My first year freelancing, and 6 things I learned from it.

4 Apr

March was an exciting milestone for me. It marked my first anniversary of setting sail from my day job, moving to a new town, and going full-time with my freelance graphic and web design work.   I had been in my position as an in-house designer (that’s where you go work for a single company doing everything, instead of an agency where you do one thing for a bunch of companies)  for six and a half years, which is like 45.5 in dog years.

So as you can imagine, there was a little fear in leaving that environment, locking myself in an office with nobody to talk to, and trying to find enough work to pay the bills.

But man, the last year has been incredible, and I hope I’m fortunate enough to continue doing freelance design for many years to come.  Here are some of the things I learned this year as a freelancer:

  1. Health insurance is expensive, but not as bad as I thought it was going to be.  I was very worried about individual policies, having always been part of a company for that.  We’re paying about $200/month now, which was not nearly as bad as I was anticipating.  We’re young and healthy for now, and that’s working out for us.
  2. I don’t get 8 hours of work done every day like I used to, and that’s okay. You should always try to get something done every day, but there are some days where you’ll work 12 hours straight, and some days where 2 feels impossible.  I spent a few weeks beating myself up about being so unproductive, but it’s perfectly normal.  My advice is to forgive yourself and tackle the rest later.
  3. Taxes are a barrel full of misery.  Get a pro to handle them.  I have been singing praises to and baking cookies for my old Girl Scout troopmate Layah, who passed her CPA exam and is now diligently figuring out my taxes for April.  Because self-employment tax payments are based on your GUESS  about how much you’re going to make your first year freelancing?  You end up doodling things like this.
  4. Podcasts and audiobooks are godsends.  When I first got my own home office, it absolutely killed my love for drawing and made some of my repetitive tasks really arduous.  I felt so cramped and trapped, I turned to Facebook or Twitter for “social contact”, which then turned into procrastination. Now I’ve got my favorites on my RSS feed so I always have something on-hand when I know I need to sit down and draw something, and it helps keep me focused.
  5. Having a flexible schedule is a lot of fun.   All of a sudden, I could make my own hours!  So I changed my “weekends” to Friday and Sunday, and decided I would “leave work” at 2pm (I’m an early bird, so I like getting to work at the crack of 7am).  I went hiking, walking, drew a lot, hit the gym, drew comics, helped my husband play-test board games… all those things I was too tired to do when I got home from work, or would have had to take time off to do.  I figured if all I was going to do was hole up in an office from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, I wasn’t really experiencing the “free” part of the freelancing experience.
  6. Having a flexible workflow is… not always so fun.  All of a sudden, my regular clients could just stop giving me work!  No two week notice or anything.  A few clients went from 10 emails a day to radio silence when 2013 hit, for various financial reasons.  Thankfully, my dance card wasn’t completely empty, so I was okay.   But it quickly woke me up to the reality of how tenuous a freelancer’s position can be in the eyes of a big company.  It made me step up and seek out smaller, numerous jobs to make sure the dry spells wouldn’t last long.

Anyway, all bad stuff aside, it’s been a blast. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of amazing companies my first year and pay the rent at the same time.  I’ll wrap things up with a few things that got added to my portfolio this year.

Need a designer? Check out my graphic design portfolio and ping me through @designninjitsu on Twitter or my LinkedIn profile.


3 Responses to “My first year freelancing, and 6 things I learned from it.”

  1. krissheppard April 11, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    That’s awesome, congratulations on your first year! You get a high-five, nay, a double high-five! Actually, a jumping double sky-five!

    Seriously though, you’re doing a great job and I know you’ll have many more years at this.

    What podcasts do you listen to?

    (Jumping double sky-five with flips and other awesome ninja moves!)

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