A Year of Isolation (2018 Freelance Year In Review)

December 28, 2018

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 are my past years for comparison: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.

It's hard to believe I just finished my seventh full year as a freelance graphic designer!

The daily grind of designing merch for the music industry has been the dream. Especially doing work for some of the raddest bands out there.

Even though this has been another successful year, more success for me leads to a more secluded lifestyle. This amazing work I’m so grateful for keeps me in my cave with little to no interaction with the outside world.

Overall it’s been the year of radio silence for me… I didn't share much on social media. I only uploaded three YouTube videos to my channel. I didn't attend any conferences.

The good news is, this radio silence isn’t permanent.

My ability to shut up and crank out as much work as possible has given me an entirely new perspective on a life as a freelance graphic designer. I’m itching to rediscover the voice I once had and gain back some mental clarity.

Moving into 2019 I hope to take on even more killer client projects. Dig deeper into understanding each and really strive to deliver the best work possible. My biggest challenge will be breaking out of my extreme introverted shell. This whole freelance career I've been so lucky to make for myself is one heck of a journey, and I want to tell more of that story.

With that said, I want to list the ups and downs of this year. Then I’ll jump into my financial breakdown and finally my specific goals moving forward into 2019.

What went well in 2018?

Continued non-stop client work

I am in constant amazement that I get to do the type of work I love every day. This year I worked more than I ever have, balancing an insane amount of work every week – never missing a deadline. My goal from day one has been to be the most reliable freelance graphic designer for my clients. When my regulars come to me for designs, I will always make the time for them. So a huge shout out to everyone who I've worked with; the art directors, managers, and small independent artists. Thank you!

(Above are just a few examples of my favorite projects from this year.)

Created new mockup products

My t-shirt mockups have been a surprising success on Creative Market, so I continue to invest my time into creating more resources for creatives. One of my favorite products this year has been my Popsocket mockups – something I couldn't find, so made myself. Overall Creative Market is a proven way for me to increase my monthly income and will 100% be investing more time into creating more products next year.

(The secret to my success on Creative Market has been creating products I personally need. Chances are if I need it, other designers do too.)

Built more confidence in my skills

I'm not a graphic designer who has a specific art style, and I take a lot of pride in that. I'm able to adapt and mimic a lot of different styles in order to deliver the type of designs my clients are in need of. I truly love that about the work I get to do, and I'm constantly experimenting with different techniques to try and pull-off the right vibe for a design. This year I've done a wide array of art styles, and overall I've felt a lot more confident in my work. Something that has only come with doing an insane amount of work. Although I feel a bit more confident, I still have a lot of room to grow.

(Above is an example of some different art styles I've been able to pull-off. E.g. feminine, punk/rock photo, beach vibes, and quirky illustration.)

Getting more designs into retail

As a graphic designer, seeing your ideas come to life and brought into the real world is one of the coolest feelings. For me, I get to design t-shirts and see them put in the hands of the people who truly appreciate them – the fans. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with incredible clients who help get my designs into retails stores.

(Seeing real photos of my designs in the real world is always an incredible feeling! The above are some of my designs in Hot Topic.)

Spent time away from the computer and improving mental health

Anita and I have been in our house for over a year now and it's been such a breath of fresh air making it our own. I've really been enjoying the process of making everything just the way we like it.

For me it's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of work, so these little projects have really helped me appreciate the little things outside of work and stay in touch with the people that mean the most to me.

I've also been working on all the mental noise I've been battling this year. Things like my intense anxiety, insecurities, and imposter syndrome. Although I have so much to work on, I still made efforts to improve, and that's a win in my book! I've slowly been working meditation, morning yoga, and consistent workouts into my day.

(A few projects I've worked on for the house: a riser for my computer, redecorated the living room, and made a table and shelf for our entryway.)

What didn't go well in 2018?

Isolated myself with work

Like I mentioned, more success for me leads to a more secluded lifestyle. Although I love my work and can easily hide under my rock doing it all day, every day, it's not healthy. Nor is it fun dealing with my successes and more importantly failures in silence.

Although I’ll work in isolation for many years to come, if I can break out of my shell and climb out from under my rock to share more, I won’t feel so lonely. I shared very little this year and it's one of the biggest things I'm going to challenge myself to improve on in 2019.

Haven't made time to create new videos

I didn't make videos a priority at all this year, which is a real bummer. YouTube is by far my biggest online audience, with over 15k subscribers. It's silly for me to not give it more attention. I think by making more time to create videos, it'd go a long way in helping me feel less isolated and more inspired. I need to find a better process – mainly in ways where I can easily fit it in with my hectic client work schedule.

Horrible habits and health

I've struggled with my weight for almost my entire adult life. Again, with isolating myself with so much work, I end each day exhausted and burnt out. This has led to horrible habits like staying up late, procrastinating, not working out, ordering takeout, and the list goes on. However, I'm very aware of all the bad habits I've fallen into and am aggressively working on fixing them.

Figuring out a healthy work/life balance and setting boundaries is probably one of the most important aspects of being a freelancer who works from home.

My 2018 Freelance Income Breakdown

One of my core values has always been transparency, and that’s why I choose to include revenue numbers in these annual reviews. My intentions are to be open about how I make a living as a freelance graphic designer. I know when I was 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 I realized that 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 2018 Monthly Freelance Gross Revenue

As usual my income is sporadic! Notice that huge spike in June? That's nothing special. Looking back, April and May were HECTIC, and June was when a lot of checks came in. Overall my monthly revenue has continued to increase, which has me stoked! I'm trying to not let that inflate how we live our lives, rather, put that extra money towards savings and future investments on our new property. I can't express how lucky and grateful I am to be doing what I do as a career. I remind myself of that daily.

My 2018 Freelance Revenue Streams

  • Client work: 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: I continue to be surprised by how much extra income I earn through Creative Market. I’ll definitely put more effort into creating more resources. Already have a few things in the works! If you haven't, check it out and consider starting your own shop!
  • Affiliate Links: I don't put much effort into using affiliate links, but know it will grow when I put more effort into things like my YouTube videos. How does it all work exactly? I use Amazon affiliate links when recommending products I use as well as Creative Market referrals when recommending it to other designers. It’s all very organic and built slowly over time.
  • YouTube: There's so much potential and all it needs is more of my attention. The fact that I can pay at least one bill from my videos is incredible.
  • Other Products: I made $89 from random old product sales. Sales from my shop and old digital products people are somehow still finding online. I have so many ideas for revamping my shop. I know there's not much to be earned here, but making and shipping your own products is an incredible feeling. Hopefully I can experiment more with this in 2019.

Looking ahead to 2019

I spent so much of 2018 focusing on work and not giving my health much attention (both mental and physical.) The work was killer and I'm proud of how much I've accomplished, but I've done a lot of self-harm in the process by living such an isolated, sedentary lifestyle.

In 2019 I'm going to…

  • design with intention and get more work approved.
  • rediscover my online voice to grow my personal brand as a freelance graphic designer. And in turn, share more through Instagram and YouTube.
  • release more products on Creative Market to increase monthly revenue.
  • develop healthier habits that allow me to be the best version of myself. (e.g. wake up earlier, make working out sustainable, cook more, meditate more, drink more water, and spend more time away from the computer.) All cliche things that are the secret to living a healthy lifestyle which will directly impact my ability to do my best work.
  • start aggressively saving for my new studio! More on this soon! ;)

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 2019! Much love from me, Anita, and Benny!

See my latest work and more on Instagram @BrentGalloway