I often get e-mails from curious individuals asking me about my work and how I can pair it with the usual “island hopping” I do around the Philippine archipelago. Well, the truth is, it’s not as easy and as “free” as it may look given the many circumstances. Somehow, I would like to think of it as (generally) part of a new form of lifestyle that breaks the monotony of standard work hours and consistent paychecks. 🙂
“Working Alone” is also synonymous to “working for yourself” – some would even refer to it as freelancing, independent contractor, or self-employed. Well, as liberating as it may sound, there are some points in this career path that I find really annoying and at the same time, satisfying. I know some of the employed people are aiming to be free and flexible with their time; but in reality, it (seriously) requires a lot of hard work and patience in order to excel.
If you’re thinking about transitioning to a more “laid back” work environment, you should read on to get a good glimpse of what it’s like working alone.
Welcome to my world. 😛 Life is much different compared to you expecting monthly paychecks from your employer. It’s not that “pretty” at all especially if you’re just starting out. You have to find your clients or die waiting for them to find you.
The simple concept narrows down into a little rule I planted in my head several years ago: “No work, no income.” Mind you, I had to endure months of not having any clients at all – it is a huge learning curve for me as it taught me how to literally “sell myself” as a designer. Hello Marketing!
Income flow is not consistent. Most of the time, expect to have fluctuations in your income stream depending on how you manage your projects and your time, how timely your clients are paying you (or if they ever pay at all), and how you handle pitfalls due to unexpected events. Everything is correlated and it always boils down to how motivated you are to succeed in the obstacles in front of you.
It’s a scary virtual world out there because you are not only competing with people who chose this path, but also small and large design agencies that does the same job. Today, there are thousands of web designers worldwide and thousands more to be added once the year is over. The probability of actually “standing out” is very slim if you’re not stepping up your game.
On the brighter side, there are tons of potential clients who are just waiting to be entertained. The only way to sift them from the rest of the flock is to do some marketing and hope (yes, hope!) that they will be interested in your services. Closing deals is not that easy – that’s why working alone is so interesting to me because it does not cover the specific platform in web design, but rather almost all “roles” you could imagine in a large design firm. It’s a challenge.
In finding clients, you put on your “salesperson cap,” seal the deal, and go back to being the designer.
Fear of the Unknown
Working alone does not guarantee an overnight success. It never will.
The main goal is to actually build a good foundation of clients – “client base.” It will definitely take time and a lot of effort but the end results are promising as your base continues to grow (a few months or even years). If there ever comes a time that nobody is interested in your services or that you have no projects lined up for the month, find other productive ways to either learn or market yourself.
Take also into consideration those possible months that you won’t get any work done. By which I mean setting aside a separate account to pay for your bills, your gadgets, software upgrades, and other essentials while finding some clients to work for. While waiting, be very patient and work through the kinks of the industry.
Soon you will find out that every risk you took is worth it – even if it led you to a three month “work coma.” *cough*
Important Role Playing
Like what I have said previously, there are many hats that you, an independent professional, should wear. It’s like looking at a clever team with one member in it – and that’s you.
Working alone entails wearing many hats; transforming yourself from being “just a designer” to the myriad of responsibilities a basic web design agency has. Taking in and entertaining prospective clients, you wear the salesperson‘s hat; taking into consideration the analytics and the client’s data, you wear the researcher‘s hat; identifying useful content to be showcased in the site, you wear the curator‘s hat; some of the responsibilities we take part of as we manage and work alone.
We become layout-artists, architects, graphic designers, developers, or even to the farthest extent, programmers. We design, code, and style with our heart’s desire just to satisfy a client. We touch into social media integration, help brands rise, create an editorial calendar to keep things in order. We evaluate the website’s performance, give out statistics to keep up with the trends, and make sure that every single effort that we do is for the client.
This is where the word “flexibility” fits in – and it fits in very snug. 🙂
No Paid Leave
Regular employees have paid vacations, sick days, and personal days. You, an independent worker, don’t have an employer to pay you for your time off or even for your vacations. You solely depend on the income that you have generated from your client projects (that’s why you should make it a priority to take care of your clients).
Everyone needs a break. Especially those who are working so hard to earn a living. *cough*
I personally love to go on vacation all the time, work whenever I need to work, and plan another travel spree when I get the chance, and then work from there if urgent matters arise. But sometimes it can be a bit distracting. Especially if you’re stuck in a hotel room with piles of design jobs to work on and the sultry beach is calling out your name to step out and enjoy. 😛
It is always important to organize your time, monitor your productivity, and plan ahead. *wink* You’ll get used to it anyway.
When you’re personally accountable, you take ownership of situations that you’re involved in. You take responsibility for what happens – good or bad. You can’t blame others when things go wrong. Instead, you do your best to find solutions to make things right. This is the reality.
You are your own boss, team leader, co-worker, financial adviser, and everything in the business aspect. You definitely don’t have any sales and marketing personnel to provide you with clients or senior developers on your team to guide you with the syntax. All you have is yourself – your one and only mighty self.
So being a designer is not actually doing only markups and making the web a pretty place. It’s beyond that. A small percentage you do as an independent designer involves design and the rest are all about looking for clients, and making sure that you don’t screw anything up in terms of legally binding documents. Hello contracts!
Expenses, Taxes, and Health Insurance
There exist things like “business expenses,” “income taxes,” and “health insurance.” Yes, they are a part of working as an independent professional.
Business expenses include your desktop, laptop, wide screen monitor, printer, phone, tablet, software fees, invoicing, and project management tools. Additional things like your accountant and attorney’s service fees can also be under the business expenses worth considering. If you have a permanent address for an office, then there are fairly more expenses to be looked after once you go through the process of actually doing everything “solo.”
And there are the tax and health insurances that need attention as well. You file your own tax returns and contribute to your annual health insurance which could have been done by your employer but sadly, you don’t have one. 😀 Personally, I find these things very rewarding once you are acquainted with the little details around you – especially taxes.
You, The Decision-Maker
This is probably the best benefit when you’re working on your own: You get to make your own decisions, choose the people you want to work with, choose your own convenient schedule, and decide how much you want to charge for your services (remember to always charge a reasonable rate). You get to decide how to grow your business, how to find clients, and how to approach potential clients.
Working alone also entail a lot of “me time” that you can take advantage of. It is somewhat annoying since you will be focusing on yourself most of the time – what you should do at 3pm, when will you pay the bills, how you will manage your projects for the month, when will you sign the pending contracts, and when will you go to pamper yourself. 🙂 Each day is fairly different…
My favorite part of being the sole decision-maker is the opportunity to learn new things (through news, inspiring essays, books, and personal stories from talented individuals across the globe) and update myself on the trends of design and other useful principles. I am able to watch a movie in between work hours and still submit a draft before it is due. I am able to travel freely and then get back to work if I wanted to. I am able to cook, go on errands, plant, paint, and still entertain my clients to provide them with good customer service.
Ahh… the workload is pretty heavy but then again, who could ever resist the value of time? 🙂
In a Nutshell
So I guess working alone can be depressing at times. Well, thankfully there’s skype and the “real world” where you could grab some coffee with your friends and talk about life and “feelings.” It’s an outlet for you to become sane and feel like you’re really human. Of all the hours and hours spent on research, drawing, and staring in front of the computer screen, we all deserve a break and some real socializing.
To summarize everything, whether you’re an independent contractor, a self-employed designer, a freelance designer, a self-proclaimed design professional, or just a hobbyist, working alone can be rewarding at times because it gives you that sense of fulfillment in achieving so many things that came about through your own decisions. It is something to be proud of. But somewhere along the way, you will definitely encounter some small problems – which is perfectly ok!
That’s the reality of working alone – at least based on my experience! 😀