Usually, the first post marks beginnings and sets goals.
In this one, however, I would like to highlight a couple of reasons about why I am making a shift in my career by cutting down on freelance commissions for the next couple of months and taking a part-time position as a designer for a local start-up. I’ll try to elaborate on the reasons I find most relevant.
... a bit of background info. I’m a 26 y.o. visual designer and illustrator. Through my whole experience as a creative, I have been freelancing to a certain degree in parallel to my studies and a full-time job. Last year, after relocating to Helsinki, I decided to go full-time freelancing and, luckily, I have been able to support myself through that and maintain a normal standard of living. Hooray for paying rent on time! 🎉
However, after freelancing every day of the week and simultaneously managing a number of projects for a couple of months, I began feeling that how I was running my business might have been profitable at the time, but unsustainable for the future.
Jumping head-on into freelancing meant that I was often undertaking more projects than a normal work day would fit, so I ended up doing late-night and weekend sprints. Together with client communication and admin tasks, the pace at times became cumbersome. (Note: In full honesty, I actually started to enjoy the admin side of freelancing as a way to switch gears and let the creativity rest.)
I was working fast and hard, but not working smart. Something had to change if I wanted to create a sustainable routine and avoid a deep and prolonged burnout.
Spending all my time on client projects meant that I was rarely producing content for myself and for the sheer joy of creating. Usually, I ended up too exhausted to push myself to create for fun. And yes, I know, I’m titling myself a designer and illustrator, not an artist, but the truth is that through personal projects one can improve their skills and explore different communication routes that might later feed into commercial work.
The sustainable production of client project needed a meaningful exploration through personal projects and vice versa. If I was not undertaking personal work, my career would quickly plateau and any available creative potential would be wasted.
Also, freelance requires a degree of personal marketing which I have been struggling to maintain. Sharing only client projects can be obstructed by long deadlines, last-minute changes, NDA’s and so on. My Dribbble and Behance profiles had become stale and so did my Instagram presence.
My gut feeling, reinforced by observing how peers were managing their own businesses, was that I desperately needed to carve out time for developing such personal project through which I can learn, reflect and better understand my own practice.
Doing only client projects might not cut the mustard at all times. There are likely to be dry periods, but I would still be expected to pay rent. I needed to explore other revenue streams such as having my own product store, working on collaborations or providing education (for example). However, all of these are a direct result of investing in myself as a creative and creating personal projects. At the beginning of the year, I began selling art prints, yet a lot needed to be done for that in order to become a revenue stream—setting up a proper online store, doing a basic photo shoot, marketing, etc.
Learning About the Business Side
I also need to learn a lot about business and I would advise anyone who plans to go into freelance to do so as well. Financial planning and tax-laws are still a mystery to me, especially because I’ve changed countries a couple of times and those things differ massively from place to place. A benefit of living in Helsinki is that a lot of organisations provide seminars on how to set up a business. The government and municipality are also active in giving support and education and it doesn't feel like they are an obstacle that one needs to fight through.
Reflecting on My Own Practice
In the last 7–8 years, I have been massively rushing through life and jumping from education to work to freelance and often doing all these in parallel. Eventually, I had found myself in a position when I don’t have answers to basic questions such as what do I stand for, what inspires me and what my future aspirations are. So pretty much what defines me as a creative, apart from pushing pixels and twisting Bézier curves. These are all important questions that one needs to have the answers to in order to build a sustainable creative career and I didn't have them.
I was trembling at the thought of getting asked any of those questions because the answers felt ingenuine and incomplete. One of my aims for the next couple of months is through writing and content creation to undertake an in-depth reflection of my practice and place as a creative.
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Of course, there are other reasons that I have decided to cut down on freelance and take upon a part-time job at a company, but I believe these are the main. Reflection, exploration and education go hand in hand with developing a sustainable business practice. It’s better for me to pull the breaks now instead of continuing down the stream until I lose any creative potential that I’ve had.