The Zen of Freelance Design…

I’ve come to realize that making it as a freelance graphic designer is more about being calm than it is about being a good businessman and having a lot of work. You need both – but really, you need to be at peace more than anything. After all, worrying is counter-productive.

There have been times where I’ve lived fat, and there have been times that things have been very, very lean – but the one constant has been that I’ve always made it and that there has never really been a constant. There have been times when I’ve worked under market value, and times that I’ve made more money per hour than a lawyer.

As a freelancer, you have to get into the ebb and flow of the work and the lifestyle. You have to search, and you have to stretch – but you have to keep moving. If you’re flush with work, you have to squirrel away some dough for later down the line, and if you’ve got nothing to do, don’t go out and sleep on the interstate. When things are slow, work on your own business and your own abilities. Don’t stop moving, and don’t give up.

willbeBeing calm in the face of adversity – be it too much work or too little, is going to be crucial to the success of your business, and to your general mental well being.

Work (and money and fame and fast cars) will come if you’re dedicated and work hard. But how you handle yourself in the lean or stressful times is going to determine whether you make it. Panic is not an option – nor is apathy. The work will come. It’s not going to be a constant, and if that’s the life you’re looking for, freelancing might not be for you. But it’s always interesting, and it’s a new job every day.

Give Me a Break

One of the big issues I have is taking breaks. They’re absolutely crucial, but as freelancers, we seem to kind of sweep them under the rug.

breakTaking regular breaks help you avoid repetitive stress injuries (carpal tunnel, etc.,) they help you keep fresh and your ideas flowing, and they help keep you from going blind. Those cathode ray tubes and itty bitty pixels are not the easiest things on your eyes and your chair, no matter how ergonomic, is bad for your back.

It doesn’t have to be a long break, but you need to get up and walk around for a minute or two. Get a cup of coffee or some water. Go outside. It might sound odd – but do a jumping jack or stretch your arms and legs. Get the blood flowing again. If you really can’t get up and mill around, take a couple of minutes to turn away from whatever you’re doing and tense up every muscle in your body a couple of times. Tense, release, tense, release. It’ll help.

It’s always good to break the cycle of what you’re doing – if even for a few minutes. It’ll keep your design work fresh, and your body a little healthier.

Keeping Records

This might be a little base for some of you, but bear with me. This is important.

KEEP RECORDS OF EVERYTHING.

There. That’s all I have to say. Well, not really…

paperlessWhen you start a job, start a folder and place your work order (you really need to start this habit,) the job contract (again – start doing this. I’ll post on this really soon, plus give you a downloadable, customizable contract) and any other preliminary paperwork in that folder. That way, when you need to reference something, you’ll know where it is.

When you’ve done that – do it again. Take all those digital files, print them and put them in a real folder. Next, print out the emails about the job. Keep the records and keep the actual paper. That way, if you’re without electricity, you can still do business. If you have a hard drive failure, you can still work. If you lose something (and you WILL!) you can still work.

Staying organized and having informational backup are the most important things for a freelance graphic designer. If that’s not your strong suit (it’s not mine) you really need to make a habit of at least starting projects with organization.

A little due dilligence to begin with will go a long, long way.

Now, I gotta go and clean up the stacks of paper and the empty Red Bull cans. Like I said – organization is not my strong suit.

Inspiration and Challenges

postifThere are a lot of great logo designers out there, and putting your work up for public scrutiny (especially for other designers to see,) can be a little scary. But – it’s also a great way to judge where you are in the grand scheme of things.

LogoPond.com lets you post your logo and get comments from fellow designers. They discuss everything from color to layout to feel to effectiveness. Comments can be quite candid and at times, kind of rough. But, it’s designers from around the world and from all walks of life – freelance and otherwise.

If you’re like me, you have a tendency to get caught up in the work and it’s difficult to step back and look at what you’re doing without coloring it with your own opinions and feelings about the project. This site lets you get a totally fresh take on your work from people completely detached from the project.

Plus, there are a lot of great pieces to check out and get inspiration from. Don’t knock anything off, of course – but as Picasso said, “All art is theft.”

Enjoy!

Facing Negativity

There’s a somewhat negative connotation to being a freelance designer. I’ve worked hard to gain credibility as a designer, and I’ve had corporate gigs – but I’ve never had the creativity and lust for my work life that I have now as an independent.

A common misconception is that being a freelancer means that you’re either unemployed or unemployable. Truthfully, I’ve had more job offers (and some really good ones) as a freelancer than I ever had when I had a straight job. I know, however, that as soon as I pigeonhole myself into a job or a genre or a style, I’ll lose some modicum of my creativity – and that’s something I’m not willing to part with. No matter how good a steady paycheck and 3 weeks paid vacation might sound.

ewwAs far as being “unemployed,” why precisely am I working so much? 40 hours? Try 60. Or 70. Sometimes 80. Sometimes more. But it’s worth it…

As freelancers (designers, writers, programmers,) we’ve really got to work hard to keep our credibility. We’re outside the traditional thought, and that can make people – including potential clients – a little uncomfortable. As freelancers, our work has to be better, more creative and in the upper eschelons of goodness. We must do what we say we’re going to do – and when we say we’ll get it done.

If we don’t, we fail. People won’t come back, and our reputation will suffer – and that’ll always catch up with us.

The best way to face the (seemingly inevitable) negative vibe associated with being a freelancer is to be excellent. In everything.

We have more to lose than the traditional employee. We have more to gain, too.

Blogs and Business

under2As I start this blog, I have a few things in mind. Bear with me as I run down my list.

1. Have Fun: I wanted to have a place to rant and rave and be stupid.

2. Get Info Out There: There’s a lot of great stuff out there – and I wanted to give it a home. An easy, one-stop place for all your freelance graphic design info and resources.

3. Be Honest: A LOT of the other freelance sites out there (blogs included) are either scams or just out to turn a buck. I want to give relevant info, tricks, tips and resources away – FREE. I can make some money, but that’s just not the sole intent here..

4. Promote My Insane Agenda: I am passionate about design, freelancing, the lifestyle of the self-employed artist and all things arty and stupid and fun. I want a place to talk about it, complain about it, be sad, be happy, yadda yadda yadda.

5. Make a Little Bit of Dough: If you’re a freelance designer, you know that having supplemental income is a good thing. I won’t make a lot here, but every little bit helps. Plus, I figure that by helping you make some cash (or giving you tools to help your business,) the great cosmic laws of karma (or whatever) will smile upon me and help me out, too. Win-win, you know.

So there – I’ve said it. Not that anyone is all that interested in why I’m doing this, but when you write it down and put it out there for the world to see, you are kind of bound to what you’ve said.

Now – get out there and make something cool. I’ m going to have another cup of coffee.

ELVIS! DESIGN! ELVIS!!!

Honestly – this guy had to be the greatest performer ever. When you have millions of people imitating you, you’ve obviously done something right.

I’d love to be imitated. Seems like a lot of designers and design ideology runs on parallel tracks, but I want to be imitated.

Ah – but check out Design Is Kinky. Lots of great stuff, lots of art and illustration. Very cool. Very inspirational. I think that’s what Elvis had – a lot of inspiration. Keeps you fresh.

Plus, having people write songs for you to swivel your hips to ain’t bad, either. Still trying to figure out how that works in the design field…

Freelance Design for Fun, Profit and Chicks

Welcome!

With this site, I hope to impart some wisdom gained (and lost) as a freelance graphic and web designer. I’ll offer tips, tricks and resources geared exclusively for freelancers. Here, you’ll find forms that I’ve used for billing and time tracking, general contracts, links to sites that offer real resources for all your freelance needs.

There are plenty of great sources for information out there – but it seems like they’re all written for a different crowd. Freelance graphic design is a different beast from most other freelance professions, so if you’ve never lived it, you can’t really write about it. I’ve seen the peak and the valleys that every freelance designer goes through. I’ve lived it for many, many moons now – and I have some advice, some tools, and some things that will help you on your way to success.

Along the way, I’ll offer some for-pay resources. Hey – I gotta make a living, you know.

Read a little bit about what I’ve done – learn from my mistakes, and let me help you on your way to a (somewhat) lucrative career as a freelance designer.

Enjoy!

Jim