Starting a freelance business is hard work. I can say now, looking back, that it took about two years being in business before I started to feel my groove and things started to feel a little easier being out on my own.
It can feel really frustrating – I personally thought it would happen quicker – but it takes a while to really start to feel like you’re getting good at things and have a system in place and feel confident with what you have to offer.
Don’t get me wrong – there are still ups and downs, but they’re easier to handle and mentally and scheduling-wise I’m way better now than I was when I first started full-time in my business. It can take a long time before you figure out the way that you work when you’re just by yourself! Some days I would feel so productive and I would work 16 hours a day with ease, and other days I would be lucky to get one or two hours of work done because I just could not focus.
Now I’m on this crazy schedule that I love, and I feel like every time I do a crazy schedule it somehow propels me and my business and everything into something I’m not expecting – and that is exactly what happened when I left my full-time job.
So you’re out on your own, now what? Here are three tips to help you get settled into this freelancing career with ease.
How do you balance working for clients and working for yourself? This is one of the toughest parts of being a freelancer. Some like having the structure of clients and deadlines and projects with very specific guidelines to work on. Others can play well off of what their clients want – for instance, there will probably come a time when a client is asking you to do something that you wouldn’t normally do, or that you wouldn’t have the drive to do yourself, and it forces you to really try something new, and expand your skillset.
Should you devote yourself to one thing, to one revenue stream, or diversify and have many offerings?
My advice if you’re feeling jumpy and like you want to try #allthethings is to go for one thing, just kind of change up the ratio a little bit instead of jumping in feet first.
So for example, maybe you do your main thing three-quarters of the time, and one-quarter of the time you work on something else, something new.
For a long time my big core thing was doing branding – whether it was educating people on how to build their brands through courses or actually building the brands for my one-on-one clients – I LOVED it, and it gave me an umbrella to play under with a lot of different things like hand-lettering, and typefaces, which was something that I loved doing but could never really justify finding the time to do it on my own time.
So ask yourself, what could you do under your “umbrella” of services that would allow you to expand your skillset or work on something fun that you feel better about justifying spending time on?
You’ve probably heard me say this before, but that’s because it’s important. Your core values are not just something that you write on paper and revisit every once in awhile – they’re the principles that are going to guide you and make sure you’re on the right path moving forward.
For the first couple years in business on my own, I focused on doing what I really wanted to do, and that was my guiding light – taking on projects that I really loved and not wasting my time (or other people’s time) on projects that didn’t really excite me.
Now my focus is on working with clients that I really align with, and that’s become one of my core values – alignment.
If you’re a product designer, maybe your core value is sustainability, so you work with clients who have that as their focus, whether it’s using recycled goods in their products or working with companies who only use organic fabrics.
This is one you’ll learn as you keep growing your business and you gain more confidence. If you’re like a lot of people, you feel like your worthiness and your work go hand in hand. I’m here to tell you that they don’t!
I got to a point in my business where I loved creating these brands and creating really beautiful and fun things, but I couldn’t let those things get in the way of me living a nice joyful life at the same time. I found myself finding so much of my worth tied into what my clients thought of my work – which meant that if they didn’t absolutely LOVE everything I created that they didn’t absolutely LOVE me too.
That’s why it’s important to take time away from work, to remind yourself of what is really important. It WILL help you not take things so personally if you’re like me and always did!
Side note: another way to avoid feeling like you’re not good enough is to work with clients who like your style already. I’ll work with clients who will sometimes want a different kind of style and I’ll adapt to it, but it’s really best when they want exactly what I do already.
Just remember: what you produce to live your life is NOT a reflection on your personal worth or worthiness. Remember that what you create is just a design, or a product, and NOT an extension of you. If your client doesn’t like what you create it’s not that they’re asking you to change – they’re asking for the design to change.
One more thing: if something isn’t working in your business, it’s not you necessarily, it might just the audience. There are ebbs and flows in our personal lives, and there are ebbs and flows in the macro world, and sometimes what we put out there doesn’t jive with what’s going on outside of our little bubble. That’s ok!
Should you use your name for your business, or come up with a separate business name?
There’s no easy – or right – answer to this.
I know plenty of successful people who have used their own name – maybe because they had such a hard time finding a business name that they liked and wouldn’t get sick of, or that they could find a URL for – and they find that using their own name for their business creates a more intimate connection with their clients and potential clients.
If you are your brand it’s something best to have your name because then you can grow into whatever you’re passionate about doing and pivot as necessary.
If, on the other hand, your brand or your business is going to be bigger than you (like Pinegate Road) and you think you may want to step away eventually and have it run on its own, or sell it completely, you may want to consider coming up with a separate business name that will allow you the flexibility to do that.
Of course, Kate Spade did sell her business, so there are always exceptions to this advice!
In the beginning of your business you may feel like you just want income and experience, so you take on whatever job comes your way. As you gain confidence in your skills and abilities as a business owner, you’ll find that this desire to be and do everything starts to wane, and you’ll be looking to refer the things out that you don’t necessarily LIKE doing.
Part of the process of finding out those things that you don’t like doing is sometimes to kind of DO everything though!
It’s so freeing to be able to refer those things out when the time comes because it will allow you to not feel as chaotic and crazy and hectic. It will also allow you to get systems and processes in place for what your zone of genius is and make your life so much easier!
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