I’m going to try and write a weekly post each Friday about what it’s like to be a freelancer! This is something that I find a lot of people are curious about, and there’s a lot of incorrect assumptions out there. If you have any questions for me on freelancing, leave a comment here or on Formspring.
This is partly inspired by Gary’s post on The Upside of Freelancing, which I found really interesting and useful when I was starting out back in 2008! I’m definitely a little more green, but here’s my perspective.
This is without a doubt the best (and the worst, but I’ll come back to that one in Bad Stuff) thing about freelancing. If you set your own schedule you can adapt it to suit your lifestyle and circumstances – and rearrange it as you go if you need to. I can do a grocery run, or meet up with a friend for lunch, or go for a jog when I choose to, and make up for lost work time later. For holidays it takes a bit more planning and work in advance, but I don’t have to worry about using up holiday days or whether colleagues are taking time off at the same time. I tend to generally be fairly typical in my working schedule, but it’s useful to have that flexibility when I need it.
Okay, clothing doesn’t sound like much of a pro – but if you saw how much my friends spend on business attire maybe you would agree with me. As a freelancer I’ve worked from home, where I just wore t-shirts and shorts, or even worked in pajamas. Working in pajamas is awesome. Now that I’m in a shared office I pay a bit more attention to what I wear, but it still usually tends towards t-shirts, jeans and ballet flats. No shirts, no heels, no pantyhose, no designer branded anything – just the way I like it. I don’t have a gap between ‘casual’ and ‘business’ clothes, I just have clothes.
For meetings I try to dress a little more formal – I like to call it ‘pseudo business’ – but as my clients tend to be mostly small businesses or organisations they tend to dress just as casually as I do. Plus hey, I’m a freelance designer – we’re supposed to be quirky and creative right?
This might not go for everyone, but as a freelance web designer I tend to take on a large number of smallish jobs – so there’s lots of variety and lots of different clients. I can be sketching logo designs one day, designing a website for someone else the next, then coding up another client’s website another day. Each job presents its own possibilities, challenges and new ideas to work with. I think I would go a little insane doing all design, or all development, or always working with only one client; the variety of my work keeps things interesting and challenging for me. This sort of thing might not suit everyone, but it is something that as a freelancer you have control of. Want to stick with doing one thing? Take on a longer contract, or market yourself as a specialist in one particular thing.
Loving your own company
When you work by yourself every day, you either begin to enjoy the solitariness and feel comfortable with your own company, or you go insane. I’ve gone with the former. Of course it’s necessary to get some actual human interaction regularly (it helps if you live with someone, or do some kind of class that forces you out), but I think there’s something lovely about being comfortable with yourself. The greatest love of all and all that.
Okay that might not sound like a good thing exactly, but in a way it is – when the business is entirely your own, so is its successes and failures. Every win is my own; when I look at how far I’ve come I can safely say that I built the way myself, right from the bottom. That’s not to say that I haven’t had the support and help of many wonderful people along the way, but in the end it’s me taking the risk and doing the work and getting somewhere with it all. It’s a lot of pressure, and it isn’t always a win – but overall it’s coming up well and that’s something to be proud of.
I can’t help being a little smug when people ask me what I do and I say ‘freelance designer’ and their eyes light up. They don’t necessarily know what the hell a freelance designer actually does, but it hints at creativity and freedom that’s missing from the jobs of a lot of people I know (this could be because for some reason half the people I know seem to be lawyers). Sure, I might not be able to afford their designer brand whatever, but I have an awesome job and I actually like it. Apparently this is a very rare thing, and I feel pretty pleased with myself that I’ve found it.