Secrets about freelancing — I lied about my career.

by Tobias van Schneider
first appeared
on my personal blog

At least once a day I get an email from someone reaching out to me asking for advice on how to become a designer. Or more specifically, how to become a freelance designer with your own clients.

Now, my advice might surprise you a bit. When I started out as a designer, I lied about my career. I lied about my abilities and my experience. I kept it subtle. I didn’t lie to elevate myself or to harm anyone else, but I did it because I just didn’t know better.

As you might know, I’ve never enjoyed any traditional education. I’ve been self taught from the beginning, and all I’ve learned I got from my personal experience.

When I decided to work for clients and offer my skills to other people for money I had to come up with a plan. Because technically, I didn’t had the skills I wanted to have.

Fake it til you make it.

I remember one of my first clients (long time ago) asked me if I can design and program a website. I said “Of course I can” knowing that this is actually a pretty good lie.

But I really needed this client and the experience. So my thought process was the following:

1. The client asks me to design & program a website within two months, which gives me a good deadline.

2. I know the client knows nothing about web design. He is not an expert on it, neither am I. But I’m the one who gets two months paid to learn about it. I will be the one who sets the goals & the way to measure them.

3. So basically, whatever I do in these two months can only make me more of an expert than the client is. (if I spend my time wisely on research & execution)

Knowing that I now have two months to deliver a website was exactly what I needed. Of course, the result I delivered two months later wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was good enough and satisfied the client.

But more importantly: I learned how to build a website and couldn’t wait to do the next one, better than I did before.

There are dangers to this strategy of learning, but for me this was the way I learned most of the things early in my career.

I promised people that I can do something for them, even though I had no idea how it actually worked. But the positive side effect of this strategy is that you will learn under a lot of pressure with a set deadline.

You either have to hustle, or you will disappoint and break your promise. And disappointment was never an option for me.

Another client asked me to design a magazine, from concept to the final print production. I had no idea how this worked, I didn’t even know the difference between RGB and CMYK, let alone what Pantone colors are used for.

But still, I promised to design and guide the print production of the magazine. It was one of the most stressful jobs I ever had, but also one of the best learning experiences. At the end of the job I printed my first magazine, I knew the in and outs of every single printing technique.

The first thing I did after getting the magazine job was typing into Google: “What’s the difference between RGB and CMYK”. This is how I learned and still learn everyday.

This strategy of learning can always backfire, but to my knowledge I never disappointed anyone but myself. I always delivered, because I had the pressure and a deadline.

Even today, I love to take Elon Musk as an example. Before Elon started SpaceX he had no idea how rockets work. He simply borrowed a few books about rocket technology from a friend and started reading about it. Shortly after he started building and crashing them until one of the rockets took off without exploding.

And yes, we’re talking about building rockets here, not designing a website or magazine.

The only thing we need to be careful with is leaving our ego out of the game. Pretending to be someone we are not is dangerous.

“Fake it til you make it” means to think it until you really believe it for yourself. It’s always a temporary state, otherwise it will become damaging to our reputation and ego.

I believe that whatever we want to learn, a little promise to someone else might be the kick in the ass we need, because then we have to deliver. There are no options other than rocking it.

Do you have similar experiences or even an example where it backfired? Would love to hear your story on Twitter @vanschneider.

RELATED: There is a great TED video on how our body language shapes who we are. Our body language affects the way not only how others see us, but also how we see ourselves.

“Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.”

Wish you a fantastic week,
Tobias


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Tobias is a Designer & Maker + Co-Founder of Semplice, a portfolio platform for designers. Also host of the show NTMY — Previously Art Director & Design Lead at Spotify & Board of Directors AIGA New York.