Image used under Creative Commons
Today marks my one-year anniversary of becoming a full-time freelance designer. I've done web and graphic design work on the side for years, but in December 2008 I decided to take a flying leap out the window and quit my full-time design job. After much planning and preparing, I felt I was ready to take the plunge and I resigned from my job.
To really mix it up, I also decided to take the show on the road, and relocate to a completely different part of the country I had not yet experienced – New England. As per usual for my nomadic nature, I knew absolutely no one, had zero connections, and would have to rely strictly on a wing and prayer.
The past year has been chock-full of the anticipated (and not so) thrills and chills of being self-employed and here are a few lessons I have learned along the way:
The power of a business name
What's in a name? I hit up a fellow coworker and wordsmith genius @sarahnicolelee at SCVB to help come up with a clever name. Since my background also includes professional cooking, we were leaning toward a catchy name that I could fall back on in the culinary field should the design gig fall apart. Sarah nailed it with Deep Dish Creative. Many people ask if I'm in catering or something – but when I explain the ‘dish' is more of the communication kind, little lightbulbs go off and Aha! moments are made. The name has translated nicely with my Twitter activity, and I'm know affectionately as " DeepDishCreates" at tweetups and the blogosphere. Thanks Sarah!
Pick the brains of your mentors
Before making the commitment to freelance full-time, I tapped into several people that had taken the leap themselves, and gleaned pearls of wisdom on what to and what not to do to make the transition as painless as possible. After interviewing them one-on-one over lunch or drinks, there were two standout synopses about going into business for yourself, "You'll never work so hard in your life" and "You'll kick yourself for not doing it sooner." In addition, I thankfully had the full support of my friends, family and colleagues to take the risk. This in itself made all the difference.
Clients don't mind where I work from
Not only am I working from a home office, I'm also about 3,000 miles away from 95% of my clientele, who are all on the west coast. To my surprise, my relocation didn't bother anyone, and I've even collected a handful of referrals since the move. Also no surprise: the only thing clients care about is that the job gets done and done well. The internet is my number one business tool and I couldn't do any of this without it. Thank you Al Gore :)
Having a kick-butt online presence
Regardless of one's occupation or business, there's no excuse not to have an online presence in this day and age. My website, blog, Linked In, and Twitter accounts have been the most effective avenue for generating new business and keeping on top of trends and information in the design and tourism worlds. Its certainly no small feat to keep each of these outlets updated with recent work and happenings, so daily maintenance, at least for me, is mandatory. Luckily its a labor of love.
Network Network Network
Upon relocating to the opposite side of the country, and witnessing how SCVB's member networking events helped welcome newcomers and established businesses alike, I immediately joined the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. Not necessarily for leads, but rather to get acquainted with the local biz community. Attending business and marketing conferences and seminars has also opened up new networking doors. I also stepped up my Twitter activity 100-fold and started following local tweeps and businesses. Actually meeting some of these fine folks at Tweetups has landed me a couple of go-to connections as well as new friends. Twitter itself is probably my number one networking source these days. Several of my tweets have actually generated new clients, from Miami to Michigan and all the way back to Seattle. Thank you Twitter.
Never burn a bridge
Not that I was planning on forgetting where I came from, but it just seems right to give props to those whose paths you've crossed on the way to where you are now. Even after my departure from SCVB, I stayed on a contract basis to address their web maintenance needs for 6 months. I gladly accepted the offer to create their 2009 annual report, and am always on hand for this and that as the need for an extra hand arises. Some of my other clients are also former employers. Since 99% of my business has been from referrals, maintaining former relationships has certainly been a key to my success.
Notes to self: The taxman cometh and he do take a bite – especially in Vermont. Keep every little receipt and file accordingly for the pleasure of your accountant. Go hyper-organized with your email management – create tags with your contacts. Back up. Back up. Back up.
As a web designer, its so easy to get lost in time when dialed into a project. All of a sudden its dark out, I been working since 7am and haven't stepped outside once – not even to get the mail. Even with the incomparable view from my home office, it doesn't make up not getting out in the kayak or on the trail at least for an hour everyday. Easier said than done. Winter will be here eventually.
Have a life
Unless I'm traveling, I'm working every single day of the week, if not ALL day then some portion of the day or night. I need to find some outlet to give back, find a new hobby or activity that involves other people. My weekly wifi venture to Uncommon Grounds is about it for being seen in public.
Thank you for your support
THANKS to all who supported me in my decision to go out on my own. I'm looking forward to developing new relationships and connections nationwide as I embark on Year Two of Deep Dish Creative. I'm happy to commiserate with other solopreneurs and I welcome ANY advice for keeping the boulder rolling and getting the most out of this freelance lifestyle.