Oh yeah, this is another 2018 review. And it’s too late already as well. Sorry for that. But fuck it, I’ll capture all of my thoughts nevertheless and use it rather as a way to self reflect on what’s been good and what not. I guess that is also what a personal review is intended to be, right? Ok, let’s go.
10 years of serious business.
2018 has been my 10th year of being self employed, a freelancer, or “company of one” as Paul Jarvis puts it. I officially opened up my business in 2008.
I went to the local business administration center with my mum and dad so they can prove it’s all fine and I’m fully aware of what I’m about to start. That’s the deal when you want to get serious.
From that on I never looked back. I was already working on small design projects for a couple of years besides school. Lot’s of music stuff — unreadable death metal logos, shirts, album art aaand motion banners of course (I used Photoshop and ImageReady— great times). But I’m getting too nostalgic already...
So ten years later I’m still doing what I love and even managed to make a living out of it for quite a while now. By helping people and companies to create great digital products in various ways. Fun!
But it’s been a wild ride for sure. Freelancing is special and surely not always easy. I’ve seen a couple of friends trying and failing. Not because they weren’t smart or not good at their craft, but it wasn’t “their thing”. It takes a certain and partly weird kind of personality and a long breath to keep the lights on.
Being your own boss has many advantages, obviously. Yet the insecurity, the wide variety of responsibilities, the amount of not-so-design-related-knowledge necessary to stay on track with your business can really be overwhelming and let you doubt if this is all worth it. For me it was and still is. I still can’t think of going fix anytime soon even though there’ve been some super appealing options along the road over the last years.
Ok, but since this is meant to be a review and not a full blown history — How was 2018 business wise?
The year started off with some smaller projects that were still going on from 2017. (Oh, fun fact: I actually had to check my invoice history to remember what was going on. My brain sucks at remembering things that are longer ago than a week).
I finished most of those smaller gigs until February. You have to know, that over the last 4 years, I used to work mostly on longer term projects. Usually between 5–10 months / client. So in 2018 I couldn’t manage to get one of these bigger gigs until March. Which is bad. Therefore February and March have been the worst months of the year, financially (I’ll give some more details on this in the next section.)
Luckily, at the end of March Malthe approached me to work for COBE — A digital design agency from Munich. There it was, the bigger gig. We’ve been working on a fancy mobile app in the financial field for the next 7 months. Great time, great team, great work.
In June my first ever freelance client, Spreadshirt, reached out to me to help them launch a new product / service. A shopify print on demand plugin that needed basic UX and UI work to get things running. At that time I was only available one day /week over the next 4 months. That’s not much but we made it.
Almost 90% of my work in 2018 happened on remote. It worked very well. Yet not being in the same room with the team still sucks. I definitely prefer to be with the people I work with. I think I could or should write a separate article about the ups and downs of working remotely. But let’s keep it with: “It worked!” for now.
I know, writing about money can be perceived in various ways. It’s clearly not my intention to be like: „look at my numbers and how awesome“ or whatever. Also you’ll see — it’s not.
I always appreciate when other freelancers or companies go fully transparent about their numbers. I think it’s highly valuable for other freelancers or those who consider starting their own business to see what reality looks like. Especially for other German freelancers, I hope.
So as already mentioned, February and March were pretty bad. Exactly a 2.440 € (incl. tax) bad (which is basically nothing for two months). However, thanks to COBE and Spreadshirt I got back on track pretty quickly and overall 2018 wasn’t all too bad in the end. I made 71.686,46 € in total, 41.231,18 € after expenses and tax. It’s almost similar to 2017. Which is basically good due to several reasons. First: two months almost no €€. Second: I spent a good amount of time working on our own product, Heev (which meant less time for client work overall) Third: I raised my daily rate.
Back in October 2017 Marcel, Alex and I started working on our own f***ing product. Holy… We agreed that there should be something better for the (German speaking) freelance folks to handle all the business stuff. In 2018 we Managed to get a lot of stuff done and launched a closed alpha in late September. We even managed to find a name for it: Heev. If you’re a German speaking freelancer — check it out and put yourself on our waiting list. We will roll out Beta invites in the next two months.
When I said freelancing is a wild ride, then building your own product on top is nuts. It’s a lot. Complexity, fun, work, time, energy, communication — it all comes together. Even tough we are still at the very beginning I’m pretty sure we are onto something and pumped to continue with what’s on the list. It’s a lot I can tell. We will start with simple and intuitive time tracking and invoicing, including a custom layout designer for invoices.
And since products are so much fun I decided to get involved with another fantastic one called Scrumpy. Hans and Philip, the founders, have been building scrumpy over the last two years. They launched it earlier in 2018 and its been super interesting to follow their (very transparent) path.
We’ve already been twitter friends for a while, mostly making fun of each other. But in September Hans called me to ask if I would be interested to jump onboard and help them designing the future of Scrumpy, so Philip can put more focus on the Frontend stuff. I was stoked and didn’t hesitate all too long.
Since then we’ve already rolled out a revamped navigation concept, several UI updates and a couple of great features like custom columns and My Desk. There’s so much more in the pipeline and I’m really looking forward to put much more effort into making Scrumpy even better! (Lovely team by the way)
Writing & speaking aka leaving my comfort zone.
I wrote an article! This came unexpected. At the end of 2017 German tech magazine t3n asked me to write a few words about the all new version control tools for designers. The article has been published in their print mag in February and you can read (the German) version here.
Aaand more stuff that put me out of my comfort zone, the desk, the screen, the office. In April Michael Bomke and I did a two day digital design workshop at the Invia (aka “Ab in den Urlaub”) offices in Leipzig. We put together a basic introduction to a modern design process including several tools, methods and techniques as well as a practical part. This was some of the best experiences work wise. Showing other designers some of the stuff I experienced and learned over the years and helping them get along with modern tools was super fun and I would love to do more of this in 2019.
I think this whole speaking thing is fun. I like it. So I decided to attend two meetups to speak about modern design tools, design systems and my work with Webflow. Will definitely do this more often as well.
And finally, in December I had my first talk about persuasive design at a private university in Berlin. I think this was the most challenging thing so far. There were a couple of aspects far out of my comfort zone that almost drove me crazy upfront while preparing it. I’m happy and proud I eventually did. It went quite well and there’s a lot I learned and I’ll do different next time. Big thanks to Jens aka Big J., who invited and trusted me.
Writing and speaking is clearly something I want to do more in 2019. It’s been very challenging but helped to overcome some anxiety and reflect differently on my work.
The shitty shit — Stuff I fucked up.
Sounds all too rosy & shiny while writing it down. Actually, of course, there were tons of things that didn’t work out, that I didn’t finish or even start at all. Stuff I missed out on and so on.
Freelance Interviews (that I didn’t publish…(yet))
I guess first and foremost theres a side and heart project I started in the mids of 2017 called djärvt — A freelance podcast and interview series. I recorded 5 interesting, insightful and personal interviews with great people from the creative industry. But I essentially fucked up all the rest. Up to this day I was not able to eventually finish and upload the interviews. There are various reasons and honestly, none of them are reasonable. Which leads me to realize once again that I have to get this out. There’s a lot of useful stuff that I learned during the interviews and that sure’ll be helpful for other freelancers, solopreneurs and small company owners.
This thing here right now is the first stuff I actually write for the public. Which leads me to another missed opportunity — I already wanted to write a bit last year. And the year before and… you get it. Since this one is kinda escalating already, I hope it helps me breaking the barrier and to keep it up. There’s a shitload of stuff I’d like to write about. Especially about freelancing, product design, business and such. Clap if you want more! (it’s a trap!)
And much more for sure.
Next up — 2019 Preview
Wow, respect you made it this far. Didn’t expect that. So let’s have a look in the glass ball and shape my fancy visions for 2019.
I’m not into new year’s resolutions so let’s keep these goals rather fluffy.
- Personal branding — Get my f***ing portfolio updated.
- Work on meaningful, challenging and fun client projects whenever possible.
- Focus a lot on Heev and Scrumpy for sure. There’s so much we have to work on — Excited!
- More real world collaboration whenever possible.
- Get those freelance interviews out in the world.
- More writing. Especially about freelancing. Maybe a book.
- More speaking, consulting, meetups and workshops.
- More traveling.
- More fun. (even more!)
Oh btw, I’m currently available for new projects!
Have a look at my website, where you won’t actually find any work at all (see point #1 of my great goals) but a list of stuff that tells you how awesome I am and why you should hire me. No, seriously: I’d be happy to send you selected cases and tell you more about my work, approach and process.