Leaving a full-time job to go freelance/contractor?

Since the beginning of the year, I started evaluating the possibility of going freelance/contractor.

I am currently on a full-time designer job and feel I am not as excited as I used to be, and would like to have more freedom in terms of time and more variety of work and industries I work with. Also, being more active and, for instance, moving around different offices and work remotely is something I think I would enjoy a lot.

Money-wise, I know that contract jobs are paid much more than full-time, but I would be continuously looking for new jobs and I get stressed only by thinking of it.

I love what I do but I don’t see myself constantly dealing with potential clients, selling myself all the time.

Is there any of you that made the decision of going freelance or starting their own business? Did you find it difficult at first? What made you decide to leave a full-time role for an uncertain (but far more exciting) job?

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I went freelance for a while. It was great at first with plenty of work from a print farmer I knew, but when he retired the work dried up. I know now that I should have built a broader client base, but it was too late to start again and I got another job.

I was lucky with a good beginning - I know it can be a big challenge to get work in when starting up. If you decide to jump, make sure you have good contacts.

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True, my hourly rate is much higher as a one-person operation, but I also spend about 25% of my time doing non-billable work. Taxes, contracts, proposals, invoicing, banking, client acquisition and retention, licensing, maintenance, continuing education, research, … During the last year of employment, I spent a lot of my free time prepping for the transition… nothing that could be billed to any client since I didn’t have any. And the first two years in business at least half my labor was unbillable. It was all business development.

There is a school of thought that says if you want to succeed as a graphic design freelancer you should specialize rather than generalize. Find a niche, master it, then continue to do that same type of work over and over. You can command a higher rate as an expert than you will as a generalist. IMO, I think it’s a mistake for me to try to get personal satisfaction from my work. My free time is all about personal satisfaction. Work time is just work.


Yes, but you’re also paying for overhead, like equipment, taxes, software, bookkeeping, advertising, liability insurance, attorneys, retirement savings, possibly rent and, in the U.S., a not-so-small fortune for health insurance. You’ll also be working long days (weekends included) until you get established into a routine. Lots of that extra money from contract jobs gets eaten up by all that and the downtime between jobs. You’ll also need to wear multiple hats: you’ll no longer be just a designer, you’ll be a business owner and need to wear all the hats associated with that responsibility.

As for looking for new clients, well, that takes up time too — lots of it. It’a also a job for an extrovert who doesn’t feel the dread that comes with promoting oneself and getting in front of people. It’s not that an introvert can’t do it; it’s just that it can be a source of ongoing anxiety, which can take a big toll. Then there’s the financial stability of the whole thing that’s iffy. Regular paychecks no longer happen, and it can be feast or famine, which doesn’t help with the anxiety and makes planning a bit difficult.

I’m not arguing against it by any means. For the right person with the right personality, being one’s own boss is great. For many others, though, it can be draining to the point of mental and physical exhaustion.

I freelanced full-time not long after graduating from my university design program decades ago. I did it for about four years, and all of the above things I mentioned were starting to drive me nuts. Maybe if I had stuck with it, hired an employee or two and let things level out into a routine, I could have stuck with it. For me, though, it wasn’t really worth it. I finally ended up going full-time for one of the agencies I was freelancing for and have kept my own part-time, after-hours freelance thing going ever since through multiple full-time jobs.


As a full-time, self-employed designer (I don’t use the word “freelance” to describe what I do), I have to say that Mojo’s and Just’B’s descriptions are pretty much dead-on. It’s definitely not all dream projects and free schedules.

There are two things I’d add.

One thing I’d add is that you have to be disciplined, organized, and a great time manager. In order to keep a steady revenue stream coming in, I need to have a good number of jobs going on simultaneously. Granted, these aren’t all huge jobs; some might be jobs that take an hour, and some might be jobs that take 40 hours. If you aren’t self-disciplined and motivated, this will be tough to pull off.

The other thing I’d add is that you have to be fiscally responsible. If you’re inclined to spend money as soon as you get it and aren’t inclined to save, you might be better off in a more financially structured environment.


Holy cow. After reading this thread and adding my own two cents, I’m starting to wonder why I decided on a career as a self-employed designer. :grimacing:

YES! Much can be said and thought about the term “freelance,” and I think its connotations can vary, depending on the word that follows it, and the perceptions of the person hearing it. For instance, I suspect someone presenting themselves as a “Freelance Photographer” is though of as a practitioner who is in demand to the point that there’s no need of a regular gig. Conversely, I’d be equally suspicious that “Freelance Graphic Designer” is more often though of as someone who isn’t good enough to land a regular gig. If that is true, it’s probably largely circumstantial, but that only further removes it from our control. I’d advise anyone—even a photographer—to avoid the word altogether, opting for loftier concepts like “independent” and “consultant.”

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My feeling is that “freelance” implies you’re either a) between jobs or b) doing what you’re doing until something better comes along.

On the other hand, I operate a small business. Albeit a really, really small business. I’m registered with the state, pay quarterly estimated taxes, supply benefits, etc.

Yes, I meet that description as well. I work (more than full-time) under contract for a long-standing client (a manufacturer with global presence), and the arrangement requires that I am established as a separate business entity, carrying all the insurances, etc. I’ll also seek and accept “freelance” work when conditions permit, but in all cases, my title in the company is “Principal Consultant”.

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That’s probably true. I’ve been using the term so long to describe my after-hours work that, to me, it’s largely devoid of any connotations — negative or positive. You’re right, though — there’s likely a better word to use that implies a more substantial, experienced and professional business.

Even though it’s a part-time thing for me, there’s still the quarterly estimated taxes, the LLC, the insurance, the separate bank account, the tax deductions, the billing, the contracts, the expenses and everything else that comes along with a real one-person business.

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This may vary depending on your location. I have a registered business and a bunch of regular freelance clients.

I’m a freelancer but not a contractor. I’ve been at full time freelancing for just over 3 years. I left a full time role in print that I had been at for over 10 years. There was a period of about 2-3 years where I was working both jobs. Day job 8-5 and freelancing clients in the evenings and weekends. When it got really busy I would take unpaid days off from my day job to complete my freelance work. It got to the point where my freelance clients were taking up more of my time. That was when I knew it was time to quit my day job.

Of course I worried at first that I wouldn’t have enough work to fill my schedule. But you know what? I got more work. Clients that were hesitant to hire me before because I wasn’t full time freelancing, suddenly gave me all their work because I could turn it around quickly. Now I never worry about not having enough work. I guess it helps that I’ve been in the industry a while so all my clients come from word of mouth.

While I find it super rewarding working for myself, it’s not as glam as you might think. I work from home which means I’m always at work. I work 7 days a week. I do love my job but I guess if there is a lot of work, you just gotta find time to get it done. I hate to turn down work for a variety of reasons. Though I’m happy to turn it down if it’s outside my skillset. I think too many people take on jobs they have no business doing.

My advice to anyone about to embark on this is to see an accountant early on to get all your ducks in a row.

Also, I would make sure you have at least 4 regular clients before taking the leap. You’ll probably gain more clients once you make the decision but having regulars ensures your bills are paid.


This doesn’t get said often enough.

When a designer is under contract or direct hire, learning on the client’s or employer’s time does happen, but in my opinion, a freelance designer who takes on paid work that they don’t know how to do is on very shaky ground in terms of ethics.


I don’t see freelancing as an in-between step for full-time gigs. I don’t think the winding road of a Graphic Design Career has to start and end with a cushy forever-position within one team or company. I see freelancing as an essential next-step in starting your own design agency.

Imo, the parachute doesn’t open unless you make the jump.

I was forced into making the jump back in the 00s when I lost my job and there were no good opportunities for full time at my skill level - some of you may remember my emotional state at this time on the old-GDF :sweat_smile:. I packed up my bags and bought a one way ticket to a new city with better opportunities.

It took me a solid year before I landed any meaningful freelance gigs, and even the second year in barely allowed a living wage. 10 years later and 2 years into my own corp. I have maintained some stability, got into an office space, have several contract workers, and I’m on the cusp of debuting as a “real” agency.

If I could go back, I would have taken Buda’s advice and try to land freelance as side work before leaving the full time job. I didn’t have a choice cause I was fired, but I sure wish I was aquatinted with freelance prior to that.


I made the jump in 2003 and had enough clients that I could have made an independent living from it. But I didn’t need to make an independent living because my wife had a better job with family benefits and retirement enough for the both of us. I got too comfortable not needing the money. That’s what killed my career as a graphic designer. I also under estimated how much time I would spend parenting and getting distracted by social media.

Had I advertised and actively sought more clients over the years, I’d probably be doing fine. But I just hung on to existing clients as the business dried up. I also spent more time developing original content instead of looking for freelance work. Now I only use my graphic design skills for original self-published work. I’m my only client.

I do miss the social interaction of working for clients and working full-time. I’ve considered changing careers to software development. I’ve taken some graphic design related courses here and there to try to stay relevant. But I might be too old to start over.

Then again, there’s nothing like necessity to force one to move outside one’s comfort zone and do something that might not have been done otherwise. I’m glad it’s worked out for you. :grinning:

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I used to be a self-employed designer, and it was not that much easier, as you definitely need to do more work, and, most importantly, to be very disciplined. Also, you would need to spend a lot of time on searching for projects, to organize them and so on

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