I never intended to become an indie designer, maker and full time freelancer. I quit my job as a Creative Director over 4 years ago. 2014 was meant to be a transitional year for me. The plan was to get another full time position in New York or some where abroad and I’d just freelance a little bit in the interim. But opportunities began coming my way - and I took it by the horns. Everything I’d learnt from designing, to leading, to dealing with stakeholders, generating millions of dollars for clients culminated in a set of skills that turned out to be valuable in the marketplace. Putting my head down, working hard all those years paid off.
So things took an fortunate but unexpected turn.
Eventually things snowballed and one thing led to another. I got more work doing interesting projects with interesting people. And my f**k you money grew.
I was doing about 25 hours a week in client work and the rest was self development, personal projects and learning which I loved.
I grew my dribbble account, and had interesting leads come in throughout that time. And then I started writing and sharing my experiences on my newsletter & blog Verse. And built a community of passionate designers and creatives.
Fast forward to today and I have no set schedule except for the one I set for myself. The freedom is liberating even if challenging at times. But I wouldn’t trade it.
It feels good to choose your own path, and do work that aligns with your values.
It was definitely lady luck smiling upon me no doubt about it. I was at right place at the right time. However luck seems to favour the bold.
“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”
Opportunities arise when you have the skillset to notice them. Build your skillset and intuition and you will see “luck” more often. There’s no point in having a sea of fish at your disposal if you don’t know how to fish.
Do you want to work your own hours?
Be more autonomous and have no boss to work for?
Want to have more creative control?
Have more freedom in your life and have TIME to do more things?
Do work that you find fulfilling and choose the kind of work that you do?
Escape bullshit meetings
Of course you will still have to work hard and face other challenges so it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. But this is all definitely possible and the rewards are there.
There are many case studies out there. And I am one of them.
I often get asked by designers looking to make the jump one day. How to build a small business that is enjoyable and fulfilling. Doing cool work on their terms etc.
I think you should definitely go for it - if it feels like your calling.
I will caveat here by saying that entrepreneurship is not for everyone. But for the right type of person - and perhaps that’s you, you will find it extremely fulfilling and exciting when it aligns with your values.
At the end of the day most designers want the following:
To be valued for the work that they do
To get paid well for they work that they do
To have free and autonomy to explore design and the creative medium
Solve challenging and interesting problems
Feel like they are growing and doing work they’re proud of
There’s a plethora of tips that I’ve shared in the past - but these are the 4 that will put on your on your way to running a successful indie design business one day.
1. Keep learning & growing
You have to keep learning & growing. And apply the concept of Kaizen, the idea of continuous improvement. If you are out on your own - you need to be extremely proactive in your growth. In terms of design, technology, marketing, the overall business and design landscape.
You have to be more proactive than if you were in-house or an employee.
You also have to grow your network. Build your influence. Read, watch videos, practice, and make things. Expand your capabilities and understanding of how to run an indie business that suits your vision and values. (Do you want employees? Or a million dollar per year 1-man/woman business)
If this sounds like it’s all too much. I don’t recommend you go out on your own. To be autonomous you also have to be disciplined. It’s not about sipping “Pina Coladas” on the beach and the “laptop lifestyle”. Or sticking it to the man.
It’s a constant process - where you make BIG strides by simply putting one foot in front of another day in and day out. And over time the results begin to compound to big results if you have the right model and framework. You have to enjoy that process or it’s gonna be difficult.
2. Master an area of expertise followed by complimentary skills
Focus on going deep in one area. Verse is written for designers. So get good at design! Be a true expert in your field. In order to excel you should be great at product design or visual design or web design or app design or UX design or voice etc.
You gotta be good at what you do. And that just comes down to having high standards, and doing everything you can to close that “gap”. Through doing various projects, through practice, through learning and doing courses/bootcamps. Go deep and invest in being a competent designer first and foremost. Sure you can make money if you are just a good salesman.
But how you make money matters. You can also make great money, through the great work that you do. Letting your reputation send you leads. 2 seperate paths but I find the latter is much more fulfilling.
From there start to build complimentary skills that separate you from the pack. That become your USP - Unique Selling Proposition.
3. Wear many hats – Learn Sales & Marketing
Once you’ve gone deep and are in the top 5-10% of designers. You have to learn how to market and close sales.
If you read the above lesson you’d think I’m against marketing and sales. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I think learning marketing and sales is key to business success. I just don’t think you should do it at the expense of good design work. I think when paired with these skills and hats. You have a much higher chance of being successful.
By learning sales and marketing you can also understand how to do drive more value through your work. Which means you can not only offer more services - but price higher for your work.
It’s a tough skills for many designers to learn. But that’s precisely why it’s such a valuable skill set. If you do great work AND know how to drive leads and sell. The reach of your work and your value will amplify. It’s a rare combination particularly if you are an indie designer/maker. But that’s what makes it so good.
4. Cash is the lifeblood of a business - build up that capital and f**k you money
You have to know how to manage your cash flow. Cash is the lifeblood of a business, without cash or a line of credit you’ll go bust, you won’t be able to support your own life/families, the business needs, taxes etc. So you have to know how make money, keep it, save it, invest and grow it.
So you don’t have to be desperate and clutch at every job that comes your way. You can take the chance to use value based pricing. And to build more leverage between your time and your work. When you set a standard for higher prices - you value your time more. But also it becomes your based standard and you get recommendations for clients of the same calibre.
Good clients tend to attract more good clients. Conversely bad clients seem to refer more bad clients.
And those are my tips for you and designers out there who are looking to run their own indie design business one day.
If you want to know how I generated $350k in personal product sales and helped clients drive tens of millions in value over the years. From launching your own indie business, to pairing marketing and design together. I teach what I know about marketing for designers and creatives - in my new course aptly named “Marketing for Designers”.