Musings: What I’ve learnt

To say I’ve learnt a few things about designing and freelance would be an understatement.  I’ve learnt heaps!  And sometimes I get asked if I have any advice.

I’ve been designing for 6 years now (previously in Marketing for 5 years), and working for myself for 3 years.  It’s a never ending journey (my least favourite word in the WORLD, but oh so accurate), that can be so rewarding.  But with the highs come the lows, and there are many of them because lets face it, there are times of uncertainty and feeling like giving up, but the only way to succeed is to keep working hard.  You always see peoples wins, but rarely see the journey (there it is again!) to get there.

The life of a freelancer or business owner means you never switch off.  Sounds shit, but in fact it means you learn to become more flexible in life.  I’m currently doing mindful meditation (which I’ll talk about soon), to try and teach myself to turn my mind off, or at least slow it down.  Sometimes you need to reflect back on how far you’ve come too see that you are actually making progress, and not just peddling away like a mad man.

So here are my top 5 pieces of advice / what I’ve learnt.

1. Don’t undervalue yourself.

When you start out, you take any job that comes your way.  Sometimes, you even work for free (insert shock emoji face).  And that’s ok, because in those early days, every bit of work is important in helping you understand the design industry process – from client relationships to admin.  But, come some years later, when shit gets real and you’re established, you need to be paid accurately.  No longer is it ok to work for “exposure” or charge significantly less because someone can’t afford to pay you (but has enough to pay for everyone else’s services).  You’ve work hard, your skills are refined, and it’s cost you blood, sweat and tears (and money) to get there.  You are a professional who has a set fee and people need to understand that.  Imagine going a surgeon and after hearing their fees going “yeah but if you do my knee reconstruction for free I’ll tell everyone about it on Facebook and you’ll get heaps of exposure?”.  Yeah nah I can tell you where the surgeon will tell you where to go (and yeah I know we aren’t surgeons).

2. Jack of all trades, master of none?

This speaks for itself.  As you progress with your design skills, you find yourself wanting to do everything.  You see other designers work and think “omg I love that, I must do typography as well” or “everyone is making prints, I think I need to do that too?”.  Don’t be tempted to do everything just because it’s trending, because those other designers either just have mad skills in typography or they have spent a lot of time perfecting their skills.  Don’t try and build websites because you think you have to, only do it if you have the time to learn and you enjoy it!  My point – you don’t have to do everything design-wise under the sun just cos.  If you’re a whiz at websites but not great at illustrating, that’s cool.  Same if you’re brilliant at branding but aren’t confident in 3D vectors, that’s also cool.  Do what your good at and what you love, and practice the other things that make you happy.  You don’t have to cover all ground, and that’s ok.

3. You can’t do everything yourself.

Freelancing is essentially running a small business yourself, so you are the designer, the accountant, receptionist and sometimes therapist.  You do the marketing, advertising, social media.  You type up quotes, send out invoices, reconcile the books.  You liaise with clients, do the research, come up with the designs.  You’re the sometimes debt collector.  You might have a blog so you’re now an author/blogger.  There’s so much to take on, and sometimes something has to give.  Outsourcing your accounting and book-keeping is a popular one and for good reason – it’s so important to get those right for tax purposes.  Another popular one is having virtual assistant to just do those things you don’t have time for – social media, blogging, booking clients.  You can’t do everything, and that’s ok.  Spend time on the things that are important and you and only you can do.

4. You can’t please everyone.

Oh man, you can’t.  And you learn this usually the hard way.  I’ve always had a ’trust your gut’ kind of mentality, and for good reason.  After a couple of difficult situations, design-wise, I learnt that if it seems too hard in the beginning, it’s not going to improve.  The ‘honeymoon’ period should never make you feel uneasy.  And again, this is ok and something you learn.  There are so many different designers out there with completely different styles, just as there are clients who have a particular style in mind, and you’re not always going to match up.  When I get enquiries from potential clients who ask “is this something you can do?”, I always tell them to look through my portfolio and see if my style fits what they’re after.  Usually the ones who come back saying they love my work are a match made in heaven.  You wouldn’t go to an old-fashioned barber to get dreadlocks done, now would you?

5. You’re always learning.

You can probably tell from reading the above that all aspects of business are about trial and error.  You can be in business for 30 years and still be learning.  Technology changes, law and government changes, trends come and go, and people can always surprise you.  Constantly learning new things is actually one of the best things about being a designer.  A few years ago when I built my first website I thought “oh my god I don’t know what I’m doing!!”.  Shocking hey?  It took a few websites to build my confidence to say yep, I can build your website and I know what I’m doing.  The truth is, from the outside no one would have ever been able to tell that I was nervous and lacked confidence (fake it til you make much?), but I always endeavoured to deliver on my word, and I would spend countless hours learning and gaining the knowledge required to do the job.  As you explore new techniques and disciplines, you are always going learn.

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