Five lessons learned in my first five weeks of full-time freelancing


(I can’t really say no to a ridiculous alliteration.)

Holy crap, guys. This week marks the seventh (!) week that I’ve been running my own little business full time. Sometimes, it feels like I’ve been doing this forever, and at other times, I feel like a super-n00b who knows absolutely nothing. But isn’t that always the way?

One of the big benefits of working for yourself is that you learn a lot, and you learn it really, really quickly. Self-employment is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride, because suddenly you have to figure out all sorts of things that never crossed your mind before, and there’s no boss to give you advice or tell you what you should be doing. Instead, there’s a whole Internet of advice out there… much of it contradictory and confusing.

That being said, reading about other people’s experiences can be really helpful as well, especially for people who are thinking about pursuing full-time self-employment and haven’t yet taken the leap. I know that when I was thinking about it, reading about other people’s experiences was both interesting and comforting.

On that note, without further ado…

1. (Almost) everyone is a little flaky. It’s probably not personal.

I have learned that a lot of people don’t do exactly what they say they’ll do, when they say they’ll do it. In the past few weeks, I’ve had to chase a lot of people around for a lot of things. Gently prodding and reminding has become a part of my regular routine.

In the beginning of my freelancing career, especially when I was working full time and freelancing on the side, this would drive me crazy. What was wrong with these people? Why didn‘t they care about the work I was doing for them? Why did they hate me?!

However, as a full time freelancer, I’ve started to realize that in most cases, it’s really not personal. Amazingly, other people have lives too, and are busy doing their jobs, running their businesses, and attending to all sorts of things at their end. A project of theirs that takes up a bunch of my time might not be their top priority. Things slip through the cracks, and it mostly has nothing to do with me (a crazy concept, right?). I know this for a fact because I’ve had the occasional email or two slip through the cracks of my own inbox, and I’ve inadvertently been the flaky one with other people. Whoops.

Lesson: Most people are a little flaky occasionally, and it’s best to be at peace with that. However, truly flaky people totally suck and are a waste of time.

2. There will always be people who think I’m too expensive.

Ahhh, yes, pricing. Everyone’s favourite topic!

Over the years, my rates have changed quite a bit, and at every single stage, there have been people who tell me that I’m charging too much, or that they can’t afford me. The interesting part is that this can happen no matter how high or low your prices are, because different people have wildly different expectations. I’m totally okay with this, because I know that there are people who are both cheaper and more expensive than I am, and that there always will be, no matter how much or how little I charge, so I don’t let this get me down.

Lesson: I’m perfectly happy to not being the cheapest option, because I know that I’m providing a ton of value to my clients. Repeat after me, fellow creatives: I’m not not a commodity.

3. And then there will always be people who think I’m a bargain

Yes, this definitely goes the other way as well. I’ve had several moments where I realized I was undervaluing myself. Whoops!

In creating a quote for any individualized service (like, say, a custom website), it’s important to keep in mind not only the level of client (e.g. Is this for a small business or a large corporation?), but the actual value of the product that you’ll be delivering. Will your product or service help your client earn hundreds of dollars? Thousands of dollars? More? How about saving them time and energy? How about bringing them comfort and happiness, which can’t be measured but are still valuable?

Lesson: This stuff’s complicated, but not completely impossible to figure out.

4.Things that seem easy to me won’t necessarily seem easy to clients

This is a huge lesson, and it’s one that I keep having to tell myself over and over again.

It’s my natural tendency to talk about work like it’s no big deal, partially because I’m a bit modest by nature, and partially because I’ve been building up my skills for years, and a number of things come easy (or easier) to me at this point. However, I’ve come to realize that this does me no favours. Even though lots of aspects of my job seem easy or obvious to us, they clearly aren’t to most of the world — that’s why people hire us. It’s important to remember that.

After all, for clients to value the work that we do, we have to value it too! I’ve learned that it’s really important to walk my clients through my process so they know exactly why every decision has been made. This has the benefit of having clients become a part of the process, and it also helps to demonstrate that I’m a problem solver and a strategic thinker, and not just a decorator or a mindless worker drone.

Lesson: Perception is really, really important, guys. And we’re (mostly) in control of how others perceive us. So it’s time to stop diminishing our knowledge and skills just because certain things seem easy or obvious to us.

5. Hoarding knowledge is no substitute for actually taking action

You can read all the articles in the world about freelancing, running your own business, finding clients, and so on. When you passively absorb knowledge over a long period of time, it’s really easy to feel like that’s enough. You’ve got this! But let me tell you… actually putting this great advice into practice feels completely different.

Oh, trust me, I thought I was pretty ready because I’d read and read and read everything I thought I’d need to know. And this did really help me a bunch, so it definitely wasn’t in vain. But did it remove the fear of quitting my job, landing my first clients, and feeling like I’m making my whole business up as I go along? No, no it did not. So, if you’re an overthinker who lives inside your head (like I tend to be), know that knowledge, while helpful, can only go so far.

Lesson: Start taking action. Preferably now. Experience is a much better teacher than anyone or anything else!

P.S. Special thanks to Michelle Ward, my amazeballs career coach, who suggested that all of these lessons I’ve been learning might make a good blog post!

Balcony squirrel = the best

Friends, this week has been crazy, to put it mildly, and I’ve spent a lot of it watching all sorts of terrible news coming in.

I thought I’d lighten my own mood, and maybe others’, by posting this video I took recently out on my balcony. Balcony Squirrel is hilariously vocal and delights me to no end.

Have a lovely weekend!

Some thoughts on bubbles


We’re all living in bubbles.

A lesson I’ve learned over and over again, both in business and in life, is that most people really don’t care about the things that I do.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget this. When you hang out mostly with your peers (‘hang out’, in this case, meaning anything from the media you consume to the people you spend time with to the hobbies you pursue and the causes you get involved with), it’s so easy, not to mention satisfying, to get lost in talking shop.

For example…

  • As designers, we take it for granted that bad kerning and Comic Sans are sinful and that colour and type convey meaning.
  • As developers, we take it for granted that IE<9 is The Worst, web standards are important, and that code should be semantic and reusable as possible.
  • As privileged people, we take it for granted that self-improvement and following our dreams are among the most pressing needs in our lives.

When you’re active in any community, it’s really important to keep in mind that you’re in a bubble and that most of the world doesn’t think like you and doesn’t care about the details that you find really fascinating.

Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s really fun being in a bubble of peers! It’s nice and comfy in that place where most people will agree with your opinions and share your grievances. There’s a lot to be learned from people similar to you, and surrounding yourself with peers can really deepen your knowledge on a given subject.

But for a lot of us, a large part of our audience exists far outside our bubbles. Or maybe they share a bubble or two with us, but certainly not all of them. For business owners especially, people come to us because we have an expertise that they don’t. If people cared about the details that we did, they most likely wouldn’t need our services.

Reminding myself that I’m living inside a few bubbles of my own helps me better communicate the value of what I do to other people. Trust me, I’ve been in conversations where I see people’s eyes glazing over as I talk about my work. Tragic! But, really, if that’s happening, it’s partially my fault. The world belongs to those who know how to frame the importance of their offerings to people both inside and outside of their niche, and not necessarily to those who are the best at their craft. No, the world’s sadly not purely a meritocracy, but when you get communication and skill together… then the magic really happens.


Monthly Wallpaper: April (for real this time)

Yesterday’s monthly wallpaper, while totally gorgeous with its delicate combination of a matzah textured background, a clip art easter bunny, and my very favourite font in neon pink… was an April Fool’s joke. Shocking, right? …right?

Well, never fear, you’re not stuck with that mess. Not that I let you download it anyway, since the “download” links led to everyone’s favourite Youtube video.

Here’s the real thing!



Desktop (2560 x 1440) • Tablet (2048 x 2048) • Mobile (640 x 1136)

(They’re sized for a 27″ iMac, a retina iPad, and an iPhone 5, respectively, but they should all work for smaller devices, too.)

This wallpaper is more on the optimistic side of things, since I just looked out the window and it’s snowing. Snowing. C’mon, weather, get your shit together. April also features one of my very favourite fonts, Memoriam Pro. It’s one of the first fonts I ever bought, though I wasn’t sure at the time what I’d actually use it for. I ended up using it in my own branding so I did find a few good uses for it after all. The illustration is, as usual, from the public domain.