Ditching your 9to5 to be Freelance & Fancy Free

Since last months interview with The Design Cubicle, I’ve gotten some emails for further advice on ditching the 9-to-5 to make your own creative footprints on the world. First, I want to say — I’ve been doing this for a year — I am by no means an “expert”, I can just offer up some of what I have learned over the past 13 months and what I’ve learned from my fellow freelancers, and I hope it is valuable to you. If you have anything else you’d like me to cover — feel free to email me, leave a comment or @cmdshiftdesign me on Twitter.

How do I know when it is time to leave my job and do freelance full-time?

The only one who can answer this is you. You have to listen to your gut on this one, but there are definitely steps you can take to help you “hit the ground running.”

Moonlight to build up a clientele.

I’ve heard this advice from many seasoned freelancers and it is great advice. I did not do this and it wasn’t a problem for me, but it would have been smart – if you’re able to do it.

Don’t think you have time to build a business in your spare time? Well, you do. Take a cue from Gary Vaynerchuk, stop watching LOST and get to work! Moonlighting as a freelancer will also give you a glimpse at what you’re getting into. Freelancing isn’t for everyone, so it’s a good idea to get a taste of it before fleeing the cube.

Establish a Fall-Back fund

Even the most seasoned freelancers experience lean times, and when you’re just starting out giving up that guaranteed paycheck every week can be terrifying. Putting a fund in place to catch you in case you stumble will keep you fed, clothed and will allow you to focus on doing good work and growing your business instead of freaking out over dollars and cents.

Of course, we need to make money, but eliminating the panic factor allows you to avoid the freelance pitfall of undervaluing your time and having to take on a million micro-budget projects.

Your Fall-Back fund should have at least 4 to 6 months worth of living and business expenses. Of course, your first step is going to be to sit down and figure out how much you need to keep going each month. You may have a general idea of that figure, but remember to take into account some of those larger “one a year” expenses like automobile maintenance, web hosting, etc.

Build a small-business network

Besides the paid vacations and cushy medical coverage, one of the big things you give up when making the freelance switch is interaction with your colleagues. One way to combat this is getting involved with co-working communities, where independent professionals share an office space. Like many, I tend to use Twitter as a virtual co-working experience. No matter how you do it, get out and connect with other small business owners, they may share resources and tips, refer clients or just be a valuable freelance ally – either way – just cause you’re in business by yourself doesn’t mean you have to go-it alone, they are a ton of us out there!

Consider A short term contract position

Contract work exists in the space between a regular staff position and being a full time free agent. Check out some of the creative placement agencies in your area and find out about the companies they contract with. This is a great solution to help you make the transition, or if you find a contract that is part-time, this can bring in good money and allow you plenty of time to grow your business.

Stay on your bosses good side

Maybe you won’t be missing your boss once you leave your 9to5, but don’t use your upcoming freedom as an excuse to burn bridges with your current employer. There is a good chance your former boss will soon become your client when you leave.

After going freelance my former boss has become a valued client, it’s almost a perfect situation (for both of us,) think about it – you don’t have to go through much of the initial “getting to know you and your tastes” phase, you can jump into the work, understand your new clients needs right away and get things done efficiently!

CMD+Shift Design Business Cards

Spread the word

Of course you’ve told your other design friends that your making the freelance switch, but don’t stop there! Tell your neighbor, your mailman, your barista – tell everyone you talk to that you are starting your own business, give them a business card – give them your elevator speech – make sure they understand what services you offer, cause even if they do not need to hire you – chances are that if you are likable and memorable, they will pass your information along next time they’re at a business lunch and someone says “I need to find a graphic designer!”

Treat freelancing like a business, not a job.

This is a big one. On that first day you sit down at your new independent office space, you are now a business owner and this comes me many more tasks than your former position. You are now project manager, designer, production designer, developer, art director, you are the accounts payable and accounts receivable office, you are the marketing department! Of course for many things you may end up hiring specialists (like for taxes!) but your day to day running of the office is now on you – if something doesn’t get done, it is your fault. Being organized and drawing from you small-business community will help you set your groove, and as you watch your business grow, you’ll know it’s your doing!

Now.. hop to it!


  1. Great points here… had I only had this list the first time I tried to go out on my own, but then again I wouldn’t have learned the practical side of freelancing.

    Great read… I will be sure to pass it on to others

    ~ Aaron I

  2. Wonderful starting point. One thing I didn’t have when I initially started freelancing was the Fall Back Fund, luckily my networking and such helped me land consistent business and helped build that fund early on.

    Thanks for the great read!

  3. Hey Liz, I have recently started following you on twitter after seeing you come up on my iphone as a local twitter user, and im glad I did. This post is awesome, and i look forward to others. I look forward to every twitter post of yours as it seems to spark inspiration for me. I’m @HardD99 if you want to follow me.

  4. Good stuff! I was freelance for a year and a half, then doubted myself and took a full-time job (which I hated). Now I’m going back to freelance and I’m super excited! Thanks for the tips! :)

    1. @creativelyselfemployed – so true! i’ve found the best advise by pulling from many different sources and then adapting it to fit me.

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