Studio Dotto
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News, articles and musings about creativity, inspiration and process.

To freelance or to not…


I’ve had a few conversations with recent graduates and creatives considering ‘going freelance’ and wondering if it will suit them. What are the fundamental differences between working for yourself or for someone else? After drafting a few email replies, I’ve written up a few of my thoughts here for your perusal. Hope it helps!

Full-time fun times

If you have just graduated, it will always be helpful to get some kind of studio experience, so look out for internships, freelance roles or a job. Remember that if you take a full-time job, you aren’t signing your life away and you don’t have to stay there forever. You may get lucky and get a job you love working on projects that you love. But the reality is that you have to start somewhere. It is pretty rare that even the most experienced creatives and the most amazing studios get to work on really fun stuff all the time. So keep that in mind! Use the less exciting work to pick up other valuable skills and then you can really enjoy the more fulfilling work. There are no ups without downs etc!

There are LOTS of really useful skills you can gain from working in an agency environment and it’s helpful to remember how important they will be when it comes to developing your career.

  • How to time manage effectively
    What are realistic lead times? It’s a bit pointless if you can create amazing work, but you can’t meet a deadline. Often one of the main jumps from education to working life is how fast-paced studio life is. The speed you have to turn work around can be a real shock to the system. But once you have this skill, it’s hugely valuable if you ever start working for yourself.

  • How to deal with feedback and rejection
    This is always pretty tough. And it takes practice. We are human, and as super-sensitive creative types, we’ve often poured a teeny bit of our souls into a creative response, so it can hurt if it’s rejected. What I would say is that, often (not always) when you end up changing or revisiting work, if you can put the initial rejection to one side, and look at things with a fresh perspective, you often end up creating much stronger work in the long run. Try and take a deep breath, and get a bit of space before you respond. Usually by the time you look again, your ace creative brain will have already started to think of ways to address the problem in a new fabulous way and then everyone will be happy.

  • How to communicate professionally with clients
    How to present your work in a way that sells your ideas and takes your audience on a journey with you. How to push forward something you believe in, when your client isn’t quite on the same page. Knowing when to back off and make compromises. And how to deal with difficult conversations, while maintaining a good relationship. These are all things that you can learn as you go. It isn’t always easy. I’ve made tonnes of mistakes. I’ll save those for another time though ;-). But doing this day-to-day will only ever be something that makes you into a better creative, and someone that people want to work with.

  • The money stuff
    Getting fees right, being paid fairly and knowing how to cost up a job is a thing of nightmares for most creatives. If you’ve at least had some experience with how work is costed out, budgets are planned in stages etc, it can only help you in the long run when you are figuring out how on earth to charge for your work.

  • One of the team
    One huge bonus of working in a studio is being part of a team. You get to work with lots of people with different skills and that can be lots of fun. Plus agency life often brings social perks that you don’t always get with working for yourself.

Freelance freedom

So, if like me, you suddenly get the feeling that you want to take a bit of a leap of faith, then hooray! go for it. Working for yourself allows you a lot of freedom, takes way those Sunday night dreads you can sometimes get, and eliminates the ‘treadmill’ feeling. But these are unfortunately replaced with a whole bunch of other horrors so it’s important to be armed with knowledge so you can make the right decision.

  • Starting out takes will power
    At first, no-one will necessarily know what you can do. If you don’t have client work or clients already, you have to work hard to build this up. When I started out, I had my portfolio and website up and running before I actually quit my job. I then contacted everyone I’d ever met, (design wise anyway). If you do this, make sure that you don’t do blanket emails as it never works. Send a note to a (named) person, with some details about why you are contacting them, and why you like their work. People like to hear compliments so its more likely to grab their attention.

  • Network, network, network
    The thought of networking used to filled me with total dread. But I needed some work so I forced myself along to various networking events with mixed results. I started to learn which kind of events worked better for me, and which didn’t. I also found that networking happened more organically by going along to industry events and talks where there isn’t a formalised networking format. In these cases, I didn’t even realise I was networking. I discovered that by chatting to other people with common interests, I started to meet some really interesting people which eventually helped lead to work or collaborations.

  • Create the work you want to work on
    Initially, you may have to pick up work that you don’t really want to do. We have to pay the bills and we can’t always afford to be super picky. But if you aren’t working on your ideal stuff, make your own projects and share them. People will start to hire you for the work that you put out there so share more of what you want to do and less of what you don’t.

  • Find people to talk to
    You don’t just need clients, you need a support network. So when you work for yourself, its really important to connect with people, mainly so you don’t start to lose your mind. Join a co-working space, head to industry events and start your own informal meet-ups. Even working on a coffee shop for a change of scenery will do wonders for your mood. Being able to talk to other people going through similar stuff to you will help you figure things out when you’re having a bit of a wobble.

  • Give yourself a break
    I’m the worst at this and I often have to really force myself to have a rest. When you don’t get paid for your breaks, it feels like you can’t take them. So its really important to get into a different mind-set. Try to save holiday/sick/break money so you can take a break guilt free. And remember that you are entitled to days off like everyone else. If you are having a tough time, its often when you need to have a rest. So be kind to yourself. And if you are having one of those days, maybe just ditch the work for a bit and try to celebrate the little wins. Things that have gone well, nice things people have said. That old job that you loved. Or switch on the out of office for a bit and go get some fresh air.

If you are seriously considering freelancing, there’s a great article over on Worknotes with lots more practical advice, or head over to Creative Boom for their no-nonsense tips.