Is the freelance designer the future?
When I became a freelance designer, it was through what I thought was a natural progression and lifestyle of working in the creative world. I had started at the bottom, working in-house for an estate agent.
It was a great platform, a place where I could learn practices, techniques and make mistakes without being in the high pressure environment of a creative studio. There were 3 designers in-house and all of us were young, wet behind the ears but all were keen, talented and had been cherry picked as potentially someone who could be a ‘designer’. Maybe even a Freelance designer.
It was a clever move by the company. They would visit the university open evenings and approach students that showed talent, and just as important, a personality that would fit. We would work 40 hours a week on a variety of projects, building confidence, trying ideas that sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t, but all in all we spent 3-4 years getting a great grounding in design.
It helped that the Director had a keen interest in marketing – and design. Not all of his ideas were ones we agreed with, but looking back it taught us that compromise you need to embrace when working with clients – a real skill any freelance designer will recognise. Some could handle it and some dug their heels in. If they had that attitude of ‘Mr BigShot’ and failed to learn that it was not going to get you anywhere they were gone and replaced with another. Harsh? Maybe, but design snobbery is not something you need to carry with you in your first job. you are not Senior Creative, you are an artworker, a desktop publisher, hell, you’re at the bottom fella. But you were building a portfolio. A real one. For proper companies and to a brief. Looking back, it was brilliant.
I learnt my trade and love of design at University – like many – yet the transition from education into the working world is never easy. I have seen more students than I can count struggle with the rules, deadlines and world that is a design agency. It is one of the key areas I believe education lacks, a training to work in the outside world. It is getting better mind you, students these days are taught business studies which is invaluable should you enter the world of freelance employment. However, from working to 6 week projects, to a 6 hour deadline shocks many – it still hurts me today on occasion. It is stressful and getting through a deadline of this sort is often only solved by having the experience of managing these situations time after time.
Deciding to become a freelance designer.
After about 10 years of working and progressing through agencies, I decide to go freelance. I had experience. From watching and working with older designers I saw how they managed projects and solved problems. I also met a lot of other freelancers. These were specialists. At that time a freelance designer was a hired gun, someone with a skill that was needed only occasionally and was not worth paying full time wages for. However, the tide was turning.
(As an aside, i do recommend you sell yourself as a freelance designer with a speciality skill – something that you can say I am the best at. It does wonders for your confidence and you know you are a level above many also competing for jobs)
Becoming a freelance designer was the best move I ever made, I think primarily due to choosing to do so. I wanted to be on my own. I knew the risks and the benefits and was prepared to gamble.
Today the modern design agency comprises a plethora of various freelance designer, mainly due to economics. You can hire a freelancer on a daily, or weekly basis and get top notch design skills without having to pay the benefits of full-time employment. Holidays, sickness and pensions are all a thing of the past as far as I can see so your Design Agency can actually hire you for the whole year without paying more than just your wages. It’s an understandable decision by them but it can be mutually beneficial.
But what if the decision is not yours?
So what of the people who do not choose to become a freelance designer, but are forced into it, either by redundancy or circumstance. The only thing they lack is confidence. I also find they lack a business based attitude ironically about promoting themselves. I say one word to you on this. AdWords. You sign up for Google AdWords and you can get yourself to page one overnight. Yes it is a cost, an outgoing you could do without, but I promise you it works and you will get work. After nearly 10 years of being a freelancer I still use Adwords to ensure I am on page one for services I cannot get my website onto that elusive first page for. Many pages are high ranking and I do not need to advertise, but it is a competitive business and you need to have a marketing budget to enable you to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big boys.
A lack of confidence is understandable. As I said I chose to go down this path. Choosing to go freelance is a decision you have weighed up, whereas someone who feels forced into in is not going to appear as confident in their abilities. Understandably they are coming into it from a negative situation but I can offer them this nugget of hope. I know of many designers who have gone freelance from a negative situation and nearly every single one now makes a very good living, being their own boss, and the very best are able to pick and chose the design projects they work on.
How many employees can say that.
Being multi-skilled helps massively. I hate the term ‘Jack-of-all-trades’, and much prefer ‘Full Service’ – This is a great help for any freelance designer. If a client comes to you for a logo, and you can offer stationery design, websites, email marketing, print design, brochures and a knowledge of internet marketing as well then there is less chance of them going to anyone else and you can also offer those services as your relationship develops. The best freelancers offer all of these BUT also have a speciality. Mine? Well it is property brochure design. I work for Estate Agents, Construction Companies and Developers and even through the recession I get work as I am known as a specialist in my field.
As freelancers we are now on an equal footing with those in full time positions. We equal, if not outnumber them and are on the rise. The beauty of the internet is people who are considering freelance design as a career can now research it, talk to existing designers and make an educated choice.
Come join us and please feel free to share your experiences below, whether as a freelance designer or not, you may be helping someone out with your input.