21 Oct 3 Strategies for Freelance Success – Cincy Design Week, Part 1
Every year, I look forward to Cincinnati Design Week, organized by AIGA Cincinnati. I get to hang out with my design buddies and take part in inspiring and informative workshops, panel discussions, speaking events and more. And this year, I was invited to speak! I was SUPER excited, but also a little nervous, to tell the truth.
My panel topic was “How to know when to leave your full-time job” (which I will share in my next post, part 2!) but I also snuck in some tips for how to be successful once you are freelancing.
After five+ years doing this full-time, these are my main keys to growth and success…
1. Work Hard.
I firmly believe that the world gives you back what you put into it. Every day, your actions and your words are telling those around you (and the universe) what you want and need. If you invest your time in helping others, there will be help for you when you need it.
Sometimes this also means speaking your desires out loud. When I was starting to feel stale at my agency jobs, I started saying out loud to anyone who would listen (my coworkers, my manager, the president), “I am really feeling the need for more diversity in my portfolio” or “I’m ready to take on more leadership responsibilities.” And eventually, the right person would hear me or an opportunity would come up…and because they knew what I was looking for, they’d call me.
2. Stay Humble.
I know so many freelancers who turn down projects that seem unimportant (like a flyer or a PowerPoint deck). And I get it, those projects may not feel as sexy or inspiring as others. But I’m thinking about the long game. Those smaller projects more often than not turn into huge projects worth thousands of dollars down the road (I’d say the rate is around 90%!). So embrace those small projects…you never know where they might lead!
A good way to help yourself stay humble is by giving back to the industry that you work in. This can take many forms, such as keeping in touch with your alma mater, making connections with students who are just starting out, or passing work along to a fellow freelancer when it makes sense. It’s good for your soul to help others, to set them up for success, and to remember what it’s like to just be getting started in your career. Don’t hoard work or buy into the scarcity mindset. Positivity and generosity breed more of the same. Try it!
I also think it’s important to show appreciation and respect to the people who hire you (they’re helping you pay the bills after all), to other freelancers you partner with on projects, and to everyone really. Being genuine and humble makes people WANT to work with you (including clients), which means that they’re more likely to become repeat customers.
3. Learn Business Skills
This is one of the not-sexy things about being a freelancer, but it is essential if you have goals and want to grow. One of the big differences I see between freelancers who are making it but struggling and those who are thriving and growing is how well they manage the business side of things.
It’s not something they typically teach creatives in school, but if you own your own business or want to someday, you’ll need to educate yourself on how to run a business. That might mean taking a class (online or in person at a local college or business group), or it could be as easy as talking to people who have that knowledge. Whether it’s a mentor that you meet with regularly or a family member/friend that’s just naturally blessed in that mindset, SOAK UP THEIR BRAIN. ASK THEM EVERY QUESTION. BE RELENTLESS. The success of your dream career depends on it.
A Few More Quick Tips
I also shared a few short practical tips that go a long way as well:
- Respond to emails/texts/calls within 24 hours
- Try to stay booked up 2 weeks out so you don’t feel or look desperate to your clients
- Hire others to do the things you suck at
- Keep connecting with others (go to lunch, meet ppl on Instagram, go to events, etc.), even when it doesn’t immediately benefit you
- Learn to take feedback gracefully
- Put others first, it’ll come back to you (that might mean putting your client first or it might mean reco-ing your friend for a job that you know they are a better fit for)
- Be flexible and work with people’s budgets…there’s always a way or a person that can help in any budget
- Track your time until you can bill by project (should always be the end goal)
- Always ALWAYS do your best work
Hustle with heart,
P.S. Stay tuned for my story on how to know when it’s the right time to leave your full-time job, coming soon!