Arianna Orland’s innate curiosity has gotten her far in her career.
Never satisfied with the status quo, she continually uses both inquiry and hustle to propel herself to grow and acquire the necessary skills to be successful. She refers to this process as “reinvention.”
Arianna has worked for several companies as a designer in many different capacities over in the past 15+ years—either as a full-time employee or consultant, and what she learned in the process is that she likes the independence and freedom associated with working for herself, because it keeps her perspective sharp and allows her to create across the breadth of her expertise.
All of this freedom is not without its challenges. Arianna acknowledges “As a freelancer, you’re your only advocate. You have to understand what your time is worth and how to negotiate the best fees to maintain your business, no one else will do this for you but you.”
After leaving her last full-time job a year ago as Senior Creative Director of Global Brand at Zynga, she now runs her own consulting business, working with startups and Fortune 500 companies on creative direction, brand strategy, and user experience. Of course, never satisfied with just doing one thing, she also is the founder and proprietress behind Paper Jam Press, a letterpress poster and apparel business she founded in 2009.
“You know that expression if you really love something, it doesn’t feel like work? Paper Jam Press never feels like work to me. It feels like a source of inspiration, teaches me things all the time, and consistently reminds me why making things with our hands for other people to enjoy is the most magical thing we as designers can do.” she says.
Reinvention isn’t easy, especially when it comes to freelancing. Here, Arianna shares some advice for those adventurous souls looking to make the move from full-time employment to being self-employed.
1.) Make sure you’re financially prepared. Have at least three months worth of salary in the bank for when you’re in between projects. Freelancing can feel like a financial hardship if you’re looking at your business in a short term way. You have to have the stomach for periods of uncertainty in your income and understand how to plan ahead so freelancing can become a long-term play. Your cash reserves are there to be piece of mind at the very least and self-preservation when necessary.
2.) Know that there’s a lot more to being a self-employed designer than just design. You have to have a diverse skill set that includes marketing, business development, project management, accounting, writing and production. Many of these tasks won’t be your expertise but it’s your responsibility to get good at them or at least good enough so that you can land projects, keep them going and get paid when they’re over.
3.) Treat yourself like a client. It’s worth it, even in the beginning, to put in the effort position and market yourself. This means, at the very least, being clear on what you do, creating a simple website, having business cards and polishing up your LinkedIn. If you want people to take you seriously, you have let them know who you are, what you do and that you’re open for business.
4.) Tell people you’re freelancing. Tell everyone you know—family, friends, all your old co-workers. You’ve made wonderful relationships with these people and they will think of you when they need your services or hear of someone who does. You just never know where work will come from.
5.) Be prepared for a lot of ambiguity. I’ve had two week projects turn into six month projects, and I’ve had moments where I’ve gotten really comfortable with what I thought was a long-term consulting gig, only to have it disappear. One way to navigate these choppy waters is by being proactive. Initiate regular dialogue with your existing clients on upcoming workload. When you don’t get a job, which happens to everyone, ask for feedback. If communication drops off with a potential client, it’s ok to send them a polite note to move the conversation along. If you don’t hear back, don’t take it personally and move on.
6.) Know that you will have get to out there and hustle. Working for yourself is wonderful but the truth is many of us do this from home…alone…often in sweats. You’re not going to get new clients by staying home. Go to industry events. I highly recommend this, because you never know who you are going to meet or what opportunities you may hear about by attending. They are also a great way to stay current with what’s going on in the design industry and a fantastic well to draw from in conversation with potential clients. I also love catching up with friends and colleagues for lunch or coffee. Being an extrovert and being social is a big part of staying top of mind for potential clients.
7.) Find your tribe. In addition to getting out there in the name of business development, you also need to establish a network of other freelance colleagues. This is really important. Having trusted people you can go to for advice on proposals and pricing, working through a particularly challenging issue with a client or even just getting plain old feedback on your work before you present it is invaluable. A group like this is also extremely beneficial when it comes to referrals.