Today’s professionals are increasingly gravitating towards opportunities that allow them to dictate their schedules, enjoy greater work-life balance, and live and work from wherever they choose. As companies begin to embrace flexible work arrangements, many in the workforce are finding that a fruitful freelance career is more attractive, and more attainable, than ever before.
This trend is particularly striking in the design industry. A global survey of more than 17,000 design professionals by Dribbble found that more than 75 percent of respondents have done freelance work within the past year, and many are currently hunting for new freelance opportunities. So, how can freelance designers in an increasingly competitive market set themselves apart and generate more job opportunities? The answer is by leveling up their skill sets and building their networks.
Nearly half of the U.S. designers surveyed said they learned design in school, but a third reported learning design on their own. There are many resources for learning new skills that don’t involve a classroom. You can develop your expertise, sharpen your skills, and expand your knowledge into new areas without leaving your desk (or couch, or coffee shop, or library). The most successful freelancers keep their skills honed through regular design exercises, like Dribbble’s Weekly Warm-Up, or expand their knowledge base through digital learning communities like Skillshare or Udemy, which offer the ability to take online classes on your schedule. With the design community reporting that Motion and Illustration will be the top technical skills to know in the next few years, there’s no time like the present to start investing in yourself.
In addition to technical skills, designers are interested in improving communication and business skills. In many cases, being a freelancer means being self-employed, which can come with a new set of challenges. Not only are you working on your creative projects, you’re also managing client reporting, balancing your finances, developing contracts, and more. As such, freelancers should consider refining their business acumen through e-courses and other online resources, or connecting with a volunteer business mentor via organizations like SCORE.
When it comes to getting hired, it’s critical that freelancers build meaningful connections with fellow designers and hiring professionals in the industry.
Common ways designers find freelance opportunities are through direct email, in person, or via message on a portfolio website or networks like Dribbble, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter.
Though there is a clear opportunity to secure freelance work through in person connections, more than 50 percent of designers surveyed reported not going to any conferences, workshops, or industry get-togethers in the past six months.
Not only are meetups a great opportunity to grow your network, they’re also a way to combat some of the challenges that come with remote and freelance work. 21 percent of remote employees surveyed felt a lack of team bonding, and 18 percent said they struggle with loneliness and lack of regular human interaction.
Keeping connections with other freelancers, whether in your own industry or others, can help you feel emotionally supported. While there are many ways to connect with others digitally, there is a value to in-person connection that simply can’t be met by an app or social network.
Being a freelancer can enable you to find meaningful opportunities to express your creativity and to build a career that you’re proud of, all on your own terms but you have to work at it. Investing in yourself, growing your skill set on a consistent basis, and building connections with others will not only make you a more competitive candidate in the eyes of hiring managers, it will also enrich your life, both personally and professionally.