By: Will Gibbons
Edited by: Russell Silver
To his webinar [August 29th]:
Q: What led to you pursuing a full time career as a freelancer?
A: I began freelancing on the side in order to get back to my roots as a designer, and have a little more freedom than my 9-5 offered. Although it was tough to juggle both, I always knew in the back of my head that I would be able to make a lot more progress as a freelancer. At my day job, it was tough to not think about the freelance work because it was really what I would have rather been doing.
I ended up moving to a more rural town on the other side of the country, and this was the perfect opportunity to start going at it full time. Especially because I didn’t have a job set up where I moved to!
Q: How has the Internet changed the career opportunities for a freelancer?
A: The biggest thing for me personally was that I was able to take the clients that I had built in-person relationships with, when I lived in California, on the road with me to my new town. They were already comfortable with working with me, so they were fine about the distance. It was great because it actually didn’t change the relationship or the way work got done at all.
Working through some projects after moving, I realized that not worrying about geographic locations or restraints was liberating. It opened the doors to a wider pool of clients. I’ve now had clients on the East and West coast, as well as within driving distance from my home.
Q: How do you find clients?
A: That’s the biggest challenge for most people. For me, almost all of it has been through referral. This is pretty common across the board for all types of freelancers.
I recently launched my own website to get more leads, and it has been acting as a funnel to get more people in touch with me for my services. It’s too soon to judge whether it is a great success, but since it’s been live, I’ve had a number of people contact me for opportunities in two of my domains: designing and speaking.
The three places that I’ve had the most success (in order) are LinkedIn, Behance.net, and Craigslist. As far as potential leads or engagement with professionals, LinkedIn is the best. By Far. In this industry, you often see people who are creative, but they assume that a portfolio website is going to get them the jobs—they forget that they need to spend just as much time, if not more, where the potential clients are.
I found my first client on Craigslist. That led to another, which led to another, which led to another. Testimonials and referrals are everything. I recently wrote an article on my blog titled How to Find Freelance Clients if anybody wanted to read more about it (http://willgibbonsdesign.com/blog/how-to-find-freelance-clients).
Q: How has the freelancer community helped you?
A: The community is different for each person—it will really come down to their circles. I have friends whose most supportive circles are on Facebook, and they have that “friend” relationship with them. This results in a lot of content sharing, which is often good for them. For me, the biggest community has been Fizzle.co. It’s not necessarily for creatives, designers, or freelancers, as much as it’s for anyone who wants to learn how to create an online business and create something meaningful.
It has provided me with most of the structure, support, and education needed to build my online presence. I know this will all pay off huge in the long run. I’m still in the beginning stages, but that community has been great for me.
Getting help from other freelancers, business owners, and professionals is a lot of help too. When you work as a freelancer, most of your work is at home and it can get very solitary and lonely. Having a community online, whether it’s instagram, twitter, or anything else, can help you stay sane to a certain extent and keep you going when times get tough.
Q: Has communications training and practice with public speaking helped your career?
A: Yes, but it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing. I joined Toast Masters because of a talk I agreed to deliver, which happened earlier this summer, and I wanted to prepare for it. The more time you spend with a group like that, they better you get at conveying your ideas and coming across in a professional and composed matter.
This can be very powerful when you’re trying to show a client that you’re confident you will do well on the job. I have also gotten other great opportunities by being in the community, such as speaking engagements across the country, like an upcoming one at the University of Illinois.
Q: Reputation is crucial. How do you manage that as an independent?
A: When I moved out to California, I was looking for something new. I got rid of my entire online life when I left college for it. I just lived life for a couple years to find out who I was without the influence of people I knew. This gave me an awesome opportunity to find out who I was, what I stood for, and what was important to me.
About 2 years ago, I got the itch to get back online and begin designing again. It was very easy for me to create a pristine reputation, as I was starting fresh. I would only post things that I felt represented where I wanted to belong.
LinkedIn, Instagram (@willgibbonsdesign), and twitter (@wgibbonsdesign) became my three main platforms. Having a mental checklist you go through before you post anything is crucial. For example: “do I want an employer to see this? Will it make them more likely to hire me?”.
Q: Why stay independent instead of joining a large company?
A: There are a lot of perks, which is why I have stayed working for myself over this past year, even though it hasn’t always been easy. This is going to be different for everyone, but for me and where I am in my life right now, working on my own means I can work from home. This saves a ton of commuting time and expenses, and I hate wasting time.
You can also control your schedule. A lot of people are disillusioned and think when you’re self-employed that you only work a couple hours here and there, but in reality, 99% of us work more than a typical 9-5. The crucial difference is you get to choose when and how you work. I don’t like wasting time, and I felt like at the previous place I worked, there were a lot of things that you I to show up for. Whether or not I was actually needed, I felt that it was a large waste of time and productivity.
When you work independently, there’s no salary or formal compensation structure. When you’re at a job, you are at the mercy of whether the company does well. Most people will max out in the top 10th percentile of the US median income; but if you’re a good freelancer, there’s nothing stopping you from making $300,000 to $400,000 a year if you’re doing it right.
I’m able to work for a week and make enough to life for a few months on. You have good months and bad months, and that’s just part of it.
Q: What are the largest challenges to freelancing?
A: It’s going to be different for everybody, but for me, the biggest challenge has been finding clients. This is partially because of what I do, as it’s pretty niche. As a web designer, you’re not going to have that problem.
Next is dealing with the fact that you’ll have busy weeks and dead weeks, so it’s not secure. This can be tough mentally, so you must be okay with that uncertainty.
A lot of people also struggle with knowing how much to charge for their time, drawing up proposals, and personal finances. But those are all things that, because I do well with communication and I’m fairly analytical, haven’t been big challenges for me.