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Freelance Success Story

How I Became a Full-time Freelance Writer, Photographer & Graphic Designer
by Christie Halmick

Webmaster Note: See our complete schedule for this series here.

Iím a freelance writer, graphic designer and photographer. I have more than 10 years of experience in graphic design and writing. I specialize in designing publications and enjoy all types of writing. While working on my journalism degree, I discovered that in addition to writing I loved laying out newspapers and magazines. I enjoyed having control over the whole project, words and graphics. During this time, I wrote and designed for college newspapers and magazines.

After graduation I got a job as a graphic designer in the marketing department of a software company. At this job I met a great designer who taught me the basics of designing more involved four-color print pieces.  I learned how to negotiate the complex corporate work environment. I wanted to return to more journalist pursuits, so I took a job as a magazine art director. This job allowed me to combine my interests in writing, editing, photography, and design. 

I decided to start freelancing for several reasons. I had recently moved more than an hour away from my job. I commuted for almost a year. I wanted to stop commuting if possible. Although I loved my magazine job, the long hours and stress started to drain my energy. I started having health problems.

I didnít want to continue on the path I was going and wake up a few years down the road with all sorts of health issues. Most important of all, I wanted to have some small measure of control over my life. I wanted to determine whom I worked with, how many hours I worked, and how much money I made. I wanted to be able to have a family and still do the work I enjoyed. I decided I had all the skills necessary to work on my own.

To build my graphic design client list I relied heavily on the network of people Iíd met at my full-time jobs. I contacted my former co-workers and bosses and let them know I was starting out on my own. Word of mouth advertising works the best. My first clients came to me through these contacts. Some of these first clients are my best clients.

Next, I contacted the areaís temporary agencies and registered with them for graphic design work. These temporary jobs allowed me to pay my bills and get samples for my portfolio, while pursuing other freelance opportunities. I continue to work for temp agencies as the jobs are available and as I have the time. I watched the newspaper and searched the internet for graphic design opportunities. I sent out samples, and resumes, and query letters.

Iíve slowly built a client list and have learned that maintaining this list is a very important part of being a successful freelancer. I spend a part of each day looking for new opportunities and clients, and keeping in contact with my current and former clients to let them know Iím available for work.

To expand my client list, I decided to expand my services. Iíd always loved photography so I signed out for a photography class. I honed my skills, put together a portfolio of my work, and showed my friends and former co-workers. This led to a job photographing restaurants and venues for a tourism website. At first, my workload was heavily graphic design and photography oriented.

My writing client list has started out slowly. I wanted to get back into writing, but lacked the current samples necessary to get assignments. I contacted a few nonprofit agencies I was interested in and volunteered to do their marketing copywriting. I slowly built my portfolio with these pieces. I searched for opportunities and sent out queries, and queries, and still more queries. I went from zero clients to three writing assignments in one week. Itís a slow and steady climb.

As I add more work to my portfolio, the writing opportunities and pay per article increases. Iíve learned that with writing, at least, it is a number game. Keep sending out queries, tailor these queries to the audience, and donít worry about rejection.

Iíve spent about five years building my client lists to the point that I now have full-time freelance work. Some of this time is a little bit warped because my children were born in this same time frame. My goal now is to increase my revenue by improving my client list.

If you are just starting out on your own think about what you really want to do. What is your passion? If you are not passionate about your work it will be harder to commit the time needed to create a full-time job out of freelancing. At first youíll have to work very hard to get and keep clients. Thereís a lot of competition. Talk to everyone you know. Work your network or build a network by joining a club or industry related group. Keep expanding your skills and keep up with industry trends.

Remember that as a freelancer you have to withhold your own taxes. An easy way to do this is to take a percentage of every project fee and put it directly into a savings account. Talk with a tax accountant to determine this percent. When April 15th rolls around youíll have the money you need to cover your taxes. Keep track of your income and expenses. Little things like mailing costs and office supplies can add up over time. Having a file for receipts will make tax time easier. 

If you really want the flexibility of being your own boss, be determined. Thereís no right or wrong way to be a freelancer. There are jobs out there for people with all kinds of backgrounds and skill levels. For me, being able to combine motherhood with writing, photography, and publication design, on my own terms has made all the hard work worthwhile. 

About the Author: Christie Halmick is a freelance writer, photographer and graphic designer. She specializes in magazines, newsletters and brochures.

Christie Halmick. This article may not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever, in any form, for any reason, without the express, written consent of the author. Violators will be prosecuted.

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