Freelancing – surviving the first year


So you’ve decided to take that big leap of faith, and yes it is a rather large leap and it can have its highs and its lows but if you can ride it out you will start reaping the rewards of all of your hard work. After a year in business I felt that it would be great to share with you my experience and give you some of my top tips for survival.

I went freelance in September 2016 having worked as a greetings card and gifting product designer for 2.5 years in a studio and prior to that as a Graphic Designer. After years of industry experience and developing my design skills I felt that it was the right time for me to give freelancing a go. Everybody I spoke to about working for myself told me how hard the first year of business is and trust me it is bloody difficult!

From being in a studio environment surrounded by other creatives to being suddenly on your own at your desk can be very daunting. Who do you discuss your ideas with? How do you stay focused? Who do you learn from to develop your design skills further? How do you manage your workload and deadlines?

So here are my top tips for surviving your first year in business

-Have potential Clients lined up

-Have an awesome website

-Be Social Media

-Stay on top of your accounts

-Network, network, network!

-Stay Focused

-Count accomplishments, not just money

-Write a Business Plan

-Create residual income

-Get Featured

-Stay true to you!


Have potential clients lined up

I had a few clients lined up and meetings ready for when I left my 9 to 5. This meant I was not taking a complete leap in to the unknown and gave me some peace of mind financially.

Have an awesome website

Your website is one of your most valuable pieces of promotion. A well designed website will show potential clients just how shit hot you are at what you do.

Be social media

Social Media is a great tool for further exposure of your work. Regular posts of what you’ve been up to (work wise – not what you had for lunch in some swanky coffeeshop) with relevant tags can help grow your social media presence to an audience of people who are interested in and like what you do. It is worth having accounts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook Pages & Linked in as you never know who may stumble across your page. Use your social media accounts as a tool to direct more traffic to your website.

Stay on top of your accounts

I was not so disciplined with my accounts at the start of this journey. However, after letting it slip twice and then having to spend the best part of a day sorting these out taught me to stay on top of them. Excel is your friend, make sure you log all of your invoices and all of your expenses. It only takes a couple of minutes to set up an excel spreadsheet and a couple of seconds to record each invoice.

Network, network, network!

How will you meet potential clients if you are sat alone behind your desk? You can’t expect all of your clients to discover you online and send you a lovely email. There are many great ways to network, from networking mornings to going to events relevant to your industry, for example PG Live or the Illustration Fair. You never know who you will meet out in the real world beyond your desk and there is always the potential of referrals. Word of mouth can often be the best kind of promotion.

Stay focused!

At times when you have little or no client work on it can often be a time for panic! Where will my next job come from? Will I make enough money to pay the bills this month? Quiet times can often be the most stressful for any freelancer. However, if you use this time constructively it can benefit your business. I use “quiet time” to work on my own personal work, create new products, update my website, tidy up my desktop and look online for potential freelance work. I treat every day as a full day in my office even when I have no paid work on, otherwise I fear that I will just get sucked into a new series on Netflix.

Count accomplishments, not just money!

It is important to measure accomplishments when freelancing. This can be anything from getting a new enquiry to getting featured on a design blog. Remembering these little wins makes me keep faith in what I am doing. Recording accomplishments reminds me that I am doing a good job even if the money isn’t rolling in.

Write a Business Plan

The thought of writing a business plan made me yawn. I’m a creative individual, not someone who particularly enjoys writing an essay. However, I must tell you that writing a business plan was one of the best things I did! Shocking – I know! I wrote my business plan in February after 5 months of working for myself. It helped me understand many aspects of what I had been doing and what I planned to do. It gave me goals to work towards and highlighted the hard work that I had been putting into getting more work. Working out what you want to achieve and finding ways to achieve it can help release a massive brain dump of ideas. The business plan is not a bible to follow but a way to keep a track on what you are doing, what the measurable successes are and where to develop areas of your business. I will indeed be rewriting my business plan after this first year of business as it is such a great tool!

Create residual income

There are many great ways to create some residual income that may help you out each month with a little bit of extra earnings. With companies such as RedBubble and ArtRookie a creative can upload their artwork on to a range of products and gain an artist margin or royalty per sale without investing money in to stock, so it is a no brainer. This is one of the activities I undergo during my “quiet time” as I have so much personal work that looks great on T-shirts, Greetings Cards and Mugs etc. If you are happy to invest some of your own earnings in to product, then having an Etsy store or having a pop up shop at craft fairs can also be a great way to make some extra money. I post images of my products regularly on social media to direct consumers to my product. Promotion is key in being successful and if you are too shy to shout out about what you are doing, then maybe freelancing is not for you. You have to believe to achieve!

Get featured

There are many design blogs out there that feature work from creatives of all kinds of backgrounds. I was fortunate enough to have my personal project featured on a number of design blogs earlier on this year. Entering your work to eat-sleep-draw or Illustration Friday and other competitions is a great way of getting further exposure. Also, whilst you are scouring the web for features/potential work be on the look out for collaboration opportunities. Working with other creatives may lead to your work being featured as a collective. Win win!

Stay true to you!

The reason you have gone freelance is because you have a unique style and something different to offer your clients. Always stay true to yourself, don’t copy and don’t change your style for anybody! Stick to what you know, never take on a job that you are not suitable for, never lie about your abilities! Use that creative brain of yours to its full potential!

My first year in business has indeed been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and stressful at times. Though I would not change it for the world and I would encourage any creative who wants to give freelancing a go, to go for it! Just remember to..


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