Build Something of Your Own: Create a Career
by Taylor Slattery | November 9, 2021
It’s a great time to be a creative. The internet has made it incredibly easy to start a business, find leads and sell products to customers all over the world. With so many new businesses, products, and ways of sharing them—there’s more design work than ever before. An additional result of the proliferation of no-code tools is that it has become increasingly difficult to stand out in crowded markets. It’s no longer enough to just have a clean, modern website and meet the bare minimums of a social media presence. The bar has been collectively raised, making a strong narrative and unique value proposition all the more important. As a result, more businesses have come to understand the value of design and its power to move the needle.
A large part of this move towards narrative-driven businesses is due to increased consumer awareness. People have become more aware of the impacts their purchases have upon the planet, and many are opting to make their voices heard by supporting companies with more responsible business practices. Despite the often higher price points of said companies, many are willing to pay this premium because they’re buying more than just a product, they’re buying a feeling. That new sweater feels all the better with the knowledge that it’s made from recycled materials and the people involved with its manufacture were paid a fair wage.
More consumers are beginning to understand that the transaction doesn’t start and end with the product, but that there are larger implications beyond—both on the resources required for its production and the people who make it. This interest in story extends beyond just large companies and products, trickling down all the way to where we buy our produce and grab our morning coffee. By supporting smaller, local businesses, people are able to see the product of their support in a more direct way as well as play a role in building their local economy and enjoy the sense of community that comes along with it.
This collective shift in taste and understanding that business is about more than just the product or service, but the experience and story that surrounds it, has made design more valuable—and good design even more valuable.
So appreciation of the field is growing, and there’s more work available than ever—what could possibly make you want to leave the security of regular work to set out into the unknown waters of the freelance world? Probably the same thing that got you into the creative field in the first place—the excitement of it. We each have a part of us that wants to chart our own course and explore the unknown, but bills or pragmatism cause us to muzzle this desire in favor of security.
Creative careers are about more than just a paycheck, though, and if that were all you were after you wouldn’t have pursued this field in the first place. Whether you’re looking for a job but can’t find anything in your area or stuck in a job with no room for growth, it’s entirely feasible for designers, regardless of experience level, to venture out on their own and build a career for themselves.
Beyond just the negative aspects of traditional employment that might have you curious about leaving, there are many enticing pros to freelance work that make it an appealing option. In regard to your personal development and creative growth, one of the greatest pros is your ability to choose your clients. You can choose to work on projects you find interesting with clients you want to build relationships with, resulting in projects you’re more invested in and better outcomes.
The flexibility doesn’t end at client selection either—you have complete control over your schedule and can choose to work as much or as little as you like. This is possible in part because unlike in a studio setting with a set salary, as a freelancer, your earnings reflect the amount of work you complete, rather than the time spent creating it, so you stand to earn much as you get faster at the job.
You’re also not limited to clients in your area—there are plenty of underserved markets just waiting to be tapped into, all it takes is a bit of legwork and the ability to overcome rejection. This brings us to an important point. This type of work isn’t for everyone and to navigate the world of freelance there are some additional skills beyond those required in a studio setting that you’ll need if it’s something you’re considering.
Leaving the comfort of steady work means exactly that—leaving comfort and saying goodbye to everything that comes with it. From this point forward you’re not just a designer, you’re a salesperson. This means you’ll need to sharpen your personal skills—you need to understand your value and be able to communicate it clearly. You can’t wait for the work to just show up on your desk anymore, because it never will—you need to leave your comfort zone and go find the work. Conduct research. Track down leads. Make cold calls. At times you’ll need to be competitive with pricing, but understanding your value means standing firm even if that means turning down offers.
Freelance work isn’t for everybody—it requires you to be as good of a salesperson as you are a designer, but if you find yourself in a career rut, you’ve always got the option to take matters into your own hands and build a career of your own.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.