The modern work landscape is one that is constantly changing. Today’s office is no longer one filled with cubicles and fluorescent lights, and more and more people are striking out on their own and joining the freelancing world in order to have more control over their careers. PSFK shares stories from various freelancers, who comment on what they know now that they wish they’d known when they started out.
My first experience with freelancing came during my art school days. I had just finished my second year of Industrial Design when a friend recommended me to a group of three engineers who were developing a consumer product. With them it was a textbook case of brilliance on the technical side but it looked awful. They needed me to essentially make it pretty to show to potential investors. After guessing at a rough fee, I got to work producing some sketches and a presentation rendering. Didn’t sign a contract, nor establish a scope of work. Several rounds of revisions later and following the addition of making a solid model that turned into a molded shell model which could demonstrate how their mechanicals were packaged, I was feeling in over my head. I remember converting my apartment kitchen into a spray painting booth and pulling a few all-nighters to get the model work done. In the end they paid me a little extra but nowhere near the amount for what I delivered. It was a hard lesson in learning that a fundamental part of freelancing is setting boundaries.
I continued to pickup freelance jobs through school, learning a little more with each project about managing time and client expectations. I had some good clients and a few horror stories. It was a learn-as-I-go method, there was no class I could take about running an independent design business, the internet didn’t exist and for an art school student, business books were like kryptonite.
After graduating, I began full-time work at a design firm that required a lot of long work days and weekends on the job. Freelance work still seemed to find me through recommendations from friends and colleagues. I was young and could work crazy hours without feeling clobbered the next day, so I accepted most of the jobs. What became increasingly stressful was the juggling between commitments during the day and client needs for the after-hours work. I’d wager that anyone doing freelance design work has at some point had to sneak that work in at their day job. The result is always a lot of anxiety paired with ‘why am I doing this’ self-reflection.
For the past three and a half years I’ve been freelancing following the dissolving of the last design firm I worked for full-time. Having lived in NYC for more than ten years now, I have a small but reliable network of connections that offer me projects. I don’t spend much time and effort looking for work, word of mouth recommendations are pretty much how people find me. I’m hoping to stick to some resolutions to get better at promoting the skills I can offer. My website has sadly had the same ‘coming soon’ landing page on it for a few years. That is a project at the top of my list.
Recently, my editor turned me onto The Freelancer’s Bible. It is the first practical book written about the topic I’ve seen that tackles the obvious and unexpected issues anyone working for themselves will likely encounter. Of particular interest to me is a section called ‘Strategies For Working On-Site’ which I do quite a lot of. It is a situation, especially if done long term that has lots of fuzzy edges. I’m glad to see that the book doesn’t assume that every freelancer works out of their well appointed home office.
The book also includes the ‘12 Acts of Uber-Communication’. These are efficiently worded bullet points relating to effective client interaction. Near the bottom is one I’ve considered tattooing on my hand: ‘Don’t overpromise.’ It always results in the self-inflicted headache. My approach is similar, underpromise – overdeliver.
PSFK has partnered with the Freelancer’s Union to bring you a content series written by freelancers for freelancers, about how to succeed in the business – whether you’re just starting out, or are a seasoned member of the community. Click here to buy the book.