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Why I moved from agency to freelancing

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Becoming a freelance designer (or any kind of freelance) is not an easy decision to make. It’s pretty tough actually. You give up on things like having a fixed salary, paid vacations and stability in your financial life that some people love. But on the other hand, you have opportunities that you wouldn’t get if you were stuck in an office 40 hours a week.

It took me a few years and these 10 reasons, to realise why I did it.

#1. That «I don’t have a routine» feeling
That’s not completely true. I think we all need a routine or at least I need it, and I have it. The difference is that now it’s flexible, it adapts to my current needs and priorities that keep changing every couple of months. If I’m working on a time consuming project my routine revolves around it.

The project becomes my main focus and I reduce the time I assign to other tasks such as generating new leads, trying out new tools or reading (by the way, I said reduce, not stop doing it).

Now I have more free time? I just change the proportions. More networking, side projects and longer walks with my dog.

#2. I don’t have to depend on the agency’s clients
When you work for an agency you depend on their clients and this is a problem. If the agency is focused on a specific sector, you will work for the same kind of client every time and this will limit your potential.

Or even worse, if you don’t like the way the agency is managing the project (crazy deadlines, nonsense feedback, etc), the only thing you can do is shut your mouth and keep working.

#3. I can work at my own pace
One of the biggest fears every freelance designer has is financial stability. The fact that you don’t have a fixed salary might lead you to make stupid decisions, like taking on more projects than you can handle at the same time. You end up going through crazy periods where projects keep overlapping.

Add the unexpected delays each project has, the time you need for yourself and the effort you need to keep your business growing, means at the end of the day you just want to kill yourself.

For me working at my own pace doesn’t mean that I work when I want to. It means I try to plan every project carefully keeping these three things in mind:

  1. I need to set a buffer time in case the project takes longer than expected.
  2. I need time for myself.
  3. I need time to keep looking for future clients.

Planning a project carefully shows that you respect your client and you give him the time they need. Of course, this is not always possible because the client also has his own schedule, but I feel it’s something we can decide together. And worst case scenario, I have the next reason.

#4. I can (and I have to) say NO
If I don’t believe in the project, I say no. If I don’t like the client, I say no. If I don’t have time to do a good job, I say no.

When I started out as a freelancer, every time I said no to a project, I had a guilt trip. My parents instilled in me the culture of work. The more you work, the stronger, more responsible and by definition the better person you become. Something like that.

But also time has taught me to trust my gut and to think not only in the present but also in the future. Now I’m convinced every time I say no to a client, I say yes to having more time for myself and to be open to new and more interesting opportunities.

#5. I had get out of my comfort zone
This is super positive and so hard to do. When you don’t have a fixed salary you need to get out there and find clients. Which means you need to learn new skills related to fields you didn’t care about before.

Talking about money, establishing a relationship with clients or learning how to run your own little business are just an example and probably the most common ones. But I also found out that if I wanted to get involved in new and better projects, I had to learn more about what I already knew, find my niche and work hard to show what I can do.

#6. I decide which ideas I present to the client
I used to suffer a lot during my time in agencies. Endless brainstorming sessions, where every time you have something to say, it feels like you are feeding the Creative Director’s ego, who will in the end (almost) always go with his own idea. Tobias van Schneider has a really nice article on ideas that you should check out.

The good thing about deciding what you present to a client is that you need to get deeply involved with the idea and the project in general.

You are not just a designer making pretty stuff, you are creating valuable work that is going to have an impact on your client’s business and you need to be ready to present it, defend it and sell it.

If you do your homework, you will end up presenting work that they might like, or not, but at least it is going to be work that is thought-through, solid and consistent.

#7. I choose the people I collaborate with
Developers, copywriters, social media specialists, project managers, whatever… If the project requires more people involved and the client doesn’t have them, I’m the one with the freedom to decide who I want to work with.

I can set up the team I want and it doesn’t matter if they are in different countries or time zones. Good planning, a good workflow and good professionals, is all I need.

Creating a specific team for a specific project also allows me to offer a wider range of services even though I don’t master them.

#8. I get to know new people, businesses, workflows
This is so cool. It gives me a lot of new knowledge and understanding into how companies work. Every project teaches me something. Some developers want me to deliver the Sketch file whilst others prefer Zeplin. Some project managers love Asana, others go with Trello (all of them abuse Slack by the way).

And of course I learn a lot about the client’s business which is not only necessary to do my work, but also really interesting for my personal growth.

#9. I can work from everywhere
The fact that I’m not part of a closed structure, means I don’t have to go to the office every single day, giving me the opportunity to work from different places.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I work from a coffee shop or that when I go on holiday I take my work with me. Working from a comfortable place and keeping the work-life balance is very important and it affects directly the quality of my work.

What I’m saying is that this flexibility gives me the option of relocating to a different place (temporary or permanently), set up my office there and just keep doing my thing. The feeling of being trapped in an office is not there anymore.

#10. I can dream a bit
I know, it sounds cheesy but for years I have been asking myself the same question: «Do I see myself here for the rest of my life?»

Having a decent life as a designer in an agency is hard. If the agency is small there is not much room for growing. If it’s big, there is a lot of hierarchies and you have to be nice to everyone in order to climb up within the structure of the company. So boring.

The problem is that I love the work I do. And I don’t think I would be able to live without having something to design.

Working this way, gives me balance between having to take care of my business and doing what I love without selling my soul. And who knows, maybe some day I will have a little house in the forest.

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