Being a graphic designer has always involved treading the fine line between creative freedom and client satisfaction. Whether you choose to tread that line as part of a larger company or as a freelancer is usually down to a designer’s personality and the opportunities that may present themselves. But if you’re thinking about making the move to freelance there are a few factors you’ll want to consider first…
An Englishman’s home is his studio
One of the primary lures for many freelancers is the opportunity to work from home. Taking a conference call in your pyjamas feels about as decadent as eating a whole box of Ferrero Rocher – but as you’d expect this can make it easy for you to lose touch with reality.
Try to spend some of your working week in an office or studio, to keep in touch with your human side and keep abreast of projects and trends. Similarly try to set some space aside in your house that is designated for work. This can prevent you slipping into work mode after clocking off.
If you enjoy the discipline that comes with working nine to five and being able to leave your work at work – then going freelance may not be a good option for you.
As a freelancer you obviously get to set your own hours, which can sound pretty peachy. However, this flexibility can be a poisoned chalice for those who can’t say ‘no’. Work can creep into times when you’re supposed to be ‘off-duty’ and unless you’re clear from the start, clients can take advantage of this; assuming you’re at their beck and call 24/7.
The great escape
Holidays for freelancers work in much the same way as working hours. You can take holiday when you want it for as long as you want it, which can be ideal for those who frequently get bitten by the traveling bug. However, since you’ll not be getting paid for that holiday, it can sometimes be a wrench to get away and turn down paying clients. Especially given the fear that they may find alternative designers in your absence.
The alternative is finding work that you can do remotely, allowing you to combine work and jet-setting. Just watch out for sand clogging up your keyboard!
Essentially, as a freelancer time becomes a quantifiable commodity, where you know exactly what an hour can earn you – and exactly what you’ll be missing out on if you don’t work. Staying on top of this mentally can be key to freelancing while maintaining a life/work balance.
Creativity versus cash
Most people make the move to go freelance after working for a company full time, so they already have contacts to plunder for work. If you’re just starting out though, jobs boards, forums and even classified sites like Craigslist and Gumtree may be good places to look for paid work.
At the start of your freelance career you’ll probably need to accept or reject design jobs based on how much they pay, rather than whether the work will be creatively rewarding. However, as you become more established as a freelancer, you may find that work can snow-ball, as your reputation is recognized and word of mouth results in more job offers. At this point you’ll hopefully be able to be more discriminating about the projects you work on.
Money, money, money.
‘Money makes the world go round’, so the saying goes – and this is never more true than for a freelancer. Setting your own rates for projects can give you a fantastic sense of your own worth and often freelancers will tend to charge more than they’d make for the same piece of work as part of a company.
The sticking point for some designers can be working out what to charge. Getting advice from existing freelancers about this, either through contacts or in forums, can be one way to tackle the payment issue. Clients themselves will also be a good barometer of what’s reasonable.
One final point about money is to make sure you put enough aside for your annual tax return. You’ll pay less tax as a freelancer than you would as a permanent employee but – since it won’t be taken from your pay check automatically – setting up a separate account to safeguard this cash tends to be a sensible idea.
As well as the distractions of Facebook, Twitter and everyday life, freelance designers are also faced with the necessary distractions that come with working as an independent.
Self-promotion, networking, invoicing and chasing payments are all part of the fun – and time for each needs to be put aside accordingly.
Unlike those stuck in a fixed position in a larger company, an established freelancer has the flexibility to sculpt their perfect design job – and career.
Loving the job you do is a pretty privileged position to be in, but don’t let that be a reason for others to take advantage. You may love your work but that doesn’t mean you’ll do it for free – and that includes tweaks and amends.
Once you’ve established yourself and you’re happy with the work/life boundaries you’ve set, it’s simply up to you to make the most of the flexibility and career potential that can arise from freelancing – and to enjoy the commute from the bedroom to the lounge!