5 years ago brand identity designer David Airey took the plunge and went freelance (the view below is from his Edinburgh, Scotland studio). This month he marked his 5th anniversary with 15 pieces of advice for those thinking of shifting gears and working from home. While the tips are certainly slanted to designers, there is lots of pertinent general advice so I thought I’d share the post in it’s entirety.
“This month brought with it my five-year anniversary as a self-employed graphic designer, so I’m taking the opportunity to offer 15 pieces of advice to those thinking of “going it alone.
1. Look at the big picture Creating a modern business plan will help you think through the hard issues.
2. Tell your friends and family about your self-employment You never know what contacts they might have. Those close to you will want to help.
3. You will lose potential clients because your pricing is too high But also because it’s too low. Whether you like it or not, the rates you set will immediately give others a perception about the quality of your design work.
4. Don’t stress about pricing Design pricing is something independent graphic designers struggle with at some point. The best way to learn is through experience, and remember, you can always negotiate your price down from your initial quote, but never up, so if in doubt aim high.
5. You will make mistakes We all do. Learn from them, and move on.
6. When wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically Along similar lines, if you receive a complaint, allow the other person to do most of the talking. People want to be acknowledged, and the more you learn about a grievance, the more you can do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
7. Compose your pitch Your pitch is a very brief description about how you will help your design clients, and is useful when describing your job to new acquaintances (without the risk of boring them into submission). The length should be somewhere between an elevator pitch and a dumbwaiter pitch.
8. Never stop learning Realise that in order to reach (and stay at) the top, you must never stop learning, whether it’s through recognised design courses, mentors, books, or other options. You’ll find a number of recommended reads here in my Amazon-powered design bookstore.
9. Publish a blog The readers you attract will prove to be an invaluable source of knowledge and help. My two blogs (this and that) are powered by the free-to-use WordPress. Here are some blog mistakes worth avoiding, and the WordPress plugins I use. An alternative to WordPress is MovableType.
10. Consider a partnership You and your clients can benefit when you work alongside those with differing skills — a web specialist or brand strategist, for instance. Just because you’re “going it alone” doesn’t mean you need to be the only person involved. When approaching a potential partner — be it for your entire business or for a one-off project — talk in terms of the other person’s interests. Would you say yes?
11. Encourage clients to talk about themselves A key element in all design projects lies in the information-gathering stage. Everything you learn can be used for the advantage of the project.
12. “A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.” A wise Chinese man once said that.
13. You will work with clients you don’t like Especially towards the start of your self-employment. With experience, you can learn how to spot troublesome clients before a project starts, and equally, how to spot the excellent ones.
14. Designing for committees isn’t a bad thing You can still achieve fantastic design results providing you know how to keep the process running smoothly. Chapter 8 of my book offers advice on dealing with committees.
15. Put the wheels in motion It’s time. People will tell you it’s not, but it is. The only thing stopping you? You.
Published on David Airey, graphic designer“