My Journey to Full-Time Freelance
A straw, a fork, a leap and a decision. The road to full-time freelance looks different for everyone – here’s mine.
The Journey So Far
I’ve been freelancing since high school, all through university and alongside my first few years in the design industry. It’s something I’ve always loved and as an independent, driven and introverted person, I’ve always been super drawn to the idea of running my own business. I’m also a massive ideas person and my partner Sam has to reign me in from trying to start a million new businesses all at once on the regular, so it had been a long-time coming for me to actually start one!
I was lucky enough to get my first ‘real’ job as a designer at the end of my second year at design school at 20, as a Summer of Tech intern in the Marketing Design team at Xero for three months over Summer. Since then, I’ve worked in-house in another tech company, as a designer at an agency and as a creative director at a startup, so I felt like at this point I had a good idea of the types of design jobs that were out there and some experience with each of them.
While I loved each of these jobs in different ways and learnt a lot from them all, none of them felt right to me. As a highly creative and massively introverted human, I struggled with churning out design from 9–5, having hovering bosses stifling my creativity, working on the same thing all the time, being around other people 24/7 and a whole bunch of other things that just stressed me out.
The Final Straw
In the end, my latest job was the last straw. I was working at the aforementioned startup as their Creative Director at the time, which had the potential to be amazing, and I actually loved my job there and my teammates so much, but unfortunately I had to quit. I had an extremely abusive boss who stopped paying me and my workmates and I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was putting me further and further into debt as I kept working while I waited to get paid, and I was over being sworn at and abused down the phone by my boss all the time. It was exhausting and destructive, so I left.
After some much-needed therapy and determined not to let this awful experience get me down, I decided to make the most of the opportunity that was in front of me and start fresh.
The Fork in the Road
Now, I had a choice to make: do I stick with the status quo and find a job in an agency or another in-house team, or do I take the road less travelled and a big ol’ leap of faith into building the career that I’ve always wanted for myself?
Logic says that stability is good and a job in an existing team seems like a good idea, right? So the pragmatic side of me panicked, believing that to do anything else would be stupid and a massive risk in many ways, and that side of me wasn’t exactly wrong.
From any ‘normal’ perspective it did seem crazy, and it was. And it definitely was a huge risk, financially, mentally and for my career. But it’s also been my dream for years.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I spoke to a life coach. I know that can sound a bit woo-woo, but I really believe that verbalising things and talking them out with someone can be truly transformative, especially if you’re an INFJ like me who usually just internalises everything!
The life coach asked me a lot of brilliant questions but the one that stuck out to me was this: “if it doesn’t work out, what will you do?” To which I replied that I guess I would just try to find more clients or find another job, and it was then that I realised that if that’s the worst that could happen, at least I could say that I gave it a go, so I decided then and there to at least try!
The Leap of Faith
The scariest thing at this point was that thanks to my last job, instead of the six months salary everyone says you should have saved up before you go full-time freelance, I was probably about the same amount in debt. How was I supposed to start a business, pay my bills and not have a complete mental breakdown in the process with not just no money, but NEGATIVE money?!
Thankfully, since I had been freelancing for a while and I had actually set up Black & White Studios the year before (like I said, it had been on the cards for a while haha), I already had a few clients that I could work with going into full-time freelance.
I took those clients and I got to work.
The Best Decision I’ve Ever Made
This month, I will have been running Black & White Studios full time for a whole year. It has definitely not been easy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This time last year I made the best decision ever. I get to do what I love every day and do it in a way that works for me and reflects my values. I don’t regret any of my other jobs at all, even the worst, because they all made me who I am today, taught me something about myself and how I want to run my business, and gave me the strength and the experience to actually make it happen.
Today I get to work with the coolest clients doing the most amazing things, teach design school students typography, run design events for the creative community of Wellington and do things like writing this article and creating this blog so that I can hopefully help other people too.
The road to full-time freelance will look different for every individual, but I hope that hearing my story will show you that it’s possible and encourage you to take that leap of faith, even if you have to jump over some scary things to do so.