If you’re a long-time reader, you’ll know that in 2012 I had a personal meltdown, quit my full-time design job, went travelling, grew a project called CycleLove into a fairly sucessful cycling blog, and began freelancing. If not… phew… let’s just say it was a rollercoaster of a year, but that overall it changed my life for the better.
Between 2012 and 2017 I freelanced all over London, for spells of varying length, in design studios of varying sizes — from one-man outfits to one of the largest branding agencies in the country. I grew to love the freedom of freelancing, even if the mental overhead could be challenging at times, and eventually created an email course to help people make the switch from full-time employment to freelancing.
When it comes to going freelance, the metaphor most commonly used seems to be “making the leap”. Understandably so, because you’re giving up the (perceived) security of a fulltime job and a regular paycheck, for something alltogether less predictable. I’ve put “perceived” in brackets there, because it’s arguable that freelancing is actually less risky overall, because your income is coming from multiple sources, rather than an employer who could go bust and dissappear in a puff of smoke. (And yes, I know graphic designers who this has happened to).
Here’s where my story takes another twist. At the start of 2017 I moved from London back north to Glasgow, the city where I’d studied graphic design and then worked in my twenties. Initially I carried on working for myself, but by the summer of 2017 I’d had another spell of depression, partially triggered by a freelancing gig that went very sour (and partially triggered by living and working alone, I think…)
By this point I’d realised that:
- Freelancing in Glasgow was harder than in London because there was much less of it to go around.
- I didn’t have the inclination to build a new roster of clients from scratch.
- Perhaps there were benefits to be had in returning to work for someone else (both in terms of being around other people, and in terms of paychecks).
There were a couple of design studios in Glasgow whose output I really rated, and luckily I knew the boss of one of them, because my old flatmate used to work for him back in the day. One email later we were sitting in a coffee shop, and another few emails later I had accepted an offer of employment… something I hadn’t really seen myself ever doing again. I wasn’t quite ready to give up all my freedom though, so intially we agreed on a part-time arrangement of three days a week, leaving me two days to work on my own projects. (Pro-tip: if you don’t see the job you want advertised, make the job you want). The part-time thing was meant to allow me more time for writing, but in practice resulted in me doing a little freelancing, and a lot of freaking out about not writing. Anyway… I’m back now… and have since upped my days to four days a week, and am counting myself lucky that I’ve found an employer who is super flexible about things.
So what’s it like being employed again instead of being freelance? Do I enjoy it? Do I miss having that freedom to cut loose at a moment’s notice?
Read on and I’ll try to spill the beans…
Things I’m loving about being back in fulltime employment
Quick disclaimer before I start — some of these things have changed because my job title has changed, and I’m now overseeing work instead of executing it. (My email signature says “Head of Digital” at the bottom of it now.) But equally this change is only possible because I’ve stopped freelancing, so be that what it may.
Being around other people
Everyone who’s freelanced knows it can be tough working solo, especially if you work from home. Even if you’re based in a co-working space with other people , it’s not quite the same as being part of a company, because everyone is doing their own thing a lot of the time. It’s funny because I’m definitely on the introverted side — and often get annoyed by loud conversations and meetings and all that stuff — but there’s still something really nice about working with other people. It’s a basic human thing, I guess.
Having a say in how things happen at work
When you’re freelancing at a studio, you’re usally there for a specific job and a limited amount of time. As a result you don’t have much say in anything beyond that. This makes sense of course… but sometimes you end up freelancing for a longer period of time, and starting to have ideas about various things, and usually finding that you’re on the periphery of things. (This was my experience when permalancing in London). I’m now lucky enough to be part of a very democratic studio setup, where anyone in the company can input on how things happen, and everything right down to the financials on each project is common knowledge. (As a junior designer I usually had little idea of overall budgets or how much money the studio was making on a monthly basis.)
Helping other people to learn
This is something I didn’t realise I was missing as a freelancer, until I experienced the satisfaction that comes from mentoring other designers. At Graphical House a big part of my job intially was to bring the studio up to speed on digital design tools, thinking and workflows. Which mean helping them to transfriom from InDesign to Sketch, teaching the design team about things like information architecture and user-centric thinking, and being on hand to explain all the needlessly cryptic acronyms which can make digital design a bit of a PITA to understand for the uninitiated. Granted, there are ways you can teach other people when you’re freelancing, but it’s not baked into the job in the same way. Overall, the mentoring aspect of my job has become one of the most enjoyable, and not something I’d expected.
Not having to worry about money so much
Yup, probably the most obvious perk of returning to fulltime employment. After years of variable income, with periods of drought where no money came in at all, and some short periods where I earnt more than I do now, there is something magically about checking my bank account at the end of each month and seeing a big wad of cash sitting there. And because I’ve now gotten serious about pensions and my future finances (thanks to Mr. Money Mustache and others), I’m relishing putting a large chunk of this into my SIPP and ISA accounts for old James to enjoy somewhere down the line.
So… I’ve now worked full-time, part-time, flexi-time, freelance and permalance as a graphic designer. And probably some other variations that don’t have a name. Each approach has its pros and cons, and I’ve realised that any job can be character-building or health-destroying (if you’re not careful).
Looking back I’ve perhaps been a bit bullish on freelancing… when really it’s about finding the style of work that suits your particular stage in life.
Would you ever consider going back to employment from your freelance job? (Or equally, are you on the other side of the fence/gap/cliff, eying up that leap?)
PS. You can discuss this post on Twitter, or shoot me an email.
PPS. You can still get the PDF version of my free “7 Things You Should Do Before Going Freelance” course here.