Six months of freelance, DAYS OF FEAR and how I found work
As the title of this post would suggest I have been a freelance Web Designer for six months now. I have learnt much in this time. Not least how to swallow my pride, but that’s a whole other story and not one to be covered in this post.
This post is predominantly about how I’ve found work in the first six months. This is a question that I have been asked time and time again by other, slightly wild eyed, mildly frantic designers/developers who have either made the break and gone freelance or are planning to make the break and go freelance. I myself also asked this question of other people many times in the early DAYS OF FEAR (I’ll come to those later).
Let me give you a little background detail as to why I became a freelancer in the first place. The long and the short of it is I didn’t like doing what I did for the company I worked for, I felt like a factory worker and I wanted to branch out and take on new challenges. I also needed to have flexibility with my hours but most of all I wanted a new beginning where I was in charge. Feelings, I would imagine, many employed people can relate too.
So I decided to leave.
That’s the easy bit.
Things got trickier.
I now needed to find work….
- Without a portfolio. I had worked too long hours in my old job to ever develop a portfolio of “personal projects”, I had just wanted to drink wine till it came out of my ears at the end of most working days rather than sit down in front of a screen. I did on the odd occasion try combining the two, wine and screen, but lets just gloss over the results.
- Without any contacts. I literally didn’t know anybody to approach about work. I didn’t even have one of those “friend’s of friends daughter’s primary school” type jobs in the pipeline. Not one thing that would generate any cash. Of course I had a lot of really supportive friends and contacts on Twitter but they were all doing what I did so didn’t need my skills.
- Without any direction. I knew that I wanted to leave and be all creative and wondrous and free like a big, beautiful, designery, creative thing. Don’t we all. But I didn’t have a concrete idea in my head about what I actually wanted to do. What direction I wanted to go in. Who I wanted to be. What all these AMAZING things I was going to do would actually be.
I also have all the other responsibilities that go along with being a grown up (of sorts), bills, bills, bills, did I mention bills? So I couldn’t just sit around waiting for a nice, juicy, ideal project to come along and seek me out.
This brings me to the DAYS OF FEAR that I mentioned earlier. As a freelancer I think these come to us all at some point, be it the day you begin freelancing or at the end of the first month or worst of all, in the middle of the night. This is a phenomenon I would imagine most freelancers have experienced at some point if they’re honest with themselves. These are days created by a powerful equation.
No work + No money = Inertia + Paralysing fear + Panic = NIL productivity
and back round to the start.
These were days where my fear ruled me entirely and I couldn’t work. I couldn’t see a way through. I was being controlled. These are the days when you think I might as well have stayed employed because this is worse than any scenario I ever found myself in in an employed capacity. In fact this is worse than having your kidneys removed with a spoon.
But fear not. There are ways to get through this. I can’t claim that I found these ways all by myself, I didn’t. I had lovely friends, friends such as Jonathan Frascella (@joffff) who came up with a load of brilliant suggestions. All I did was take these suggestions and develop them to fit my own situation and added some of my own ideas to them too. These may not work for you but in my first six months as a freelancer I found them infinitely helpful. I also had people such as Sean Johnson (@seanuk) from Nice and Ripe who I think of as a bit of a mentor (whether he wants me to or not) as well as a friend. We would meet for coffee and he would encourage me to keep going and give me advise on ways to keep inspired and move forward. You really need people like this in your life as a freelancer, it stops you feeling so isolated.
Okay so this was a plan of action that worked for me, some of these ideas I devised myself, others were at the suggestion of Mr Frascella.
Porfolio - Get a portfolio set up by the quickest and easiest means possible, be it Tumblr, Behance, Carbonmade, Wordpress. I chose Tumblr, it took me a day to customise the design to suit my needs and to get my work on it. I then had something to send to potential clients. I couldn’t afford to spend months designing, redesigning, coding, then scrapping and starting again my own website/portfolio. If you are approaching agencies about work then they just want to see your work. This will probably be controversial but it has worked for me.
Portfolio Work - Next fill this portfolio with work. Anything you’ve got, it doesn’t have to necessarily be web designs, it can be anything that shows off you have talent and an eye for design. Get your style and personality over in this work. Stuff I included was a CV to send to clients, together with a rates card should they request one. These need not be boring, go to town, go mad. Show off. I also included a small mail out for a client I was trying to win. I put on some previous web design work I’d done that I was relatively pleased with. I designed a card for my friend’s daughter’s Christening, that went on. Even labels for some home made Vodka. It was so liberating to be able to do exactly as I pleased in a design capacity. I really felt free to create for the first time in years. This helped towards keeping the DAYS OF FEAR at bay.
Find agencies - Once I had a portfolio with some work on I started finding agencies. Local agencies that I really rated, other agencies nationally that I always wanted to work with, developers that I admired. I then made a list of names and contact details on a spreadsheet in Google docs.
Contact agencies - as soon as I had a comprehensive list I emailed each person on the list. Not a blanket email, these stand out a mile and I always feel are totally disrespectful. I wrote a seperate email for each agency/ person on the list outlining what I loved about their work and why I wanted to work with them, explaining that I was freelance and sending over my portfolio. I made sure I get across my personality in these emails, they don’t have to be sombre and corporate. Oh and I always make sure I start off by apologising for bothering them and finish by thanking them for reading my email. I set aside a period of time to do this everyday.
Twitter is your friend - One of the best things I did was send out a tweet at Christmas saying “I understand lots of agencies are busy right now. If you need a spare pair of design hands then I’m available”. The response was fantastic. Swallow your pride and advertise yourself.
Be everywhere - this may seem obvious but it really works, the more places you are on the Internet, the more likely people will find you. My ex boyfriend text me last week saying
“I just Googled you and you are EVERYWHERE, when do you do any work?”
My response was initially
“I wouldn’t have any work if I wasn’t everywhere.” Followed swiftly by “and what the hell are you doing Googling me??”
But seriously get on Dribbble, create a FB page, create a Behance portfolio, blog, put pictures on Flickr if you have an eye for photography and the same for Instagram (in fact you don’t even need an eye for photography on Instagram just tilt-shift and filter the crap out of them), get on Zerply, get on LinkedIn (though I loath myself for saying it), create an about.me page, mine has a socking great big picture of me on it but customise as you see fit, maybe a different background design each day and tweet about it. Anything to get people noticing you and your work. And of course Twitter, it has saved me from the DAYS OF FEAR so many times by talking to and bandying around lots of ideas or just having a laugh with people I really respect and like. Tweet links to your work, tweet other peoples work, be kind, be generous and people will be the same to you. Its good to share.
Authentic Jobs - is in my opinion awesome. In my Teuxdeux list I have a reminder set for everyday to go on Authentic Jobs and see what’s been posted. I’ve met and worked with some fantastic people through going for jobs advertised on there. I’m sure there are other sites that are equally as great but I found this one easy to use and the jobs are of a really high standard.
Go to conferences - this is a tricky one, I know. They are usually expensive and involve hotels and travel but they are so worth it. I would say go alone as well. I always meet more people when I go on my own than when I go with a friend. You just do. You’re more approachable on your own and you just have to get on and talk to people unless you want to spend the whole day in a corner.. alone. These are good for meeting new people in the industry, for being inspired and for new ideas. Give your business card to EVERYONE.
Business Cards - I was going to spend hours designing mine and then getting them all letterpress printed and it was going to cost me about £1 million. So I bit the bullet did a quick design I was happy with on moo.com and got them printed for £20. I love them. I even included a picture of my face on them so people could remember who I was. You might think its a bit extreme but it worked for me. Just be original and memorable. Then give these business cards to EVERYONE.
That brings me up to the present day. I’m sure there are hundreds of other ways to find work as a freelancer but these are the ones I have employed so far. I could go in to a bit more detail but to be honest I have a tendency to go a bit “War and Peace” in the length of my emails, blog posts, DM conversations! So I will leave each point relatively brief but please feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org for more details or if you have any questions. You can always catch me on twitter too.
I now have a small amount of regular freelance clients which is a great place to be in six months. I definitely have room to take on more but the DAYS OF FEAR have subsided a little, I still get the odd really crap day but not as many as when I was employed. I also have time now to pursue causes and projects I feel really passionate about including setting up my own agency Capriccio and designing my first app with my friend and fellow designer Pete Hotchkin (@headloose). A big cherry on the freelance cake for me was to be mentioned in an article the brilliant Matt Gemmell wrote in December about Women Conference Speakers. I was so delighted and flattered and it made all my pixel pushing, conference going, twittering and general hard work worth while.
Freelance really is liberating, these have been the most exciting six months of my whole career and I don’t regret it for a moment.