« Back to Blog July 27, 2016 | Design Career

Thinking About Freelancing? (Some Practical Advice)

I left a job I truly enjoyed with people I loved to start Airship. It was one of the hardest decisions to follow through on, but one of the easiest to make.

I’ve always known that one day I would start my own business. When I was young I didn’t know what that business would be, but I knew that was my path in life. After getting my feet wet in the design industry and freelancing on the side for about 4 years, I knew it was time to make the leap.

Everyone has this vision in their mind about what working from home and being their own boss will be. I know I did. A lot of what I envisioned was true, but there were some things I wasn’t ready for.

So if you are thinking of making the leap into freelancing, these are the 4 best pieces of advice I can give before going full-time.

Freelance on the side first

Don’t quit your job. Yet.

You need to know that you can run this business before you dive in head first. Starting your company on the side without the pressure of it needing to fund you completely will help it grow into something that can.

Freelancing while working a full-time job is hard, no doubt about it. You’ll need to commit a lot of your free time to it which can be difficult. But without the experience of running your own thing on a small scale, you won’t be able to run it as smoothly on a larger scale.

By the time I took Airship full-time, I had my logo, website, business cards, accounting software, and (most importantly) my work process all sorted out over the course of the previous year. Lord knows what would have happened if I only had one or none of those things sorted out before going full-time.

Save Your Money

Start saving. Now.

I can’t tell you how much to save, but I’d highly recommend having at least 3-6 months of expenses saved up. Trust me, your early days will have bumps. It will take a while for your network of friends and family to realize you have started out on your own.

Getting business just naturally takes time. Being able to fund your business yourself during those early days is the most crucial thing. Even if you have a few jobs lined up before you quit your full-time gig, have this money set aside. If you’re lucky, you’ll never need it.

Expect The Unexpected

Now for the big, fat, bummer.

Freelancing can be incredibly stressful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s also the best job I’ve ever had, but it comes with a lot of unknown variables that can be difficult to adjust to. Freelancing isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

“But Tommy, I thought freelancing meant sitting around my house in my underwear having fun all day?”

It still shocks me how many people I meet think this is what my life is. There are many harsh realities that come with running your own business. They are a part of the job and I’d be foolish to not tell you about them.

Things are going to pop up that will stress you out. Learning to roll with the punches and take responsibility for everything that happens is all you can do.

A potential job you think is a done deal falls through. There’s a bug in the website you just launched or there’s a problem with the logo files you sent out. A check you’ve been waiting on doesn’t show up… again.

The point of all of this is to say that all your problems won’t vanish when you finally leave your job. Despite all of these stresses and annoyances, freelancing is still worth it. No job is perfect. Whether you have a boss or not doesn’t change the fact that you’ll have to do things you don’t really want to do. Just remember to keep your head on a swivel and be ready for anything.

(You also can totally take your sketchbook and some beers outside on a beautiful summer day and work there, so yeah, the stress is worth it.)

Just jump in!

And one final piece of advice; just jump in! You will never feel 100% ready to make this transition. If you want to freelance and you feel like you could make it work, go for it!

Make sure you have your ducks in a row. Be as prepared as you possibly can be, and then get ready for some curveballs to get thrown your way. Being resilient is the only way to survive.

You are going to make mistakes. Lots of them. But you are also going to get tons of little things right. Take the good with the bad and keep making things work.

There will be days when you look at your dwindling bank account and wonder why you left your safe and comfortable job to do this. But then there will be days when you see a client excitedly share your work on social media and then all the struggle seems worth it.

You can do this. You just have to try.

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