When I first decided to become a freelance designer, I had big dreams about what it would be like. At the time, I worked a boring 9-5 job that didn't fulfill me creatively in the slightest, so the thought of being paid to design and do what I love filled me with SO much joy.
I followed lots of design bloggers and I was always in awe of the pretty moodboards they had created, the beautiful Instagram profiles they had curated, and the wonderful testimonials from wonderful clients about how wonderful the design experience was. The life of a freelance designer looked beautiful. But that's probably because I was looking at it through rose-tinted glasses.
I know there are lot of people in my community who want to quit their jobs and become freelance designers (or start other kinds of businesses), so I wanted to take the opportunity today to share a few truths with you.
Before we start, I want you to know:
I LOVE my business and the path I chose. It's one of the best decisions I've ever made and I wouldn't choose another job even if it paid ten times more than what I make now.
Starting my brand & web design business has been one of the biggest adventures of my life. My business allows me to live the life I want: a life of travel freedom, financial freedom, and all-round independence, and for that I view my business as a real blessing.
Even though there are dozens (if not hundreds) of great things about being a freelance designer, there are also a few ugly truths that no one ever really tells newbies, and today I'm going to attempt to break them down for you. Ready?!
1. You're going to get a few nightmare clients, particularly in your first year of business.
As a newbie, your first year of business will be highly experimental. You probably won't understand how to legally protect your business, how to onboard clients, how to handle tricky client situations, or how your design process should go from start to finish.
(I have a course, Organize & Automate, that shows you how to set up and streamline your brand and web design process from A to Z!)
Because of your lack of experience, you're going to make mistakes that will make some clients mad. Or, you're going to take on clients you shouldn't have because you weren't aware of the warning signs.
This is totally normal.
The reason I'm bringing this up today is make sure you're as prepared as you can be for nightmare clients. If you're aware and you prepare beforehand for bad client situations, you'll reduce the chance of them happening when you start freelancing full-time, and you'll be able to handle these situations well if they do happen!
Free workbook: 5 ways to handle bad clients
2. You'll spend most of your time doing business maintenance, not designing.
If you have dreams of designing all day, every day, I'm going to have to burst that bubble. (Sorry!!)
Your days will most likely look like this: 3 hours designing, 5 hours business maintenance.
For your business to grow and run smoothly, you can't just design for your clients. You need to manage your inbox, follow up with clients, send client gifts, be active on social media, do your bookkeeping, and plenty more. To a new designer it can seem overwhelming, but it's not if you write out what tasks you need to do to keep your business running smoothly, and make sure you dedicate time to those tasks each week when you start your business.
3. Creative skill won't cut it. You need marketing smarts to survive.
You could be the most talented designer in the world, but you won't land any clients with talent alone.
When you first start your business, no one will know about you. It's up to you to get your marketing cap on and actively get eyes on your services. You're going to need to find a way to generate referrals, promote your services on social media, figure out where your ideal clients are hanging out, and much more.
If you hate marketing and the thought of having to promote your services seems awful to you, I encourage you to spend more trying it and getting used to it before you become a full-time freelance designer.
4. If you don't have savings to live off of, you're going to feel very uncomfortable.
I don't recommend quitting your day job unless unless you have enough savings to live off of. Ever.
When you're in the dreamy business planning stage, you feel like everything will go perfectly if you just take a leap of faith and finally act on your dream. You think you can quit your job with no savings in your bank account and be totally fine because work will come pouring your way.
That's not how it happens. Not for most of us, anyway.
In your first few months of business, you may find it hard to find clients. If you don't have savings you can dip into to help you remain financially stable while you work on your business, you'll start to stress out and your dream business will start to feel like a dead weight.
Don't let your dream turn into a nightmare. Prepare financially before quitting your day job and save yourself the stress.
5. Running your own business isn't for everyone.
A lot of people dream of starting their own business but many fail because they didn't realize how much self-motivation and self-discipline you need to make a success of it.
If you find it hard to motivate yourself to get up in the morning, to build your portfolio, to work on your own instead of meeting your friend for coffee then try and harness these qualities more before quitting your day job.
Start by getting into a regular routine of doing simple business tasks every week and making them a habit. Not everyone excels at self-discipline, but it's something we can all grow if we put our minds to it.
If you're in the business planning phase, you're probably feeling pretty happy, dreamy and determined right now. And that's a great thing! In fact, if you don't feel that way then starting a business probably isn't the right thing for you.
I'm not telling you these ugly truths to discourage you from becoming a freelance designer, and I'm certainly not doing it to burst the dreamy bubble you're in.
I'm sending you this email to hopefully help you prepare for a side of freelancing that you haven't seen yet.
There will be a few tough times on your freelance journey, but that's when you need to remember the dreamy, determined way you feel right now. That's when you need to remember why you chose to work for yourself, and what your business allows you to do with your life.
There are two things I want you to go away and do after reading this article:
1. Take another look at the ugly truths I listed above and ask yourself if you're prepared for them. If not, how you can prepare before quitting your day job and freelancing full-time? Preparation is the key to a successful start.
2. Take out a pen and paper and write down three reasons why you want to become a freelance designer, and three things a freelance lifestyle will you allow you to do that a 9-5 job wouldn't.
Once you've written those things out, I want you to stick them up somewhere you can see them as you work on your business each day.
As time goes by and you encounter bad clients that make you want to quit freelancing, slow stages that make you doubt yourself, and times when you just don't feel cut out to be your own boss, I want you to look at those notes and remember why you're doing this.
There will be tough times. But as long as you remember why you chose this life and how it blesses you, you'll be able to work through anything.
PS. If you can think of one ugly truth + one beautiful truth about freelancing that you think newbies should know, leave a comment and tell me! I'd love to hear your thoughts.