Only a certain type of person succeeds at freelancing. If you’re not that type of person, don’t do it. Here’s what I discovered what makes a freelance designer successful.
People who succeed as freelance designers….
Have more drive than the average person
All my life, the only thing I ever wanted was a steady, secure full-time role at a nice company. But the hiring managers saw that I’m not that type before I saw it in myself. One of them told me to my face: “Yeah Jamal, I don’t think you’re the type for a full-time role, you’re just too hungry to stay in a steady job.”
He was right. A year later he called me about a new gig at his company, and I couldn’t accept because I had moved from Frankfurt to San Francisco to work at WalmartLabs.
Successful freelancers don’t do it because they want to. Who the hell would want to take a risk like that? They do it because they have no other choice, and everyone around them knows it too. In the big 5 of psychological traits, they score high on conscientiousness — which means they have an internal motor that drives them to work hard and make things happen. If you put them in a forest with an axe, they’d start chopping down trees like mad. That drive to create gets stunted when you are in a full-time role.
Successful freelancers don’t do it because they want to. Who the hell would want to take a risk like that? They do it because they have no other choice, and everyone around them knows it too.
Value free time
Successful freelancers value being able to structure their own time. They are very good at structuring their time and making the most of it. When they work on full-time role, they feel constricted, like they could get so much more done if they didn’t have to come to this place every day.
Value creative freedom more than security
Successful freelancers value expression and freedom more than they value security. They value being able to build their lives exactly as they want it, and they see the opportunity of being able to do so as being much greater than the risk associated with potentially failing. They are good at organizing their own time and life and see full-time jobs where they have to compromise on that as an impediment.
Are quick learners
You need to have a variety of skills to be a successful freelancer. You need to be able to pick up on things quickly and be able to teach yourself a lot of the time, because if you are on this path, it is very unlikely that you will have a personal trainer who takes you by the hand and guides you towards mastery.
Good at marketing themselves and not afraid of rejection
A successful freelancer puts themselves out there. You need to do that, because if you don’t, you get no business.
I know that marketing sounds like a dirty word for many creatives. You think of sleazy used car salesmen, the wolf of wall street and those tacky instagram ads.
Above: Tacky Instagram Ad
Try to think of it this way: If people don’t know about you, they don’t know how you can help them. Marketing, at its core, is finding people that your services would be useful to, and telling them about it in a language that resonates with them. That’s it! Can you go out and find people that would be interested in what you have to offer, and can you tell them about why you’d be useful to them? If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you will fail as a freelance designer.
Think of marketing this way: If people don’t know about you, they don’t know how you can help them.
Don’t fit in anywhere else, or refuse to fit in
The truth about design freelancing is that a lot of people who work freelance, just don’t fit in anywhere else. Either because they are unable to fit in, or they refuse to give up a part of who they are in order to fit into an existing structure. They are strong-willed and a bit hard-headed. In the big 5 of psychological traits, they score low on agreeableness. Because of that, they often get fired from full-time jobs. Mark Cuban got fired from his first three jobs before he started his first business, primarily because he made decisions for himself rather than following orders that made no sense to him.
Marketing, at its core, is finding people that your services would be useful to, and telling them about it in a language that resonates with them.
Freelancers are entrepreneurs
The “entrepreneur” lifestyle is getting hyped like crazy lately. Seems like everyone is trying to sell the dream of being able to “Make it” by “working for yourself”.
But not everyone is an entrepreneur. If you are the entrepreneur type, you likely know that you are already. So go for it and stop being afraid, because a job won’t make you happy. But if that’s not you, then don’t try to be just because entrepreneurship is the newest thing to get hyped like crazy. Being an employee is a nice life if you can work at a good company. It’s a good path to take with your life and a steady, safe way to build wealth gradually.