Today marks my one year anniversary as an independent designer, so exciting! It's been the best year of my life, so I thought I'd take today to reflect on my story a bit, and share some lessons learned in hopes of it resonating with some of you.
Well...how did I get here?
(Talking Heads reference) I always saw myself at some point "declaring my independence." My sister is an independent illustrator & letterer, my dad is an independent business owner, and his dad was as well—I always admired them for it. When I had a desk job, my morning ritual was reading up on the latest Great Discontent article (an amazing publication on creative risk, lots of independent creatives featured). As a former in-house designer, I was always an advocate for hiring independent creatives. I had my bookmarked Tumblrs from independent illustrators and designers I checked up on to see what they were up to everyday.
But one year ago today, it came sooner than expected. I had cornered myself in a very unhealthy work situation, and needed to figure something else out, quick. I interviewed for other jobs, met with lots of great companies and designers, picked lots of designer's brains about their jobs. It was the same pattern...I would like some methods certain companies had, but wouldn't like other parts of the company. I liked certain design teams of the other companies, but ultimately didn't like their design aesthetics. I would like the design aesthetics of another company, but designers in that company weren't happy (and sometimes would actually tell me they were planning on exiting ASAP...during an interview). I started comparing and stitching together what I liked about certain jobs at certain companies until I realized something huge. I wasn't going to find that "dream job." I needed to create my own.
Create your own job
Quitting a full-time job and declaring yourself a freelancer is a feat in and of itself, but creating the job description of what you do, and showing that breadth of work is another. You can float by taking on random design projects here and there and be able to support yourself as a freelancer, sure. But positioning yourself up for the type of work you're actually excited about doing, and do well, is the best way to set yourself up for being happy in your job and doing your best work. Don't show projects you didn't enjoy. The type of work you show, is the type of work you'll get. If you don't have enough actual work to show of what you want to be doing, make it a side project. You can't wait around for someone to just give you the project, that may never happen. I've found Brief Box is a fun resource for pre-written creative briefs and projects.
Work with friends
Ultimately, I love making my client relationships feel like friendships, because it adds a level of trust and comfort (and enjoyment). But when the opportunity comes to work with your existing friend network, it's the best. That comfort level is already there and collaboration comes naturally.
Find your Creative Space
Ah, working from home. Maybe I won't put pants on today! No one will know! I can watch re-runs of Sex & the City while I work! Awesome, right? It was, until one day I found myself a little too comfortable walking down the block to lunch, in what I quickly came to be called my "freelance outfit" (an old house sweater, spandex, optional bra). I had to draw the line. Maybe this works for some, but for me it put me in a dark un-fun creative rut. Instead of surrounding myself with inspiration and exciting people working on fun things, I was surrounded by plants that needed watering and clothes that needed washing. I learned quickly I feed off the creative energy of others in my space. I now rent an awesome studio space in the Mission with other creative friends, and have formed a pretty legit—and fully clothed—lunch club with Rob & Erik.
Be comfortable saying "No"
This is something I'm still not awesome at, and it's something my fellow freelancers also often complain about. "I'm too busy, but I said yes to this project, and now I'm pulling all-nighters all week." Or "I should have trusted my intuition on this project..." I'm getting better at trusting my intuition, getting the whole brief in my hands, and making sure me & the client are aligned before I consider saying yes.
Don't be an Asshole
It's easy to default to complaining about work and how a client is acting. In those cases, I always think about Mike Monteiro's talk, What clients don't know and why it's your fault, and it always puts me in check. Being overly communicative and patient with my clients will ultimately create a happier and more positive experience. No one wants to work with an asshole.
Seriously, travel. You are a mobile office now, and visiting other cities will only broaden your horizon to new clients and new ways of working. Staring at a screen in the same office in the same chair everyday doesn't lead to innovative thinking. There's something magical about discovering new ways of communicating and problem solving that occur in other parts of the world.
Be your own boss
This is certainly a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because I get to dictate my own ways of working, my hours, and how I choose to spend them. A curse, because sometimes I really need to crack the whip on myself, and no one else is there to do it but me. Being independent means wearing lots of hats, but the boss-lady hat might be the most important.
I get to do this
I had a professor in school who used to always remind us students that we get to do this, not that we have to do this. I had almost forgotten about it then until someone recently ask me, "What do you get to do?" It made me light up. I get to do this. I've made this choice and I'm sticking with it. I'm just happy to have found what I get to do for the rest of my life.