As of writing, I’ve been working in the design industry for over 12 years. For the first half of my design career, I was working as a full-time designer. For the past 6 years, I’ve been working freelance with design recruitment agencies. These have been two very different ways of working!
Deciding to go freelance has not only changed my career, but launched it to the point where I now typically lead my own projects. I’ve been exposed to some amazing opportunities and people who’ve helped me grow, both as a designer and a person.
In 2006, I graduated from Kingston University in London with a degree in Graphic Design. Instead of returning home to South Wales, I decided to stay in London to pursue my career. So I went from university halls to renting a house in South London with some friends. I needed a job… and quick!
As with many graduates, I completed a lot of internships and temporary work to build up my experience. I had the degree, but nobody wants to hire someone without experience. However, after almost a year of doing free work I finally landed my first job.
Now, this wasn’t a particularly exciting or interesting job. It was a job to pay the bills and a job that I was grateful to have. I was working an in-house design role for a relatively large financial organisation.
My plan was to work here for a year so to build my experience further, then find a better job elsewhere. Unfortunately, though, I struggled for the first years. I wasn’t getting the experience I needed to move forward or creating work I actually enjoyed. The work I was doing didn’t demonstrate my abilities and I just wasn’t proud of it.
After attending numerous interviews, I was constantly told I didn’t have the experience. At this point, I was still a young, inexperienced designer, so my work perhaps wasn’t very good either. Although it was a really tough time, I stayed hungry and kept trying!
Experience was my problem, so I decided to do something about it. To improve my experience and develop more interesting work that showcased my abilities, I undertook projects in my spare time.
Thankfully, this eventually paid off! I was finally offered another full-time role, this time at a marketing agency. This was somewhat of an improvement for me as I was no longer working on financial clients. Plus I received a small pay rise and was working with more experienced designers.
However, again there weren’t any creative prospects or room to progress in this role. We only worked for one main client, which meant little room for creative variety. Suffice to say, I reached the glass ceiling pretty quickly at this agency!
After about a year, I still wasn’t satisfied with the work and experience I was getting, or rather not getting. I’d now been in the industry for about 6 years and I wasn’t happy. The lack of creative opportunities and the work in my portfolio was frustrating me. So, again, I decided to do something about it.
I managed to find external clients I could do some work for to add variety to my portfolio. However, I was ambitious and still didn’t think this was going anywhere. So, I continued to interview for more interesting design studios.
Again, no success! I was still being told I didn’t have enough experience or the right level of experience. How was I going to get more experience? This was my biggest hurdle. I had to get over it!
I didn’t want to keep on the slow game, finding another role at another studio with a small pay rise, where I’d receive a little bit of experience. It began to seem like full-time employment was detrimental to my career growth and life experience. I needed an opportunity!
My conclusion was that working at one studio wasn’t enough. It wouldn’t give me the experience I desperately needed to get the jobs I wanted. What could I do? I thought about it for a while and decided to take the plunge. I was going freelance!
I wouldn’t be a solo freelancer though, as I didn’t want to find and manage my own clients. I was still new to the whole game! Instead, I called up several design recruitment agencies and discussed my options with them. I attended several interviews, all of which were particularly positive. I learnt exactly what I needed to do and how I was going to do it.
So, I handed in my notice and was no longer a full-time employed designer. I was now a design recruitment agency freelancer! I now had more control of what I would do, who I would work for and the types of projects I’d be involved in.
The main things that drove me to go freelancer were:
- I wasn’t happy with the work I was doing
- Lack of creative opportunities
- No promotion prospects
- I was not particularly happy with my salary
- The lack of experience I was getting
This may not be the case for some designers, but these were my reasons for changing my career. I have many designer friends who have been very happy in their full-time roles for years. They work at good studios with good people, enjoying the creative work they do with great prospects and promotions.
This wasn’t the case for me. I couldn’t leave the speed of my progress in the hands of a full-time employer. I had to take matters into my own hands and take control of my career.
Although my first few projects weren’t great, they were over quickly and were experience. I also met some amazing people along the way and learned very quickly how to conduct myself in different scenarios.
Create your own opportunities
I think there will be many aspiring designers who are in a similar situation to where I was. You need experience, but how do you get experience if nobody will give it to you? It can be hard to get the experience when you’re just starting out.
However, we’re living in a time where we can create our own luck and opportunities. We don’t need to rely on full-time employment to climb the ladder, nor must we stick with employers when it isn’t working out. There are other ways and design recruitment agency freelance is one of those ways.
So, what do you think? Have you had trouble gaining experience? How did you combat it? Are you currently working full-time and looking to go freelance? Have you thought about design recruitment agency freelance?
If you have any questions regarding design recruitment agency freelance, be sure to pop them in the comment section below.