(Case study) Transitioning from agency work to freelance

How do you make the leap from agency to freelance? Graham has some great tips on transitioning to freelance.

Earlier this year Graham was working at an agency as a designer. Wanting more flexibility he took the plunge into freelancing. I say take the plunge, but after speaking with Graham it’s clear he did a lot of research about going freelance. We asked Graham how he transitioned from agency work to freelance.

Graham Dobie

You started freelancing this year. What was the catalyst for going freelance?

I worked at a couple of different agencies for 8 years and the work itself got a bit repetitive. I think small agencies tend to find a niche and work away in that, but I wanted a bit more variety. Laterally, I was mainly working on websites for similar clients and it was becoming routine. I wanted to be able to choose more variety in projects, and to have the freedom to jump between niches. That’s the main thing.

There’s also the flexibility factor. I think most people who freelance do so because flexibility is greater than if you’re working full-time.

Can you talk me through the transition from working in an agency to freelancing?

I’m generally not a huge risk-taker. I built up a lot of knowledge of things before starting. Before I stopped at the agency I’d already set up as a sole trader, started looking into things like insurance and systems I could use to help me as a freelancer. I’d already started setting up FreeAgent.

Everything was sorted before I stopped at the agency. I prepared myself a lot and did a lot of reading and things. I felt like I wasn’t diving off the deep end. I set it up so it wasn’t too much of a transition.

I read a 70-page guide called Go Freelance. It’s written by Dave Ellis, who’s been a creative freelancer for a few years. Dave shares where he slipped up, all the things you want to do in preparation for going freelance, the difference between being a sole trader and registring for VAT…

It was good prep for me, laid everything out nicely and summarised a lot of stuff from a guy who was experienced.

Graham Dobie

Graham Dobie

How has life changed for you now that you work for yourself

I definitely feel more responsible for things. I’m responsible for getting work, budgeting and all that sort of stuff. I knew that was going to be the case going from somebody paying your salary every month to, “Where am I going to get the next job?”.

It’s been quite good for me to start with as I’ve had constant contracting at an agency. Having some steady work to start me off has helped me transition into freelancing. That’s been good.

In terms of life in general, it is a lot more flexible which is what I wanted. I’ve been taking Mondays for my own projects and doing things in my own life that I didn’t make the time for before.

Can you share anything about the personal projects you’ve been working on?

Some of the stuff has been to help the business out. I’ve been doing my business cards and other personal, creative projects that aren’t for profit. I’ve been doing a photo book and having the creative freedom to work on that without clients has been good. I think the main reason why creative people do their own projects is to have their own creative flexibility.

Graham Dobie

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of going freelance?

Do some research upfront rather than stepping straight into it. I’ve found that’s been really helpful for me—to read blog posts and research.

I had a lot of help from friends and acquaintances from previous agencies. A couple of my friends are freelance designers, so I got a lot of help from those people who have either been doing it for a while or just went freelance.

If somebody you know is a freelancer—even if you don’t know them that well—have a chat with them. I think that helps. Speaking to somebody who has made that transition means they can tell you, “If I could give myself this advice 2 years ago I’d definitely have taken it”. They can give you their experience.

One of the things I got told consistently was to get an accountant because people have found it helpful to not have to worry about that side of things. I investigated it, but I’ve found that using FreeAgent online, submitting my stuff through that and having that as my records has been fine for me so far.

If I do need more in the future, I wouldn’t hesitate to get an accountant as I’ve heard people saying it’s saved them from going insane.

Graham Dobie

Can you tell me about an interesting project you’ve worked on recently?

I’ve been contracting with Screenmedia and we’ve been doing a few interesting projects. One interesting and sticky problem is building a custom web app for a company that hires out generators and other equipment all over the world.

They needed a central system where an algorithm would work out where all of this stuff would go and the most cost effective way of getting a generator from A to B. There were a lot of edge cases as it was a tricky problem to get into. It was really good to work with the team at Screenmedia as everyone has different skills. To work out that really complex problem as a team was great.

Resources that Graham recommends

Where to find Graham online

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