12 Things I’ve Learned in 12 Months as a Freelancer

This post was first published in my monthly newsletter

It’s been a year since I decided to take a leap of faith and become a self-employed illustrator and designer.

This year has been filled with ups and downs, and I’ve learned a lot so far.

1. Consistency is key.

Now I’m sure you heard this already, I know I have! But one thing is reading about it and another is to know it from experience.

As humans, there’s only a limited number of people we can remember. Ideally, your name is one that comes to mind when someone asks, “Do you know any illustrators that can do this job?” Being present and staying relevant will help people remember you.

I believe a lot of the work I got this year came about from frequently showing up in people’s social media feeds.

2. Self-motivation is also key.

Being a freelancer and working from home, you can imagine how easy it is to hit that snooze button in the morning and stay in your pajamas all day. Especially when you have no clients depending on you. Trust me, I know! I’ve been there!

But, try thinking of having no clients as an opportunity. The opportunity to create for yourself the kind of work you want to be hired for! Creating your own projects will make you want to get up in the morning and be excited to be living your dream life. And it will pay off in the long run.

3. Be organized.

I’ve always been organized when it comes to work, because it came naturally to me and I didn’t have to work too much on it. But, organization means something different when you don’t have a boss telling you what to do nor a teacher reminding you when the next project is due.

One of the first things I did was buy a planner, which I’ve been using religiously ever since. (I’m now trying the bullet journal technique.)

I’m terrified of missing a deadline or forgetting to answer someone, so having somewhere I can write down everything that I need to do really helps. This way I don’t have to rely on my memory, I can rely on my journal.

4. Organized finances / organized life.

So, I told you I’m organized when it comes to work, right? When it comes to finances, the story is quite different…

Having your finances organized will help you know how much you earned, your main sources of income, where you spend money, how much you will need for taxes, etc. In short, it will help you answer the question: “Is my business sustainable?”

Not being organized with my finances is a major source of stress for me and something I need to get better at ASAP.

5. Diversify your sources of income.

As a freelancer, you shouldn’t really put all your eggs in one basket. Having different sources of income will help you find balance. If you’re a freelancer, you have probably heard of passive income and how important it is, especially in months when client work is scarce.

My main sources of income are client work, personal commissions, my etsy shop and my cell phone cases. But, I’d like to find more in the future.

6. You will feel lonely.

I’ve always considered myself as an introvert, so I didn’t think working alone would be a problem for me. Turns out it sometimes is. I don’t mind being alone most of the time, but I do miss having someone to talk to, share doubts and ask for simultaneous feedback. I miss making jokes.

To fight the loneliness, I try to work from cafes at least once a week. I’ve also been trying to meet people with a similar mindset or career. (You’re welcome to join me if you want!) Using a co-working space is something I sometimes think about, and if I find something small and affordable, I’ll consider joining it!

7. Saying “no” is hard but important.

This was one of the hardest things I’ve learned so far. Having something tell you they like and trust your work enough to want to work with you is one of the most precious things you can have. It’s hard to walk away from that. So hard that you’ll say “yes” more often than not, and suddenly you have more on your plate than you can chew — which will make you stressed and overworked. You will feel anxious at the idea of disappointing someone who trusted you.

But, ultimately I think it’s about respect. You have to respect yourself and your limits. And most of all, you have to respect the people who want to work with you. You should never give them less than your best. So, if you feel you can’t deliver work at your highest quality, just be brave enough to say “no.”

8. Find what makes you different.

Let’s be realistic: There isn’t really a shortage of designers out there. If you type “freelance designer” on Google, you’ll get 528,000 results. There’s a lot of us out there. And there are a lot of designers capable of delivering a project with results just as good as yours, so you need to find something that makes you unique, explore it, and let people know about it.

9. You shouldn’t always be working.

This one’s pretty obvious, right? So, why am I even mentioning it? Because I fail to follow it on a daily basis.

One of the perks of having a 9-to-5 job is that you’re often able to come home at the end of the day and unwind. That’s hard to do when all your business relies on you. Even when I’m trying to relax, there’s always a voice in my mind telling me what I have to do. What I find that helps me sometimes is making realistic to-do lists every day. When I finish all the items on my list, I give myself permission to relax ’till the next day.

10. It will take time to get to where you want to be.

When I started freelancing I gave myself a deadline: I was going to try it for six months, and if I couldn’t do it, I’d give up forever and try something else.

Let me tell you something, six months isn’t enough time! A year isn’t enough and I’m not ready to quit just yet.

11. Write down your goals and make plans to act on them.

Mine is to make a living out of illustration, being happy while doing it and making others happy with my work. But a goal without a plan is just a dream. (I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.) It’s important to make plans. They’ll tell you how to act in order to reach your goals.

12. Believe in yourself.

A daily struggle and something I need to remind myself of. One of the things that has helped me lately when self-doubt kicks in, is remembering the people who believe in me and have trusted me already. When I doubt myself , it’s almost like I don’t trust their opinion. That usually helps.

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