How to Transition: From In-house to Freelance

Episode #6: How to Transition for Graphic Designers: From In-house to Freelance

In-house work, while it can be a pain to work for people, you are never out of business. And that’s the interesting thing. You have all these people giving you work constantly, at least for me, that’s how it was.

It was like, you know, sometimes all-nighters having to get projects done, and never, never, never enough time to do everything. So when you go from that to nothing, it’s like, oh wow, where do I go? I have to find the clients, I have to go do that. So if you get a taste of what it’s gonna be like before you go all in with the branding and everything, it can be just a good base, a good understanding.

Welcome to Earning by Design, a podcast dedicated to guiding graphic designers and creative freelancers towards building successful businesses from their passions. I’m your host, Lauren Gonzalez, with over 14 years in the design industry, including both in-house corporate and freelance design roles. I’m here to share insights and strategies to help you thrive in your design business.

My journey was not without its challenges, including finding well-paying clients, and struggling and managing an overwhelming workload for minimal return. But through perseverance and strategic planning, I was able to transform those obstacles into a six-figure design business that allows me to work from home, set my own hours, and select projects that truly resonate with me. So whether you’re embarking on your design career, or you’re already an experienced designer, Earning by Design is your companion to help you stay competitive in the fast-paced world of graphic design.

Welcome back to Earning by Design, episode six. And this is gonna be all about transitioning from working in-house to working freelance. Now, I had recently, some listener was asking me a lot of questions about that whole, that tricky transition between going from working in-house to freelance, and thinking of all the things, thinking of how you have to have that cushion of income, and all sorts of points.

And she wanted me to go deeper into it. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about it on the podcast, and see what you should not do, which is how I did it, and what you should do, what you should be thinking with, and how to prepare so that you know, with confidence, you can make it. And that is the biggest thing I feel as working in my own business, having my own business, is the confidence that you’re gonna be able to support yourself from now, from a year from now, and you know with certainty that it’s the right decision.

So with that, we’re gonna start from the beginning. Now, I wanna just touch on the point that why you want to go and work for yourself. Maybe that’s because you are sick of the environment and of working.

Maybe it’s a toxic environment for you, and you don’t really like having a boss, and you don’t like being told what to do constantly, or having to work on the same projects, or the same type of client, which is essentially the company you’re working for. Maybe you are being run too much, and you feel that you wanna set your own schedule. Maybe you wanna start a family, and you wanna be there for them.

Maybe you wanna be able to make more money instead of this cap limit, or maybe you got fired, unfortunately, which I’m very sorry if that is the case. I know there’s a lot of different economic unsettling situations going on in the world today. So if sometimes you’re forced into this situation by the way of being let go, then you’re not gonna necessarily have that whole padding and the planning necessary to make this happen.

So I think that I’m gonna be telling you about the wrong way to do it, which is what I did, but also what you should do if you’re thrown into the situation of having to transition to working for yourself. And also if you are given that gracious time, and you are able to plan, and really think with the whole thing through so that you have that confidence when you leave that things are gonna work. So there’s those two sides of it, and we’re gonna get into both.

So going back first, we’re gonna talk about that not so good way of doing it. Or so let’s say you just are so excited, you have all this enthusiasm, and you know you’re a good designer, you know you can work with people, and you buy your own computer at home if you don’t have it already, you get your Wacom tablet or whatever other devices you use to design, and you’re there and you just have this picture of the client’s coming, the client’s coming, the client’s coming. So that is not always going to, or most 99% of the time, unless you already have connections, you’re not gonna have any clients when you leave.

And the scary thing also is all the work that you have just done with your in-house, when you’re working in-house, you can’t use that in your portfolio. And it becomes a little uncomfortable because you have to show something at first. And you can have, if you have to put yourself on social media, you wonder, oh no, is somebody from the company seeing what I’m putting out there? And you have to make sure you’re not gonna infringe on any legal contracts or anything that you have with your own company because that can get you in trouble and backfire on you, which isn’t gonna be pretty.

So I myself was not able to use anything. I had to go and start from scratch in building up a portfolio. Now, the one thing that I would have done differently if I, when I was leaving, and I didn’t do this, but let’s say we’re taking the case of just cold turkey, leaving without any planning, I would have done a lot of getting myself out there from the beginning.

Instead, I just hid behind my computer. I didn’t wanna talk to anybody. Luckily, the only way I got any work is because I did have a family friend that referred me to somebody and that ended up being very little work, but I was excited.

It was something. And the thing that I would do differently, if you’re thrown into this situation and you have to come up with the business is you don’t focus on anything else but getting yourself known. Put yourself out there.

Go and go into Facebook groups. A lot of them, unfortunately, these days have become spammy, but you can start just going around and searching keywords, looking for a graphic designer, go on LinkedIn, search just constantly because the thing that’s gonna drive you crazy while you’re setting up your business is not having any income. So if you can get one project and just have something coming in at that beginning stage, it’s going to make you feel a lot more confident to then go back and set up your business correctly, which is not just throwing yourself out there.

There’s a lot of steps involved, which we’re gonna touch on in this episode. But the thing that you wanna do in this case is that should be your driving force. How can you make yourself known? Can you go to maybe local networking events where there’s other businesses? Can you go and find and talk to people at events like conferences? Can you go to, you don’t wanna just go to graphic design forums and graphic design type of Facebook groups.

You wanna go where there are businesses. And that’s gonna be the biggest thing is just make yourself known. Now, what you’re probably asking is, yeah, but what if I don’t have my portfolio because everything that I just did is all from this company? You can maybe take some of the examples that you did when you were, before you were working there.

Or you can spend a week and just design a bunch of projects, have that there, have a portfolio, a digital portfolio, and then just start going and showing yourself. Now, this is obviously very, very just that first level. This is not gonna be refined.

You’re probably gonna feel embarrassed at first about your makeshift website and portfolio, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to get yourself out there as soon as possible. You wanna get those first clients and talk to friends and family, talk to them. I also get very embarrassed about talking about myself to family and friends because I just wanna be in my own, I wanna keep personal separate than business.

But at that beginning stage, it’s okay. It’s okay to let people know you’re working for yourself now and you offer great services, show some examples. You can also, this is something I did do, which is even if you’re not allowed to share the work that you did publicly, you can send private portfolio examples of what you were just doing in-house.

So you can have those, if you can somehow get ahold of some of those designs that you had, some of the files, you can then at least share so people know you do quality work. And that’s really the purpose. It’s not like you’re gonna be saying that you are the company or you’re taking over their clients.

That’s not gonna happen. You’re just showing that you can get a product done. So that’s what I would say when you’re first starting because what I did is, like I said, I didn’t do any outreach.

I just luckily landed a client and then I had to, it eventually led to referrals and getting more and more clients and getting into really understanding marketing. But that comes at a later point. So when you are in the stage where you can plan, I am going to, we’re gonna talk about that, what really, really, really is important and things that I didn’t think about at all.

And if I had the time to go back and really look at it, it would have made my life so different. So number one is health insurance. Now, depending on what country you live in, in the US, you have to have your own health insurance.

And this is something that is a must because in case you have some illness situation or you need to go to a doctor, having insurance helps you pay for those things. And it also ensures that, let’s say you have, hopefully this will never happen, but there’s an emergency. You gotta be able to pay for that.

And if it’s gonna be out of pocket, it’ll be way, way, way, way more expensive than if you had the insurance to begin with. So if your partner or your spouse does not have insurance with their business or you’re by yourself, you have to have this. Now, when I was in my 20s, I think you can be on your parents’ plan.

And I was very thankful for my mother because she actually kept me on her plan till I was 26. Now, 26 is the age that most health insurances do not keep you, like they’re not, they don’t let kids be older than 26. But that’s something, if you’re in your early 20s, you can always ask your parents and see if they are willing to, it’s probably gonna give them maybe a few hundred dollars more a month in their own plan, but that’s a possibility just as a point.

And if you have that, but if you’re not under 26, then you are going to need to find insurance. And you should start with that when you’re working in-house. Think with what type of insurance do you want.

There’s health shares that are more economical. Other insurances are more expensive. These aspects are just, they’re part of your expenses you need to think with.

Listening to a podcast is fantastic, but sometimes we need a more straightforward way to access information. That’s exactly why I put together some free downloadable resources for you, including a free pricing guide with a free pricing list, how to get client’s guide, and how to manage your time better. These are packed with quick reference information and actionable steps that you can start using right away to enhance your own design business skills.

Make sure to visit forthecreatives.com and get your free copies today. Another thing you have to think with is you will not be getting paid time off. So if you are sick, you are going to have to have a cushion there.

And that’s why people talk about getting three to six months of a cushion of all your expenses paid for before leaving a job. So what does that mean? That means you are able to pay for your rent. You’re able to cover your childcare.

You’re able to cover health insurance, food, any other additional aspects. You wanna live a bit frugally at this point so that you can be saving really, really well. Dave Ramsey has great resources on that in case you’re wanting somebody who’s really expert.

I do really appreciate what resources he has to help people plan. So you can check him out. There’s a lot of other resources about how to save and plan with money.

But that’s something that you need to start being cautious about because you’re not gonna be having that steady paycheck every single week or month or every two weeks with working for a job. So you need to think with before you leave, having three to six months, I would say on the higher side, six months of savings in your account while you’re starting that business so that you can give yourself that chunk of time to get things going and get things up and running. And you know that you are gonna be able to pay the next month’s rent or mortgage and you’re not gonna run out of food.

And you also need to think with your own skills in talking to people and marketing. So before leaving, you need to get yourself really educated in how to approach people, how to get yourself known, how to network. Now, I highly recommend reading the book, This is Marketing by Seth Godin and the One Page Marketing Plan by Alan Dibb.

I will link to those in the show notes. They are incredible books that give you a really good base and grounding for marketing so that you can think as a marketer because that’s what you’re gonna be doing in your business. You are not just the designer, you’re gonna be marketing yourself, which means making yourself, your business desirable to potential clients.

And it’s just, I don’t think that if I had read those books when I was in-house, I would have started my business so much stronger, so much better instead of not reading them for many years after. And you also need to think with that if you’re not working, you’re not gonna be making money. So again, just reiterating that point, you have to have that cushion there.

Also, you’re gonna have to use channels where people are located. So that means social platforms. If you don’t like social media, you’re gonna have to get over that for your business.

You don’t have to have a personal account. I don’t have one, I don’t have anything personal. I only have my business accounts, but that is important because you’re able to then reach the right people through those channels.

And it’s just really important to also think if you are leaving and you’re gonna be maybe having a baby or you wanna be spending more time with your kids and you think that you can work while also having them home, I’m gonna give you a big reality adjustment here. If after you have that baby, they’re gonna be sleeping a lot. And those first six months or five months, it’s gonna be like a dream.

You get to work all the time while they’re sleeping. And even though the doctors always recommend that you are napping with them, I never did that, probably should have. But the point is that after that five months, they are gonna be starting to be awake a lot more and they’re gonna need attention a lot more.

And between five months and three years, it just gets more and more demanding. So you’re gonna need childcare. If you’re gonna be leaving your job and you think that you’re gonna be able to take care of your kids at the same time, you’re gonna need at least a good solid four hours a day of dedicated childcare.

So whether that’s maybe a parent, a grandparent, it could be maybe your partner, or you actually have a babysitter or a nanny that is, or childcare, like a daycare. You are going to be the strategist. You’re the mind over your business.

And it’s really super crucial that you are given that time because you have to be thinking with, oh, I need to make this content piece. And oh, I should be reaching out to this person. And thinking in the future and thinking about how to market yourself.

So when you’re in the middle of a great thought and then your child comes in and says, oh, I really need to, I really need your help in the bathroom. Or I really wanna watch this movie. Or I really want you to play with me.

You are going to have such a hard time getting back to where that thought was. That could have been an amazing thought to get you moving your business forward. And I went through a lot of parent guilt because I felt like I needed to be with my kids all the time and I was being a bad parent.

But I realized if I’m not making money, they’re not gonna be eating. So it’s the right thing. And it’s important that you are, you can have those conversations with them if they’re old enough, but you, for yourself, spend dedicated time with them.

When you’re not working and you don’t have that scheduled four hours or five hours or whatever you decide, then you can have that time where your attention is fully on them. But if you’re always in this stage of trying to play with them and trying to work and on your phone trying to send messages, but at the same time, they’re trying to be with you, it is so stressful and so exhausting. I really don’t wish that upon you.

So I wish I had really figured out my own childcare earlier because there was a stage when it was tricky. It was really tricky. And I was working in the middle of the night when they were sleeping in order to make things work.

So I can’t stress enough the importance of that. Now, while you’re in-house, the things after you’re just, I just want you to think with those points that are not always thought with, that I didn’t think about, that being a business owner would come with. Also, I wanna just mention in accounting, you really need to be either hire accountant or get yourself trained in accounting and in doing your own finances, making sure you have business expenses separate than personal expenses.

It’s gonna make your taxes a lot easier. And obviously the legal aspects of the business, which you need to set up and register your business, and you need to set it up as either a sole proprietorship or LLC are the two that I highly recommend. But I wanted to just walk you through the steps of what you should do when you’re working in-house and how to prepare.

So number one is make the firm decision and set a date. Set a date on when you want to be out, what you wanna be doing, and really have that vision really strong there. What I would have done in that situation is I would have then started to really determine myself.

If I don’t like the type of work I’m doing in-house, what type of work do I love? What excites me? What makes me just go on fire about that? And then I would start doing passion projects around that. Create designs that I want more of, that I wanna attract the type of clients of, and put those there so that you can have some sense. It’s kind of like a taste of what life would be like not working in-house.

So that’s something that’s really important that you wanna do at that point. And then you want to be saving. You wanna be saving every spare second you can.

So maybe you can put that trip on hold. Maybe you don’t have to buy that specific car and you can get something that’s less expensive. Maybe you can cut back on going out to eat and you can cook more homes or cook more homes, cook more food at home, or prepare your lunch if you’re working in-house, obviously, that’s what we’re talking about.

Prepare your lunch so that you don’t have to then go out to eat. There’s a lot of ways, if you just start looking on how to save money. You wanna save, so for somebody who is single, maybe the expenses would be 2,000, 3,000 a month, so think times three, or times six, and how much that would be.

And that’s how much your goal. Like I said, go back to Dave Ramsey. You can look at advice.

They have tons of resources. He has tons of resources in his blog and on his YouTube channel that really helps to think with how to save and cut back. So you gotta be aiming towards that financial, having that cushion.

And so then, I am a strong, strong believer you have to learn about marketing and you have to understand that you’re not gonna be for everyone. But you gotta know who you want to work for and what type of clients match that. Type of passion projects that you’re so excited about.

What are those type of passion projects that you would want to be doing, not as just passion, but for clients? And think with that, because that’s gonna guide you as to where you should go find them. Now, don’t start posting work from your in-house job. Don’t just start posting on your personal.

It might make you feel uncomfortable. This has to be an exciting journey for you and you should find those type of clients that excite you and then set up a new business account just for that and start finding more online communities in that niche. Start going and using hashtags for that niche.

Only follow people or businesses that you want to work with or that are in the niche, industry leaders in that niche. You’re gonna get recommended then as the algorithm starts to learn what that new account is for. Go on LinkedIn and find these people in the niche you want to work with and start just connecting slowly and slowly and slowly.

In that way also, most likely, unless it’s exactly the same niche that you’re working in-house, you’re not gonna have this crossover where you’re scared about people that you work with seeing what you’re posting because it’s gonna be kind of like your own little area online that you can just be proud of and be a part of and start growing that. Now, it takes time to do this outreach. It’s not something that you’re gonna necessarily land a client on the first person you reach out to.

And that’s why giving yourself that maybe six months of just, because you’re gonna be doing it part-time too. And so if you set that date in the future for six months that you’re gonna be leaving your job and in this time you start understanding how does networking work? How does that, how does it go to go and find people? I know networking is not a fun word to use, but that’s really what it is. You, when you are starting, nobody knows you.

You have to make yourself known. And the only way to do that is going out there. And that’s where knowing who you wanna go or where to go helps a lot.

So that’s something that you wanna think with really strongly is first is where, is the type of clients you wanna work with, the type of passion, projects, the style, the what gets you excited, what type of design. Make sure you’re saving all that money. You’re saving that money for ahead so that you know that you’re gonna be able to.

Making sure that date is really firm in your own mind on when you’re going to be leaving and starting to approach people and getting that drumming up that first, those first clients. Then while you’re doing that, you should establish your branding, your own branding. Get yourself figured out.

What is your business name? Get it registered. Get it registered with your government. Establish it as a sole proprietorship or an LLC.

And then you wanna go and start messaging, figure out what is the messaging that is going to attract the right clients to your business. Have that on your website, have that in your social platform. Just start getting yourself more and more solidified as a business.

It’s going to make it more exciting for you, more real for you, but it’s also going to make yourself more professional. So people are going to be more attracted to that once you have it. Now, the reason I have you start doing the networking first in this case, usually I say the other way around, but it just gives you a sense of what’s involved.

So you can be sure you really, really wanna do this because in-house work, it is, well, it can be a pain to work for people. You are never out of business. And that’s the interesting thing.

You have all these people giving you work constantly, at least for me, that’s how it was. It was like, you know, sometimes all-nighters having to get projects done and never, never, never enough time to do everything. So when you go from that to nothing, it’s like, oh, wow, where do I go? I have to find the clients.

I have to go do that. So if you get a taste of what it’s gonna be like before you go all in with the branding and everything, it can be just a good base, a good understanding. So then when you do get more clients coming in and you have the clients coming and you feel that confidence and you know, okay, this is for me, I can do this.

I’ve proven to myself, I can go find clients. I can get somebody to come in and I can actually charge for something I can deliver on my own and I’m trustworthy. It’s a really, really, really big confidence booster once you’ve done that.

And you’re gonna get, you’re gonna want more. It’s an exciting thrill ride. So you’re gonna be more incentivized to keep saving money and be ready for that when that time is up in that six months.

So those are things that you should really, really think with in the tricky transitional stage. There’s obviously you have to also get into pricing, determining your rates. You want to make sure that you know how to manage a client project.

You know the different steps involved. You wanna make sure that you are managing your time and you’re gonna be able to trust yourself that you’re not just gonna watch TV all day. And cause there’s nobody that’s gonna be holding it above your head.

There’s no boss to put you there. And that you’re constantly learning also and being willing to read a lot. Read a lot of marketing tips.

Read a lot of books about branding yourself and how to approach clients, how to expand your business, how to do content. There’s always, always room to learn. And you wanna keep learning the design skills too.

And keep fresh up on what is the right, what is working for you, what skills you need to improve on. Maybe you’ll find that clients keep asking for a skill and you need to improve on that. So it’s a constant evolving point.

But I think the top, top, top of the list is really knowing your finances and being prepared. Because there’s nothing, nothing that’s going to stress you out more than not having the money to come in and continuously going into debt. Because it just builds on itself over time.

And you get yourself into a hole and then you end up going back to a job. So it all goes full circle. So if you can do it the right way and be prepared, I cannot stress enough how much you will feel less anxious and be able to know with confidence that you can make this happen.

So don’t do it the wrong way. But if you do end up getting fired and get into this situation, just plow, plow head with that outreach, outreach, outreach. Don’t worry about anything else at the beginning just as you need to get yourself known.

So thank you very much for listening to this week’s episode. And let me know any other questions that you have about the transitional phase. This obviously gives you two perspectives on what to do to prepare correctly, but also what to do not.

But maybe there’s some aspect of it you wanna go more in detail and I would be really happy to do that. So I would love suggestions of any other type of episodes you like. Please feel free to write in the ratings or the reviews, anything you’re also looking for help with.

You can also direct message me at ForTheCreatives. And I’m just very happy to have you. So thank you for being here and have a wonderful rest of your week.

And if you’re preparing for this, I say really, really take that confidence. You can do it. It’s scary.

I did it the wrong way and somehow still ended up making it and having a very successful business. So you can too. Don’t let anybody who is around you or working with you or parents or friends tell you that you should just stay in a job.

If it is not something that fits your own life and you feel just not right, you have to make that decision and for yourself. Not if you’re not doing this for anybody else, obviously do it responsibly, but it’s okay to have those feelings. It’s okay to not wanna work for somebody else all the time.

And there’s some people that just were meant to do things on their own. And if you are one of those, my friend, then you do it. And I’ll be here to back you up.

And I appreciate that you’re listening to this. I wish I had had this advice when I was starting eight years ago. So thank you very much again.

I appreciate you and have a really nice rest of your day. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Earning by Design. If you found value today, I would be incredibly grateful if you could leave a review on your favorite podcast platform.

Your feedback not only helps this podcast to grow, but it also helps to get in front of more designers who need help too. So thank you sincerely for being here and for more resources to help you succeed in the world of design, please visit forthecreatives.com. That’s the number four, thecreatives.com. We offer a variety of courses, programs and free resources all tailored to enhance your design skills and your business knowledge. Also be sure to follow me on Instagram at forthecreatives for more updates and tips.

And if you haven’t already joined my growing community of over 100,000 subscribers on the For the Creatives YouTube channel that has more content, all designed to fuel your creativity and your professional growth. Until next time, keep creating, keep exploring and continue to push the boundaries of your own creative journey. I’ll be here to guide and inspire you every step of the way.

Listen to this podcast episode on…

The right way to transition from in-house to freelance

If you are considering leaving your job and are toying with the idea of having your own business, there is the right way to go about doing it and the wrong way. In this episode, I go into the wrong ways to transition, what you should do if you have no choice and no time to prepare in situations where you may have gotten fired, and the right way to do it if you have time to plan ahead.

Learn some points to think with in the transitional phase between working in-house to going freelance to start your own design business.

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