My Busiest Year Freelancing (2017 Year In Review)

December 18, 2017

Every year I like to look back at what I did during the previous 365 days. It’s a great way for me to reflect on how my year went and make sure I’m heading in the right direction. Here’s my past years for comparison: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.

2017 was my 6th year as a full-time freelance graphic designer, and I can without a doubt say it’s been my busiest year to date!

I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve been up to my eyeballs in work year-round with ZERO overdue client invoices. Now that’s the freelance dream right there. And it’s only taken SIX years to get to this point in my career.

But this year wasn't all smooth sailing. The deadlines were aggressive, at times the revision process was a pain, and I struggled a lot with getting motivated to create content when I wasn't working on client projects.

It goes without saying that freelance has its ups and downs, but I truly do love every aspect of working for myself!

Now let's jump into what went well this year, and what didn't go so well...

What went well? :)

What didn’t go well? :(

  • I’ve been isolated with work so much that I haven’t been getting out or posting much online.
  • Haven’t made the time to create content for my YouTube channel.
  • Still haven’t made the time to get a car. (Though not spending that money and expenses for it have been nice.)
  • Poor health and diet most of the year. Starting to feel like a real Kris Kringle.

My favorite projects from 2017

I still can’t believe some of the projects I’ve gotten to work on this year, but the amazing thing is, it’s a lot of repeat clients like: Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Andrew McMahon, Weezer, and Gavin DeGraw to name a few.

These type of projects continue to blow my mind, and I’m incredibly honored to get to work on them!

This year I’ve had my designs sold in retail stores across the world, online, at touring shows, and a few for great causes. I couldn’t ask for better projects to work on!

Here are a few select projects from this year, and why they’re so special to me:

Panic! at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie took the stage with the cast and crew of Kinky Boots for a 10-week run. I had the amazing opportunity to design the limited edition t-shirt for the show! It sold-out immediately every night, it was ripped by shady Print-on-Demand t-shirt websites, and people were messaging me asking how they could get their hands on one. I've even seen it on Ebay. That’s a first for me! The P!ATD community is pretty intense, which makes designing their merch incredibly rewarding.
If you’ve watched the hit Netflix Original show '13 Reasons Why', then you’ll know why this is an exciting project for me. I designed this shirt for Christian Lee Navarro who plays the show’s voice of reason, Tony Padilla, and portions of the proceeds went directly to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It’s always amazing when a design I make is used for a good cause.

Panic! at the Disco was a huge client for me this year, and I hope they are for years to come! What I love most about this design is it’s just the band name. No logo, no photo, or other graphics. I had a blast playing with how these words interacted. It was very well-received and one of my most liked designs I’ve shared online. I’m super proud of how it turned out.

My 2017 freelance finances

Every year my earnings continue to grow, and this year is no different. As a self-employed freelance graphic designer, this is an amazing feat!

One of my core values has always been transparency, and that's why I choose to include revenue numbers in these Year in Reviews. Some months are up, others are down, but my intentions are to be open about how I make a living as a freelance graphic designer. I know when I was first getting started, this type of information wasn't talked about, so I'm happy to do what others aren't comfortable sharing. Hopefully by sharing how I diversify my income, you can find some sort of motivation and learn from what I'm doing.

As a freelance graphic designer, diversifying your income is super important, and that's something I realized early on. I've been experimenting with how to make money alongside my client work for years. Take a look below and see what's working and what's not...

Quick note: these numbers/graphs represented are gross revenue, meaning before fees, taxes, or expenses.

My 2017 Monthly Freelance Gross Revenue

One thing you'll notice is that freelance income is friggin sporadic! Also, those spikes are mainly from client checks finally coming in or a good month on Creative Market.

Hopefully by tracking this stuff, it'll give me a better understanding of what to expect next year. Regardless, I'm very proud of how much I've worked this year and that it's literally paid-off. Remember, it's taken me six years of full-time work to get to this point. It didn't happen overnight!

My 2017 Freelance Revenue Streams

  • Client Work: this goes without saying that client work is my biggest source of income. It's the foundation to my business as a freelance graphic designer and it's why I do what I do. This will remain my top priority for years to come.
  • Creative Market: putting my own resources up for sale has been a no-brainer. But the level of success I've received on Creative Market has been a huge surprise. Throughout the year I've consistently made on average an extra $1k a month from selling my t-shirt mockups. This has become a proven method for diversifying my income and I'll definitely be investing more time into creating more products for my shop.
  • Other Products: this includes sales from my shop and my old guide on freelancing (which I'm no longer promoting for sale.)
  • YouTube Adsense: This was a new experiment for me, and while I haven't utilized this fully year-round, I'm going to make my YouTube channel more of a priority next year to really test this as a source of additional income.
  • Affiliate Links: this is a by-product of linking to products I've personally purchased and recommend via my videos and blog posts. It takes little to no effort to implement, and the more I create content, the more opportunities I'll have to grow this as a side source of income.

Parting ways with 'Your Freelance Career'

Something I’ve yet to include in this post, but feel is important to mention is the sale of my blog, Your Freelance Career (YFC). (The sale of the blog is not reflected in the above graphs because I’m tracking that as “capital gain”, and I want those numbers to reflect my primary sources of income.)

I launched YFC in 2014 and personally built it from the ground up. It was a way for me to share the things I learned on starting a freelance business as I was learning them. Unfortunately I reached a point where I couldn’t put more time into running the site. It was also splitting my focus from my own brand, which was hurting the growth of my freelance business. Instead of letting it stagnate and sit in the back of my mind, I wanted to hand it over to someone that could use it and hopefully continue to grow it beyond what I could ever do myself.

I don’t regret YFC for a single moment as it gave me so much experience and connected me with a lot of awesome people.

Moving forward I want my client work to have my full attention, and my focus to be on growing my personal brand. Having this focus on client work is why these past two years have gone so well! Any and all future content I  make will be published here on my blog and on my YouTube channel!

Some lessons learned

I'm constantly experimenting with my work process and learning from my own mistakes. This year there were a few things that really stood out to me that I'd like to share:

  • Turning down work is okay. Better yet, refer it to someone else! I’ve been fortunate enough to keep a full plate of work all year, however I can't take on every project. Rather than ignore the emails, I took any serious inquiry, replied back with my availability, and pointed them to another trusted designer who I knew would treat them well. The last thing I want is to leave a serious client hanging, and I know how important getting work can be as a freelancer – especially if you’re just starting out. (If you’re a freelance designer who does t-shirt design or logos, drop me a line! I’d love to check out your work and consider referring clients your way.)
  • Contracts are boring, so why use them? This year I haven’t had a single client sign a contract. Call me crazy, but I’ve built my client relationships purely on trust and I’ve yet to get screwed over. And I’ll say it again, I have ZERO overdue client invoices. I design merch for a very fast-paced industry, so the last thing I want is to be an annoyance to the process. Being professional, timely, and friendly are the key factors to helping me build trustworthy relationships with my clients. (Take this with a grain of salt. I fully support the use of contracts and I used them for years. They just don't offer me value in the current work I'm doing. If you’re designing graphics or websites for thousands of dollars, and taking weeks to design something, you might want to use a contract.)
  • Appreciate the downtime. There were only a couple of weeks this year where work was slow. (Not completely dry, but gave me time to breathe.) It’s easy to go into a scarcity mindset like when I was first getting started with freelancing. Did I do something to make my clients upset? Am I not doing a good enough job? It’s none of those things. Rather than worry, I need to fill any spare work hours with productive tasks like creating new products, updating my site, or make a YouTube video—Tasks that will help grow my personal brand. Or simply enjoy that time to read a book or play a video game. But be ready for when those emails do hit my inbox!
  • Know what really matters in the end. I’ve been very fortunate this year with work. It’s easy to get caught up in the facade of wanting more likes or recognition from your idols/peers. At the end of the day, I get to pay the bills doing work I enjoy, save some extra money, and make a happy living for my family. That’s what really matters. And while getting praise is cool, having a happy and healthy family is cooler.

Looking ahead to 2018

At this point I finally feel like I’m starting to figure this freelance stuff out. I’m working on my dream client projects, I’ve diversified my income a bit, so now I need to keep things rolling and stay excited about the work I'm doing!My 2018 Goals:

  • Keep grinding out work at an aggressive pace and stay excited about every project!
  • Release a new product to my Creative Market shop and continue growing my existing mockups.
  • Make time for sharing content that feels authentic to who I am and what I do.
  • Be more mindful of productivity.
  • Get settled into our new house – then start saving to build my new studio. (Hopefully more on that soon!)
  • Define a healthier routine and work/life balance.

I already know one of the hardest things for me next year will be making time for creating content and keeping up with sharing. So I want to ask you, what do you want to see more of from me? Is there a specific topic you'd like me to touch on in a video? Do you want to hear about a specific part of my process as a designer in the music merchandise industry? What do you think I should be doing more of?! I'm an open book, so feel free to get in touch!

That’s a wrap for this year’s review! If you’ve read this far, thank you! Thank you for taking the time to read and for following me in my journey freelancing. Hopefully you were able to pull some inspiration from all this.

See you in 2018!

See my latest work and more on Instagram @BrentGalloway