One year ago today I said goodbye to my colleagues and left a job I’d held for over 4 years. It was a nice job, easily the nicest I’ve ever had; surrounded by great people, a friendly environment and a pretty nice pay package too. But I knew I wanted more and so I took the opportunity that was presented to me. That was (and for now at least I hope will always be) my last day as an employee — not just of that institution, but in general.
Going freelance isn’t easy. I know because after a year I still can’t say I’ve been successful. It’s been hard work, but I’d say I took quite a relaxed approach to it. Hey, I’ve pretty much had a job constantly since I was 16, I’d earned a bit of a break right? And with a comfortable pay out to see me on my way, there was no urgency to be making a living.
I’d had plans for that money, but instead it paid for my expenses while I worked out what that plan really was. Eventually I found myself in another city, back at university and, well, broke.
But it’s fine. I suddenly felt a new urgency to get this freelance thing off the ground, and so far it’s been getting better every week. Every time I think it’s time to head down to the employment agencies and find some go-between, I get another email with some more work to keep me afloat. It’s picking up pace, and it’s slowly coming together.
So what are the main lessons I’ve learned so far from this experience?
Firstly, look to your peers. Networking in general is a vital skill, but getting to know other people working in the same field is vital when you’re starting out. Originally I was looking for clients directly; small businesses who might need a website or an animation. But unsurprisingly, many small businesses can’t afford to pay for these things, and you’re left either working well below minimum wage, or just not getting work at all. Now I’m getting most of my work from more experienced animators and designers, agencies and freelancers who have too much work and need a helping hand. Making these connections in the first place isn’t easy (probably 1 reply to every 20 emails sent), but it’s worth the effort for sure.
Secondly, it’s intense. I was fortunate to be in a position where I didn’t have to worry, but if I had felt the fear sooner I’m sure I’d be doing a lot more work now. Having that freedom to work whatever hours you want, managing yourself, it’s all great, but it’s very easy to become all too relaxed. You’ve got to go at it with everything you have.
Right now I’m still trying to get things moving. I’ve jumped out of the plane, and for a long time I was looking for the ripcord. I’ve found it, I’ve pulled it, but the chute’s still opening. It’s still scary, but I’m feeling confident.
Thanks to everyone who’s helped me make it this far!