families. Having people around you who you can turn to for support and advice is priceless. Remember to thank them and tell them they’re appreciated!
Whatever stage your Freelance career, a Mentor can be invaluable. When I started I was fortunate to have the support of the Prince’s Trust, squeezing onto their programme just before I hit the big 3-0. They run loads of programmes, including ones similar to that which I took in 2011. Part of the scheme I used, I was assigned a Mentor. My Mentor was a business owner herself and her experience, knowledge and insights helped me make early decisions, encouraged me to continually improve and provided an invaluable soundboard to my sometimes scattergun business ideas.
Do check out the support Mainframe can offer alongside The Big House, which includes access to mentors.
And of course the business owners who trust you to work with them need to be given endless thanks. Without great clients, you can’t work on great projects you love. Look after your customers and they’ll keep paying you to do what you do best!
If you’re thinking of becoming a Freelance creative or have already waded in and you’re anywhere in Derby or Derbyshire, I’d love to connect and share your successes, struggles and news as part of the Mainframe Champions scheme, find me quickly on Twitter at @kieranharrod or contact me at Kieran Harrod Graphics