What a year it has been!
I’ve been a full-time freelance graphic designer for over 5 years now, and this is the first time I feel like I’m starting to figure things out.
At the beginning of the year I made the daunting decision to go all in on t-shirt design. I remember when the thought of making a living off of designing t-shirt graphics wasn’t even fathomable. Yet, I knew hyper-focusing my brand and efforts into one area was what I needed in order to grow and feel some sort of creative fullfilment. (Not to mention it made marketing myself a heck of a lot easier!)
With this focus of going all in on t-shirt design, I also had to make a huge shift in my mindset. I had to shed all sense of entitlement and put all of my value into creating.
The truth is, designing merch for the music industry is very different from designing websites or really any other industry I designed for – hoping the same principles applied. They don’t, and this change required a ton of patience!
There were many times I wondered to myself, “what the heck am I doing with my life?!” But I always pushed through and reminded myself how lucky I was that I get to sit on my butt, click my mouse, and create graphics all day for rad bands.
And man did my perseverance pay off! I doubled my earnings from client work – doing some of the best work I’ve ever done – and doubled my annual salary with massive growth in digital product sales.
This year was huge and I’m excited to capture my current mindset and how things are going in this exact moment.
My Favorite Projects From 2016
Some of my most proudest work has been done this year. I designed merch for Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Gavin DeGraw, and Memphis May Fire, to name a few.
These are artists I’ve listened to for years! The fact that I’m designing graphics for them still blows my mind!
The work is challenging, exciting, and the outcome is so gratifying. Knowing that the t-shirts I design are out there in the real world, being appreciated by the fans. Nothing beats that feeling!
Here are some of my favorite projects from this year:
2016 Freelance Finances
This year was by far my best financial year freelancing! I doubled my earnings in client work and in digital product sales!
Quick note: these numbers/graphs represented are gross revenue, meaning before fees, taxes, or expenses.
2016 Monthly Gross Revenue
2016 Revenue Streams
Last year I made the decision to cut back on writing blog posts in order to free up all of my time for client work. Clearly it’s paid off.
I’ve been able to keep a full plate of projects for the entire year. That’s a feat in and of itself!
When I’m not doing client work, I became my own client. I created my own t-shirt mockups and sold them on Creative Market. They’ve done way better than expected, and have proven to be worth the investment. I’ll definitely be putting more time into creating products for my CM shop!
As for my freelance blog, Your Freelance Career, I’m not sure what to do with it. For the time being, it’ll remain a static resource for anyone looking to start and grow as a freelancer. (The revenue comes from the small ad in the sidebar and my freelance guide sales.)
Here are some things I learned this year that have helped get me to where I am today. Leave or take what you want:
- Focus. Rather than try reaching everyone, only focus on one area of work. For me, this is merchandise for the music industry. This allows me to stand out and attract my ideal projects.
- I’m never waiting on someone’s response, just continuing to power through. I strive to keep enough work on my plate so that the projects that fall through don’t affect anything.
- Be easy to work with. The longevity of your career isn’t based on how cool you make yourself feel. It’s how the people you work with who say you’re awesome.
- Shed any sense of entitlement. Your creative career is a privilege. Having a process is good, but if you demand your clients to bow to your demands, you’re in for a serious reality check. The industry you want to be known in will happily go on without you, so don’t ruin opportunities by making demands. Be thankful that you even get to do what you do. (I remind myself this every day.)
- Being your own client pays off. After you’re done working your butt off on client work, make the time to work for yourself. Making my own t-shirt mockups was one of the best decisions I made for my business this year and I’ve learned a lot from it.
- Surround yourself with likeminded people. Stop consuming content from people that aren’t aligned with your aspirations. Clean up your feeds and connect with those that inspire you most. This goes for real life relationships too. Cut out those Negative Nancys as much as possible!
What didn’t go well?
There’s only one thing that I lacked at this year, and that was content creation.
In 2015, I wrote blog posts almost every week and really got into creating videos for my YouTube channel.
This year, I can count with my fingers how many blog posts and videos I’ve made.
Even my Twitter feed has been quiet.
Although my time has been focused on designing, I do miss creating content. It was the biggest thing that helped propel my personal brand. I owe a lot to it.
One of my goals for 2017 will be to make more time for sharing.
However, I’ve realized I don’t want to tell people how to live their lives or run their freelance businesses. Rather, I want to share my own experiences, and hope you can find inspiration from it.
For 2017, my goals are simple:
- Keep the momentum going with my design work and stay excited.
- Grow my mockup and digital product line.
- Make time for sharing and expressing myself online.
- Create more video content.
- Start my Vinyl collection.
- Get a new car (and hit up the skatepark as much as possible).
- Eat some dang greens and exercise more.
- Meet new people (IRL!)
If you’ve read this far, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to follow me in my journey freelancing. I hope you were able to pluck some inspiration from all this.
2016 was awesome, but 2017 is gonna be even bigger! If you've got any questions for me, what I've shared, or suggestions on what you'd like to see from me, hit me up in the comments below or shoot me an email!
Now... Let’s get back to work!