Despite being sat at my desk at work, I’m writing this post whilst listening (and singing along to) hits of the ’80s*, eating a bowl of cornflakes, and, if it wasn’t winter, I’d probably be in my dressing gown, or less.
No, I’m not the office freak – my name’s Thomas Harvey and I’m a UK-based freelance graphic designer**. For over a year now I’ve been intimately getting to know the life of a sole trader – the ups, the downs and the downright silly.
Like many freelancers, the dream started whilst doing the same job but as a lowly employee. I think for most people in this industry there comes a point where they stop and say***: You know what? I could do all this for myself and without anybody taking a cut of the profits.
I was no different.
Still in my early twenties, many people**** said I was too young, with not enough clients to make a success of it so early on. It’s true, I didn’t have that many contacts but I can honestly say that I’ve never looked back.
To begin with, finding clients does take up a disproportionate amount of your time. As somebody who’s never been too thrilled by networking (I’m not doubting its usefulness***** but to me many of the groups come across as elitist clubs containing a few too many oversized egos), I’ve relied heavily upon the internet. I worked hard on my website, trying to capture the local market (Leeds / Yorkshire), as well as the wider country and beyond.
Although controversial, I’ve also found Elance to be a useful source of new business. Elance is a competitive market place, with plenty of people (particularly from abroad) offering to work for peanuts, but there really are people on there who want quality work for a fair price – like sifting through a charity shop or TK Maxx, there are gems to be found******.
If you approach every single project with a determination to deliver high quality work and an excellent service, it really will make a difference. I get plenty of repeat business, and what’s more, plenty of recommendations – all-in-all, it’s led to a pretty steady flow of work.
Once you’ve built up a few contacts and established a bit of a reputation (for the right reasons), you’ll soon find yourself spending less time searching for new projects, and more time actually working. Yes, I have the occasional quiet patch, but as long you stay confident and concentrate on the task in hand, the work is out there for the taking, and the good times will follow…
I love working from home. It takes discipline and can be very lonely at times*******, but the rewards are obvious; you do what you want, when you want, how you want. Of course you’ve still got to work hard (in fact, probably more so than an employee) but there’s no boss there to under-appreciate you and you’re not tied to your desk when things are quiet. If I want to take an afternoon off to visit a medieval ruin or take part in a weekday fun-run, then I will.
For a long time I worked in my living room******** but you really need to separate your work and home lives. This isn’t a 9 to 5 job but having your own office, and vowing to leave it by a certain time, definitely does help. Where your office is situated is another matter…
As a freelancer, you choose your own holidays. Unfortunately you’re not going to get any holiday pay but who’s thinking about that when they’re sitting on a beach, gin and tonic in hand?! ME! That’s who. Fortunately, as a graphic designer I can be in the office anywhere that has a computer and an internet connection. Suddenly the beach doesn’t sound like such a bad idea!*********
This can be a pain and is something I witnessed time and time again whilst working for design agencies. You’re always going to come across the odd person who wants to withhold payment for one reason or another and I can almost guarantee it will happen to you at some point during your freelancing career. However, my advice would be not to get too hung up chasing that illusive £150 – in the time spent doing so you probably could have earned ten times that.
Instead, look at what went wrong and ensure your working practices are set up in such a way that it won’t happen again. This may involve upfront payments (especially from new clients) or getting them to sign contracts / agreements beforehand – most clients won’t have a problem with this unless they’ve something to hide.
That said, occasionally for larger sums of money it might be worth consulting legal aid – remember that even an email can stand up as proof, so try to leave a paper trail!
All considered, I love freelancing. It’s not without its problems and really does take a lot of motivation, but nothing beats the feeling of running your own business and being completely in control of your own success. So what if I don’t know how much I’m going to earn each month, find it difficult to get a mortgage, and have forgotten what the outside world looks like? I’ve still got my dressing gown and the biggest bowl of corn flakes you’ve ever seen. So there.
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* The song was ‘Paul Young – Everytime You Go Away’.
** Implying I work from home – hence, no one can see me.
*** Not literally.
**** Figure of speech – people were in fact largely supportive.
***** I am.
****** Such as these guys - http://www.thomasharveydesign.co.uk/portfolio/testing-planet-newspaper-ebook/
******* Nothing a mirror and a range of humorous voices can’t fix.
********* It’s a terrible idea – sand in your keyboard, temperamental wi-fi – stay well away.
********** Far too many asterisks.