How to balance freelance life as a graphic designer
Freelance life is a popular choice for graphic designers, you get to be your own boss, work to your own schedule and have the space to create your own artistic license. You can also work according to your peak motivation hours and fit in everything else in between – bliss. Except in reality, you’re either struggling to find work and feeling defeated or overworking and burning out. It’s not easy.
Whether you’re new to freelance life or experienced, in a rut and looking to switch things up, we bring good news – it is possible to create a balanced freelance life as a graphic designer. Follow these steps and not only will you improve your work life balance, you’ll be more successful doing work that you love, without cutting into your “you” time.
1. Use freelance-friendly tools to manage project time
Your time is valuable, so learn how to manage it effectively. Just like Rule 34 on the internet, if you can think of something, then there’s probably an app for it. Fortunately for freelancers, there’s a whole catalogue of productivity tools that can be downloaded to your desktop or handheld devices – and many of them are free.
Master procrastinators may want to try out the Pomodoro technique, which breaks down projects into manageable intervals. 25 minutes of work is rewarded with a five-minute break, with a longer break rewarded after a certain number of sets are completed.
Are you a perpetual clock-watcher, or nervous about fitting multiple clients’ work into one day? Give Toggl, the time tracking app, a go. Microschedulers will love Trello, which allows you to map out your entire day – and assign tasks elsewhere.
Naturally, these different tools will have different effects depending on the kind of worker you are. But each one is designed to help manage workflow, which will help you keep track and balance your time between deliverables and life. Don’t max yourself out, and make sure you set aside time for social or passion projects. Nobody actually works a full 8 hours anyway.
2. Stop pitching, start becoming “referable”
Now you may have a solid flow of work coming in, in which case feel free to skip to part 3 (no, come back!). Don’t move on just yet as nobody is immune to things going Pete Tong, and you’ll want a plan B in case things go south.
Stop wasting time with unpaid pitches and cold emails and start meeting more people in person! Whether you want to diversify your portfolio (because putting all your eggs in one basket is incredibly risky for a freelancer), find work, or meet fellow creatives within your industry, expanding your network is the number one priority you should have as a sole trader. Start the groundwork now, and you could find yourself being referred while you sleep, or while you’re keeping busy with all the busy things that busy freelance bees get up to.
Even if it’s just for an hour or two a week, set time aside to update your LinkedIn, Behance or Artwork Bazaar profile, improve your portfolio, or research and go to relevant networking events. Even a day spent in a coworking space is beneficial – you’ll avoid the trap of freelance isolation we all inevitably fall into at some point, and instead boost motivation and give you a sense of belonging. You’re also more likely to pick up more work and become referable – bonus!
3. Learn to say no, and only plan 75% capacity
Okay, bear with us here. We know your Spidey senses will be tingling – saying “no” to work when your deepest instincts tell you to take everything you can while the offer’s there feels unnatural, risky and – quite frankly – plain wrong.
But not everything is possible to schedule into your day, and keeping that 25% aside to do more for yourself, or cope when a project takes longer than expected, pays back plenty in dividends. Otherwise, by taking on 100% all the time, you’ll inevitably end up working evenings and weekends which can lead to isolation, frustration and, in the worst cases, burnout.
Remember: life is unpredictable. Consider the 75% rule a contingency plan for when that 25% decides to kick up a fuss and throw things out of balance. By keeping a few hours each day aside, you’ll have prepared for the storm, and will come out thriving. Trust us – your mind will be thanking you.
4. Find your design specialism and thrive
We all have those jobs that seem to take much longer to do than others. But if these projects take up a lot of your time, it may be worth challenging your ideals and recognising: are they actually worth it? And what can you do to improve things?
Going specialist as a freelancer helps you balance your life because you can attract more of the work you enjoy, and release that fear of turning down or minimising work that doesn’t serve you. Maybe there’s a particular niche you excel at, or your USP is that you can illustrate in a certain style really quickly. Be smart about the work you take on, and stay true to your specialisms where possible. Your work satisfaction will increase, mental capacity will be freed up, and you’ll develop a better idea on whether you actually have the time to take on that new project. The theory goes you can find your niche by adding your specialist skill to who you want to do it for. For example, if you love doing logos and branding, but only od it for technology startups – there’s your niche. Or as we know here at Artwork Bazaar, perhaps you fancy being a specialist graphic designer for film and TV? Either way we have recently created a list of great specialist design communities you can join to really hone your skills and become a specialist.
Ready to get your life back?
Now you’ve been given a few ideas on how to divide your time, you can start putting them into practise! One of the biggest benefits of being freelance is that no one can tell you what to do. Don’t be a slave to your work – instead, empower yourself to manage it better. Start with at least one of the above tips and you’re bound to feel better organised, with freelance stress kept to a minimum.