Surviving 2009 as a freelancer
Posted in design,news by Mark on the December 22nd, 2009

To summarise for the lazier of my readers, 2009 has ended on a very lovely high point from 2008, which ended pretty grimly, as it did for many.

This is the first of a series of rather verbose rambles I intend to share, if they go down well there may be more.

It started very quietly, the end of 2008 was a quiet time for my work, several regular clients reassessed using freelancers, and other clients lost some of their regular work and simply cut back in all directions. It was in many ways simply everyone holding their breath to see if the money would continue to flow into 2009, which had a very nasty hiccup effect on various people, myself included.

So it was pretty scary stuff, I of course reached out to some of my peers for advice, wondering if I should consider weathering the storm in a permanent job, I was met with comments along the lines of “ahahaha it’s your turn to go through a recession now youngster” (cheers Gez), followed swiftly with a jibe at my age, as I’m headed with deadly speed towards my thirtieth. But foolery aside, after some slightly more sensible advice I decided to hang on with freelancing, (as I really do enjoy it – the flexibility, the highs and lows) and the work did indeed begin to flow again.

So after a slow start, 2009 became a changing year for my work life – going from working within a few regular client agencies who had supported me in my first year or two of business – to suddenly finding myself working directly with clients, which was full of new challenges (and pitfalls of course). Project management isn’t entirely new to me, but there’s room for improvement still, and I’ve had an uphill lesson in working and managing clients needs and expectations during the year.

Being fully involved in the creative process really has led me to produce far better work than when I’m involved towards the end or (as I’m sure some freelancers can sympathise with) when you work on a project only to be unable to follow the project to completion due to other commitments or the work being finished internally. Some designers prefer to be insulated from the clients, and whilst there are moments I appreciate the cushion between me and them, I’ve enjoyed the change and developing those relationships.

I’ve worked with a total mix of clients, and on a wonderful variety of projects. The quality of work I’ve been involved in has been much higher overall and on projects I can really feel positive about, in the arts and education sectors to name a few. All in all, despite a rocky start, 2009 has really started taking me in a direction I want to keep heading in.

Other freelancers and small operations have also become a source of both inspiration and a wonderful source of work, combining a healthy mix of skills to offer clients something really special has been something I can really be proud of.

With that in mind I’ve also continued to develop plans to combine my skills with Rihards, more of which will be seen in 2010, which is very exciting to me considering we’ve discussed the possibility of working more together for some years. Rihards developed Sreski, Upload Pie and SGN‘s site, while I crafted the look of them, all of which have been very well received, indeed all three have been featured on the very lovely siteInspire.

What else has helped me survive the year? Oddly enough I’d actually name Twitter, something I scorned when I first joined it, it truly is something you get more out of the more you put into it, and it’s compensated for the increased amount of work I’ve done independently this year. Prior to this year I mostly worked in design studios and creative departments, supplementing teams in a variety of roles, or working on specific projects. This year with so much work from home it does help you feel grounded, keeps a little of that studio banter going so you don’t completely lose touch with humanity.

But am I having a big victory dance about lots of direct work this year and more working from home? No, I hope not, it’s been different and exciting. Would I have done it from the outset as a freelancer? Probably not, my time spent in many different studios introduced me to a great number of designers and other members of the industry. It widened my own knowledge and experience for the better, giving me the ability to learn from their stories and experiences. And I’ve certainly had some opportunities work with some great brands and produce lovely work for clients I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I hope to keep the balance in 2010, whether working from home, or walking into a totally new agency like it’s your first day on the job especially when you often have to jump straight into the deep end.

I guess I still like the swim.

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