Step into my office— a freelancing FAQ

How did you get your start as a freelancer?

Many years ago I started as a photographer. Not the kind that makes money, the kind that makes art. And then someone I respected said they thought that my images would look great with text. I loved that idea, so I taught myself everything I could about typography.

How were the first few months working for yourself?

My process was very gradual. I worked in a camera shop for 6 years while building my business on the side. I eventually cut my day job to part-time hours, and I started teaching myself to design for the web, basic HTML/CSS, and taking on bigger projects. Eventually it made sense to take the plunge for real. Shortly after that I was getting more and more projects and eventually started teaching a part-time design course.

How did you go about finding your first clients?

At the very beginning I just made sure everyone knew what I was doing. I’m not a natural extrovert so this still takes a lot of fake-it-til-you-make-it for me. And I made sure my friends and family also spread the word. People eventually reached out asking me for design work.

Did you find it was a struggle to find clients? When did you feel like you got into the groove of it all?

The fact that I was in a two-income household and I kept my day job as long as I did means that I didn’t have to stress as much.

Whats a typical day like for you now vs. when you first started?

A large part of freelancing is about running a business. So there’s the creative/coding work, but 50% of my time is spent following up on emails, doing project management, dealing with accounting, networking (be it IRL or online), and continued learning. I’m also just getting back to teaching a new course at DecodeMTL in Montreal this Spring.

Is there anything you hate about freelancing?

There’s nothing I hate. There are challenges which will vary from person to person. My business is all on me and sometimes that can be tough. I can’t just clock out at 5pm and feel like “it’s someone else’s problem”.

What about freelancing do you love?

A lot, but the biggest is this: My time belongs to me.

  • If I’m feeling a bit run down this week, I can back off and push harder next week.
  • If the weather’s good, I can plan a Wednesday-Friday kayaking trip and make up for it by working over the weekend.
  • My work is 95% remote. If I wanted to go work from Thailand for 3 months I can just do it.

Do you do design as well as development?

Yes, but for at least 3 years I did only design and outsourced dev. The opposite is also completely possible. Most people don’t do both. A year ago I relocated to take a 9-week front-end development bootcamp in order to level up and stop outsourcing the development work. Best investment ever.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start freelancing?

Do it! But know yourself.

What about managing finances?

First thing: get an accountant. As a solopreneur there are a million things to consider around taxes, write-offs and maximizing deductions and chances are you don’t know half of them.

So do you take vacations anytime you want?

When you’re self-employed you can decide when you want to take time off, but the bill’s all on you, baby!

Any networking tips?

Yes! Get out on a regular basis, no matter how much you think you hate it.

  • Go to conferences. They’re fun. And don’t be that guy/girl who’s secretly looking for “better” people to connect with when someone is talking to you. Be present and kind, and don’t underestimate people.
  • Go to meetups. They suck. Keep going. Eventually they suck less.
  • If you’re in Canada, find a local chapter of Ladies Learning Code and volunteer. You teach. They learn. You feel good. They feel good. Everyone wins.
  • Get involved in multiple Slack communities. Just don’t live in the shadows of DMs for too long. Answer and ask questions in the open. That way everyone benefits from the exchanges, and you get to build relationships.
  • Don’t isolate. Create a little posse of other freelancers you trust and schedule regular meetings. Accountability and support are crucial.
  • Get proactive about creating a co-learning environment for yourself. Find a group of people with different skillsets but common values, and build something together.*

Ok, your turn!

Do you have any other questions? Maybe you’ve been at this for a while and have some tips/tricks/thoughts to add? Either way, drop them in a comment or a tweet!

Psssst!

I’m putting together a service to help freelancers write better proposals…

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Independent Front-end Designer | Educator | Kayaker @luclemo | lucaslemonnier.com

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Lucas Lemonnier

Lucas Lemonnier

Independent Front-end Designer | Educator | Kayaker @luclemo | lucaslemonnier.com