As of this month, I have worked longer as my own boss than as an employee of my (only) employer McKinsey, and it feels great. All around me, I see more and more people taking the plunge and starting a freelance business, including in the world of presentation design. Some thoughts at the 10 year point.
- The decision to go freelance is not a permanent or an irreversible one. If you pick the wrong employer, you have something to explain on your CV (why did you leave after 3 months), if you are dipping your toes into the world of freelance, you start with just one project, and if things go well, you do another one.
- There is no need to define 100% what you do, in which category you fit in. Job descriptions are very tight and precise, a freelance role is not. You do the project you like, and the projects people want to pay you for. The challenge is to find the overlap between the 2. I started as an independent strategy consultant, and ended up designing presentations. Early on, I was obsessed with what to call myself (for example, what do you put in your LinkedIn profile). Not anymore. Self-selection (picking of clients, projects) will lead you to your preferred work, and it is highly likely that there is no role description for it.
- As a freelancer, you will not get instant status that comes with a regular job, company car, and big office. “I design PowerPoint slides” is not instantly greeted at a dinner party with respect. It takes 5 minutes of explanation for people to get the full picture, and then they usually approve. But most importantly, I have stopped caring about that.
- Niche design businesses do not scale very well. Super-bespoke presentations are tricky to design and adding a bunch of designers to a team will not recreate the magic with a factor 10. Most bigger presentation design operations fill capacity by slide make-over work that can be scaled up relatively easily.
- Niche is the way to differentiatie yourself. Presentation design is broad. Business presentations are still broad. Within that, I have carved out an even smaller niche of the type of projects that work for me and for which there are very few people in the world that can do it. Super specialisation is a great strategy to build a global personal brand.
- Once you have worked for a couple of months, a year, you will notice that the combination of new and existing clients will give you a business flow that is actually reasonably recession proof, and a lot more stable than your friends who are subject to continued corporate downsizings and restructuring.
- Get a good sense of your pricing potential both from what the value of your services is (usually a lot higher than you think) and what the true costs of running a freelance business is (including office space, hardware, software, holidays, health insurance, pension, lunch breaks, etc.)
- You will spend a lot of time working on your own. Personally, I love that quiet and productive time, but there are many people for whom this would be social torture. You know yourself best.
Good luck to everyone pondering this route!