How I Left My Full Time Job to Start Freelancing.

It’s been about 12 years since I left my well paid design job and went solo. I’m going to share how I went about it in the hope that it may help you if you are looking at making the leap into self employment.

Alternatively, it may help you decide you want to stay employed.

Back at school I did the usual GCSE’s and A-levels. Half way through my two years of A-levels I decided that I wasn’t really that academic and I just wanted to get stuck into working.

All I wanted to be a designer. I remember seeing designers and thinking how awesome it was that they got paid to create all day log. The school said that there was no future in design, which goes to show you should be careful taking careers advice from teachers.

I booked myself onto a graphic design course at college and in my mind I had pretty much given up on my A-levels. I think I finished with half of one in maths.

Straight from design college, I was snapped up by a small design agency near to me. It was awesome, I got to design all day long every day.

I spent about five years there and enjoyed it all. But there came a time when I suddenly realised that I wanted to be getting my own clients. I worked out in my head that I could make more money and have more freedom… or so it seemed.

Now, to set the scene at this point. I am getting paid pretty well, I am just about to get married and we are looking having kids at some point and moving house. So not a great time to start a business, but at the time I thought … let’s just do it.

Getting ready to jump in.

I wanted to get going right away, but I also realised that I couldn’t live on the hope of being paid for my first job.

I also didn’t want to wait until I had an abundance of clients because I knew that I would never get started that way.

So I found a mid way point which suited me.

Building a client base whilst being employed.

I’ll admit it. This was tricky. When you work hard 9 – 5, you have to be really dedicated to your vision of going solo to put the extra hours in.

I was… and so I did.

I found out that the best way for me to do this was to ask my friends if they had dads that had businesses. One of them did and I met him to see if he needed a website, or brochure … or anything for that matter.

I’m still not sure to this day if he felt sorry for me or he did need a website, but he commissioned me and I got onto it straight away.

I’ll admit I was really excited at this point that someone would pay me as an individual to do some work for them.

This happened a few times over and then I found that these people started recommending me to people they knew that ran businesses.

JUMP !!!!

This took about three months and at that point I knew this would work. It was still a risk, but it’s gonna work. My wife was supporting me and I knew I had the guts to make the sales and get the work done.

So I handed my notice in, we parted on great terms and I thanked him a great deal for teaching me all that he did.

Quickly learning to get clients.

Once I got started and set up my bedroom office, my tactic early on was to network. I went to breakfast meetings, night time meetings and anything going on to get my name out.

My offer at that time was really simple “i’ll create you a better brand and a better website”.

I didn’t have any clever marketing skills at the time, just raw determination and a knowledge that “I am good at this”…

I became well known locally over a period of time and also quickly adopted some networking online. This is about 8 years ago, so it was more about business forums. There was no facebook and linkedIn

In a nutshell… Good work gets you more good work. Create a great experience for the client. Over deliver where you can. Pester people for referrals…

there’s a TON more that I could tell you, and I will in the coming weeks on this blog…  I hope that is enough for now.

8 Responses to How I Left My Full Time Job to Start Freelancing.

  1. Great post! I love reading about the time freelancers make the jump. I too just recently made the jump a year ago! I’m in the process of building my “online hub” where I can hopefully pull in more traffic from my blog (Which is another great way to get more client work).

    I look forward to seeing more content!

  2. Hey David – thanks for stopping by and commenting. It is crazy, but that was quite a few years ago…

    In the meantime i’ve been back to my old school to tell them how i’ve got on.

  3. I am finding more of these articles that encourage designers to go out on their own and make it big. Although it is an ideal situation many designers coming out of school need to stick to a full time job. Not many have the business skills to make it on their own. Freelancing is more than drawing pretty pictures, majority of the work is finding leads, making connections, keeping customers happy and getting referrals etc.. So I discourage anyone who comes out of school to make it on their own. If this was the case in any field of study, then majority of the population would be working from home and running their own business.

    Also with experience comes age, so a young designer at his early 20’s trying to sell me design solutions will not win my business over an established experienced company, not to say that there are not clients out there that are looking for cheap design which sadly equals to younger designers. Again I am not generalizing everyone but the industry has become saturated with inexperienced freelancers that give other experienced freelancers a bad rap.

    • That’s a great point. We owe it to each other to keep the quality of our work high and our prices up.

    • I agree with this. However I didn’t read this like Chris was encouraging anyone to do anything crazy. And I would encourage anyone to follow their dreams if they think they have what it takes. He mentions that he had 5 years at a design shop before going out on his own. He just didn’t necessarily emphasize how much experience matters. I had exactly 5 years of full-time experience in when I went out on my own and I’ve done far better on my own. And that’s after leaving a good job at a large agency. I’m now 6 years in. And I’m very stable. But I could NOT have done as well without my agency experience.

      As far as inexperienced freelancers making a bad rep for the rest of us. Maybe its different in different places, but I don’t worry at all about them. My reputation is my responsibility. And so far its made the phone ring pretty much everyday the past 5 or 6 years. You just have to do a great job and provide a value.

  4. Amazing story! I can’t wait to continue reading it. I started freelancing at the age of 17, and I was pretty young and I really did some money. I still freelance in me free time, but it is awesome and I love the experience. I am still in college so I think I will have to work a couple of years in a company to acquire the necessary skills and after that I would be free, working for myself.

    Thanks for sharing your story

    • Thanks Nermeen. I would say it’s definitely worthwhile spending some time in a company to learn the business side of freelancing.

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