Going Freelance


My friend asked for advice on quitting his job and going freelance, so I thought I’d share my notes to him:

I would say that before you quit you must:

  • know your monthly burn rate
  • have 3x that in savings, ideally 6x to guard against late payments
  • have something online that shows what you like and are able to do (or friends willing to hire you based on personality alone)

I get most of my jobs from:

  1. friends (outside of the design world) — college, book club, bike club, yoga, volunteering, former coworkers
  2. friends and studiomates (in the design world) handing off their overflow
  3. online presence — portfolios, blogging, dribbble, working not working, skillshare classes

So it’s really important to have lots of friends :) And to make sure they know:

  • what you do, in plain language not industry jargon — I always say “web design” or “I make websites and apps” since that’s a common need, instead of “interactive branding” or “product design” or fancier titles (save those for interviews)
  • what you’ve just done — always have a simple conversation starter ready for random encounters, e.g. “I just designed an iPhone app!”
  • what you want to do next — so that they have an ear out for you, e.g. “I really want to work with schools or museums”

Your online presence will support all this, but word of mouth is the easiest way to get work, people don’t like to hire total strangers. In the early years before I had a network I got a lot of work through Aquent and other agencies / headhunters.

The hardest parts for me:

  1. chasing projects that reflect your values, vs taking the ones that fall in your lap — maybe take a day and think and write about what’s important to you
  2. writing estimates/quotes — this used to make me CRY. There are so many variables that are impossible to predict. You have to track your time honestly until you know yourself. And have a pricing approach (flat fee, day rate, hourly, etc) that’s appropriate to the project. Thankfully there are lots of good articles online, and check out Dan Mall’s businessology podcast. I’m trying to switch to day rates since that’s easier to plan.
  3. finding balance — you’ll always have too much work or too little, it’s very hard to have exactly 40 hours of work a week (and you can only bill 20 or 30 each week anyways, since you have to spend time on admin and promotion). Notice your most productive times, and when you need breaks, and set up a routine and places that support that. 99u.com has a lot of good articles.
  4. people — I’ve worked alone and with others, there are risks and rewards for each. You might need a buddy to check in on you, or a business partner to help make things happen, or contractors to hand things off to. The human relationships are as important of a product as the projects.

Freelancing is about doing your own thing, so try to have a sense what that is :) And you will fail, all the time, every single day I fuck something up. You just have to have a sense of humor, and learn from it, and keep trying.

“Fail better.” —Samuel Beckett

“If you’re going through hell, keep going!” —Winston Churchill

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