Passive Income on Graphic River

Image Credit: Envato.comI’ve always been interested in passive income, but who hasn’t? Making money while you’re sleeping is the American Dream. I’ve often thought of setting up an Etsy.com store selling greeting cards or trying to sell some of my (less than professional) photography on stock photo sites. Etsy is a big investment if you factor in printing costs and there’s of course no guarantee people are going to buy my stuff, same with stock photo sites.


Another option is Envato. Selling digital art and making a passive income is a no brainier. No printing costs, no real overhead, it’s perfect. However, the competition at Envato is steep and getting your file accepted seems like an act of God. These thoughts held me back for awhile, but if you’re reading this, one of my files is now for sale on GraphicRiver! Yes, I finally told my brain to can it and created a small collection of Twitter backgrounds to sell. Was it challenging? Yes. Figuring out what I wanted to do was. I first thought about doing print materials like business cards or newsletter and brochure templates. However, when it comes down to it, if I was going to gamble and spend the time designing something that might not even get past the review process, I had to design something I would enjoy. Something web related seemed to be the way to go. Twitter backgrounds don’t seem to be an overly saturated market on GraphicRiver, so I sat down and got to work one evening and really enjoyed myself. Being in more of a production role at my 9-5, having total creative freedom felt awesome and reignited a spark for design that I haven’t felt in awhile.


You can view my file on GraphicRiver here, more to come!

Seasonal Holiday Graphic Design Marketing: Make Your Own Holiday Cards

Tis the season to get creative with your freelance business marketing tactics. You’re probably planning on sending out holiday cards to friends and family anyway, why not send some out to your valued clients. Chances are your small business clients are sending cards out taking the opportunity to remind their valued customers about their business, so take the opportunity to do so yourself. A package of 14 holiday cards are, at most, ten dollars. Throw a few business cards in with your cards and you have a seasonal marketing tool that your clients are sure to appreciate. Better yet, design your own holiday cards or postcards to really make an impact on your clients. Creating a custom marketing piece to send to clients can jump-start the process of starting a new project and help remind your clients of that graphic design project they’ve had on the back-burner for the last few months.

Conclusion

If you have the time and money, create your own custom holiday cards to send to your valued clients. If your tight on time and money, purchase a cheap (but pretty) package of prefab holiday cards, throw a few business cards in with them and send them on their way. Remember to keep your greeting cards fairly holiday unspecific. Most of your clients may celebrate Christmas, but you can never be sure. In the freelance business, you can never assume anything, so keep your holiday card as generic as possible to avoid offending a valued client.

Pros and Cons of Working an On-Site Freelance Gig

Office space lightsIf you’ve every worked with a creative temp agency (or creative talent agency) like Artisan or Aquent, chances are you’ve probably been offered an on-site freelance gig a time or two. For those of you who haven’t, an on-site freelance gig is exactly what it sounds like. Companies will come across a project or need to outsource some design or development work that the staff at their place of business can’t handle. Either they’re too busy, or don’t have the resources. That’s when a creative temp agency, much like a temp agency placing people in general office jobs, will come in and match a graphic designer in their database to the position, and set up an interview with the company in need of a creative talent. Usually it’s a short term assignment spanning over a few months, but sometimes it’s a temp-to-hire assignment. This means that your short-term temp job might evolve into a full blown full-time job, which is not something a lot of successful freelancers are interested in. Know the risks in taking on a position like this if you aren’t planning on sticking around once the job turns into a full-time gig. Don’t be wishy washy. Telling your temp agency representative that you’re gung-ho about the job and then backing out once the full-time aspect is a reality is a slippery slope. It reflects poorly on the temp agency rep and you. If that company ever has anymore gigs they need to outsource, chances are they’ll pass you over for someone more committed to the position.

Now on to the pros and cons that I’ve experienced personally:

Pros

Steady Income – One of the biggest and most important luxurious 9-5 benefits we lose as freelancers, is the stability of a steady income. While the potential to earn as much money as you want as a freelancer sounds great, the reality is that many of us just starting out aren’t going to be bringing in the big money right off the bat. Losing that cushy paycheck every two weeks is a harsh reality to swallow. This is why making sure you have enough money saved (haha), a reliable client base or part-time job while freelancing is crucial. With these realities in mind, taking the occasional on-site freelance gig is a great way to fund your freelance business when times are tough or if you’re just looking for way to supplement your income in a productive way.

Set Schedule – Many freelancers that have kicked the cubicle did so to have more freedom over their careers and to not have to bother with the 9-5 grind. However, with pushy clients and the expectation to always be accessible and working, maintaining a healthy work-life balance becomes a challenge. I know there are times I miss being able to turn off my work/designing brain right at 5 PM.

Networking – Throwing yourself into a new company for a few months is a great way to network, and you never know, the clients you have at the agency or design firm you are working on-site for just might become your future clients of yours.

Benefits – Miss those benefits you once held so dear at your 9-5? Creative temp agencies usually provide benefits for their clients (ie. you) while you are working through them.

Cons

Less Freedom – Working through a creative temp agency generally means working on-site, meaning less time to run your business and less freedom. A set schedule is a blessing and a curse.

Less Money/Hourly Rate – Generally if you decide to freelance on-site for a company with the help of a creative temp agency, chances are what they are willing to pay you will be much less than your desired hourly rate that you charge your own clients. Factor in what the business is actually paying to use an Aquent or an Artisan and benefits you receive through them and your $40 hourly rate you usually charge can be sliced in half. If this is the case, take into consideration the lack of admin and general office work you would normally be doing for your own business which usually eat up your time and cut into your billable hours.

Commute – Lets face it, hitting that traffic in the wee hours of the morning sucks. Even worse is fighting the gridlock on your way home. No way around this one, commuting is a definite con unless you have a stack of audio books you’ve been stock piling to listen to while you’re bored.

Client Relations – This is a big one. Working an on-site freelance design gig will allow you less time to work on your personal freelance projects and tend to your baby, your business. Being able to devote less time to clients is risky. I know this all too well. I recently took and on-site freelance graphic design gig (hence why this post has taken me forever) to gain more experience, network and build up my portfolio with more quality projects. This gig was also the inspiration for this post! Like this blog, my clients have had to wait longer for my services than usual. At the time I took the gig, I was working with one high volume client that has had an issue with my choice to take this freelance gig. I make myself available in the evenings (and even weekends, a freelance no-no, I know) to work on projects as opposed to 8-5 like I was, but I assured this particular client I would complete their projects with the same 1 to 2 day turnaround time they were used to. This was a hard conversation to have, and it didn’t go over well. I began to feel more like this client was expecting me to behave more like his employee rather than and independent contractor. Not to start a rant here, but that’s not cool with me. I began my freelance business by this process. I was working full-time and freelancing on the side and never had an issue until now, so heed this warning, not all clients will be receptive to their prized freelancer taking on an obligation that makes them inaccessible during “normal working hours” by phone and e-mail, but most will be fine with it. In my experience, clients don’t care when you work as long as you get their project done and it wasn’t until recently that I started having to correspond with clients via phone. Most prefer e-mail, and unless you’re open to taking calls and answering e-mails during your lunch hour, make your clients aware of your situation. Don’t get me wrong, I love most of my clients and most clients will appreciate your honesty.

Conclusion

Freelancing can take many forms, and working on-site is one of them. Your pride will not be hurt if this opportunity presents itself and you jump on it. There’s no shame in taking the chance to network, have a steady income (for a little while) and collecting benefits. On-site freelance gigs are a great way to maintain your freelance business, just make sure to realize the limitations it will put on your business. Always be honest about your situation with your clients and usually taking a short-term or long-term freelance gig won’t be a big deal to them.

Is Working a Part-Time Job While Freelancing Worth It?

Server with trayGoing straight from the cubicle to freelancing with no clients and no income is scary. It’s always best to have a decent sized client base and savings when making the switch but with increasing layoffs that seem to always plague people in the creative industry (especially over the past few years) having the luxury of building a sizable client base isn’t always an option. If running back to the cubicle just isn’t an option for you, there are ways to make freelancing work if you’re a fish fresh out of the corporate water. One of the most obvious is starting a freelance business and getting a part-time job to pay the bills while you find your freelancing legs. I’ve been working with a client over a year that more or less started out as a nice work at home gig for me to make extra money while I was at my full-time job. I was doing photo editing, blogging and some graphic design work. Eventually I was making more at this gig and quit my full-time job to pursue my freelance career. I’m still working with this client and I feel as though this gig has evolved into more of an ongoing project based job that gets me through the rough times. I’m able to set my own hours and work as much as I want, when I want. If you’re able to find something like this, great! A part-time job that allows you to work at home is ideal when building your freelance business, but not always an option. Considering establishing a relationship with a temp agency, creative or otherwise, is always a good idea in a pinch. Many freelancers rely on temp agencies to get them through the tough times and working at various businesses is a great opportunity to generate business for yourself! If getting a retail or food service job at a local shop or restaurant is more your speed, this is also a great way to generate extra income and meet potential clients. Who knows, one of your new coworkers might know someone looking to have a website or brochure designed. Always take advantage of unique networking opportunities that will help your business grow.

There are of course cons to working a part-time job while building a freelance business. It’s difficult to be accessible while at work and missing client calls and not being responsive to client e-mails is a slippery slope. Clients often times think freelancers are chained to their desks at all hours of the day and won’t accept missed calls or late replies to e-mails. Missing deadlines is why many freelancers fail. Missing an important deadline set by a client can result in losing that client and all of the referrals you might have received if the project had been completed on time. Being able to balance the work of your part-time job and freelance projects is imperative.

Conclusion

A part-time job is a great way to help get your freelancing career off the ground by offering an income while you get your business going. However, meeting deadlines and being accessible to clients is important and finding a balance between your part-time work and freelance work is a must. Perseverance and passion is what it takes to run a freelance business and if getting a part-time job is a viable option to get your business of the ground, go for it.

Is Freelancing A Dirty Word?

Freelance Graphic Design Dirty WordWhen first striking out on your own as an independent contractor, probably the first word you use to describe yourself is freelancer. This is still how I refer to myself but I am aware that some independent designers believe that identifying yourself as a freelancer can negatively impact your business. Whether you call yourself an independent contractor, small business owner or freelancer, we all pretty much do the same thing in a general sense which is running our own business. However the word ‘freelance’ can inspire negative thoughts in the minds of our loved ones and unfortunately in the minds of the apprehensive potential client.

In my experience, here are the misconceptions (by family, fiends and clients) of calling yourself a freelance graphic designer.

The Misconceptions:

•  Freelancers don’t pay attention to personal hygiene (I shower at least once a day).

•  Freelancers work in their underwear (I personally have never done this).

•  Freelancers only work 2 hours a day and watch tv the rest of the time (I recently canceled my cable because I haven’t watched it in weeks).

•  Freelancers are just unemployed creative types too lazy to get a real job.

•  Freelancers are snooty (aka won’t create a logo for $50 or better yet, for free).

•  Freelancers are always free for lunch, impromptu meetings or mid afternoon gossip sessions (many, if not most freelancers try to maintain “regular” business hours)

•  Freelance designers can churn out a design within a moments notice (cramming in a new project at the last minute isn’t an option for many freelancers with a full work load).

•  Freelancers are obligated to design for free for family members (been there, done that).

The Reality:

While some of these freelancing misconceptions might be true, a vast majority of freelancers are very professional individuals who run their businesses in the same way that a large agency might. Customer service, hard work and bathing are the foundations of a successful freelance graphic design business (bathing might be negotiable). In order to survive as freelancers, we have to be more skilled at running a business as opposed to a large agency because freelancers are in charge of everything regarding their business. I doubt a web developer at the top ad agency down the street has to write code in addition to invoicing clients, generating leads and accounting all while working on his or her assigned projects.

In Conclusion:

I write this post with a hint of sarcasm because there are misconceptions about every job. Keeping these misconceptions at bay and informing our family, friends and potential clients about our practices is vital to our success as freelancers and our state of mind. We’re a professional, talented bunch and we should be treated as such and the only way for this to happen is to inform friends, family and clients about our work practices (in a nice, cheery way of course) no matter if you call yourself an independent contractor, small business owner or freelancer.

Tips on Choosing a Design Specialty

Being a jack of all trades isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Many creative types consider themselves a jack of all trades and are truly a master of none. Equipping yourself with knowledge is one thing, but spreading yourself too thin is another. Defining a specialty as a freelance graphic designer is an important first step when starting your freelance career. Being a generalist/jack of all trades might seem smart, but being very experienced and knowledgable about one area of design is much more attractive to clients.

Here are a few tips to help:

  • Figure out your strengths and weaknesses: This is a crucial first step. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you pick and choose the projects you want to work on and will excel at.
  • Figure out what you like to do: Pretty self explanatory, if you hate doing print design or have experience with PHP, that probably should not be your specialty.
  • Don’t be afraid to dabble: Dabbling and doing different projects is a good way of finding a design specialty that suits you. Design school projects and taking on pro-bono work can provide opportunities to experiment and dabble in various design work. If you’re an aspiring web designer but are interested in print design, take a print production class. If you’re interested in WordPress (and have some basic knowledge), contact a non-profit about sprucing up their outdated WordPress blog design. You get the idea.

In Conclusion:

Finding a design specialty and sticking with it will benefit your freelance design business imensly. By being able to define your specialty, you can focus on only the choice projects and clients, making for a much more lucrative and enjoyable freelance design career.