Employee to Employer in 2 Weeks
A introduction to the “Fire Your Designer” lifestyle
Okay, so check it. It was the end of 2014. I was over a year in working as a Senior Designer at a boutique design agency in New York. I liked my job. I liked my field. I liked the pay. The location… ehhh. But to sum it all up, I was pretty much happy. Pretty much. But I think we all want something more.
During my tenure at the design agency, I began listening to different podcasts, or “success audio” as Peter Voogd calls it. Oh, and a lot of Combat Jack. Tons of Combat Jack… but back to it.
Upon listening to all this flavor in my ear, I had to take action. In addition to these current and new school teachers like Pat Flynn and Jamie Masters who I’d listen to, I was also listening to the OG’s Earl Nightingale and Napoleon Hill. Depending on your age, or just your knowledge of auto suggestion or the law of attraction, you may have heard of these guys.
If all this sounds like crazy talk and is unfamiliar, peep it: Both Earl and Napoleon were big believers in auto suggestion and the law of attraction. As in: “speak and you shall receive” or “ask and it shall be given”.
The Start of Something New
So, I had the music playing in my Beats by Dre headphones, popped open Evernote, and wrote down that list of what I wanted, when and how I planned on getting it. I wrote down my list, checked it twice and stared at it incessantly. Like a beautiful woman with not quite enough clothes on (I’m not the only one, right?). The magic of that list — with a couple key components that I’ll discuss shortly — led me to the entrepreneurial promised land.
Then, I nicely resized the list and moved it to the left of my screen. Left of Photoshop, Gmail and Spotify, so no matter the app, I had my goals right there looking back at me. All. Day. Long.
I wrote what I wanted to work on, and maybe more importantly, what I didn’t want to work on. I wrote when I wanted to work, who I wanted to work with, and the dates I’d achieve all of these goals. I read the notes at work. I read them on my way home from work. I read them at night and again in the morning and throughout the day while working all over again. I’d listen to these modern marvels and masters talk about mastermind groups, automation, decreasing distraction and — clearly — the importance of writing down your goals.
I did this while maintaining my 9-5, while on the side I was building freelance contacts and knocking out freelance projects. It was a lot, but it didn’t seem like it. I was busy sending out invoices and actually living and working in New York with a social life, too. I wasn’t going to stop.
One of my main goals on the list was to work for myself. I looked at what my director did, his hours, his process, his tone of voice within the office and outside of the office, his habits, his team members, I saw what worked and what didn’t work. I applied those findings to my approach, I avoided some of the mistakes he made, I worked to double some of his winning strategies. And as I did this — yup, you guessed it: I was constantly reading my list of goals.
Tons of Photoshop documents and emails later, I completed tons of nice looking work, got the agency a bit more streamlined in efficiency and specific practices to aid the business of designing. Then it was year-end review time, and with that, it was time to make a decision. Do I stay with the agency? Go to another agency? Or do I live my dreams and do exactly what I’ve been preparing to do for over half of a year?
I took the leap.
January 1, 2015, a little over a week past my year-end review, I became the Creative Director of my own business, EJordanill (Eric Jordan Illustration), a name I developed in college when my goal was to be an editorial illustrator.
It was the start of the year and I was excited, nervous, thrilled and ready. Just a few days ago, I was employed in a secure and steady job. Now it was up to me to bring home the bacon. I’d wake up, go right to the cafe and get busy. Evernote always open so I didn’t lose sight of my goals. I started emailing my previous clients, and people I garnered relationships with. I let them know I was ready for whatever they needed to be designed.
I looked at the work I did for them prior and analyzed it, saw if they changed their number and if the old number was still on their business card I designed for them. If I made them a website for their latest release or project previously, I went and looked to see if their site reflected their most recent efforts. If not, I would send them an example of what the site could look like with an update.
Connecting with old and new clients was key in getting business off to a great start.
I treated tons of old and prospective clients to tea, promising to only take a tiny bit of their time to discuss their goals or to just catch up. My tea dates ran from peers, to people who looked up to me, to people I looked up to, creative directors, and other entrepreneurs. All were very insightful and a breath of fresh air. Connecting with old and new clients was key in getting the business rolling.
Treat Yo Self
Coming to the realization that I was in full control was something else. Clocking in or out was totally up to me. What I listened to, what I ate, what I drank, when and where I worked was all up to me. Again, my timing reflected my old office hours — some days even longer since these “work for yourself checks” weren’t going to be as constant as the agency days.
I treated myself (within reason) to make my environment a happy one.
But I made sure I was happy. I watched some Powerpuff Girls while working, listened to Watch the Throne way too loud in my headphones as many times as I liked, took some smoke breaks — well really, gummi bear breaks cause why smoke, ya know? I treated myself (within reason) to make my environment a happy one. I took walks when I felt overworked, I bought healthy snacks: almonds, chocolate-covered coffee beans… okay, well maybe those weren’t the healthiest, but I got myself situated so working didn’t feel like work. I made it so I was happy, healthy, and productive.
A B C D
Always. Be. Closing. Deals. Working for yourself, you have to bring the work in. Much different — frankly the opposite — from having a job and where the work magically flies in daily. I made it a priority to stalk Twitter and Facebook. I searched “looking for designer” or “need a web designer”, monitored the results, and contacted those who posted what they needed.
This tactic, although it seems like a shot in the dark, got me a nice amount of responses and landed a few one-time clients and a couple long-term clients. Those clients definitely added to my monthly revenue reports. I’ll speak on them shortly. But upselling clients I worked with, scrolling through my email to see who sent me money in the last two years, checking up on them and selling them on a new project or update to a projects…I closed those deals and got money adding to both my confidence account and my bank account.
Be Open Minded
With the weight of the world on my shoulders to provide, I had to be open to what my potential clients needed. My specialty was and still is logo design and branding. With that, I’d still design websites, paint portraits and do packaging design. In my quest for funds on funds on funds, I was approached to design menus for a restaurant, and retouch a new clothing label’s photos for Instagram. Both were the same client. Sounds a bit odd I know, but hey, thats what they wanted. We negotiated $400 a week for these services, so $1600 a month.
When jobs came in, as long as they weren’t like, “design a better engine than what was packed in the first Ford Model T”, I was basically saying yes.
With an open mind and willingness to learn and execute, I was able to carry out these somewhat new projects, get paid, and even add to my portfolio and skill set. Being open minded and confident in what I was able to do and having my back up against the wall with limited choices on jobs that were coming my way put me in a good place. I kept the lights on and continued to establish my relationships. It helped me buy a car, too. In New York, at that. Shout out to the Jeep Patriot.
Assemble Your Crew
When jobs came in, as long as they weren’t like, “design a better engine than what was packed in the first Ford Model T”, I was basically saying yes. Like I said earlier, I design sites. But what you may not know is I don’t develop them. I connected with web developers to take on the work I couldn’t handle all alone. With that, I was able to collect even more funds, pay my new team members and keep moving to the next set of jobs. That was key.
Without some of the collaborations I set up, I wouldn’t have been able to charge higher rates or offer a well-rounded set of services. Also, once I had my team members in place and set a rhythm with them, they switched it up and also brought jobs to the table, instead of me finding and delegating all of the jobs. What a plus, right?
I also told my friends I was working for myself, so anything they needed designed or — more importantly — anyone they knew who needed design services, I asked that they send them my way. A simple “ask and you shall receive” example in full effect: I had a ton of referral business.
Again, that teamwork came through and saved the day. I was referred to business owners, rappers, marketers, designers, NFL players, ex-NBA players, the list goes on. The team’s help was priceless.
Show Up and Show Out
There are dark days working for others, so best believe there are dark and dim days working for yourself. There are days where you work on a proposal to land a job, and despite all the time, effort and creativity that goes into it, and you end up not winning it. There are clients from hell. There are Net 30, 60, or 90 payment terms and the list runs on and on.
But when the going gets tough, get tougher.
Sometimes it’s enough to make you want to throw in the towel. But you can never give up. Like ever. You can pivot (you probably should pivot because things change all of the time — that’s the only constant right?). But when the going gets tough, get tougher.
Show up even when its hard. Show out. Post your works. Keep your reports, too. Creating revenue reports helped me see what systems were working for me, where to place more of my time, what clients were really invested in me. Those reports helped me focus on specific areas of the business, and led me to understand what types of pieces display best on different outlets, and how to keep the momentum rolling.
There are tons of outlets these days to display your talents to the world. I utilized Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter and Behance. And the main course, email. I’d craft emails with updates, tailored to the big boys (high-paying clients) about every 1.5 months with works that would make sense for them. I sent emails to clients I recently finished work for or people I scoped work for.
I was basically working to win a daily talent show, or at least working to get some air time on that show to keep the checks flowing in.
It took planning, discipline, a team, and a network to work for myself. I started January 1, 2015 and I’m still walking these entrepreneurial streets. It’s rough and it’s rewarding. These tactics and a few more helped me stay afloat.
Now, what will you do to increase you side hustle, your entrepreneurial efforts?
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