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What I learned in my first month as a freelance designer

I think I’m probably quite unusual among my peers in that I have never really aspired to the freelance life. I’ve always enjoyed working as part of a team and get a kick out of working collaboratively to create something. Every time I’ve moaned about a job and someone’s piped up ‘why don’t you just go freelance then?’, I’ve always had a string of excuses starting with ‘I would hate it’ and ending with ‘I wouldn’t make any money’. So when I decided to walk away from a full-time job after only 6 months, on the face of it, it may have seemed a little crazy and out of character. It wasn’t a rash decision and it wasn’t made in the heat of the moment, it was just the right decision for me.

So, fast forward a month and what have I learnt?

Well firstly, and most importantly, I didn’t starve. I actually made some money and paid the bills. The cat has not had to resort to foraging for his own food just yet but it’s early days…

Secondly, I’ve enjoyed it. OK, it’s the honeymoon period and the novelty could soon wear off, but so far so good. That feeling of being a bit more in control of your own life is an intoxicating thing. I love all the obvious stuff. Not commuting, not getting in at 8 o’clock every night and only eating toast, not missing out on family stuff. I’ve loved the freedom to meet up with friends for lunch, go for a walk in the park in the mid-afternoon just because the sun’s out. I’ve been out with my camera. I’ve listened to some webinars and I’ve learnt some new skills. I’ve rediscovered my love of doing creative stuff just because. So it’s been a big tick in the ‘quality of life’ box. But what of the actual work side?

I wasn't sure I would like going into different agencies to work. I’m a pretty reserved character generally, so meeting lots of new people all the time can be a challenge. However, everywhere I’ve been so far has been fun. I’ve met some good people, worked on some interesting projects and seen some different ways of working. It's been a great experience. The bit I hadn't considered, but that I know I’ll find hard, is walking away from a project. As a freelancer, you’ll probably never know what happened to your work. You won’t know if that pitch was won or lost or if that killer logo was the one that got chosen. Having spent about 25 years seeing a job through, that’s a different mind set, and one I need to get used to.

It’s been good working with other agencies, but what I’ve enjoyed most is picking up my own clients. When I won a tender last week I couldn’t stop smiling. Throughout my career I’ve won loads of tenders - this one’s tiny in comparison to most - but it’s all mine. Based on my cost, my maths, my ideas and my experience. All I need to do now is deliver.

So the final thing I learned this month – people have long memories. As insights go, I know it’s not that much of a reward for having read this far down the page, but stick with me...

I’m not one of those volatile creatives who can come up with the genius ideas, but you wouldn't let them near a client – you know the ones I’m talking about! I’ve learned that the crazy ideas and pretty pictures will only get you so far. If you can’t back up your brilliant design in front of the client with a solid business rationale, it’s going to come back and bite you. If you let a client down or don’t come good on a promise - that will get remembered. And if you don’t treat clients with both professionalism and respect, they won’t come back. Us creatives can be sensitive soles and it can be hard to hear that the brilliant idea you missed your kid’s birthday party for, doesn’t quite fit with the client’s ‘vision’. The way you deal with that situation, and the way you reach a solution or maybe even a compromise will speak much for your professionalism. And that will get remembered.

This month I’ve picked up work based on an account I worked on five years ago. The client remembered my creativity on their brand but also remembered the insights I was able to offer outside of the brief. They have now trusted me with work for their new company. I’m also about to start working with a client I first worked for, over 10 years ago. Do a good job, treat people with respect and act professionally. Ok, I knew all that before I started freelancing, but it’s very nice to be able to see that paying off as I branch out on my own.

Who knows what the next month may bring. I may continue freelancing. I may go back into full-time agency life. Either way, this has been a really great experience for me so far and made me remember all the things I love about being a designer.

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