6 years designing worldwide
Some backstory: it all started because of money.
I saw a guy doing the same job as I did and getting paid 10x more. I wanted that lifestyle too. I wanted to earn A LOT with the things that I was already doing.
I was lucky to have already done that thing. I would keep doing that even if I wouldn't be paid a lot. But if there was a single chance out of a billion to earn more and make myself and my family financially stable – I couldn't miss that opportunity.
So I did use that chance that life gave me and it turned out very well. I'm definitely still in the process (and I'm sure I will always be), but I'm super grateful to everything and everyone who helped me achieve this level of lifestyle.
Money won't make you happy person or solve all your problems. They can only solve your financial problems. – Naval
It always starts with money. You want a better life for your family and yourself. The same was true for me. I think it's perfectly fine, to begin with money in mind. Because if you do what you love, money will eventually stop making you feel good just for the sake of having money.
So far, it's been a long journey. I experienced the ups and downs of working as a freelancer. I've changed my job titles and specializations. I earned six figures (which is the TOP 1 percent in Ukraine. I also lived for $100 for three months at some point. That was totally bonkers. However, we went through it together. And I'm immensely thankful to my wife Ira, who was always there for me (even when I failed 3 businesses and lost a lot of money).
Anyway, without further ado, here are the six most important things I wish someone had told me six years ago:
Communication is everything
For the context – English is my third language. After Ukrainian and Russian, it was a third language that I started learning in school.
I received high marks. But I couldn't speak because I hadn't had enough practice with native speakers (or any speakers). I completed all of my school exams and passed them all, but I didn't speak much.
When I decided to start working with foreign clients in 2015, I knew I would need English at a higher level. I experimented with apps and courses, but nothing felt right.
I learned through self-education, practice, a lot of mistakes, and situations where the other person had no idea what I was talking about.
The best piece of advice I can give for learning the language is to put yourself out there and talk to people. There is no course or app that will teach you how to use the appropriate words in the right situations. It can only be learned through trial and error.
My first conversations with clients were only possible thanks to Google Translate. And, no, this is not a sponsored article.
I believe that communicating ideas is essential in any creative field. If you want to be paid fairly, if you want your ideas to be promoted, and if you want to be understood, you must learn to communicate your ideas more effectively.
Even now, I feel as if I only know 2% of what I should. Never stop learning.
Consistency is quite important
This is obvious to me now, but it wasn't before. I was posting to Dribbble and Behance only when I had a new project ready. I wasn't talking about the process (more on that in the very last point).
I was afraid to share my daily processes because I was afraid of being judged. "They didn't know the context of the project, so they can't give constructive feedback" I reasoned. What a moron.
Consistently putting my work out there would be a huge help to me. Even few favors.
First and foremost, I would receive feedback on the work I was doing. Even with the criticism that comes with feedback, it would allow me to move much faster, iterate, and improve my skills.
Second, increasing my visibility in front of people would provide me with more connections, which would lead to more deals, clients, and collaborations. I don't regret it, but if I did it on a regular basis for 6 years, I'd be much further along in the process.
Third, consistency would teach me discipline, which I lacked during my first few years working remotely with clients all over the world.
To get something out of this lesson, I encourage you to start sharing your work on a regular basis. Time will pass regardless. Why waste it by not building something that will pay off in the long run?
Don't rely on a single client
You should never rely on a single client unless you have a full-time engagement with the best company on the planet (as I do right now).
Regardless of what they promise you. M ore projects in the future. More recommendations from friends and partners. Increased exposure for your work. Please accept it with gratitude. However, create a pipeline of people who want to work with you. Work on two (or more) projects at once. And never, ever rely on a single client.
At one point, I was managing six projects at once. Those three months were the most dense working months in my life. That is something I would never do again.
Free idea – sign up for an email service like Mailchimp or ConvertKit and create a simple email sequence to introduce yourself, show off your work, and share your results. To attract potential customers, offer something for free (e-book, checklist, guideline, etc.). Then, share your ongoing work with them, sell your services, make special offers, and so on.
You'll be able to find work when you need it and build a pipeline of people who are eager to work with you when you have an email list.
Save money today. They will save you tomorrow
This is enormous. I wish I had known about this three years ago. When you're young and crazy, you don't give much thought to the future. That's too bad for you.
I knew I needed to save some money each month, but my expenses were always the same as my income, if not lower. Until I started making a lot of money and spending a lot less than I was earning.
Since then, I've been learning more about financial management, which has led to me cutting even more of my monthly expenses and saving even more money.
In my case, I currently have three main places where I keep my money.
The first is an account for my monthly expenses. This includes some cash and the balance of a bank account. This is the money that my family and I spend each month on things like food, bills, cars, and so on.
My savings accounts come in second. I have a savings account that I never use. It's a safety net that's only activated in an emergency. It covers a family of four's expenses for 18 months. Other savings accounts are dedicated to some of my financial goals or large expenses.
The third type of account is the investment account. I set aside some funds to begin investing in stocks. Other projects that I'm working on that I can't discuss right now are in the works.
Financial systems are a topic for another article, but the main thing to remember and strive for each month is to keep your expenses lower than your income. It is possible to achieve this by either reducing your expenses or increasing your income. It was both for me.
Invest time to present designs well
In terms of communication, the manner in which you present your work is as important as the work itself.
For a long time, I believed that if I simply did good design work, I would have clients, money, and fame. However, this has not been the case for many years. I was having difficulty acquiring new clients. I had no idea what awaited me after the project was completed.
But one day while browsing YouTube, I came across a video of a designer discussing how to present your work in a story format, and that flipped the switch in my head.
I realized I'd never done anything like that with my work before. So I set aside a few weeks to create a story for the best projects I'd worked on in the past and created a case study with story structure, including details like my role, timelines, activities, collaborative efforts, and so on to highlight the project in the best light.
This resulted in new (and larger) projects from the world's largest corporations. I'm thankful to YouTube's algorithms for recommending that video to me.
To summarize, take the time to identify a story in your project and build around it. It will assist you in making an emotional connection with someone who will be reading or listening to this presentation.
Seek long-term collaborations
It's much easier to work on a single $10,000 project per month than it is to take on ten $1,000 projects.
It's far easier to say than it is to do, especially at the start of your career. That is something I am aware of. That's something I've experienced. For my first project, I designed and built an e-commerce website for a US client on a $200 budget. Today, I charge a higher fee for the initial meeting with clients.
But how do you go about finding those larger clients? My first foray into freelancing was through websites such as Upwork and Freelancer. The reason was straightforward: there are people willing to pay. Your job is to try and convince them that you are the best candidate for this project out of hundreds of others.
And I'm not saying you shouldn't use them – they're excellent starting points. But that's all there is to it. If you want long-term relationships, you need to think differently. The majority of references for large corporations come from people they know. So, what are you going to do with that? Make contact with more people who work or have worked for those companies.
You can begin by contacting funded startups that require outside assistance with their projects. Many of these can be found on websites such as Angelist.
Participating in various (especially non-skilled) communities (for me – non-design communities) was the point at which I began to get a lot larger projects. Having non-designers around me helped me to position myself as a professional and be the only person they know who does what I do.
Bonus: My biggest regret/mistake
I'm not sharing my process as I go. As previously stated, this is the most important thing I would advise anyone starting the process to do.
Sharing your work publicly will assist you in attracting more people, more client work, and, as a result, more money.
I'd start doing this even before I knew the internet existed (I wasn't that bright back then). This is a situation in which the earlier you get involved, the larger you can grow.
But, in any case, I'm thankful that I realized this a few years ago and began doing it consistently 5 months ago. I guess I've gotten a little smarter in the last ten years.
Finally, I'd say that time flies. I can't imagine my life if I hadn't created and published that first case study. I was terrified. I had no prior experience speaking English. I had no idea how to pitch projects to international clients. I had no idea how much to charge. But I chose that path, and I'm thankful for everything that happened to me along the way.
Take a step toward what you are afraid of. This is where you'll find happiness.