How to Transition from inHouse to Freelance Design

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“Making a living doing what you love is hard work, an action plan takes the ‘document’ out of the business planning and helps you work ON your business not just IN your business.” – Corwin Hiebert

Corwin_HiebertConference presenter Corwin Hiebert joined us for a live chat as part of HOW Design Live Online on June 9, sharing his insights on business management for freelancers, visual artists and entrepreneurs. One aspiring freelancer asked Corwin for advice on transitioning from her job as an in-house designer to starting her own freelance design business.

Check out what Hiebert had to say about starting a freelance design business in this excerpt from the chat session.

Transitioning from in-house to freelance design

Guest: If I’m interested in starting my own freelance business, what all do I need to consider to create a business action plan?

Corwin Hiebert: There’s a lot to consider with new business but #1 is to know WHO you’re going to serve.

[Regarding] an action plan — as you scheme ensure ALL your notes, ideas, tasks are organized in one place (ideally a digital space) so that you can plan your business on the fly instead of it being a massive undertaking every time.

Guest: I’m a copywriter and web designer looking to leave my in-house team in order to set out on my own, and I’m concerned about making enough money to survive. Obviously freelance web design can come with a pretty big paycheck, but how can I ensure that I have regular clients?

CH: Assuming your current employer can’t be converted into a client… you’ll want to develop some relationships / side projects in the margins of your life to build up a bit of a transition state. Regular clients are gained when their scope isn’t isolated – work to find clients that have needs beyond one deliverable.

As well – always look to go deeper with a new client. Ask questions and pay close attention as you’ll often find other “problems” that you can solve – making their life easier.

And, for the record, regular clientele comes from managing the relationship. Be professional, and crazy organized, timely, and super friendly and they’ll want more and more.

Guest: In terms of marketing myself, do you have any particular strategies/venues you’d recommend for getting the word out about my work? I have a personal website and social media pages, but I’m not sure how to go about optimizing my publicity efforts.

CH: The best marketing approach is to focus on referrals – inspiring and encouraging those around you to speak well of you (and your work) will always pay off. Beyond that – focus on an industry that you know and love – design for the masses isn’t attractive but leveraging your knowledge and passion for a particular hobby, activity, cause, product type, or service will ensure you’ll have more meaningful conversations.

Guest: It might also be relevant to note that I’m in my twenties. I know I have the skill and the talent to succeed—as well as some innovative perspectives that many of my older peers lack—but I’m also facing the challenge of establishing myself as a credible designer in the freelance market because I’m younger. Any ideas for building my “street cred,” if you will?

CH: First off, recognizing the liability/opportunity of your youth is a big deal so… good on ‘ya. Second, you need to fill your portfolio with projects and ideally they are well supported through case studies, or some sort of process/analysis to show why/how you do what you do. If they have to be personal (non-client) projects then so be it. Work your face off and share ‘the love’ with others.

Guest: You mentioned that I need to be “crazy organized.” I completely agree, but I’m a bit on the scatter-brained side when it comes to anything beyond file management—especially finances. Do you have any tips for keeping everything in order?

CH: Hire a bookkeeper to prepare quarterly reports for you and to keep you on track. Money management and tax filing is the number 1 killer of creative freelancing so take my advice here for sure. Hire a little bit of help (so that throughout the year you’ve got someone in your corner) it removes stress (and errors) down the road. To many freelancers wait till it’s tax time to dump the shoebox of receipts on the floor. Don’t do that.

120_HDLOnline1For more information from Hiebert, you can watch his session at HOW Design Live Online or read his book Living the Dream: Putting your creativity to work (and getting paid) (Voices That Matter).

Chat with other HOW Design Live speakers at HOW Design Live Online and watch 23 hours of video from the conference! Register with code HOWLIVE14 to get $100 off registration!

Live Chat Schedule:

  • Monday, June 9 at 3 pm ET: Corwin Hiebert
  • Tuesday, June 10 at 2 pm ET: Marcia Hoeck and Ed Roach
  • Wednesday, June 11 at 1 pm ET: Robin Landa
  • Wednesday, June 11 at 2 pm ET: Hamish Campbell
  • Thursday, June 12 at 2 pm ET: Matthew Richmond
  • Friday, June 13 at 1 pm ET: Andy Epstein
  • Friday, June 13 at 2 pm ET: Nancye Green
  • Monday, June 16 at 2 pm ET: Sara Wachter-Boettcher
  • Tuesday, June 17 at 2 pm ET: Justin Knecht
  • Wednesday, June 18 at 2pm ET: Chris Converse
  • Thursday, June 19 at 2 pm ET: Allan Haley
  • Friday, June 20 at 1 pm ET: Douglas Davis

Learn more and register here.

If you were a Big Ticket attendee at this year’s HOW Design Live please contact us at howdesignlive[at]fwmedia[dot]com to receive access to all conference videos.


About Corwin Hiebert
As business manager for freelancers, visual artists, and entrepreneurs, Corwin cares about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of making a life, and a living, from one’s creativity. Through his boutique firm (Taendem Agency) Corwin provides management and marketing services to creative talent such as world-renowned photographer, publisher, and best-selling author David duChemin. Corwin is an engaging speaker with a compelling presence whose presentations are fluff-free and action-oriented. He provides the steps, tools, and tactics you need to help you work smarter and make more money. His creative approach to freelance business development, combined with his fast-paced and comedic style, make his sessions un-missable. Corwin is the author of Living the Dream: Putting Your Creativity to Work [and Getting Paid]—published by Peachpit Press (2013) and is the Business Development instructor at Vancouver Media Arts Institute (VanArts). www.corwinhiebert.com

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