Find Freedom as a Designer: A Guide to Remote Work Opportunities
As an aspiring designer, you will have to learn the skillsets and business skills. But first, it's important to consider today’s job market, the global climate, and how you want to fit into these elements, so you can best set yourself up for success.
In my career as a graphic designer, I've actually worked in all of the location-indepedent positions, so I hope you can glean some insights from my journey and the pros and cons I have derived from each position.
Design is Communication
While creative ability is clearly important, every other aspect of communication also comes into play—including attitude, attire, talent, choice of language, and personal drive. No matter the client, understanding how best to become a solution provider for your clients will provide the edge you need to get ahead of the competition.
I always teach my students to hone their business skills along side your creative skills. Developing a business foundation, work flow automations, and project strategies will help you provide for your clients with ease. This will also help you distinguish your strengths as you settle into working as a professional graphic designer.
It will require some self exploration to find the best fit for you as a designer. I encourage you to take the time to explore the different directions you can go. Today, we will start with looking at the different types of location-independent positions for graphic designers.
Let's dive into the different types of positions you can have as a location-independent graphic designer
You are here for FREEDOM, I get that. But, perhaps you can find the level of freedom that you desire from working remotely, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to work for yourself. Many remote graphic designers work for online agencies.
The industry of graphic design can thrive in an online environment in many forms. Take my agency for example: Live Large Design. I have a team of six graphic designers, that all came through my internship program and then secured remote positions. They love that they can work directly on design work without having to deal with clients. They also get to work very closely with me as a Creative Director, so they can get regular feedback on their work and help when they need it. This allows for a great learning environment.
- Don’t have to deal with clients
- Working under a Creative Director
- Working within a collaborative, creative team
- Regular paycheck or salary
- Less freedom to choose the type of work and clients you will be dealing with
- Might not be as agile an environment as freelancing or being your own boss
- Success and failure of the company are out of your hands
- Employment can be terminated
- Wages and benefits are determined by the company you work for
When evaluating whether this is the right fit for you, compare your own personal goals and values to that of the company you are considering working for. For example, at Live Large Design, we value working with NGO’s that make an impact in the world through environmental and social initiatives. All of the designers in my team are inspired by this value and it brings them purpose and a feeling of contribution to participate. This helps us have a connection much deeper than just being coworkers: We desire to impact the world in similar ways.
A freelancer is a self-employed person who sells services without a long-term commitment. Freelance work can vary greatly from one person to another. As a freelancer, you not only have to work on your creative abilities, but also understand some business basics so you can properly attract, sign, and execute projects.
I know this sounds overwhelming, but there are some great resources out there to support you on the business and marketing evolution (my course, "The High-End Graphic Designer Blueprint" is great to teach all the design skills, business, and marketing you will need).
I ALWAYS recommend ensuring that you have a signed contract before you start working with any client (even family and friends). This just ensures that expectations and deliverables are clear from the onset and helps to reduce and issues later in the process.
Second, I also suggest that you secure some type of deposit before you start working with a new client. This can be anywhere from 25-50% of the full project cost and is standard in the graphic design industry. Freelancers may charge by the hour, by the day, by a fixed price per job, or by some combination of or variation on these three.
- You may choose the projects you want to work on
- Pay rates for freelance work are generally higher than those for employees (but remember that you have more admin and general costs as a freelancer compared to an employee)
- You can foster a very agile environment and make improvements on the fly
- Have full control of your schedule and set all your hours (including meeting times and parameters)
- You might end up spending more time on admin, project management, and client communications (versus designing) than being an employed graphic designer
- Client interactions can sometimes get messy (hence, the importance of clear contracts and expectations)
- Needing to maintain self-discipline
- Lacking the perception of security and corporate benefits
- Work/life balance can be more of a struggle and you might find yourself “brining your work home”
- You need to learn how to market yourself
You need to go into freelancing with your eyes open, as it has it challenges like anything else. However, it can offer you the opportunity to work on projects you’re passionate about, make your own schedule and, potentially, make more money.
The decision to become a business owner has a lot to do with the type of person you are and your risk capacity.
- Are you comfortable with taking some risks?
- How do you handle failure or success?
- In what work environment are you happiest?
As a business owner, everything is on your shoulders. You can hire a team or outsource some of the work, but their performance is still your responsibility. There is no passing the buck when you are in charge. Before deciding to become a business owner, you should consider that the amount of personal, emotional, and financial investment can be extremely high.
A realistic journey is from employee, to freelancer to eventual business owner (this is the journey I took). I was able to learn along the way and start building my business foundation while making money from other outlets.
If you are bootstrapping your business, you will want to consider how you will fund your life. Some people moon light while still holding a normal job (and taking a pay check) until their business is viable. Others jump straight in, which forces more intense focus on the business evolution, but also puts pressure on bringing in money quickly. Usually, a hybrid of these approaches works well.
A big suggestion I have before you move into being a business owner, is that you are completely comfortable with your skillset first. You will want to put in your 10,000 hours so you can adequately lead your team and manage the work output. Especially in design, where you might be functioning as the Creative Director.
If you go this route, then you will need to develop your personal brand strategy to help you define your Unique Value Proposition (UVP). This is crucial when establishing your own business, so you can figure out who you specifically want to serve through your niche. I actually went to a startup incubator and business program to ensure that I could effectively start and run my business. You might want to consider some business training.
Building a business in a tough economic environment can be challenging, but potentially super rewarding and profitable. You have to approach business with a lot of persistence and problem solving skills, while fostering an entrepreneurial mindset. Surrounding yourself with the right community (the Live Large Collective community is a great place to start), will help support your growth.
Statistics will tell you that while many individuals often dream about starting their own business, far fewer actually make it happen. This fact is mainly due to concerns involving:
- Finding the niche
- An unpredictable market
- Business failure
- Bad timing
If you can take responsibility to overcome these mental hurdles, be clear about your WHY, and fully commit to your business, then there is hope you can find success on this path. The fear factor is often replaced by experience and momentum.
- Maximum agility and opportunity for impact
- No cap in economic goals
- Contribution through being a leader and building a team
- Implement new ideas, services and products
- You have ultimate freedom to grow you business and run it as you desire
- High risk and often unpredictable cash flow (at least in the beginning)
- It can take 3 years to gain stability through a new business
- Harder work/life balance, as you will always be in charge of the ultimate success/failure of your business
- Need a resilient and growth mindset, as you will have to learn a lot on the entrepreneur’s journey
- Less time designing, as the majority of your time will be spent on CEO type tasks
After you have strengthened your skillset and gained experience leading others, a career in teaching could be exciting and rewarding option. There are fully online universities where you can teach remotely, or your can even build your own courses (that’s what I did!).
A quick peak into my design career journey...
I first got trained in graphic design through art school, then started working as a freelance designer to gain experience. Let me clarify, that you no longer have to go to a four year school to properly learn graphic design (that's why I created my course!)
Next, I worked for a design agency as an employee for about a year and learned their structure. After those first few years, I had enough experience and expertise to launch my design agency and build my team. Eventually, I started teaching university graphic design at Academy of Art University where I discovered my love of teaching other designers. I have combined my interests and desire for freedom to create the "The High-End Graphic Designer Blueprint" to guide students through a 12-week live learning environment to become full-time monetizing designers.
Be sure you get enough real-life design experience before you move into teaching!
You will want to gain extensive experience as a Creative Director first, so you are clear that you can help hone the design abilities of new designers. Teaching takes expertise and patience to help students evolve to their potential. You will have to hone your critiquing ability so that you can offer regular feedback as well.
Additionally, you will need to get comfortable with video or written feedback so you are confident that you can convey your notes in the online environment. Luckily, graphic design lends itself to be taught well in the remote world. Both me and my students really enjoy the video critiquing process I have derived.
Successful educators have to be passionate and driven to work through the rough patches and issues that students might present. Before deciding to teach, you should consider that:
- You will be working with people on a daily basis
- You should be passionate about the subject matter you plan to teach
- You should enjoy the academic environment
Making a difference in a person’s life can be a very rewarding experience. The ability to play a positive role in the classroom environment could allow you the chance to truly make a difference and give to the community.
- You get a chance to share your knowledge
- Strengthens your own skillset by teaching
- Opportunity to impact those new to the industry
- Great resume builder and opportunities for career advancement
- Not always full time work
- Often you have to teach curriculum you haven’t developed
- University programs take longer to implement changes to their curriculum, so it can get outdated quickly
- Student challenges and high amounts of communication and fostering needed
- Exposure to academic politics
- Often lower pay than the other remote work options, as school budgets will determine income
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