The decision to work for myself shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it did catch me off guard.
When I was in college and researching the design opportunities in DC, I saw this path in my future. Not because I wanted to run a business, but rather it seemed was the path for established designers. I registered the observation and tucked it away, most likely out of fear of the unknown. But two years into my last traditionally-employed job (eight years into my career), I found myself fully committed — and excited—to step out on my own.
I had a decent job, but, with the exception of a few projects a year, it was lacking work that really challenged me. I wanted the opportunity to pursue projects that interested me, not just ones that were handed to me by someone else.
I remember the exact moment I made the decision to pursue a freelance career. I was attending an AIGA DC event. I don’t recall the exact topic… something business-related with a panel from various creative teams in the area. I do remember how the panel kept talking about hiring freelancers to tackle some of their larger projects so that the in-house teams could focus on the brand—and thinking to myself: “That’s what I want to do.”
The next day I walked into work and announced my plan to my officemate. Shortly thereafter, I got my first freelance project. It was small, but I was eager and excited. I began slowly but diligently building my business each evening and weekend. I continued to work on side projects, followed any lead that came my way, and shared my plan to go out on my own with literally everyone I knew. I was constantly listening to relevant podcasts, saving as much as I could, checking the numbers to see if I could make it work, and talking to anyone that had some insight to share. My brain was running so fast that I needed soothing rain sounds to help me sleep.
Eventually, I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Leads were paying off and people wanted to hire me for larger projects. I reached a point of now or never. I couldn’t continue to work full-time and complete my freelance projects. So, I took the plunge. One year after making the decision to start my own business, I launched Capizzi Designs full-time in May 2015.
The reasons I choose to continue to freelance boil down to just two things: freedom and empowerment.
Freelancing has allowed me to seek out the projects that most interest me. I discovered a niche that I love and I’m really good at: event branding. I’m not sure this would have happened in traditional employment. Does this mean I work on the most exciting and creative projects each and every day? Definitely not. But the freedom to choose is one of the most empowering benefits of being my own boss.
Aside from project work, I also don’t have to be at my desk 8 hours every day. I often keep business hours to align with my clients, but it’s not unusual for me to hit a museum or the gym in the middle of the workday when I have some free time or just not feeling my most productive. Managing my own schedule has allowed me to pack up my laptop and work anywhere for extended periods of time, whether to be with family or travel.
Some consider freelancing a risky move. The first question my team leader asked me when she heard my plan was, “What will you do about health insurance!?” (Answer: Obamacare. DC’s marketplace has been a breeze to use). But I would argue there’s more security in being my own boss than traditional employment. If I lose my biggest client, I still have other sources of income. I can control my income by taking on more projects or raising my rates as I bring more value to my clients. Or, slow down the rate of work if I need a break.
But this requires a major shift in mindset. I had to evaluate all aspects of my life to become successful at freelancing and view my time and expenses differently than before. I’m no longer an individual in a company. I am the company. There is no employer who pays me when I get sick, or who contributes to my retirement. Now that’s on me to handle. But where some may see this a burden, I see it as an opportunity to forge the path that fits my own life.
Freelancing is not for the thin-skinned (although neither is a career in design!) but self-employment has been the most satisfying decision of my career. And I haven’t looked back.