There are a lot of conversations happening on how to “make the leap” into freelancing full time. While I don’t believe there is only one way to make this huge transition, I thought I’d shed my insight and unique perspective to going from day job to launching your business.
To kick things off, I’ll admit that freelancing as a business full time isn’t for everyone. It takes hard work, consistency and commitment. I’ll never be the designer who glamorizes owning a business or downplays anyone who works full time at a day job. There’s value in both settings, so just know if you have no plans to freelance full time, that is a-ok in my book!
However, if you are hoping to make that transition eventually, I’ve got ya covered in a few ways you can smooth that process. We’re going beyond the obvious tips to save your finances, and into some valuable insights that will kickstart your freelance career prior to making the leap.
Start working with clients
Before making the leap to full time freelancing, test the waters first through working with clients. Though you may love design, a huge component of freelancing is the client side of the business. Managing your own projects and clients can be a challenge, so before pursuing freelancing fully, take the time to make sure it is a good fit first.
At my previous in-house full time jobs I communicated directly with clients and managed my own projects. I found that I really enjoyed the communication and organization component of client work! However, if you work at a design agency for example, you are less likely to gain facetime with the clients or manage a project from start to completion. Instead, your role is more focused on your craft and working with a creative team. If you lack the experience of working directly with clients, start pursuing that type of work so you can gain experience. Freelancing is not all working in your pj’s and a top knot, there are complexities when booking clients and often fires you have to put out as the project manager. Make sure you are up for the challenge!
Clarify your business direction
Though it didn’t feel like it at the time, I am SO grateful for my years as a design employee. It was through my experience that I honed in on my perspective as a designer, and ultimately the business direction I wanted to pursue. I learned a wealth about print design, web design and branding that shaped my vision. I’m grateful that when I launched Spruce Rd. I was fully confident in the direction I wanted to pursue — brand identity design.
Had I launched even a few years earlier, I would have a more generalist approach. I considered stationery design, surface pattern, web design, logos, print design… you name it. Instead, I started Spruce Rd. as a brand identity specialist which has served my business well. It has streamlined my messaging as well as client on-boarding process.
Take the time now, prior to leaping into full time freelancing, to hone your vision and clarify the direction for your business. The alternative is to scramble as you’re booking clients, which leaves your business in a state of chaos!
Tailor your portfolio
Once you clarify the direction for your business, begin tailoring your design portfolio to reflect the type of work you will pursue once freelancing. If you don’t have experience with your new direction, create one portfolio piece as a sample of what you have to offer. When I first began Spruce Rd., my previous work didn’t reflect the types of clients or design I knew I would pursue in my brand. Instead of waiting for my first ideal clients to approach me based on a portfolio that didn’t match the services I offered, I created a fake brand identity project to temporarily showcase in my portfolio.
If you are in the same boat, I would encourage transparency in this approach. I noted in my portfolio that this was a conceptual project, and not a “real” client. Always favor honesty over deception. Also, one portfolio piece should do it, no need to work yourself crazy designing 5-10 false brands!
However, if you have ample experience in the direction you want your freelance business to take, then by all means skip the “conceptual project” and post your best work.
Prior to starting Spruce Rd. (and even now), I have experience with several avenues of design — logos, illustration, print design, publication design, web design, etc. As a designer, we are capable of designing within several mediums. Instead of showcasing all of your work, only select the work that reflects the services you will offer. Even though that t-shirt design was one of your favorite projects to date, it won’t resonate as well with your ideal Squarespace design clients.
Plan for your income strategy
The “build it and they will come” mentality is not a reliable mindset for your growing freelance business. Starting a business of any kind requires an enormous amount of planning to turn a profit. While you have the time before making the leap, plan for how you intend to earn income. Sounds simple enough, but let’s dive deeper than “sell logos.” Consider the following questions:
- What types of income streams will you pursue your first year? (products, services, courses, speaking, etc.)
- How will you market your services/products?
- How will you attract your first clients?
Understand your value
Though it may be tempting to base your freelance pricing off of your current salary, I caution against this method. If you’re like I was when making the transition to full time freelancing, feel free to crunch those numbers in Excel and work backwards from your current paycheck. You might conclude you hardly need to work at all to make up your employee salary! Something about doing all that math can provide a bit of confidence in making the leap. However, just know that the pricing figures you arrive at serve no purpose in pricing your freelance services. Truly, it is a waste of time. I would know, because I’m the queen of skewing numbers in Excel as rationale for a financial decision.
Instead of considering your current employee income as a basis for your freelance pricing, base your prices on the value you provide. There are a slew of pricing methods for your business (hourly, value based, retainer, etc…), all of which I cover in depth (with examples from my experience) in the Share-worthy Design for Freelancers course. But for now, I’ll leave you with this: price based on your value. Get honest with the skill-set, experience and strategy you provide to your clients. If freelancing is a different direction than your current experience, humbly acknowledge what you have to offer. This may be higher or lower than your current salaried position — either way it is irrelevant.
Put processes into place
Lastly, I can’t emphasize enough to put processes into place. Once you have a clear business direction for your brand, begin brainstorming tangibly how the client process will be defined. Organization and clarity in my processes has encouraged the quality client relationships Spruce Rd. upholds. Brainstorm step by step how the process will be defined through your most common projects. How will you present the design? How will you on-board the client? Outline each step so once you book consistent clients you’ll be ahead of the game!
Looking for more guidance on freelancing? In anticipation of the Share-worthy Design for Freelancers course, I’m releasing a Freelance Blueprint to help guide you in your freelance endeavors.
Save the date for September 7th for the Share-worthy Design for Freelancers course! I’m spilling the beans on how to get clients, lessons learned with contracts and scopes, and pricing your services. I’m an open book sharing my process from initial inquiry to project completion.