My first year as
‘an independent professional’

Design entrepreneur exploring the reality of “flying solo”.


It has now been ten months since I left a design consultancy which I had been building for last five years (and five years before that I spent five years building another design company). A restless soul, some may say. The reasons for leaving had more to do with my personal growth than the companies, which both are in perfect health as far as I can tell.

I have not met many design company owners who have taken the path I have chosen, therefore I thought it would be an interesting insight into a freelancer’s life from an experienced entrepreneur. How would your life be different?

Office hours

The most contrasting part about working on your own are pace and peace. There are no politics. There are no compromises. Your only responsibility is to have integrity and keep your promises. And silence… gosh, I missed that in open office where my ability to concentrate was close to zero. Working at home or in public library is far more efficient, where you are protected from continuous need to share your attention. And time… now I wake up earlier and work more than I used to but I also have more time for my family, friends and exercise than I used to have.

Loneliness

I did not spend (many) days in pajamas. Being a sought-after professional, my days were filled with meetings, lectures and travel. My biggest fear was that I get lonely and anxious when I don’t have people around me. That part did not come true as there are many pleasant people you can work and spend time together. Although I miss the corporate events, may that be a random wine-and-chat Friday or a Christmas dinner.

Work

I am a big fan of models, so I made one for myself, just to keep me in balance. I figured that it makes sense to keep doing design project to hone my skills, focus more on lecturing and consulting as more valuable work and invest 1/3 of my time to startups, which eventually end up being something more than having a day job.

Well, I did spend 1/3 of my time of doing things for free, which included startups like Hourdini (computer aided scheduling for service companies), Qminder (cloud based queue management), Skillific (skill based job market) and Aiden (DIY help on depression) but also several other projects that wanted to get me involved as a designer/founder in their business.

What was different from my initial feeling was how underserved are companies in terms of product/business development. So when it comes to tasks, then I spent half of the time doing consulting and lecturing (I put different business development tasks and meetings into management section):

Learnings

Leaning to say “no” becomes a necessity as you run out of time really fast. Also, you can say “yes” to work which were not reasonable budgeted for bigger team. Time saved from delegating became design hours.

Being organized is crucial but it is easier to maintain because no one has to adapt to your system. That goes to administrative tasks but also to professional tools as I have picked up a whole range of new tools like MindNode, Sketch, Blocs and became a heavy user of Evernote.

It takes a lot of time to figure out what is the size and speed of the company you are able to work with. Aiming too low and you are micromanaging, aim too high and you will crush under the workload and deadlines. But the best part is that you enjoy working with clients you have handpicked yourself (as they have picked you) so the relationships are stronger and more stable than the ones you have when there are teams on both sides.

And you will like the person you will become as there are no roles to play except your own. So be true to yourself and everything else will be fine.

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