10 Things Beyoncé Taught Me About Being A Bosslady Freelancer
This is a design talk disguised as Beyoncé song lyrics. Or Beyoncé song lyrics disguised as a design talk. YOU ARE SMART. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. YOU DESERVE HAPPINESS. WHO RUN THE WORLD? YOU.
If you weren’t 100% into someone, you wouldn’t keep dating them right? If someone didn’t make you feel great and happy and fulfilled, you’d tell them to put everything they own in the box to the left and leave? Of course you would. Beyoncé definitely would (all while filing her nails and rolling her eyes like in the music video). So why do we often stay at jobs we hate? Jobs that drain all of our energy and put us in creative ruts? Start looking at your job as another relationship: if it’s not giving you what you need, if your heart isn’t into it, it’s probably time to move on and find better.
If you’re not 100% into job or an idea or a decision or a project, don’t do it. It’ll show in your work and attitude. The gray area is a death sentence for productivity and creativity. You get stuck in it and it’s hard to get out, just like a shitty relationship. Don’t let yourself get comfortable in a sub-par working situation. The same way you deserve loving and exciting relationships, you deserve fulfilling and inspiring work. Would Beyoncé settle for anyone less than Jay-Z? Nah. (Well, maybe that really hot guy who plays her fake fiancé in the Best Thing I Never Had music video would be okay.)
I was always under the impression that in order to be a successful creative person, I had to go to college, get good grades, get a full time job, “put in my dues” and work my way up to the top. I graduated at the top of my class in advertising school and got myself a job as a junior art director at a big agency. And…it only took me nine months into the job to realize I had made a mistake. I wasn’t loving my work, and I couldn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life. But…I had taken all the right steps! How could this be happening? My mind was flooded with worries. Would people think I was a quitter? What would my parents say? Would I be able to make a living on my own? After much contemplation, I decided that I’d rather take a chance on making a living doing what I really loved (lettering) and fail than to have played it safe, kept my full time job, and never tried at all.
Like most great love stories, there is no fairy tale road from A to B. Things don’t just fall into place magically and you live happily ever after. Don’t be afraid to follow your own weird, windy path. There are a million ways to get to the top of a mountain (or the Billboard charts), and just because one of them works for someone doesn’t mean it’s the right or only way.
Can you imagine Beyoncé looking over her shoulder to make sure her boss isn’t watching while she browses Facebook and online shops at the office? LOL of course not, because Beyoncé would never be working a job boring enough to need to kill time. I know working a job you don’t love is not great, but not being able to pay your bills isn’t great either. That’s the big dilemma. But if you break it down, the salaries can be deceiving. Right out of school, I had what I thought was my dream job working at a top ad agency in NYC. I was making $60K a year, which felt like a million dollars to a 22 year old. However, a couple months into the job I realized I was working 60 hour weeks. I did some Beyoncé math (I don’t know much about algebra, but I know one plus one equals twoooooooooo), and when broken down, my salary was a rate of about $20 an hour. What?! I used to make the same money working as a hostess at a bar when I was in college. At the same time, I was charging $75 an hour for freelance projects on the side. I did some more Beyoncé math and realized that I could make about the same salary in 1/3 of the hours with my freelance rate. RING THE ALARM.
Fast forward to now, and I’ve been successfully working from home for a year and a half. Yes, having a full-time job has its benefits, but freelancing offers me flexibility and freedom that a 9–5 can never match. Now I actually make more money than my old salary, and I work 25 hours a week, which frees up my week to cook, draw, travel, make cool personal projects, listen to Beyoncé, and enjoy the many interests I have outside of working. I can work noon to 3pm or 8pm to midnight. I can work on my couch, in coffee shops, and on airplanes. I work whenever I want, wherever I want. Isn’t that what Queen B would want for all of us? There’s no way all creatives — designers, photographers, illustrators, etc — can thrive equally in the same 8 hour window. I’m not saying drop your 9–5 right away, but this is just some serious food for thought that helped me feel Beyonce-confident about leaving my full time job and diving into working for myself less than a year out of school.
Getting as many eyes as possible on your work is crucial to a successful freelance career. Don’t be shy! Don’t second guess yourself. So what if it isn’t perfect yet? My very first Daily Dishonesty posts were a little janky. So what? The same way if you dance sexy for your man like Beyoncé sings about in this song, he won’t care if every move isn’t perfect or if your butt jiggles (actually, he’ll probably like that). The truth is, he’s just really fucking excited to be there.
So, treat sharing your work like you’d treat doing a sexy dance: it might be a little intimidating at first, but just go for it, work your best angles, and everyone will love it. Put your work out there. No one is going to steal it. No one is going to judge you. Keep working. Keep getting better. Show it to more people. Start a project. Get some press. Start another one. If you’re ever going to be best friends with Beyoncé, you’d better start getting comfortable in the spotlight.
On that same note: You can be an amazing gem of a designer, but if you’re always in the dark you’ll never sparkle. You have to try to get into the light in order to shine. What if Beyoncé had kept her beautiful voice to herself this entire time? What would my life even look like without the Baby Boy music video playing on MTV every morning of 8th grade?
My first big editorial lettering job was an opener for the feature article of Los Angeles Magazine back in February 2014. I got the job because the design director of the magazine had seen one of my Daily Dishonesty illustrations while scrolling through a popular type blog. How lucky was that? But when I think about it, it wasn’t luck so much as it was lots of hard work paying off. I started Daily Dishonesty back in college in 2012 as a fun way to get my lettering work out there, and a year later I caught a glimpse of light. After the Los Angeles Magazine piece hit newsstands, I had dozens of other magazines lining up for editorial work that year.
Put yourself and your work out there. It’s one thing to have a website with your work, but it’s another thing to get people to look at that website. Once you catch even the tiniest glimpse of light, you’ll reflect and shine a million different ways. But the light isn’t going to magically find you. You have to make an effort to find it.
I love being a graphic designer. I love being able to pay my bills by illustrating beautiful type. But once in a while, those ugly thoughts creep into my head: Is what I do really that important? There are people out there saving lives and finding cures to diseases, and I’m worrying about ligatures and swashes. What would Beyoncé say to this? I’d like to think it would be along the lines of: “Girrrrrrrrrrrl. Do whatever makes you happy. You’d be a terrible doctor anyways. Your hair is too fabulous to be kept under a scrub cap.”
It’s okay to be selfish when it comes to your work. Choosing to be a designer is choosing to commit to making the world a better or more beautiful or more functional place. Congratulations, you have a meaningful job. Also, please design things you want to design, not what you think other people want you to design. Last year, I went through a mini-crisis where I started feeling guilty about designing funny, novelty products instead of things that were more helpful or practical. But then I went into an Urban Outfitters where they sell my book and saw it next to another book that was a journal for logging your poop and felt a little better about the content I was producing. The point being: Ain’t no shame in designing novelty gift books (or poop journals) instead of the next life changing smart-phone-watch contraption. There will always be other people out there who are passionate about the serious stuff. You do you.
When it comes to design, I truly believe that what’s on the inside counts just as much as what’s on the outside. Frustrated that your posts or projects aren’t getting the attention or response you thought they would? Go back to the heart of it: the idea. Is it more than just a pretty face? Is there soul to it? Great designs are the intersection of an awesome idea and an awesome execution. Most of the time it’s not your design skills that need work, it’s the heart of your projects. No matter how beautiful something may be, if there are cracks on the inside they’ll start to show sooner or later.
You don’t literally have to be trouble, but it’s better to be a little weird or crazy than to be safe and boring. Pushing the boundaries helps pique interest in you and your work. Two years ago, I went through a nasty breakup, which inspired me to create one of my favorite projects to date, Ex Boyfriend Tears. Yeah, it’s a bit bitchy. Yeah, some people were offended. So what? For every negative reaction there were hundreds of positive ones.
When you made the decision to become an artist or designer, in a way, you made the decision to entertain people’s eyes and minds with your work. Don’t be afraid to get into a little trouble. Just don’t go to jail because you won’t be able to get your 24/7 Beyoncé fix without the Internet readily available.
Yes, with freelancing things can be unpredictable, but it’s up to you to keep things good. There is no autopilot when you work for yourself. Like any relationship, you have to put in effort to keep things running smoothly. Actively keep in touch with clients. You never know when a project will come up, and you want to be the one they think of. Keep your creativity sharp (like Beyoncé’s amazing vampire grill) by finding new creative outlets that fulfill you. Make sure your website is always updated. Blog about things that matter to you. Stay active on social media, even if it’s just to share process sketches on Instagram or tweet at your favorite designers. And lastly, make time for fun and friends and down time when needed.
Seriously, ladies are KILLIN’ it right now. Check out this list of badass designer/illustrator/creative chicks: