How I went from losing my job to being a profitable freelancer in 18 months

If you would’ve told me when I got laid off I’d have a profitable freelance design business a mere 18 months later, I’d have laughed at your absurdity.

Heck, I may have even snorted.

Losing my job = best thing ever?

Looking back, getting laid off was the best thing that could have happened to me. It forced me to take action. I couldn’t just put in my 8 hours anymore; I had to decide where I wanted my career to go, roll up my sleeves, and take myself there.

So literally the day after I got laid off, I started looking for another full-time job. That’s right, freelancing wasn’t even in my scope of career paths. And you know what I found out?

My portfolio sucked.

After 5 years of in-house design, I wasn’t impressed, and neither were my potential employers. The majority of my printed portfolio was college pieces!

I knew I needed to ramp up my portfolio, so I took a graphic design continuing education course that promised portfolio pieces at a local art college.

It was fabulous – not only did I create neat stuff, I also learned a lot and most importantly, boosted my self esteem.

I was reminded I am a good designer, and I can create masterpieces! (If you’ve never been laid off, it’s a real kick in the ego pants.)

How you can best prepare for making the switch to freelancing

  • Invest time in yourself. In what areas do you need to improve? Tackle a project that lies in one of your weaknesses. Brush up on your design techniques, bolster your self confidence, or learn the basics of business accounting through online resources, seminars, peers, and continuing education classes.
  • Save. There’s no guaranteed paycheck in freelancing. While you’ve got one, bank some of it for survival while you build your client base.
  • Create an awesome portfolio. Take a design class or do non-profit volunteer work. Make both print and digital portfolios – check out mine on Behance – and don’t forget to share work on Facebook, too. Think quality, not quantity.
  • Change your mindset. Profitable freelancers generally need to be focused, thick-skinned, self-motivated beings.

Moving Forward

Reunited with my mojo, I continued seeking out a new position, and I let EVERYONE know I was on the hunt: friends, family, Facebook. I joined LinkedIn and many job boards and spent a good portion of each day not only pursuing full-time leads but networking with peers.

Through networking I started acquiring freelance projects.

An old coworker with a friend in need, here.

A new LinkedIn connection with a project, there.

Within months I started to realize that I didn’t have time to work a full-time job!

How you can find clients

The most common question GDB readers ask is how to find design clients. Here are a few tips that served me well:

  • Get the word out. Even your third cousin twice-removed should know. I just sent my brand new business cards to 10 of my closest family members.
  • Show off your portfolio. If your non-design network is like mine, the term “graphic designer” doesn’t mean much. Once I started showing my friends and family my work, they were totally impressed…and started spreading the word.
  • Network! Like Preston said,“all the talent in the world will not help you if no one knows you have it…” (click to tweet)Join LinkedIn groups, respond meaningfully in peer evaluations, go to meet-n-greets in your area. Some of your best clients may also be your competition!

Getting Serious

By the end of the year, I realized this was for real.

Working for myself was putting food on the table and paying the bills. Wow! I didn’t even set out to be a freelancer!

However, I’d been (sort of purposely) procrastinating on some critical aspects of owning a business that I knew I needed to face. Little things, you know, like a business name, identity, goals, website, business cards, bookkeeping software, a license.

No wait, those are BIG things!

So how did I create a foundation (goals) for my business, choose an awesome business name, design a great logo, create business cards, and launch my website with a client-focused blog (oh, and enjoy a 2-week vacation) in less than 6 months?

I set aside time for what mattered to me. I know what you’re thinking – that I didn’t sleep, I’m lying, or I had no clients.

It’s true I worked long hours at times, but Preston’s book, From Passion to Profit, provided a road map and exercises to get me going quickly. And instead of playing video games (big fan) after a day of client revisions and conference calls, I sketched my logo or created website content.

Also, I hired a business consultant.

Remember why most businesses fail – because their owners don’t know how to operate a business. Not only does my business consultant prepare my tax return, he provides sage advice and wisdom backed by decades of experience. And he is awesome at QuickBooks.

How to make your freelancing business a reality

  • Schedule work hours for your business. Work for your clients, then work for yourself. For example, conventional wisdom says 30% of your work time should be devoted to marketing.
  • Stop making excuses. As the saying goes, “if it’s that important, you’ll make time.”
  • Get some advice. Snag a copy of From Passion to Profit, scour the GDB archives, start with the 50 best GDB posts you might have missed, hire a professional, and/or find a mentor.

Staying Motivated…and Keeping the Ball Rolling

Sometimes this is the hardest part. You work hard to get established and then have no idea what new progress needs to be made.

My goals this year (not to be confused with my overall business goals) are to publish new, client-focused content on my blog at least once per week as well as a source of passive income, and find cost-effective, creative ways to increase my client pool.

To achieve this I’ve developed a marketing plan designed to encourage existing clients to refer new ones and turn one-off projects into repeat clients. I’ve also launched my website and my first blog post.

How to take your freelance business to the next level

  • Set short-term goals. Yearly, quarterly, or monthly goals help you see progress and stay motivated to put your business in the best position.
  • Find passive sources of income. Preston is the king of the passive incometheory, and I subscribe to it. At some point, you’ll hit a plateau where you’re doing all the work you have time for (or want to have time for) and, without charging more, can’t increase your income. Enter passive income streams.
  • Stay educated. Workshops, continuing education classes, business surfing, and online tutorials are excellent ways to keep up on new trends, new software, and new techniques for not only honing your design skills but also every aspect of running your business.

What do the next 18 months look like for you?

Now could be your time! How do you make freelancing a profitable venture? What tips and tools do you use? Share your story and your opinions in the comments on this post!

This post was written exclusively for GDB by April Greer : April is a freelance graphic/web designer and owner of Greer Genius with over 10 years of industry experience. She has both design and programming skills, a rare combination of creative expertise and technical savvy. April prides herself on brilliant design and excellent customer service with a cheerful, professional personality. 
To contribute a guest post to GDB, click here



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