Idiom: Wear many hats. If someone wears many hats, they have different roles or tasks to perform. As a freelancer, this is not an option. It’s a requirement. When you launch out alone you MUST assume many roles that were once distributed to other people in your work space. You’ve become the account manager, the head of finances, the art director, the creative director, the production designer, the graphic designer, and whatever else needs to be accounted for. That requires some learning on your part to ensure invoices are billed out, clients are tended to, emails are read and replied within a reasonable time span, all the things.
After almost a year working for myself full time, I’ve adopted all the roles and now I’ve acquired a paragraph worth of titles that won’t fit on a business card. So which one do I present to new clients? Well recently I’ve been assigned the role as a production designer and another as a creative director. Of course creative director sounds much more important, but I’m flexible. I try to mention in less than a breath or two that I can go from brainstorming to production all on my own. Working from client input, I have had to do all the roles in between the starting line and the finished product. But I don’t worry about wearing all my hats simultaneously, that would be exhausting. I’ve learned to switch gears mid stream and change hats to get multiple projects done. While waiting on feedback for a printed magazine, I change over to icon development, then to presentation boards. All with different audiences, goals, and outputs. Something of a Swiss army knife but in human form.
Does it get stressful? Yes. No point in sugar coating it, it isn’t easy sometimes to halt working in one mindset to work on something completely different. But once you do it long enough it gets a little easier, or less noticeable that you’re doing it. Like with any skill, expertise comes with consistent practice and patience. It took me just around a solid year of working to feel like I’m not tripping over my own feet.
This career path isn’t for those that can’t hold out, and I wouldn’t assume that everyone that tries succeeds even then. If you’re against the idea of adopting different skills and don a few new hats to get work done, then you might be out of luck in the freelancing field. If you work better doing only one thing and letting others wear their singular hats around you, then I hope you find that office or cooperative work space that suits your needs. As for me, I’ll keep adding to my hat rack.
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Less competition is normally considered a good thing. Less people to fight with for clients, for attention, for resources, for business, and especially for money. When there is one or a few businesses, they will thrive because the customer has so little to choose from. Businesses will become complacent and stuck in their ways since there is no push to be innovative or explore new options. They have the lion's share and there is no need to change.
Being a freelancer, there is a lot of competition out there to be seen by potential customers and to attract new clients. Even keeping your old clients becomes a challenge. If another designer comes around and offers them the same work for less, you'll either have match your competition to keep your client or pose a risk of loosing them. Hopefully you pick your clients well and they'll stick with you because you deliver what they need and are worth sticking with. This might seem like a downer to having lots of competition, but it can also be a blessing.
Designers and creatives that never break out of their comfort zone will become stagnant. They will continue to produce the same old work over and over. If your clients leave you to work with someone else, that's your cue to start becoming innovative. What is this new person offering that you aren't? If you lose clients because of it, it is certainly worth investigating and learning. If you're just getting started in the field, having a wide range of skills will make you far more valuable.
Competition is a good thing. You don't have to have the loudest voice in the crowd to be noticed, what you produce should speak for you. Having other creatives speaking next to you should encourage you to speak differently. It can also be very discouraging. How will anyone notice you if you're one in a hundred? A thousand? Freelancing isn't easy, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. It is a constant competition between you and other creatives, and mostly between you and yourself. If you feel defeated, you'll quit.
To avoid feeling pressure from so much competition, just try looking at it a different way. Don't see other creatives as competition, but fellow team members. Example and watch how everyone presents themselves and what they produce. Take note on ways that speak to you, disregard methods that you know don't work. It's a lot of trial and error. But overall change your perspective on the idea of competition. Less people to compete with doesn't guarantee that you'll get the most work. If your work still isn't what clients are looking for, they'll move on. If you don't offer anything different than what else is readily available, the defining factor will be the price.
Learn from your peers and continue to push your own skills and abilities. If you stop trying you'll be less visible. Embrace the challenges and compete only with yourself.
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