Note: This is a guest post from one our very own designers Florian Popescu, check out his logos here. Along with his design ventures, Florian has racked up a sizable portfolio of articles across the web through his gripping confessional writing, that answers any questions or self doubts designers may have. In other words, after reading him you’ll know if you have what it takes or not. In this article he tells the story of how he comfortably settled into the skin of fulltime freelance designer, as well as takes us through how to optimize your design crowdsourcing opportunity.
From humble beginnings…
I remember the finals of my first year in college when I first courted the idea of having my own freelance design business, with a focus on logo design and branding. It was an exciting idea that would become (and still is) a thrilling experience, both for me and those around me!
As a starting designer, I worked mainly in UX and web design. The transition to branding was easy enough in retrospect, the fact that I was still in school proved to be a helping hand. I had an Instagram account which provided several leads and I was creating content, documenting my journey on Medium and other blogs.
But it wasn’t enough. The efforts I put in were not netting me the kind of financial results that I desired, and so I tried my hand at several crowdsourcing platforms, thinking that I could spice up my income by operating on them. And honestly, it worked.
For those of you who are not familiar with the idea, crowdsourcing platforms offer business owners worldwide the chance of enlisting the services of a large number of freelancers who have the potential chance of getting paid by either doing part of the required work or submitting a proposal.
By interacting with these platforms and their business model, I learned more deeply about them as well as my preferred methods of working with overseas clients.
However to me, as the owner of a freelance design business, while I appreciated the income surplus I could generate on these platforms, I also encountered several challenges that needed to be accounted for.
Below: Some of my earliest creations when I was finding my design path in college
Profitability, Creativity, and Control
My goals were too ambitious…
Running a freelance design business is hard, as is any kind of business. But when it’s only you, the hard part of if accentuates. You have to be responsible for running entire departments and think multilaterally: from being in charge of the marketing strategy to being financially savvy, from practicing excellent customer service to providing outstanding design.
Control, in this context, is important, both for me and for everyone else looking to break into the design industry. The professional flexibility is intoxicating, but the risks associated with it make it profitable for very few of us. In the words of Seth Godin: “Only outliers make a living doing graphic design.” I found that to be painfully accurate.
Crowdsourcing platforms are sometimes portrayed as easy cash cows. But when you work with a middle man, on someone else’s platform, with someone else’s business practices, you lose a lot of that control that I was talking about.
For some, control is not that important. I heard (and still hear people) treating crowdsourcing like a kind of lottery, “If I can get this number of gigs per month, for this number of proposals/ approaches/ spec work done, I can live comfortably doing what you love!”
If playing the lottery is your strategy for mixing passion with money, you don’t have a strategy.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the idea of crowdsourcing. I think it provides clients with options and a healthy mix between their need to control the hiring process, and their budget management. Some platforms do it better than others and it’s a good thing that some freelancers can make a decent living working on them.
But my goal was control over my business. I wanted to have my freelance philosophy at work and my abilities measured without any middle man.
Make it worth it
One must imagine Sisyphus happy
If you as a freelancer ever felt like you rolled a massive boulder up a huge mountain, only to get so close to the summit, and then it rolls down, just so you can simply go back to where you started, you are not alone. I think this is just part of the business and you might as well get comfortable with it.
The first (and biggest) challenge an aspiring freelancer will encounter is consistency. Consistency in lead generation, in quality of work, in customer service, in the promotion of your services, and learning. The hours that have to be put in daily need be, if not long, consistent. This is the closest thing you get in life as a guarantee: if you consistently put out good work, at some point, someone just has to notice.
And from there, the massive boulder starts to roll itself.
The second challenge is the new ways clients will perceive your work.
In this marketplace, which people can enter regardless of their level of education or preparation, anybody with a working copy of Adobe Illustrator can come in. Few platforms screen for real talent, and it becomes easy for clients to choose what they think looks good without the opinion of an expert. If you are going to position yourself as an expert, your expertise has to grow proportionally with your competition. Your competition can provide all the options available now. What else can you provide?
The third challenge and perhaps one of the least talked about, is your stamina and resistance to stress. Can you keep up? Some people thrive in chaotic environments where every new project presents completely different challenges, and I have to say, without making those daily refinements it’s almost impossible to build up a work structure for yourself. The longest and highest-earning players in the world of freelancing and remote work have noted the complex mix of flexibility, continuous learning, and avoiding distractions you need to personally cultivate. The point is, doing this for a long time will net you small nuggets of success to keep you engaged along the way.
The fourth, and final one that I am going to mention is communication. You have to keep in touch with clients, peers, and mentors and make sure your skills improve daily.
One final note
Getting up every morning and knowing that I am my own boss, running the freelance business that I want with my practices at work gives me a satisfaction very few other things could offer me. I can only hope this little guide can inspire and point other beginning freelancers in the right direction, to a path of clarity and best practices.
Be sure to visit Florian’s home page at florianpopescu.com to browse the variety of the different design avenues he’s got his hands in