Hello Brave Ones,
This is follow up to Part 1 which you can find here.
I wanted to share more about my personal design career experience, so here are 5 of my biggest takeaways from both Freelancing and having a Steady Paycheck. Also, keep reading below to find out which company was the absolute worst to work for. Someone must have slipped me some truth serum today!
Full disclosure, this is a longer post so grab that chai latté and settle in.
1. Timing is everything.
There have been times in my life when freelancing made sense, and other times when a steady paycheck was definitely the way to go. I used to be really hard on myself when I felt I ‘needed’ the steady paycheque - I felt like an entrepreneurial failure - but now I am much kinder to myself. The fact is, for me, freelancing is more energy consuming (although yes, I actually do prefer to freelance) and it is much more of a ‘hustle’ lifestyle. There have been times when I have not had the physical or emotional stamina to deal with finding clients, chasing down invoices or working till midnight seven days a week. While it is not always like that, you have to be mentally prepared to put in serious sweat equity, especially if you are just starting out. Now if I were to freelance it wouldn’t be so energy consuming because I have a vast network of clients and an established, positive reputation in my industry. It gets easier over time as you gain more experience and build confidence.
2. It might not be just about you.
I have been married almost as long as I have had my design career. I met my husband Declan at my first design job ever (Designer at an Indie record label) and as a team, I have had to factor in what was going on with my his career as well as mine. He is also a Creative and has had a somewhat tumultuous career filled with his own growth lessons. Early on in our marriage we decided that if one of us was freelancing, then the other one had to have a steady paycheck. This reduced stress for us, especially during big life moments like when we had to get a mortgage, or when I had to leave my day job to grieve the loss of my father. We have tried to balance freedom and practicality - and that has worked for us. Similarly, if you are a single parent or have kids, that may drastically affect your decision to embrace freelancing or a steady paycheck. This is ok.
3. You are not really working for yourself.
It is all about the clients. The idea that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want as a freelancer, is a fantasy. Yes, you can have more boundaries and waaaay more control over your schedule and client roster, but you are always serving the client. They are the ones paying your bills and keeping you in business. You have to work hard to keep them happy. You do not work for yourself and at times it can be just as frustrating as dealing with a crappy boss.
4. You have to be good - if not great - with numbers and paperwork.
This is probably what trips up most Designers + Creatives and stops them from really diving into a freelance lifestyle. They don’t want to deal with numbers, or they feel they suck at it. So if this is you, my advice is simple - get good at it. Seek out help and information. Make the decision that you WILL be good with paperwork because you have to, and you CAN. It isn’t that hard. It is imperative that you know how much you are making and how much is going out the door. Don’t be an ostrich. Trust me, I made that mistake in the beginning of my career and it took years to course correct. Now, I am great with my bookkeeping (if I do say so myself) and I feel totally empowered. Because I know what I am doing, I also keep more of the money I make from freelancing. Win/win!
5. The freedom is real.
The freedom of freelancing really is amazing. When I freelanced, I loved being able to take a break for an hour at 11am to walk my dog, or step out to do an errand. I feel my life is more generally organized when I freelance, and I have definitely enjoyed being boss-free at times. If you are someone who cannot handle for one minute being told what to do, then likely this is a better career path for you. There is definitely that ‘supermaven’ feeling when you take full responsibility for earning your own income without depending on a day job or a boss.
Sidebar: If you are thinking of taking the leap and going freelance, I like the advice of Sarah Knight, author of How to Get Your Sh*t Together. She recommends taking the time (and discipline) to save up three months of salary before making the big leap into freelancing. She herself did this over a full year so that when she did go rogue, she had enough money to tide her over until her first client cheque arrived. Since it does take about three months to start a freelance gig, invoice the project, and wait for payment, I thought this was simple, sage advice. I wish I had done this myself when I was planning to go freelance.
On A Steady paycheck
1. It is easier.
Some might argue with me on this point, but in my experience, it is much easier to go in to an office, do the work, leave at the end of the day and collect a paycheque every two weeks. There is usually a more clearly defined schedule to stick to and there is definitely peace in knowing money is flowing consistently. You can essentially operate on autopilot and for many, that can feel less stressful. There is no shame in wanting this, but I challenge you to consider how stepping out of your routine may serve you. Maybe it is time to step up? Again, I feel there are times to stay in cruise control, and times to put the pedal to the metal.
2. It is not job security.
If you think your steady paycheck means job security, then you need a soap-opera style slap to cheek, brave one! A steady paycheck can be taken away from you at any moment. Businesses close overnight, departments restructure, and plans change. While you absolutely need to avoid living in fear of losing your job (that is toxic thinking), you need to take the advice of Marie Forleo and ‘think like an entrepreneur’. You must recognize your paycheque for what it is - earnings for a job done for the last two weeks. It may not last forever and an employer owes you nothing but a paycheque, so you need to consider a side hustle or another source of potential income. I tell my clients at nauseum they need MSI - multiple sources of income (but without burnout or struggle!). That can be from renting a room in your house, selling your art on etsy, or freelancing on occasion so you can build a small roster of clients. Take control of your career by being resourceful. I have done and it has served me so well. If I lost my job tomorrow, I know without a doubt I would be totally ok. Now THAT is true freedom.
3. There are amazing companies out there.
The idea that ALL corporate companies are greedy, evil and soul sucking is just not true. Listen to a podcast by Kendra Scott (one of my entrepreneurial heroes) and you will see that some companies really do value their employees. The trick is to you put YOUR needs first and to find a progressive company whose core values are in alignment with your own. For example, if you value family and your company doesn’t care when have a sick child at home, time to bail. I use this very basic example because unfortunately - spoiler alert! - many companies do not value your time and only care about the bottom line. I know this because I have worked for those kind of companies (the worst being Rogers - there, I said it! Ugg. It sucked all three times I worked there!). It may take time, but you can find a company that works for YOU as much as YOU work for them.
4. It can reduce anxiety.
As someone who has had to manage anxiety for my entire life and career, it is definitely correct to say that at times a steady paycheck has reduced my anxiety. This has been especially true when there was family drama happening that was beyond my control and I was under extreme emotional stress. I needed to go into that ‘autopilot’ space and have structure and routine. After a meltdown in 2016, I needed to go back to a day job and it was the best thing I could have done for myself. More on this in Part 3 coming next week.
5. It is more social and fun.
Working on your own or for yourself can be isolating. And for many, this is a deal breaker. Having a steady paycheck at a ‘job job’ means they are around people all day, have the chats at the water cooler and can head to the local pub with coworkers at the end of the day. It fills their cup. It makes them feel a part of something which in turns builds self esteem and confidence. Even as an true introvert, I get this. Definitely extroverts will have a harder time working on their own and will have to routinely commit to finding social outlets, such as networking events. But even as an introvert, there were times when talking to my dog became less than satisfying. While Dolly (our rescue dachshund mix) is the best, her little head nods were no substitute for a down and dirty Netflix chat with that hilarious girl in accounting who knows the deets on every show ever made. Circling back to ‘timing is everything’, there have been times when I needed this kind of environment and times when I wasn’t up for it. It is all about knowing what you need, and when.
So those are my biggest takeaways from a loooong creative career. Ultimately, my best advice is to do what is right for you. Don’t let anyone shame you into either going freelance or going the day job route. They don’t know what you need in your life, only you do.
And remember, timing is everything.
To your brave success,
Part 3 will reveal the brutally honest reason why I went back to a steady paycheck in 2016. Stay tuned!