It's been one year since I was flung headlong into the world of tentative employment! No more 9-5 slog at a job I could barely stand getting up for in the morning. No more endless routine. No more walking home past the cemetery each evening and wondering if this was all there is to life (morbid, I know). A whole year! Where do I begin? Working for myself has been a mixed bag, but I definitely wouldn't trade it for the 9-5 life anytime soon. Here's some things that I have learned along the way:
1. You need to be the cheerleader, goal kicker and coach all-in-one
Everything is your responsibility when you work for yourself. It's obvious, but after working in a team for so long, there are certain things I took for granted. Brainstorming ideas with other designers, having a manager who could (maybe) escalate issues and solve problems with clients (even when I was art directing, there was always a manager when things got ridiculous).
As a freelancer, you're often called to help when a team is under pressure and needs assistance desperately (usually after putting off hiring help). They're probably tired and anxious and cranky, and you need to go in and help get the job done, preferably with a cheer-everyone-up-smile on your face. Other times, when you're suddenly responsible for an entire project, sometimes the 'overwhelms' take hold and you need to give yourself a little pep talk during a time-out to keep the ball rolling!
2. You don't get paid for administration - and it needs to be done
There are endless email enquiries, quotes to be done, invoices, money chasing, coffee ordering... the list goes on. All of the little things you need to do to keep the 'business' going will be done on your own time. I knew this after running a dancing school a few years ago, but there's a lot more 'enquiries' and 'quotes' that need doing in this line of business.
3. Relationships matter
It's so important to make a good impression and do a great job so that you'll (hopefully) have a loyal client who will call upon your services again. I've probably had moments where I could have been more outwardly enthusiastic and outgoing in a job. People like to work with people who are:
a) good at their job
b) fun to work with
I'm naturally pretty quiet and withdrawn so I've definitely had to make a conscious effort to be more 'up' when I work in an office with others. Another facet of relationships is the value of word-of-mouth. Especially in design and animation, professionals often ask each other for recommendations on staff when they're looking for freelancers. If one company loves you, chances are, they'll put in a good word for you somewhere else, too. Also, you get to meet and work with all kinds of new, interesting and lovely people. And you might even have a strange blog-meets-life moment like I did a couple of weeks ago with Astred!
4. Keep a strict schedule
I'm still not perfect at this. When I work from home, making sure I work during business hours and have scheduled time off doesn't happen as much as it should. The next month or two will be spent working from home, so I'm really focussing on it now. Starting... tomorrow ;)
5. Don't worry, you're not going to starve
I'm sure it's not just me. Every time a job is wrapping up, the inevitable seed of panic starts to grow in my belly until it is a full-blown convulsing monster of fear... what if I don't get another job? How will I pay my share of the bills? Maybe I didn't do that last job as good as I could have... What if I never work again!?!? And so forth. Of course, it's ridiculous. I've been so busy the past 12 months, and I haven't had to resort to begging just yet. It's the one thing about freelance that I don't really like, the insecurity. But I'll let you in on my psychological safety blanket. Pretend that you have no work for the next 6 months. All the time. Pay your bills in advance, keep a savings account, whatever. Just have a 6-month buffer. Then, if the worst happens, it's not really that bad.
And just like that, one year of freelance life is done.