I recently spoke to local design students about my many years of freelancing at the 2015 AIGA Upstate NY Student Portfolio Building Workshop. The following is a synopsis of my talk, Freedom is not Free.
I'm Free. I'm a freelancer. A solo-preneur. An independent contractor. A design consultant. And I've been doing it 22 years.
2014 was a good year to be a freelancer.
- I rang in the new year in Munich with my family.
- I worked with industry-leader Mohawk Paper on a project celebrating the rich history of Strathmore Papers. Together we created and launched Strathmore Notes Fine Paper Journals. We got some super press—we were written up in some major design publications and had nice stand-alone articles in Graphic Design USA and Paper Specs.
- I worked with a Tanzanian conservation and community development group, The Grumeti Fund, to create a new brand and several communications and fundraising pieces.
- I was hired by a local bottled water company to create new labels to position their natural organic-flavored sparkling spring water as a premium brand. (Three great projects that I am supremely proud of. All three have been recognized with awards.)
- I upgraded my equipment, something I don't always get to do quite often enough.
- The generosity of my clients made it possible for me to attend the National Stationery Show in NYC and the HOW Design Live conference in Boston.
- And, I somehow found the time to create a nifty little self-promotional series of calendars that I shared with my clients and friends.
2014 was a VERY good year. 2014 was also a normal year.
- I had one client ask for rush brand development work, and then refuse to pay me despite a clear agreement. (The third time she told me the check was in the mail I gave up.)
- I had several great sounding projects start and then stop because the client couldn't define their goals.
- I spent about 10% of my work time on accounting, bookkeeping and billing.
- I put aside about one third of my gross income to fund taxes and my retirement (and I have the sinking feeling it still wasn't enough).
- I managed 169 jobs—including estimating, billing, account management, proposals and the actual design work.
- And, as the year ended, I had several invoices past due, sales tax due, 1099s that need to be sent out, year end taxes to prepare, a website to update and I'm wondering when my next hard drive will fail.
2014 was a VERY normal year.
Freelancing isn't free. It takes time, organization and talent and you need to have the right stuff. You have to be able to juggle the known (business systems) and the unknown (clients and their projects). You must be open to exciting new adventures while keeping your eye on the hard facts and the bottom line. To be successful you should be:
- Comfortable with technology
- Business minded
- Organized and self disciplined
- A good communicator
- Able to get along with a range of people
- Happy, healthy and curious
Before you freelance for friends and relatives you must understand business and know what it takes to run a business. You must establish a legal entity. You must understand copyright. You must have some basic equipment. But most importantly you must understand who you. If you aren't there yet, it is totally understandable. Go work for some other designers and watch them and learn.