What I've learned in a year as a freelancer

This post was first published in my monthly newsletter

It has been a year since I decided to take a leap of faith and decided to become a self employed illustrator and designer. This year has been filled with ups and downs and I've learned a lot so far. In this post I share a bit of what I've leaned 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 other 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 staying 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, 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’s the next project due.
One of the first things I did was buying 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, which are your main sources of income, where did you spend money, how much will you 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 probably heard of passive income and how important it is especially in months where client work was 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 528000 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 and 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 6 months, if I couldn’t do it I’d give up forever and try something else.
Let me tell you something, 6 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 have 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 is almost like I don’t trust their opinion. That usually helps.

how can cafe working help you be more productive

photo from  Tania carvalho

photo from Tania carvalho

When I started working from home I realized I’m not as focused as I thought I was.
I get distracted quite easily and if I didn’t seem like much of a problem when I was only doing it on the weekends, it sure is when all your income depends on it.
Add that to the fact that working from home can feel quite lonely sometimes and you get the reasons why I added working from cafes to my weekly routine.

What kind of work can you do?

As an illustrator, I usually need a lot of space and tools to work. That's not ideal when you want to work from a coffee shop. But, if you're a freelancer you know that there's a lot more going on behind the scenes, other than the actual work you're usually hired for.
What I find works for me is doing the tasks that I find myself procrastinating the most when I’m at home and that doesn't take much space. I usually do all my written work from cafes. Everything from blog posts, emails, budget requests are usually done in the morning while drinking a nice cappuccino at a coffee shop.
I find that my writing is slowly getting better because I now take specific time to work on it. Sometimes I can also do some initial sketches that don’t require the computer. It depends on what I need to do that week.

Reasons to work from cafes when you’re a freelancer

It's inexpensive
Co-working spaces are a nice option for freelancers but depending on the places, locations, and commodities it can get quite expensive. If you can’t afford it right, cafes can be a cheaper alternative and with a delicious breakfast.
Less distractions
It may seem weird but I find it less distracting to work from a coffee shop where everyone is doing their thing than from home where there’s always something to do or something to clean.
Getting out of the house
Ever since I started working from home I need to find reasons to get out of the house. I never really spend my day working in my pajamas (I have to walk my dog everyday) but there are days where I don’t do more than that. Adding the cafe work to my routine gives me a reason to get dressed and out of the house, new people and different sceneries are good for the mind.
Helps to socialize
I haven’t met anyone while working from a cafe yet but I know people who have. But sometimes, instead of working alone I get together with a friend and instead of being alone we make each other company.

Tips for cafe working

Create a routine
Cafe working is now part of my weekly routine. The number of times I do it each week depends on the kind of work I have to do. But I’ll do it at least once. Having that as part of my weekly routine gives me something different to look forward to.
Have a topic in mind
When I head to a cafe I usually already have in mind what I need to get done. This helps me stay focused and I know that when that’s done, the “cafe work” part of my day is done.
Charge your laptop
I know this isn’t the same for everyone but I find it works perfectly for me. If my laptop is fully charged I won’t have to worry about sitting next to a power plug and I also know exactly how many time I have which makes me get focused easily.
Choose accordingly
Some cafes are busier than others. Some have bigger tables, others don’t have wifi. So if you have some research to do, maybe good WIFI is important but if the internet will get you distracted, not having wifi is probably a better option.
Try to think of what you need before choosing your spot and try to used a few different places and switch between them so you never get bored.