For anyone who might be interested in starting a freelance career, I’d say go for it! It’s a great way to make some cash and work from home, but beware, it’s not for the faint of heart. You’re pretty much the chief cook and bottle washer, you’ll learn a lot of lessons in a short time, and you probably won’t make what you really want to make until you put in a crap load of elbow grease.
I’m going to blog about a different facet of the world of freelancing regularly, so hopefully making public some of the craptastic decisions I’ve made, will make them avoidable for someone else. At the very least, it’ll be good for a laugh or two.
I’ll start off with my background, since lately I’ve recently been asked a lot about how I got my start in my career, which is graphic/web design, marketing and copy writing. It’s been a work in progress for 10 years. I started out with no direction in my very early twenties. I figured I’d just work in administrative jobs and waitressing here and there for as long as I needed to, and eventually I’d have some babies and not need to work anymore. When I think about that now I laugh… hard. Because like many families, we both need to work hard at a job, kids or not. I actually worked the day I brought my first baby home from the hospital. Do you still think you want to be self employed?
But I digress, thankfully, at that time I had an inkling in my mind that I might want to do something cool. I was working at a cafe as a waitress/barista. I had a lot of time between breakfast and lunch where I was mainly sitting around, waiting for customers. My mind started wandering, and I started thinking maybe I could learn to do graphic design and have some freelance customers. The more I thought about it, the better it sounded. I brought it up to the owner of the cafe, and being the enterprising young lady that she was, she really encouraged me to go for it, and even paid me a tiny bit of money to design her new menus. I had Adobe Pagemaker on my computer, a how-to book, and a tiny bit of experience using it from a past job (mainly I just edited existing type).
It didn’t take long until I realized Adobe Pagemaker sucked, and no one used it anymore, so I needed to grow my skills and get some better tools. Luckily, I knew someone who was going to school for graphic design, and he hooked me up with the software I needed, spent some time giving me a tour, and even helped me build a more powerful computer. I’m really grateful to that person, who I still keep in touch with. Out of the kindness of his heart, he helped me get a start on what would eventually become my very fulfilling career. Thanks for that Dave.
Once I had the software and the computer I needed, I was able to gain tons of knowledge, just by reading Illustrator for Dummies during my slow times at work. When I got home, I practiced everything I’d read that day. I started creating fake logos for my fake portfolio. I also brainstormed business names and created my own logo and business card.
Once I had my business cards, I felt like the world was my oyster. At my cafe job, there were tons of regulars who ate there every day. Most of them owned the small businesses that lined the streets around the cafe. I told them my plans, and they began using me for their own graphic design needs, and referred friends to me. It was all coming together very nicely.
One day at work, the receptionist from the web design firm upstairs came down for a cup of coffee, and told me she was quitting, and that I could interview for her position! This was huge, they were design vets, and also had a much better understanding of web development than I could teach myself. Just like that, I got the job, and went on to learn even more valuable skills that still help me to this day.
A few years later, I went to college online (while I freelanced full time) and got my bachelors in marketing. I’d already learned so much about design on the job, that I felt it would be repetitive to go to school for design. I’m so glad I did it that way, because having design and marketing skills have made me that much more valuable to my clients.
Throughout my career I’ve flip flopped a bit. Sometimes I’ll work for a company in the more traditional sense, in order to learn some things and have more stability (regular paychecks and paid time off are nice). Once I get a load of how crappy it can be to work in a cubicle, on someone else’s schedule, and sometimes, working for a huge shithead, I get the itch to freelance again, and move on out. It’s served me pretty well, although it felt chaotic flip flopping all the time.
Now that I’m in my thirties, I can’t really get away with all that experimentation and I need some more stability. I’ve whittled my client base down to those who are pleasant to work with, pay on time, are appreciative, etc. The process of finding quality clients has been a difficult one, but I think I’ve finally learned what it takes to pre-qualify people, and maintain good relationships with them once the going gets tough.
Right now I’m feeling more fulfilled by my career, and life in general than I ever had. It’s been an adventure, and I’ve struggled financially more than I care to think about, but we’ve managed, and lately things seem to be on the upswing. Be sure to tune in next time, when I’ll tell you a really crazy story about a horrible job I once had. I’ve collected a lot of those over the years.