Congratulations! You’ve kickstarted your life as a freelance designer and have put the wheels in motion for your new professional path. While trying to get your career off the ground, you’ll probably be busy exploring a lot of unknown territory. You might find yourself having difficulty adjusting to working alone from home, or feeling discouraged from approaching new clients to no avail, or being overwhelmed with the administrative tasks that come with working independently. But fear not, every freelance creative faces these kinds of doubts and challenges. It’s inevitable.
The key thing is learn to adapt to and cope with these kinds of situations, because it’s highly likely that you’ll face them again throughout your career, even the top design professionals in the world have their share of self-doubt. To help you get through these tough times, we spoke to three successful designers who went freelance full-time for insights on how to deal with doubt and continue to move forward.
1) Remind yourself (again) of why you chose to work as a freelance designer
Whether it’s trying to land your first regular clients or coming to terms with the financial uncertainty of the months ahead, challenges will arise that will lead to you questioning yourself, your abilities and your decision to work independently.
During these times of doubt, Russian product designer and jovoto creative Kyril Kulikov reminds himself of how much he loves design and the lifestyle he’s created for himself in the past decade. “Working as an independent freelance designer allows you to be part of great design and developing teams as well as meet and work with people around the world,” said Kulikov, who is now based in Tel Aviv, “In the last six years of being a freelancer, I’ve lived in Tel Aviv, Bali, London, Cyprus, Saint-Petersburg and Phuket as well as travelled to more than 50 countries. It’s been an awesome experience.”
The next time fear gets the best of you, pull out the pros and cons chart you made before you made the switch and remind yourself of all the reasons you’ve chosen to work independently – whether that be for the flexibility, freedom to choose projects or to work/live on your own terms. If you didn’t write these things down, perhaps it’s a good time to do so and then keep it within eyesight from where you work.
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2) Schedule in time to meet new people IRL
These days, having only an online portfolio is still not enough for freelance designers said Kulikov, who has worked on projects for Mercedes Benz and Deutsche Bank through jovoto. “You need to talk about your work,” he added. To broaden your client base and expand your network, freelance designers need to actively market themselves not only online, but in person.
Berlin-based graphic designer Chloë Galea echoed these sentiments and said that one of the most important things she’s learned as an independent creative is how beneficial it can be to step away from the computer every so often and go out to meet people. “The network of creatives and friends I have built up around me have been the greatest resource I have to keep going and stay motivated when things get tough,” she explained. “Between them, they have a huge amount of knowledge and experience. There is nearly always someone with an answer to whatever dilemma I am dealing with at the time.”
Originally from the UK, Galea worked at an agency in London before moving to Berlin to work as a freelance designer. Even though it took a bit of time to get out and meet people in the beginning, once she got the ball rolling it became easier. “I made the best friends and made great contacts professionally,” she said, “Nothing makes me want to work harder and push myself than seeing others do the same.”
So whether it’s joining a local designer meet-up once a week or attending an upcoming industry event to meet new people, make sure to allocate time in your schedule for getting out of your comfort zone and connecting with others in real life.
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3) Stay active in design communities
Another way to stay motivated and inspired during tough times is to build a supportive network through design communities. Not only is getting involved on these platforms a good way to connect with other designers, it can be a channel to receive feedback on your work, learn about new opportunities/collaborations and get noticed by clients. Both Galea and Kulikov said that many of their clients found out about their work through design communities, like jovoto, Behance and Dribbble.
4) Set goals, celebrate each step forward, stay persistent
There will always be highs and lows in the rollercoaster ride that is being an freelance designer, but remember that things are constantly changing and the rough patches you’re going through will also pass. For Pavlina Kalogeropoulou – an art director, web designer and jovoto creative who has been freelancing for over 15 years – persevering and celebrating triumphs are the main ways she deals with periods of uncertainty.
“Working as a freelancer has so many benefits, but it takes a lot of devotion and perseverance, especially during times when things aren’t going as planned,” says Kalogeropoulou, “In times when you doubt your choice about becoming a designer, things like getting projects done and receiving positive feedback can help a lot to boost your confidence.”
A good way to keep track of your progress is by setting concrete periodic goals—whether that be monthly, quarterly or bi-annually—and then re-evaluating them accordingly. Project management tools, like Trello and Asana, can be helpful here. But, be realistic! And don’t forget to recognize your achievements regularly and appreciate how far along you’ve come. As Kalogeropoulou said, “It takes slow and steady steps to become a great designer.”