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HOW I BECAME A FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER

By Kathryn Wheeler / December 30, 2018 / 0 Comment

In my last post, I wrote about how and why I decided to start my own business. Since then, I have been researching, analyzing, and continuously changing and improving the way I go about running Kathryn’s Design Shop. And I wanted to share a little part of what I learned.

I recently heard that there is a fairly large difference between running a design business versus freelancing full-time. Hitherto, I have been calling myself a business owner, entrepreneur, etc. While I still believe I qualify as a self-starter, Kathryn’s Design Shop is technically the DBA name I work under as a full-time freelancer. In this post, I’ll discuss the differences between a design business and design freelancing – and explain how I came to be a freelance graphic designer.

SO, WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

The last few weeks I have been reading books and watching YouTube videos to get advice and expert tips on running my business. After about the third book, I started getting worried that not everything I was reading applied directly to what I’m doing (or want to do) with my business. Thankfully, I came across Roberto Blake’s YouTube channel. One YouTube video in particular stood out to me. In this video, Roberto explains the difference between starting a graphic design business and working as a freelancer full-time.

Essentially, a design business is run like a design studio or agency. Meaning, you are the owner and you either have employees or outsource some of the work you need done to others. An owner would typically do a lot of the work, but also worry about payroll, outsourcing, etc. According to Roberto’s definitions, a design business owner should have the ability to make it through a week (or even a month) where you don’t have any clients. As a design business, you have a cushion from either a small business loan you took out, or a comfortable savings from previous work to back you up, etc.

As a freelancer, you are (in most cases) on your own. You’re working either as yourself or under a DBA (Doing Business As). From designing to accounting to marketing.  all the work lands on you (rather than outsourcing or hiring employees). And as a freelancer, you’re only getting paid as much as you work. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a large client or a handful of small clients on monthly retainer – you’re constantly marketing and applying for new gigs while also completing the work for your client(s).

Based on the above definitions, I actually am considered a full-time freelancer. This difference might seem insignificant to some, but realizing this has helped me focus on what I want to do with Kathryn’s Design Shop and how I can go about doing it better.

Although the two are vastly different, I believe you can go about the business aspects for both in a similar way. For example, both a business owner and a freelancer DBA [insert your name here] should write out a business plan, organize your bookkeeping and accounting, create a website, implement a marketing strategy, etc. The differences are in the whys and hows.

For a design business, you might need to take out a loan or get an investor, or ask to partner with another person or hire employees. This is why it’s important for a business owner to write a thorough business plan and either organize their accounting or outsource their accounting to a professional. For a freelancer, an official business plan might not be required – but I would highly recommend writing one just for yourself. It helps you think about who you want to be your target audience, how you’re going to market yourself, and can provide estimates on how much money you can or want to make. Knowing the answers to the questions a business plan presents will help you in your website creation and marketing strategies, regardless if you are a business or a sole freelancer.

HOW I BECAME A GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Now that I identify as a full-time freelancer versus a design business, I can clearly see how I came to become a freelancer — and where I want this path to lead.

I have been working on Kathryn’s Design Shop as a side hustle for over the past year. At first, I worked my normal full-time job (as in-house graphic designer for an IT company), and took on side freelance projects for extra income. Then, as I gained more freelance clients, I began to imagine making my income solely as a freelancer.

The first step I took was to apply for a DBA and EIN. With these, you can open bank accounts under your business name. This was important for me because I am not the best money manager, and being able to keep my day-job paychecks separate from my freelancing income was immensely helpful. So, for a few months I worked full-time and freelanced as Kathryn’s Design Shop.

During these months I wanted to take my freelancing side hustle full-time, but I was afraid of losing my steady paycheck and (very generous) benefits. However, life happened and presented an opportunity I felt I had to take (despite some people worrying I was making poor decisions).

In May 2018, I had a two-week vacation to England planned. I had asked my manager months prior if it was okay to use up all my time on this vacation, and everything was set. Then, unfortunately, a couple weeks before my planned time off, my grandmother got sick and was hospitalized (edit: she’s okay now!). She lives out of state, and I was the only person in my family with a flexible enough schedule and the means to go visit and take care of her for the week she was in and out of the hospital. While my full-time job would have allowed me to take this spontaneous time off unpaid, they were, understandably, skeptical about me using all my time off before we even hit the half-year mark.

As I drove the eight hours to Rhode Island, I was a ball of nerves.I’ve driven the route to Rhode Island before, but this trip was long and taxing. I wasn’t sure how well my grandmother was doing, or if she would end up needing me there to help for longer than a week. I didn’t know how my work was going to handle all this time off I needed – and my request to work from home full-time was already rejected months ago. At the time, I wanted to be anyone but me and certainly didn’t want to make these adult decisions myself.

After multiple long discussions with my family and boyfriend, I decided that I needed a job with flexible hours and the ability to work from home or remotely. A job where I didn’t have to ask – or beg – for time off for vacations or family emergencies. I needed to be my own boss.

Since I live (and share expenses) with my boyfriend, and had the support of my immediate family, I decided that if there was ever a time to jump head-first into freelancing full-time, now was it!

So, during my week away at my grandmother’s house, I put in my notice to my job, sat down and organized my finances, and started to contact my current clients for additional work and look for new ones all within a couple days. I went from an anxiety-ridden employee to a an anxiety-ridden (but happier!) freelance graphic designer.

Fast-forward to a couple months later, and I’m working on a business plan, gaining new clients every month, and thoroughly embracing and loving the challenges that being a full-time freelancer presents.

If you have your own story about how you became a freelancer or business owner, please share in the comments below — I’d love to hear about it!

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