Can a control freak be a freelancer? On one hand, a freelancer gets to make all their own decisions and choose their destiny. On the other, no freelancer knows everything. You have to be prepared to ask for help, allow others in, and be susceptible to accepting the advice of others.
Of course (and before I get into trouble), I’m not suggesting that this week’s Featured Freelancer is a control freak, but she does has that fine balance of being in control while respecting that she doesn’t have all the answers. Here is the story of Sofi’s freelancing journey so far…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
My name is Sofi Smith and currently based in Exeter, Devon after 8 years in Brighton. I’m a bit tricky to describe in a single term (or at least I always have trouble with it) but probably best described as a Multidisciplinary Designer or Digital Designer. I work on various design projects including identity and branding, graphic / print design, web design and web development
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve been freelance since June last year so around 16 months, prior to that I had 6 years’ experience designing at some lovely Brighton Agencies.
I had dabbled in freelancing whilst at University in Brighton and was lucky enough to work on some great projects at the time so that got me pretty excited about the work prospects in front-end programming and Design. I ended up working for a large established Advertising Agency in my final year and later progressed to Head of Design and Lead Product Design / UI Designer.
After some time I had chance meeting with a guy who mentioned they were starting a new Brighton Design Agency, a few months later I got an email for an interview. I decided it was a great opportunity to be a part of something new and went on to become Creative Director of a start-up Design Agency.
After a good couple years of start-up highs and lows, a lot of friends leaving Brighton to work in London and some emergency trips home to Devon I decided my time in Brighton was probably over, so I moved back to Exeter and thought I’d try my hand at running things myself.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
I’m really lucky in that my family are really supportive of everything I do, although I still don’t think they’re 100% sure what I do on a daily basis. A couple of my friends had been in the freelance game for a while so I pestered them for advice but I don’t think anyone can really give you that much of an insight as you never know what you’re experience of freelance will be like and there are no set rules for success. My boyfriend is really great with helping me rationalise things when I think I have too much on, or am not earning enough money etc. So, all in all, everyone was fairly positive about it thankfully!
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
In Brighton I attended Chamber of Commerce meetings and various networking meet-ups when working at Agencies but I feel that freelance support is definitely lacking, especially in the South West. There doesn’t seem to be many freelancers, meet-ups or support groups (If I’m wrong please tell me where to look!). I think that’s why Freelance Heroes is such a helpful community to be a part of as it doesn’t matter where you’re from and thankfully a lot of freelancers are keen to lend a hand with some friendly advice.
The majority of my work has come from using social when I first set-up, recommendations from past clients, friends and co-workers. I also work for a couple of Agencies that either knew of me in Brighton or that were recommended by friends or people I knew in co-working spaces.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
Brilliant? I couldn’t be luckier with my Clients. I have (or hope I have!) a great relationship with all of them. They are quite varied but mostly start-ups or Micro – Small businesses. Agency wise they’re larger and Design and Development or Creative Advertising and Strategy focused. I work with a lot of SaaS companies and Creatives which is great because they’re open to ideas and have lots of their own. It’s great to be a part of a business in its infancy or when they’re smaller as you feel more part of the team than just a freelancer for overflow.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
Hopefully for a few reasons! I’m laid-back, honest, and get the job done on time and on budget. I don’t like overcomplicating things and I’m not in this to make a fortune off anyone, I just want to do a good job and get the best results for the Client. I try to be as transparent as possible about what I’m actually going to do and what’s realistic and achievable within the budget or time frame. Also if you can help a company out with little extras that don’t take too much of your time, they really appreciate it.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
Sometimes more, sometimes less. It’s pretty much as I imagined apart from I find it much harder to let go at the end of a day than I thought I would! Thought I’d be making the most of days off or an early finish on a Friday but I still find myself lingering around my desk at the end of a day even if I know I’ve done everything I set out to do.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
1. Stop looking at everyone and thinking they’re doing better than you. So many people, freelance or within companies, experience imposter syndrome but you really just have to focus on what you’re doing because that’s what matters. ‘So and so’ that got 1,736,434 likes on their most recent Dribbble shot isn’t going to pay your bills this month so don’t worry about it.
2. Be nice to people! Whether it’s a client, another designer or someone you’re working on a project with – being personable goes a long way and we should all be supportive of each other as everyone gets better results.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
Have faith in yourself. I’ve learnt that I can’t decide what I want to eat on a daily basis but I can make decisions for myself at work and that I am alright at what I do! Working in Agencies you have lot of buffers; sales teams, tech and support, people to help you out and answer questions. Sometimes as a Freelancer it’s lonely and you have to trust yourself and just do what you think is right for you (and the client).
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
Sounds a bit mad and authoritarian, but one of them is being in control. You know when a client is happy or why something has gone wrong and you’re the person to fix it whether you do it yourself or get a professional in to help. You can be more reactive and bring about change faster than in a large company. There’s also nothing more rewarding than having happy clients, being in control of your own progression and seeing your work or a project you’ve been involved with go live.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
Running around pretending that I know what I’m doing half the time?! Everything is a learning curve when you start out – I had read all the books, run successful projects and managed teams but you sort of end up settling into this role that you have to make for yourself that isn’t shaped by anyone else or the business around you.
I also miss people! It’s nice to do lunch or grab a beer after work if you’ve had a hard day so sometimes I miss that side of things, the general camaraderie of working in a team.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
At the moment it’s still very early days for me and my freelance venture so perhaps to be / feel stable and I’m still getting used to allowing myself a holiday and it being okay not to get paid.
Perhaps in the future to own a small design studio and work with other freelancers to achieve a bigger, more collective goal.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
1. Don’t put off getting things that make your life easier, like upgrading your laptop or computer, buying inspiring books, getting accounting software etc. It’ll save you so much time in the long run.
2. Things take time. Getting solid work in, getting paid, invoicing, and figuring out your process. It doesn’t all happen overnight and you’ve got to stick out the highs and lows but hopefully the highs will become more regular and consistent!
Say hi to Sofi at the following sites: