Whether you wish to become a freelancer designer, start your own firm or media empire or simply run your own lemonade stand, there are certain traits you should possess if you want to become successful. Obviously these are not all the traits required to become successful and you might get away with missing one or two, but these are just some of the things I have experienced over my short lifespan that I thought were needed.
There will be times where doubting yourself becomes a very strong option. Once you begin to doubt yourself however, your decision-making skills exponentially decrease. If someone were to tell you that you have all the design sense in the world, but no business sense how would you handle it?
You should take their comment and play it back and reassess your skills. If you find you have weak areas make sure they are complimented by other strengths and make sure to have the confidence to later turn your weaknesses into strengths as well.
Every road is not paved with gold and there are guaranteed to be stumbling blocks along the way, but if you have enough self-confidence in your skills and abilities (and are able to step away and take an objective look at yourself) then you should be fine.
Take note though that self-confidence does not equal cockiness. There are more than enough designers out there who are too cocky to realize that their work is not the greatest ever. Cockiness prohibits growth and in the long run can cause a lot of damage to your career.
Let’s face it, running any kind of business on your own is a big risk. Will the money always be there? Can you guarantee that you will have enough time to invest in the cause (step away now if you can’t)? Too many people think that becoming a freelancer means that you have more time on your hands when in fact your time decreases until you get a tight grasp on how you work. What I mean by this is you can’t just declare yourself a freelancer and begin working only 2-3 hours a day.
In any case if you have a job and the idea of going it alone is tempting to you, take a risk by doing some projects on the side and running a side business, but do not become suicidal and quit your job to pursue your own interests. That is unless of course you have a significant amount of money saved up to where you can survive a couple of months without seeing a paycheck.
Another risk that I see freelancers walk away from is the risk of taking on large projects. Working on a small five page website is nothing compared to handling a $20,000 contract. Are you willing to take the risks and go for the bigger treasure? Bigger projects can lead to more stress and bigger headaches, but also bigger rewards.
Sooner or later you may take on more people to work with you or you just need a person to do the coding while you do the design. In any case, these people need to be managed. It would be nice if you could just leave them simple instructions such as “code me a shopping cart”, but in most cases you have to go into a little more detail and manage the variables such as timeframe and deliverables.
The best people in the industry are not easily managed so don’t think that just because you are friends or get along with the person that it means they will follow your every word. Managing others is a skill that takes time to develop and if you don’t think you can handle it then you might be relegated to small time contracts for the rest of your life (which may be fine to some of you).
James Archer has written a wonderful piece on a different kind of leader which I recommend everyone go check out.
I believe the perfect scenario is when the client tells you what they want in pretty good detail and you provide it to them on the first try. This has never happened to me so admittedly I have never been fond on the managing client aspect of freelancing/company work.
Another issue that can occur and one that several people have mentioned to me is they may be doing a redesign of a site, but the client wishes to keep the logo. The problem is that your design intelligence does not tell you that the logo is a keeper. You badly want to redesign it, but you can’t seem to convince the client otherwise.
Managing a client is all about effective communication. Once this breaks down, every project becomes a disaster. As professionals it is easy for us to see what should be done or understand why that link color shouldn’t be blue, but we need to learn to communicate our reasoning effectively to our clients. Not always the easiest thing to do.
You’ve seen it before. The person who couldn’t design a website without the help of a FrontPage tutorial seems to also be the one with the most clients. There are too many dreamers that have this ideal that their work will do all the selling for them, however rarely is this the case when you are starting up. Sometimes you might come across a client who is looking to receive a bid from you because he is comparing a couple of designers and trying to decide which one to go with.
More times than not the best salesman wins in this case. Please note that salesmanship to me doesn’t equate to false promises or lowballing the competition. Salesmanship (my definition) involves providing an effective presentation that convinces the client that your skills are worth the price of admission.
Do you find that you haven’t really progressed as a designer or person over the past year? Maybe you have hit a “creative block” for some time and can’t get yourself out of it. Professionals are in the constant pursuit of growth and if a time comes where they are stuck they understand what needs to be done to get out of that rut.
Professional development is one of the reasons people tell me they like to try something on their own or are looking for another job. We all like to be challenged and running your own business and trying to make it successful is as challenging as it gets.
Just because building a website is easy to you and you think you make pretty things doesn’t mean that people will flock to you. Just because you can decide what you are going to wear today and what time to use the bathroom doesn’t mean you can run your own business. Take the time to evaluate your skills and your passion. If anything passion is the most important trait to have.
If you don’t have the passion and will to succeed then I don’t think you have a chance of survival. But then again, I have been wrong before.