So excited to have this dynamic duo share their freelance wisdom with us! Breanna Rose and Jen Serafini are both stellar designers that have joined forces to create an online workshop for freelancers called Be Free, Lance. The workshop is based off of Bre's very popular column by the same name on her amazing blog. So basically - these ladies are total pros when it comes to doling out freelance wisdom! I think you will really enjoy this!
What made you decide to pursue a freelance career?
B: I've always wanted to be my own boss, but didn't necessarily think I could pursue it so soon. So upon graduating from design school, I started applying to jobs just like everyone else. After about three applications, I quickly realized that my heart just wasn't set on it and I wasn't even excited at the prospect of getting an interview! That's when I realized that I should give freelancing a go, since it was the only thing I felt so sure about. I proceeded to live in my childhood bedroom (thanks mom + dad!) for the next year or so and worked my butt off. Luckily, it paid off, and I haven't looked back since.
J: Freelancing was never something I knew too much about after college, because the focus was always on landing a big agency job. I spent 4 years in the advertising industry before realizing that my true passion was to work one on one with smaller creative businesses. I felt like I had built up enough experience to be able to give it a shot! Working in the advertising industry taught me so much about presenting to clients, being professional, managing photo shoots, etc. - that I knew I could apply those skills to my own business and clients. For 2 years I managed a full time job and freelanced after work hours, but just recently I took the leap and launched my own design studio - I couldn’t be more excited!
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
B: In the earlier days of freelancing, it was difficult to attract the sort of clients I wanted, long term. I did a lot of online networking (blogging, social media, meet ups, etc.) with other creatives in my niche, which certainly paid off. And over time, I was able to start saying "no" to the projects I didn't want and "yes" to the ones that I loved.
J: I’ve found that some of the best and most rewarding clients I’ve had the opportunity to work with has been through word of mouth. Networking can be so beneficial, because once people see your work and know what you’re capable of, they will remember you if and when a good fit pops up.
If you work from home, do you have any tips for being your most productive?
B: I'm one of those people who works best at home. Each and every morning, I have a short breakfast, and then dive into my routine. I've discovered that I work best in the early(ish) morning, so I try my best to capitalize on that everyday. If I had to commute, I would maybe loose some of that momentum that I get from working at home! The other biggie is setting boundaries. Things like not doing housework during business hours (unless my day is shorter), shutting everything down at a decent time, and not checking emails late into the evening. Those are just a few things that have helped keep me sane!
J: Although I spend some days on site or working out of coffee shops, the majority of my time is spent working in my home office. I think getting yourself into a routine can be one of the easiest ways to be productive, as simple as that sounds! I wake up every morning, walk to get a cup of coffee, take the dog out, and then settle into my chair and work for a few hours. Then I take a break again at lunch and come back to work for the afternoon. I try to go for a run or a quick workout at some point as well, which is a great way to break away from being stationary for so long. It clears my head and gives me new motivation to get back to work :)
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
B: Patience. In the beginning, I had all of these high hopes that I would land amazing clients right away. But that couldn't be further from the truth. I had to put a lot of time + effort into honing in my niche, perfecting my portfolio, and discovering who the right client type is. While most of my projects are with "ideal clients" nowadays, I'm still not totally there. That's where patience is key. If you work hard and do good work, the right clients will come your way!
J: I think I have to agree with Breanna! Especially since I’m still new to doing this full time, I feel like I always want to get to the next point, show new work, finish a project, etc. It comes from a good place (of excitement!), but I know that being patient will pay off in the long run.
What is your favorite thing about being a freelancer?
B: Although this is 100% cliché, I absolutely love the freedom freelancing provides. I'm able to define everything -- from how I structure my days, to who I work with, and my entire process, too. Plus, it doesn't hurt that you can work from anywhere or take days off if need be. Because really, there's nobody upstairs telling me I can't go on a cross country road trip or simply read a good book on a Monday afternoon.
J: Although I’ve only been doing this full time for a month, I can say one of my favorite parts about being my own boss is being in complete control of my success (or failure). No one can decide my path for me except me, and because of that I feel more motivated than ever. I’ve always been the type of person who likes having control over the way I work and the work that I produce, so this allows me to really put my best foot forward every day and every project that I’m a part of.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
B: For the past four years, I've done almost everything myself. I don't use any fancy apps for bookkeeping, project management, or invoicing, because they rarely accomplish everything I need. Instead, I stick to the basics: gmail, google calendar, and excel sheets -- and tailor for my process. My tip, though, would be to seek help when you're feeling overwhelmed and can't handle it on your own. For example, if you're not as organized and find bookkeeping difficult, then maybe it is best to find an app that can help you! The only thing I outsource at this point is accounting. Luckily, my dad is a tax guy and keeps me on my toes!
J: My friend Jack told me about Harvest, which has been a game changer for me. From invoicing, to tracking time, to taking photos of receipts and keeping track of expenses, it does everything! I recommend finding what works best for you - there are so many options out there and depending on what you need most, you’re bound to find the perfect fit. We actually have a great resource list we’ll be sharing for stuff like this in our upcoming Be Free, Lance course :)
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
B: Setting boundaries is a must! While some freelancers feel okay blurring the line between life and work, I'm definitely not one of them. Because really, if I didn't set clear rules, I would work all the time. And that's no fun! You've gotta treat yourself + enjoy life, too. That said, I never work in the evenings or on the weekends, unless it's an absolute emergency. Whenever I'm done for the day, that's it. I shut the door to my office and go enjoy the rest of the evening! Same on the weekends.
J: A lot of times when people become their own bosses, their first mindset is that it’s sort of a free for all. I think when you treat your job like that, that’s when the lines get blurred and you find yourself overwhelmed, working over time and not keeping in mind separating work from personal obligations. A lot of freelancers work best at certain times of the day, and that might be late at night or early in the morning like Bre - the important thing is to acknowledge that and build your schedule around it, this way you make time for other things in your life besides work!
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance designer are:
B: persistence, willingness, and confidence.
J: drive, motivation, discipline