My First Year of Freelance… Kind of.

Credit: Ameena Rojee

Credit: https://www.ameenarojee.co.uk/

 

In the Beginning

This time last year, April 2019, I quit my job. Not in an, ‘I’ve found a new opportunity which I think will be good for me’ kind of way. More in a, ‘I can’t keep doing this. I’m at rock bottom, I hate my life and it just isn’t worth it anymore’ sort of way.

Nine months previously I’d been made redundant for the second time in my career. I know right… there’s a bit of a pattern emerging right now. However, at the time it was a perfect opportunity to do my own thing. I was placed on gardening leave for a month and I was certain I was going to go freelance as it was something I’d spoken about for months leading up to that point. I didn’t do that though. What I did do was go into immediate job hunting mode as if I was some kind of robot from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and it was pre-programmed as a fail-safe mechanism. I made a schedule. I had a new website, PDFolio and CV ready in two days and I found myself a new job offer within five. Which I accepted.

 

Portfolio

 

See, I hadn’t given myself any time to let the initial storm subside and as a result, I hadn’t given myself any time to think about what I was doing, or what I wanted. Something which in hindsight I would recommend everyone does, and also something I hope the current Corona Epidemic will help people see the worth in. Slow down, think and reflect. What do you want?

Anyway, moving forward again nine months my mental health was awful. I resented myself enormously for not leaping to being freelance when I had the perfect opportunity. My ability to handle my ADHD had become increasingly difficult. The studio dynamics of the agency I was in had slowly become worse and worse, and the culture had become unbearable. I had begun to dislike designing full stop. Something which I never saw happening at all in my life. I made it to Christmas which was a welcome break, and after four more months of feeling trapped and lost I decided to quit and handed in my notice with the least amount of savings I had ever had, and no real plan. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this course of action to anyone looking to go self-employed but sometimes we move faster by sticking our feet into the fire.

I instantly felt like an enormous weight had been lifted. If I was going to fuck up then it was on my watch, not someone else’s. I had the power to make myself happier now and make choices which were best for me.

Autonomy is a powerful thing. Giving staff more control over their schedules, whether they work from home, or what hours they work is something which I’ve seen have incredibly positive effects on teams and is something I believe a lot of people in management could learn from and try to adopt. A good culture isn’t Friday drinks and a fucking ping pong table, and there’s no point getting your staff drunk every week if they still feel horrible after the hangover’s gone away.

My First Gig

 

Print design for Vice UK announcing their 'Make the World Greta Again' documentary

 

My notice period was four weeks but luck was on my side and the then Senior Designer now EMEA Art Director, Chelsea, whom Id had coffee with a month previously got in touch asking if I could come in and work for 3-4 weeks on some project. From this, I managed to wrangle my notice period down to a week and left. I finished work as an agency designer on Friday, registered as a Sole Trader on Saturday and started working as a Freelancer at Vice on Monday.

I won’t go into loads of detail about what occurred at Vice but two things did happen. I was given much more responsibility to get work finished, and much less hand-holding than I’d experienced at the place I’d left. While I was at my previous agency it seemed like there was never any trust. There was almost an atmosphere of people not being able to do something and because of that, you started to doubt your own abilities. As a freelancer, it was assumed you knew what you were doing which was a welcome change.

 

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The second thing to happen was I grew to love design again. I still hated last-minute amendments of course and having to change typefaces five times before sign-off, but I’d spent months having all the creativity sucked out of me and all of a sudden I was allowed to be creative, experiment, actually use my fucking imagination and not just have to utilise the usual status-quo of ‘Pinterest will do’.

To make it clearer what I was going through/had gone through. I fucking love being creative. As someone with ADHD creativity is the only thing I’ve ever naturally been adept at. Maybe it’s how my brain’s wired but being able to imagine the impossible and make it a reality is the best feeling. So to get to a point where I hated that part of myself was incredibly upsetting and demoralising. What do you even do with your life when you no longer want the thing you’ve always enjoyed?

Glug Events

While working at Vice I was approached by Glug Events, and this leads me to explain why I’ve said ‘Kind Of’ in the article title. I’d been to a few events hosted by Glug and had negotiated discounts for members of The Designers League (TDL), which at that point I’d been helping to build for four years. They wanted me to come on board a few days a week to help grow their community and audience. For me this was a win, win. I received a level of regular work and income while being able to grow my own roster of clients and I could get myself in front of agencies, directors and brands through Glugs network. This is why I say I’ve kind of been freelance. While a lot of my income still comes from my own clients, I have the security of work from Glug to fall back on if needed.

 

#protestbydesign

Credit: https://www.meorme.com/

 

There are definite pros and cons to working on a part-time basis while freelancing. As mentioned you have income, and job security, and also the benefits which come with that. On the downside, it is naturally much harder to get larger projects when you only have a certain number of days a week to be able to focus on them. For myself working as Glug has given me the perfect balance. I can pursue my own work, and keep that love for design alive, while also flexing my muscles, and learn skills in other areas commercially, such as creative strategy, marketing, and business development. I’ve also been able to help develop projects which have received international press, and attention, such as ‘Protest By Design’, or more recently ‘Grime Ballet’ which, in collaboration with Box Park, looked to break down stereotypes around Grime Music and Dance.

My advice to a lot of creatives is to always make sure the pros outweigh the cons in any decision you make. Whether those pros are obvious to an outsider is redundant. If the decisions you make helps you progress as a professional and a person then it shouldn’t matter how it looks to other people. Not fully committing to being freelance, and remaining at Glug might seem strange to some, but for me, it makes the sense for where I’m at in my life currently.

Along with Glug, however, I have kept working as an independent creative and have been lucky enough to be given a steady stream of work from several clients the last year. I have even got to the point now where I’m having to turn down work or outsource to other creatives. Something to always bear in mind before going out on your own is that it’s definitely 70% whom you know when it comes to acquiring work. So putting the effort into networking, talking to people etc can give you a huge head start when you decide to take the plunge.

 

Talking About Me

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Credit: http://www.samholtphotography.com/

 

Another thing I got to tick off the bucket list was to do a talk to a bunch of strangers in a crowded room. I’ve always wanted to get involved with doing talks, workshops etc which was hard to achieve when I was a full time, studio designer as I never really had the flexibility or time to do anything.

The hosts of The Design Kids London (Charlotte, India & Anoushka), asked me to create talk around the themes of Failure. Something which by now you can see I’ve experienced a lot in my career. Two redundancies, quitting one job, a constant struggle with ADHD and mental health. I created a talk which told people to treat failure like it’s the most important thing in your life, to embrace it learn from it and make it an ever-present part of your creative process. We can’t progress if we don’t fail.

This opportunity only presented itself because I had given myself the free time to network, to meet people and because of my involvement with Glug I began chatting to the girls at TDK London. and the whole experience was really rewarding. I also have another talk coming up but I’ll announce that next week.

 

Lecturing

Another opportunity I’ve been able to undertake since quitting my job is to become a lecturer. I was approached in November 2019 to lecture at Hertfordshire University on the Graphic Design course thanks to past students signing my praises. Something which has always been an ambition of mine. While Lecturing I’ve mainly taught first, and third years, both in-person and more recently digitally and have loved every moment of it. I’ve always enjoyed teaching and mentoring. It might be why I’ve involved myself in so many online communities and have built my own design practise around community-centric products, and branding. While it hasn’t been smooth sailing the last few months I’m looking forward to what else I can learn from the experience.

 

First Year Work - Hertfordshire Univeristy

Conclusion

So that’s my last year in a nutshell and it’s been a bit of a crazy ride. I’ve won work, lost work, taken on opportunities that have paid off and some which haven’t. The main thing is that all these decisions have been my own. I’m no longer working to build someone else’s dream. I’m working with other people to build my own, and whether that means I work within a team or work with my own clients the decision is mine. I’ve learned what I want to achieve and the future has never looked clearer.

If I hadn’t chosen to leave my job last year. A job where I knew I wasn’t happy to find my own path I would never have grown as a professional or an individual. I wouldn’t have become friends with some of the creatives I revered when I was a student, I wouldn’t get to stand at the front of a class of 30 students and I may never have realised what actually makes me happy.

I’ll be honest. It hasn’t turned out exactly how I imagined. There have been low points and yeah, some of my choices may have slowed my overall progression. However, I now have a plan for what I want to achieve over the next 12 months and I’m currently repositioning myself around what I actually enjoy, whom I want to be and I’m making strides to turn these actions into a reality.

It’s a scary thing to go out on your own but I can say something with certainty now, more than ever. It’s worth it.

Credit: Ameena Rojee

Credit: https://www.ameenarojee.co.uk/

Key Takeaways

Trust your Gut and Take Chances.

Mental Health ALWAYS Comes First.

Make Friends and Network Whether You Have a Job, or Not.

Make Sure the Pro’s Always Outweigh the Con’s

Opinions Are Like A-Holes. Yours Is The Only One Which Matters.

Don’t Become Defined By a Series of Chances You Never Took.

It’s Your Life. Live It Your Way.

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