When is the right time to go freelance?

Updated: May 18, 2020

Before going freelance, there will be tonnes of questions you'll be asking yourself.

  • Will I get enough clients to earn a decent salary?

  • Is now the right time?

  • Will I like working for myself?

  • How should I get started?

... to name a few.

I've always wanted to work for myself and set up my own business. But had my husband not secured a job in the US, I might never have taken the plunge. In a sense, the decision was made for me. I had to leave my company of over 8 years and find a new way to generate income! And there are a few things I picked up along the way which might be helpful for others thinking of going freelance.

In the words of Baz Lurman's 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)' - I will dispense this advice now...

London Row Studio - Shillington Class of 2018

But first... a bit of background

I studied design at Shillington College in 2018. I studied part-time alongside my full-time job, which was kinda mental, but it meant I could afford the course fees.

After graduating from Shillington, my salary as a Marketing Manager meant I wasn't quite ready to pack that in and enter into the world of a junior designer, so I started freelancing alongside my current role for almost a year.

My plan at that time was that I wanted to save, keep my skills sharp and get more experience before hopping over into the design industry full-time. I'm not going to lie, it was a seriously hectic time. I was no stranger to 6am starts and post-midnight finishes. BUT... this helped me gain some new design skills, and helped build my online presence and portfolio whilst ensuring I had a steady income. And ultimately set me up to go freelance. Priceless.

London Row Studio

Tips for starting out

Start slowly...

If you can.

Start freelancing or getting experience whilst you have some secure income.

Design software, training, getting set up (branding, web costs) etc can be expensive, so make sure you are comfortable enough to do it properly.

Be organised

Have processes in place for invoicing, recording receipts, sign-off - and keep your folders and design files in good order.

Trust me.

When you have a few things on the go at once, knowing where everything is will save you a shed load of time. Thank you, Shillington for insisting we did this!!!

Work on personal projects

There will be times that you don't always have paid work coming in and it's important to keep your skills sharp.

Instagram is a great place to pick up practice briefs if you need them. I'm also starting to revisit some of my Shillington assignments that didn't make it into my portfolio. Try and always have a project on the go!

Charge realistically, but don't undersell yourself

Honestly? This one is hard.

I am still working out how much to quote/charge people - and figuring out how long jobs realistically take to complete. This comes with time, so don't beat yourself up if this takes a while to nail down. Expect to do more hours than you initially quote while you figure it out.

But, know your worth!

The amount of discounts I have given, even when clients haven't asked for one, is insane. Mainly because I was embarrassed to tell clients that jobs were going to cost a lot, or they were friends of friends and I knew they probably couldn't afford me at full rate. But I vowed that this would happen no more! If you charge the right amount, it makes a difference in the long run. It means that when you need a day of admin, sorting out your instagram feed or balancing the books (all stuff you can't charge a client for but have to do!), you have enough dollar to keep you going.

And be wary of those who ask you to do jobs for 'free exposure'. It's no secret in the design world that this happens A.LOT. It's true. Be careful!

Things you will miss

Straight up... being freelance is great. You are your own boss, you make the decisions and you have freedom over what you do and how you do it, but it's not all rosey. It's also really tough and I miss these things errrryday.

Holiday pay!

OMG.... And sick pay. And furlough income! And (for the women amongst us) giving up the prospect of a decent maternity package.

If you go from working at a company, to being a freelancer these might be things you don't consider in full at the start. Call me naive, but I certainly didn't.

Make sure you price yourself accordingly so you can afford to take time off if you need it, and make sure you are comfortable with, and prepared for, these changes before setting out.

A team

Oh my GOD, I miss my team back in London. I love working with people and seriously miss collaborating with others to deliver a project or campaign.

To counter this since going freelance, I've been talking to a lot of my fellow design graduates, as well as colleagues involved in content creation at my old company.

It feels great to speak to other people about their work, and keeping connected to the industry. Find people you can do this with. It makes a huge difference.

Oh, and look for networks. I follow so many creative collaboration groups online, and companies that put on events for creatives.

Free coffee in the office ;)

I never fully appreciated this. But I sure do now!

And having people offer to make you a brew. It's all down to you now.

Having people to bounce ideas off

I think my husband is one day away from telling me to 'bugger off'. I try to get his opinion on everything - mood boards, idea generation, concepts, strategy for pretty much all the projects I work on. He is an Officer in the British Army and couldn't be less interested in this stuff. But since lock down, he's the only person I can sit down with face-to-face and discuss things with. Poor guy.

Of course, good online networks and personal connections mean you can call on others for feedback, but there's something really powerful about having a face-to-face discussion about your work, so seek out ways to do this, and don't just self critique.

I hope these little insights have been helpful! And good luck to anyone considering going freelance. I'd love to hear from you if you are :)


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