Freelance designers are often so focused on the present and the immediate future that a long-term career plan is non-existent, or at least under appreciated. What needs to be done in order to complete that big project? Where will the next client come from?
Many don’t want to deal with the stress and unpredictability of freelancing forever. Without a long-term plan you may earn a decent living, but down the road you’re likely to find yourself wishing you had been more prepared. Some freelancers are comfortable enough in their careers that they would like to continue to freelance for the foreseeable future. Others would like to eventually expand their business and limit the amount of client work that they must do.
Most freelancers have compelling reasons to pursue their own interests in projects that they own rather than spending all of their time on client work. Obviously there is nothing wrong with client work, but as a freelancer being paid for your services you will be limited to how much you can earn because you are limited to how much you can accomplish working on your own.
In an article I wrote a few years back, a few readers left some thought-provoking and insightful comments on that post about their reasons for working on their own projects and other thoughts on the subject. One reader in particular, Brian, left a comment that I thought summed it up pretty well:
I really feel freelancing should never really be full time. Or if it is, it should be a path to starting a small agency, or something more lucrative and self sustaining. The ultimate problem with freelancing is that you are limited by yourself. You can only make as much money as you can literally work at one time. Yeah you can raise your rates, learn a new skill, take on bigger projects, but ultimately you can only do so much as there are hours in a day. With a business you really have no limitations. Aside from having other creatives to collaborate and draw ideas from, people to actually interact with on a daily basis, and being a business owner, I feel it is truly the only way to remove the salary cap that is freelancing.
I feel that freelancing should be something you do on the side to supplement your income. Just adding two websites a month to my salary based job adds a nice padding of income. I work at a small agency and it’s nice to be able to get up and go someplace to work. If you’re not truly the business type, look for small agencies that you can rise quickly and get on a closer level with the principals – while building your skills freelancing.
I feel freelancing should be a path, not a destination.
While I wouldn’t agree that freelancing should never be full-time, I do strongly agree that it’s important to see the opportunities that could be just a few steps away in the future. If freelancing is a path and not a destination, a long-term plan is needed to help navigate through that path and ultimately wind up at the destination that we’re after.
How a Plan Impacts Your Career
All of us, regardless of our occupations, need to give thought to our long-term plans and where we want to be later in life. In almost every case, where we want to be in the future is not exactly the same as where we are now. Getting to where we want to be takes movement, and movement requires a plan, or else it’s wasted effort.
With a plan you can identify the distance from where you are to where you want to be, establish some key achievements that will get you there, and set up a plan to meet them one by one.
The core work involved in freelancing day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month tasks get the job done, but it may not help you to develop and secure your future unless you make planning a priority. By establishing a plan you’ll be able to see what changes, big or small, you need to make, what skills you need to develop, and why it needs to be done.
Steps to Planning for the Long-Term
1. Set Aside Time
Freelancing can be a pretty hectic and busy career. Setting aside some time to think and plan is the first step. You may already know exactly what you want to do down the road, but chances are you could use some more time for planning how to get there.
2. Think About What You Enjoy
What aspects of freelancing do you enjoy? What other types of work do you enjoy that freelancing cannot give you? Think about what you would like to do in the future and how freelancing can fit into that plan. If you want a lot of things that freelancing cannot give you, you’ll need to think about how you can eventually make a transition.
3. Think About How You Can Earn a Living Doing What You Enjoy Most
The ultimate job satisfaction will only come when we’re able to support ourselves and our family doing something that we truly enjoy. If there is something that you’ve always loved but never had the opportunity to pursue it professionally, try to identify opportunities to combine your interests and your career.
Freelance web designers have a unique opportunity in the fact that they are skilled and able to build websites for themselves to own and operate. For example, if you enjoy traveling it’s possible that you could build a website of your own focusing any aspect of travel (photos, a blog, reviews, bookings, etc.) and potentially down the road that could turn into a full-time income for you.
4. Set a Deadline to Meet Your Goal
Even though your plans will be long-term, it’s still helpful to have deadlines or target dates of achievement. Deadlines for this purpose aren’t intended to label your career as a success or failure, but rather to give you an idea of where you are now and to keep you motivated to move forward.
5. Set More Detailed Checkpoints
Once you have a big-picture goal in mind, work backwards and think about what needs to be done to get you from where you are now to where you want to be. These smaller goals and objectives will keeping you on track and focused on the actions that will help you to achieve your ultimate career goals.
What’s Your Opinion?
How do you feel about the need for long-term planning for freelance designers (and other careers as well)? What are you own personal goals, or what do you hope to be doing down the road?