The 5 Biggest Struggles a Freelance Designer Faces & Strategies To Overcome Them
When you’re working for yourself, the journey can be one of extremes. There are times of intense satisfaction and even utter elation when you get those “big wins” you know you deserve. But there can also be many, many, many more moments of frustration, self-doubt, and downright disenchantment. (Trust us, we know).
To help you better navigate those tougher times, we’ve come up with some helpful ways to get you back to being the stand-out designer you are!
1. The Brief – An Underwhelming Start
You’re super excited – you’ve finally secured that dream client you’ve been aching to work with. You’re getting ready to deliver your most impressive work when you read your first brief, and it leaves you feeling underwhelmed (to say the least). You have a few other small projects on the go, so you focus your attention elsewhere. Suddenly, the deadline for the lacklustre brief is right around the corner. You’ve got nothing. Oh, what to do, what to do?!
Before you start questioning your worth as a designer and become paralysed by anxiety (*ahem* sound familiar?!), try out these tips to get your creativity back in flow:
Play the Association Game.
Take some time to write down as many words that come into your head that are associated with the brief, the client’s brand message, and their audience. Everything and anything. The key here is to just get something down – we know how intimidating that “blank space” can be. If you have some creative friends you can bounce your ideas off of, that’s even better.
Sometimes it can hugely help the design process to see how your work will look in-situ. Here’s where digital mock-ups and scene creators come in. If you have yet to test out these tools, we cannot recommend them enough. Not only does this step aid you as the designer to develop your work in a way that better suits the brief, it will also help your client to easily visualise your ideas.
Back to Basics.
If laying things out digitally doesn’t do the trick, why not try the old-school approach? Dust off your paper, pens, scissors, and glue, and make yourself a look-book, or craft a new mood board using actual fabric scraps and small plant cuttings. Get as creative as you like!
2. Feeling Like an Island
One of the greatest appeals of freelancing may be the fact that you can work solo from that postcard-perfect beach in Bali, but the reality of working for yourself isn’t always quite so alluring. While you’re on that island, you can start feeling like an island.
While “unplugging” for periods of time has its upsides, it’s also important to recognise the importance of building connections. Having a community of like-minded creatives at your fingertips can help enormously when that isolated feeling starts sinking in. Reaching out to peers online to talk about your shared experiences as freelancers can be infinitely reassuring, and will likely provide some much-needed support when those inevitable challenges arise.
A great way to connect and share is through graphic design groups on Facebook, or following your favourite hashtags on Instagram – spend some time perusing who’s out there and you’re guaranteed to find your tribe. And of course, you know that the team over here at MOYO will always be here, too! To be completely honest, the comments and shared stories with our customers give us some of the biggest boosts in confidence – just when we need it the most!
3. Missing the Mark
You’ve laboured over what you thought was a spot-on response to your client’s brief, and then that dreaded email pops up saying “this isn’t quite what we were looking for”.
You may have entered into the world of freelance design so you can cherry-pick your ideal clients, and in doing so, create work that resonates with you on a more personal level. This is one of the joys of freelance work, but it can also make detaching yourself emotionally more difficult when that negative feedback rolls in.
Rather than dwelling on how the criticism has made you feel, stop and think about where things went wrong. Perhaps you got a little carried away with the fun aspects of the design before really addressing your client’s desires? This can happen. When you love a concept so much you start thinking about it in personal terms and you let yourself get too emotionally invested. You forget to get to the nitty-gritty core of what’s most important: what the client wants.
Remember: every new client will have their own unique taste and style.
It’s up to you to find out what makes them tick. At the very beginning of each new project, ask your client plenty of questions – the more thorough you are at this stage, the better. As you move forward with the designing, be sure to check in with your client along the way.
Always keep the brief at the forefront of your mind. Pin useful words or visuals up around your workspace, or go bonkers and put them in every room of your house. Just keep that key information close by. And every time you return to work on the project a little more, re-read the brief. Coming at it with fresh eyes every time usually aids in the creative process.
Over the last several years, as entrepreneurship has become more and more popular, you’ve likely seen the big bad “B” word floating around a lot more, too. And for good reason. It’s one of the biggest challenges that any freelancer faces, especially for those working in creative fields like design.
It can be thrilling when your freelancing business really begins to take off and clients start coming to you. Being a known, desired, and respected designer is one of the most soul-affirming feelings. You’ve worked very, very hard to get to where you are, and now you are approaching that fine line between pleasure and dread. Just one more task, even a tiny one, will probably push you over the edge into complete and utter exhaustion.
Take care of you. It is you, after all, who is at the centre of your business. Slow down some and nurture those parts of yourself that you’ve been neglecting whilst being overworked. Take a few moments every day to reflect on why you do what you do. Maybe write down your thoughts about your business in a dedicated journal, and revisit your musings once a month to help yourself tweak the areas that need attention.
Design your ideal work week. If you’re at all familiar with books like Big Magic and The Secret, you’ll know a little bit about the law of universal attraction. You can apply these principles to all aspects of your life, including your business. A great way to avoid future bouts of burnout is to actively map out what your ideal work week would look like. The more specific you are here, the better. Write out exactly how you envision your working life from this moment forward:
– How many hours do you want to spend working each week?
– What time of day are you at your most productive or inspired?
– What would your dream working environment look, sound, or even smell like?
5. Financial Pressure
Finally, money. This is a tricky topic – especially for us Brits, as it has always been considered a taboo subject, one that’s far too impolite to be spoken of in public! But it’s absolutely essential to talk about money because as a freelance designer, you will undoubtedly experience those moments of financial stress when projects become few and far between.
Mindset is everything. When you are working for yourself, you simply cannot afford to dismiss whatever mindset issues you may have around money. Whatever you have grown up believing about money, question it. Spend some time assessing your thoughts and beliefs – are they healthy? Are they holding you back? How could you reframe your beliefs so that they are positive and affirming?
Saying no. When you start feeling the pinch, it’s tempting to take on lots of small jobs so that you feel you are at least earning something. This attitude is coming from a scarcity mindset. You believe something is better than nothing, so you agree to the job, even though it is pitifully paid. This unfulfilling work is now taking up some of your precious energy; you could instead be pouring this energy into finding your next high-ticket client. So next time you are thinking of saying yes out of desperation, check-in with yourself. Are you honouring yourself and your business by taking this job? Does the work align with your business goals?
Break it down and charge what you’re worth. This goes hand-in-hand with designing your ideal work week. Incorporate your answers to the following questions in your ideal work week map and watch how your work/life balance begins to shift!
– How much money do you need to be earning per month (to cover all your immediate expenses)?
– And how many clients do you need to get there?
– How much money do you want to be earning each month?
– And how many clients do you need to get there?
– How could you adjust your prices to help you reach your financial goals more quickly? (Think bundling, here).
– Are you charging what you’re worth?
Never, ever sell yourself short! Charging what you’re worth is paramount here, guys. It tells your client that you mean business and that you value yourself and your work. If you’re unsure here, do your research and see what your peers are charging. Let us assure you, the more time you spend tackling the sticky issue of money and overcoming any mindset issues you may have, the more your business will benefit.
So, there you have it, friends! We hope this article helps you feel a little less alone out there in the often overwhelming world of entrepreneurship! Of course we know there are many more challenges that you face as freelance designers, and we want to hear about them. Leave a comment for us below, or let us know if there are any other topics you’d like us to cover in the future.
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Hi! I’m Robyn, the woman behind ECHO + SCRIBE. My joy comes from supporting businesses who give back, brands with purpose, companies that care. Through strategic, soulful, true-to-voice copywriting, I hope to help spread the message that there is another way – one that is more sustainable, more ethical, more kind.