What’s really keeping you from freelancing?


I‘ve been there before. You wake up every morning, dreading the day ahead of you. You drag yourself into work, find a pile of sticky notes on your desk, make it through lunch, and work through the afternoon looking at the clock every 30 minutes. Every day on the drive home you think to yourself, “Man, I should really quit and just start my own business”.

While I am a big fan of a steady job, sometimes freelancing can be the best thing for someone like you. But something is holding you back, right? I know. It’s scary. This article will explore some of the most common hindrances to the freelance lifestyle and how to overcome them.

If you really want to give freelancing a try, give this article a read and consider trying some of the tactics listed herein.

You’re afraid you won’t be able to find clients

If this is one of the primary reasons you haven’t started out on your own yet, don’t worry, you are not alone. It has been my experience when speaking with other designers that this is one of the most common fears about making the switch to freelance. It seems like at your current place of employment, there is always a client project, and a backup client project, and a backup for the backup. When freelancing, are you going to find enough clients to keep you busy and pay the bills?

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There are multiple solutions to this problem. Let me share with you what I did when making the switch to freelance: I was working at a production house, pretty much as explained above and felt like my career was going nowhere. I decided one day that, come autumn, I would begin freelancing near-full-time. Instead of waiting for fall to come, I began then (early summer time). I began looking for clients, doing side projects, etc. It was a lot of extra work, and very time-consuming, but as I found a client here and there, it gave me the confidence that I could find clients. Not only that, but it helped me begin my freelance career with a full roster of good people to work with.

Start early. It’s okay if your office job and your freelance job overlap. In fact, it’s a great way to transition. In addition, readers here at Millo have offered some phenomenal advice on how to find new design clients. Their answers are found in these two articles:

OPEN DISCUSSION: How do you find new freelance design clients?

How to find design clients (A detailed summary of the dicussion above)

You’re afraid you won’t be able to make enough money

Similar to the problem above, many designers contemplating making the move to freelance are afraid they won’t be able to make enough money to support themselves, their families, and their business. While you may not be making millions at your current design job, the 40-hours-a-week paycheck is probably very rewarding. Most designers are weary about giving up a steady income in order to start the freelancing lifestyle.

First, it’s important to understand that just because you are making the switch to freelance doesn’t mean that you are going to make less money. In fact, if you do things correctly, you have the potential to make much more money than you ever have at a desk job. The simple solution to this problem is to have a well-written and well-thought-out business plan. Make a plan that states how much money you will make each month, quarter, year, etc. Then makes plans and set goals to achieve those amounts.

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A few other money-making resources
If you’re unsure about how much you should charge for your freelance design services, you can always try out FreelanceSwitch.com‘s Hourly Rate Calculator. It will help you understand what you should charge in order to pay your bills and make the profit you desire. In addition, you can check out an article here at Millo titled “How to make more money as a freelance designer

You’re afraid you’ll hate dealing with clients

I don’t know what it is about the design community lately, but we have really started complaining quite openly about how terrible our design clients are and how much grief they give us. Perhaps one of the stipulations you have about making the switch to freelance is that you won’t enjoy dealing with clients on a daily basis.

The truth of the matter is, if you have any decent people skills at all, you’re going to be fine. Keep in mind, the stories about a successful designer-client relationship are never the stories that go viral. Designers rarely tweet about how great a client is or start blogs about good client experiences. It’s been my experience, though, that for the most part, if you act professionally, you will have a great client-designer relationship.

If you’re still worried about dealing with clients, be sure to check out all the articles filed in our “Client Advice” category. One of my favorite articles found therein is “Ridiculous Client requests and how to deal with them“. Always remember, the biggest myth of graphic and web design: the client is not always right.

You don’t know how to manage a bank account

I get it. You’re a designer. You’re not an accountant. Further more, you’re not a secretary, clerk, or anything of the sort. You design. A common problem holding many designers back from freelancing is their lack of knowledge in balancing the books, managing a bank account, paying taxes, and making sure all the money goes where is needs to. Whether you like it or not, the cashflow of your design business is a big deal and deserves a good part of your attention.

As with many of the problems listed here, there are multiple solutions. My solution was to marry a math teacher, but you may not have the same luxury. I would suggest one of two options: Buckle in, take a few classes on finances, read some books and become good at something you’re not good at; or find someone who is good at finances, someone who actually enjoys it, and hire them. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing work you are not good at to someone else. Perhaps there is a freelance accountant out there who is afraid he’ll never find any clients. Help him out.

You don’t want to deal with all the paperwork

If you have worked at your design agency long, chances are you haven’t done any serious paperwork in a long time. Usually there’s a secretary for that sort of thing. Dealing with contracts, quotes, timelines, release forms, invoices, and the like really freaks you out and probably puts you in a bad mood. Don’t worry, most creatives face the same problems.

Similar to the problem above, you could simply outsource this sort of work. I would suggest, however, that you take it upon yourself to learn these skills. If you personally develop (perhaps with some legal advice) your contract or your terms of service, you are more likely to understand and abide by them. Also, if you are the one sending invoices, your clients might appreciate the personal touch your freelance design business has. Most people hire freelancers because they enjoy the personal touch, so make sure they experience it.

You might also enjoy “Getting Paid: a designer’s two-minute guide to invoicing

You’re worried about the long hours

One fear I had about freelancing was the inevitability of long or late-night hours. As much as you might not enjoy your 9-to-5 job, you do have the benefit of set hours. It’s not likely that your boss calls you at two in the morning because his web site is down like a freelance client might do. You have the luxury of going to work, coming home, and forgetting about all your work troubles until the next day. Do you really think you can handle the stressful hours of running your own design business?

I’ve learned that this fear is quite irrational. Believe it or not, most of your clients want to be asleep during the late hours of the day or early hours of the morning. In addition, you can use tools like Google Voice or Skype to assure that you only have to speak with your clients during your “office hours”. Don’t think you’re being harsh by not being available at 2 a.m.! After all, most businesses aren’t. Lastly, this all comes down to planning. If you plan your project management and time management well, you won’t have to work ridiculous hours. In fact, as a freelancer, you have the potential to have more flexible hours.

For more tips on time management and project management check out these articles:

Time management tips for designers

A Creative Post-It Note approach to Project Management

So what’s really keeping you from freelancing? FEAR.

Perhaps you have caught on to what I am getting at here. What do all the problems mentioned above boil down to?


You’re just afraid. So gather up some courage, make a plan, be confident, and overcome your fears by making the switch to the freelance lifestyle. It’s not always easy, but I think you’ll enjoy it once you get the hang of it.

Fear-reducing Resources

Since we’ve determined that fear is the primary reason that many designers don’t make the jump to freelance, below are a few articles about fear and freelancing.

The fear of freelancing: why you could be hurting yourself – by Freelance Folder

Is Fear Stopping you from being successful? – by Freelance Folder

Are your excuses holding you back? – by Freelance Folder

Why a freelancer should embrace fear – by Freelance Advisor

Why Failure is a good thing in the creative business – by Graphic Design Blender

What do you think? [share]

Before you leave to check out all the great resources found in this book, be sure to let us know what you think about this topic. What’s holding you back from making the switch to freelance? If you’ve already made the jump, how did you overcome the fears you had about leaving your desk job? We’d love to hear what you think!

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  1. This is so true. Fear in most cases is the main reason why we can’t let go of the current flow of life we have, to something new and probably better.

    I always think, those who have jobs are fortunate, and are most likely to start and succeed in freelancing.

    Dedicating 2-4 hours after the day job, and weekends worked well for me. Use this time to look for clients, and when you start getting steady orders, it’s time to fully move to freelancing.

    At least that way, you’ll have reduced your fear by over 50% since you don’t have to worry about the bills.

    Awesome post Preston. Thank you.

  2. Laziness. Laziness. And once again laziness. It’s all that stops anyone from anything. And it does not matter what you want to do. Travel by scooter, or draw with colored pencils. The main cause of all problems is laziness. Too lazy to move. Too lazy to think. Too lazy, too lazy, too lazy…

  3. Hi Preston,

    Great article. But one of things that i fear is about the payment of clients. Some of clients want to finish the works quickly and get the best quality. But when we send the invoice, there is always late to pay our services. Maybe you have an opinion or suggestion about this case?

    Kind Regards

  4. As someone who has started their own freelance Graphic Design and Illustration business, I will say that there is a lot to learn on the business side of things, especially if you are just starting out, but it is all worth it as I am loving working as a freelancer! I do encourage anyone who is thinking about taking the leap into freelancing, to at least try it alongside your current job as the article suggests.

    The only way that you will be able to eliminate your fears is by doing it, becoming more experienced in doing it, and realising that it wasn’t as bad as you expecting in the first place.

    Here is the link to my Graphic and Design and Illustration business at http://nylelevi.com.com

    Please take a look if you are interested in seeing what I do. You may even pick up some tips on how to present yourself online if you are planning to start your own business soon.

  5. Having to deal with clients was definitely my biggest fear. However, since I have started freelancing it has all been been positive. I think a lot of this comes down to evaluating the client beforehand. Ask questions and be clear on expectations before accepting job offers.

  6. I absolutely agree with what’s written here. I would also like to add the fear of not being committed enough, because often times we tend to get too easy on ourselves. As a result, the performance may slow down when becoming freelancer especially when you’re doing everything on his own.

  7. The headline to this post asks an amazing question. And I think you could replace “freelancing” with anything you really want to do, but aren’t, and it could really lead to some growing self-reflection.

    Thanks for the insights.


  8. I’m afraid I won’t be able to find clients because of my English is not fluent and I can’t communicate at necessary level with him.

    1. @webangel78,


      As an American who has worked with designers and developers in other countries who don’t speak English well… I’ve found that I care a lot more about the quality of your work, and if you’re a nice person, than I do about your English-speaking skills.

      Go for it man! That’s a very valid fear, and I understand where you’re coming from, but I think you can still get a lot of clients and do amazing work for them.

      Best of luck 🙂

  9. I think fear of unemployment, not having a dental plan and such perks of working in a corporate environment

  10. These are really great thoughts. I guess that almost everyone in the World at least in one particular moment have thinked about starting his own business. Even more if this guy is a designer.

    Sometimes those fears and questions are so deeply setted inside of us that’s difficult to analyze and manage them. Your suggestions are quick and easy to follow for every feared designer.

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  11. Hey Preston,

    I think this is a great topic to write about. I think fear is what holds us back from doing a lot of things – following our dreams, and even dreaming as big as we really can. I think it’s important to acknowledge that fear in order to be able to let it go. I know for myself, when I decided to live my life only following my intuition, and allowing myself to really dream, it was a very frightening transition. You have to be able to stay open and flow with life, but the fear that comes before that is almost like this paralyzing monster that tries to keep you still.

    I think a lot of times people hide their true feelings because they’re afraid to be judged or perceived a certain way. If more people share their fear in an understanding community we can help each other reach our dreams, and live the life we really want to live.

    Thanks for bringing this fear issue to the surface – I hope it inspires people to share their fears and make a change.


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