A Year of Quarantine (2020 Freelance Year In Review)

December 30, 2020

This year marks my ninth year as a full-time freelance graphic designer! I almost didn’t bother with writing this year’s review. But here I am, pushing through because I’d hate to ruin the annual trend.

Even in one of the worst years of my career, it’s still important to look back and reflect. Despite all the bad, there was plenty of good to come out of this dumpster fire of a year.

Here are my past years for comparison: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.

Losing my biggest client

At the beginning of 2020, I was ambitious, motivated, and the client work was flowing in at a steady pace.

Then the pandemic hit.

At first, not much changed. I continued to work from home as I had for the entirety of my freelance career. My wife, Anita, was also working from home. We were making the best of the situation and enjoying every day with our daughter, Ro.

The World was unsure of what to make of the pandemic and how it affected our lives. That’s when the client work began to slow down.

I specialize in designing merchandise for the music industry, and as the pandemic worsened, tours were canceled until all of this “blew over”. But it never did. Since no musicians/bands were touring or had the motivation to release new music, they had no need for new merchandise. I and many other contract merchandise designers were the first to be severed from the merch operation. Many merch companies were shutting down, working from home, and handling what they could internally. Which totally makes sense. But when the music industry shut down, so did the majority of my cashflow.

One of my biggest clients who made up more than 30% of my annual income, dissolved entirely. I got the call from one of the art directors who I’d worked with for over three years. I had a horrible feeling when I hadn’t heard from them for over a month. Her call had confirmed the worst...the company shutdown. She apologized, gave me a new introduction to another merch company, and wished me the best.

The music merch industry still hasn’t recovered.

It’s tough knowing that my biggest client will never be returning, which has a massive impact on my income. Luckily, I’ve strived for years to not have all my eggs in one basket. I still work with a handful of other amazing clients and I’ve diversified my income, which you’ll learn more about shortly.

All I can hope is that things begin to pick back up in 2021 for the music industry. In the meantime, I’m staying positive, slowly working on side projects, and enjoying every day I get to spend with my family.

Things that went well in 2020

Although this has been the worst financial year of my freelance career, it was still great all things considered.

I learned a bunch of new skills and have spent so much time watching Ro grow each and every day.

Like most people, we searched for toilet paper and instant yeast for bread making like it was on the black market. Got a hookup on the yeast directly from a mill in KY. Also spending every single day with Rowan was the best thing to come out of all this.

At the beginning of 2020, I committed to journaling and tracking my habits. I’m excited to share that I stuck with it every single day. Jotting down the biggest moments of each day, setting goals, and tracking my habits has been so fun and beneficial in many ways. Not only has it been fun looking back at exactly what happened on certain days, but my journal has become an essential resource for my everyday life. Journaling will continue to be a daily habit for me going forward into 2021.

Here's an in-depth look at my minimalistic setup for my journal.

One major personal goal I had going into 2020 was to read more. Of all the goals I had going into this year, reading was where I had the most success.

I tracked my reading and didn’t miss a single day this entire year. As a result, I read 14 (fiction) books! I went from reading one book a year if it was 300 pages or less, to reading 800-page epic fantasies, and loving it!

With all the reading I was doing, I handcrafted two new floating shelves for the living room.

Reading so much also awoke a new passion for writing. This came to fruition on January 8th, 2020 (I know this because I wrote it down in my journal!)

I spent months mulling over a story idea: creating the characters, world-building, and plotting. With many attempts at writing and nearly giving up, I decided to commit and participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo. While I didn’t write my entire novel in one month, it helped turn writing into a daily habit. I’m proud to say I’ve written over half my novel (passing the 30k word milestone).

My first novel will most likely be absolute trash. But I’m forcing myself to push through it. Finishing a story is the hardest part, and I’m only going to get better by actually writing, and not reading about writing.

Business-wise, my greatest success was in finally launching my shop!

I’d wanted to create and share my own designs on merch for years now, and I finally did it! I have a small selection of items at the moment. Items I’m stoked about. But now, I have all the processes in place to continue bringing my ideas to life and sharing them with you.

Mission Mug / Art Dept. Hat / Wake & Make Shirt

Even though I only designed for a small fraction of clients compared to past years, I still worked on some killer projects. Below are three honorable mentions.

TYLER / Bruce Wiegner / Lindsey Stirling

My 2020 Freelance Income Breakdown

Onto everyone’s favorite section; my freelance income report!

I’m all about transparency, and that’s why I choose to include my income. It’s also my favorite part to look back on and compare the past years.

Hopefully, by sharing how I diversify my income, you can find motivation and learn from what’s working for me.

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

My 2020 Monthly Freelance Gross Revenue

Noted in my journal, March was really when the pandemic started to affect our daily lives the most. This was also the moment when the music industry shut down, tours canceled, and the client work dried up. From that month on, I was lucky if I got even one project a month.

The couple decent spikes were older projects circling back around and getting paid. And August was the final month of working with the big client which dissolved.

The only thing that kept my business afloat and made sure my bills could be paid was the passive income I have working for me in the background. Here's how that breaks down...

My 2020 Freelance Income Streams

  • Client work: Even though client work took a serious hit this year, it still made up majority of my income. Let’s hope the world goes back to some form of normalcy in 2021.
  • Digital products: selling mockups on Creative Market has been my saving grace this year. I continue to be surprised at how much my products sell with little to no marketing from my end. It goes to show that if you put out resources you personally need/use, then chances are others will also find value in them.
  • YouTube: I’ve absolutely dropped the ball when it comes to creating content for YouTube. However, the videos that are on my channel continue to earn a very small amount.
  • My shop: I have no intention on turning my shop into a viable source of income. I try to make it so the products are affordable, but that I'm also not losing money from shipping fees or anything.
  • Affiliate links: I haven’t put any additional effort into using affiliate links. Any minuscule earnings I make are from old links on things like YouTube descriptions or blog posts. 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.

My Goals for 2021

I’ll be completely honest with you...this year has put me in a major rut. I’m going into 2021 without any major goals. *GASP* I know.

All I want is for the world to get better and for everyone to stay safe.

I hope (with all my fingers and toes crossed) that client work will pick back up for freelancers like myself.

Even though I’d rather stay under my rock and wait for the world to return back to normal, I know that’s not the best mindset. So here are some general goals I hope to revitalize and accomplish in 2021:

  • Design merch for different franchises. I.e. companies who handle licensed merch for brands like Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Pokemon, etc. To do this, I’m simply going to cold-email and use my existing connections to make new ones.
  • Continue to create digital products. I launched a new mockup bundle this year, so I’m going to continue growing that portfolio of assets as well as dabble with making a font!
  • Launch more merch. I need to utilize my new shop and launch more dope products.
  • Continue pursuing my other passions like reading and writing fiction. This has become a new creative outlet for just myself. Writing is challenging, exciting, and hopefully, I can get to a point of confidence where I can share this creative work with the rest of the world.

I’m notoriously bad at keeping up with social media and creating YouTube videos. For that reason I’m not going to make them concrete goals. However, if inspiration strikes, I’ll be sure to see it through by posting more. What I’m not going to do is let it become a weight on my shoulders or anxiety that sits in the back of my mind.

That’s a wrap for this year’s review! If you’ve read this far, thank you! Hopefully, you were able to pull some inspiration from all this.

If you have any words of encouragement or questions, please feel free to shoot me an email or DM on Instagram.

Stay safe and wear your mask.

Much love from my family to yours!

See my latest work and more on Instagram @BrentGalloway