I took a less traveled path after design school, and I’m asked this simple question all the time … “Can I freelance directly after school, or do I need to gain some experience, first?” I wish I could give you all a simple answer, but that’s just not the case. There are so many roads that can lead to freelance, but I’m going to talk about the main two. To freelance right away ( after school ) or later. That IS the question.

As many of you know by now, I’ve always wanted to be my own boss. After applying and interviewing for a few design jobs here and there after graduating, I realized that my heart just wasn’t set on it. I would tell myself time and time again that “this is what you’re supposed to do after school,” but couldn’t escape that sinking feeling of giving up on my dreams. Did I want to design? YES. Did I want to take the first job I could get just to gain some experience? Absolutely not. I found myself at a crossroads of doing what I truly wanted versus listening to what most everyone had told me to do. So what did I do? I took the road less traveled. Good old Robert Frost. I knew I memorized that poem in eighth grade ( true story ) for a good reason!

I understand wholeheartedly that not everyone can jump into freelancing straight away. And let’s face it, most people don’t. Honestly, the only reason I succeeded was because I lived in my parent’s basement at the time. Glamourous? Nope. Luckily, I kinda really like my family and was happy to be saving money while growing my business. This went on for about a year or so.

I will ALWAYS be one of those people telling you to follow your dreams, but also to follow your gut. Ask yourself a few simple questions. Is it your dream to be your own boss and live that entrepreneurial lifestyle? Yes? Okay then, is it feasible right now? That one’s tougher to answer, isn’t it?? After all, there will always be an excuse stopping you from living your dreams, so think twice about how you answer this particular question. For those who long to define their life + business and be in charge, I will always suggest the idea of starting your own business right away. Thankfully, we live in a world where you can easily succeed on your own ( hello, technology! ) as long as you have the passion to back yourself up.

Now, that isn’t to say that working in your field is a bad idea. It’s simply a different route. There are so many benefits to experiencing your trade from seasoned professionals. You’ll learn all the ins and outs of the biz, all the while expanding your own skills. I can see how it would have been nice to already know how to structure contracts, define my process, and communicate with clients BEFORE jumping in to freelance. It would have saved me a lot of time, that’s for sure!

But if I’m being honest with you guys, that’s exactly what I loved about freelancing right away. I was able to trail blaze my own path and feel out what was right for me. Because I had to throw myself 100% into this world, I was forced to learn it all in such a quick amount of time, which was quite a challenge. I fully believe that I am the business owner I am today because of this.

I know all of this doesn’t give you a solid answer by any means, but hopefully it does make you think. The route you take depends on who you are as a worker, where you are in life, and what you truly ( truly ) want to do. Listen to your gut … I have a sneaky suspicion it will tell you the answer. Just listen.

  1. Katie says:

    Very thoughtful post! Gives hope to those of us that are itching to follow our dreams RIGHT AWAY! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. kory says:

    This is an amazing post, Breanna! I’ve been feeling like a lone wolf in this generation of freelancers because I’m freelancing a lot now, but I’m still a junior in college. I think depending on if I keep getting clients, doing it this way will definitely help me continue on after I graduate, which is awesome because this is exactly what I want to do!

    So thankful for your great advice!

  3. Milynn says:

    Another great post! This does get me thinking, and I hope to gain enough confidence to create a trail blaze of my own.

  4. Monica says:

    This was a very inspiring post! I’m in my second year or University and I’m studying English but what I really want to be doing is working online (I don’t quite know what to call it), maybe not freelance but I love blogging and creating content for others to enjoy, such as videos or picture posts.
    I guess the logical thing to do is finish my degree since it’s already half way there, and hop into my dreams after that. They’re just on pause for right now.
    I don’t quite know why I’m telling you this.. but I felt inspired to share my story.

    M.

  5. Allison says:

    What a refreshingly real post, Bre. Thanks for sharing! As a senior design student this really resonates… it’s a tricky time in my and my peers’ lives and it’s good to hear that there are more ways to pursue your goals than the ways we’ve been hearing about the past 4 years. Would you ever consider posting more about your process of establishing your freelancing business? Mistakes you made, your first (small) victories, what you knew going into it and what you wish you did, etc.

    • bre says:

      Thank you! Yes, I think I’ll try to post more personal things about my freelance journey in the future as well. Got lots of it! I definitely remember that odd senior year before graduating where everyone was so so so nervous. I literally didn’t think it was an option to freelance!

  6. Coming from someone who waited, I totally agree with what you’re saying. For me, I had no idea what I wanted to do after college and needed those years at desk jobs to figure out what I wanted to do, and what I absolutely did not want to do. But if I had known immediately that I wanted to start a business, learning the nitty gritty of business at a desk job would have been a waste of time, because what you learn on your own is more valuable — you’re going to work differently by yourself than at a company, especially since you have to handle everything. Same with contracts — the things in my contract now come directly from situations I’ve been in, so I know exactly why they are there and can stand behind them.

  7. JEN says:

    This is great Breanna. When I graduated a few years ago, freelancing wasn’t even talked about by my professors. It was all about landing the big job at the big named agency, and that’s all we really knew. Until I started blogging, I didn’t realize how big of a freelancing community there is and how passionate I really was about it. I applaud you for taking the risk and doing it from the get go. I’m thankful for the experience I’ve gained at a big agency, and wouldn’t take it back, but definitely look forward to the day when I can work for myself full-time!

    • bre says:

      Same — nobody talked about freelancing in school. Or if they did, it was all about doing so much later in your career, definitely not right away. I literally didn’t even think freelancing was an option until I just DID it, ya know?? I didn’t know you weren’t full-time yet. I hope you can be soon. You’ll be great. :)

  8. Anastasia says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! This is honestly just what I needed to read today. Very inspiring. I’m at a huge crossroads with the same decision. I’m graduating soon and my heart is completely in taking the leap on my own. I’ve fortunately had internships throughout college in a corporate design environment and feel it’s just not where I truly need to be. It’s a scary thought, but hearing someone else struggled with the same thing is SO comforting!

  9. Alicia says:

    Hi Bre,

    Thanks for this post. I like how you mentioned the pros and cons for both and like you said, I think it really depends on the kind of person you are.
    After I graduated I did a few internships and worked here and there. None of the jobs where my dream jobs so over time I started taking on more and more freelance work. Freelance work is the stuff I love and the stuff I want to be doing 24/7. I’ve really jumped into it in the past year and have learned so much in such a short period of time (and I love learning!!!).
    When I think back at it I think I would have crashed if I had done freelance right out of school. For me there was still so many things I didn’t know, my technical skills where all there but my own style was still weak. School is one world, working life is another. There’s so many things you just don’t learn in school. For me it was great to get some work experience under my belt, try out different jobs with different people at different companies. None of them were my dream jobs but each one of them taught me so many important things.

    That’s just my experience :)

  10. Jade Sheldon says:

    I was an illustration major and since graduated the program at the school has gotten much better at helping students with real world applications of their craft. I feel like I wasn’t taught the proper elements of business and how to market myself as a business. It took lots of trial and error to find what worked for me. Even now I’m still constantly changing and growing what that definition is…

  11. Amy says:

    As a designer who did take the route of working for a design firm first, just to give some perspective here; I can say that the experience I’ve gained from working for a bigger agency is invaluable, and I wouldn’t trade that at all. It’s staggering how much there is that they don’t teach you in school and how much there is to be gained from real life, on the job experience. It’s incredible to work other designers who have different skills sets than you do, learn and be inspired by them, get constructive feedback and creative direction. That said, since I have done quite a bit of freelancing, I can say there is an insane amount of different skills that you have to learn as an entrepreneur (and quickly!) that comes with that territory. Namely, client relationships and project management. Those are things that are generally taken care of for you at a firm – you just design (which is nice, not complaining). Not to mention all the finances, self-promotion…etc. Being a freelancer usually means being a one-person show at first, which is very tough! In my time at a design firm, I have never learned anything about the contract process, or really communicating directly with clients (it’s mostly the project managers I speak with about details regarding a design…kinda similar, but not really). I had to learn all that on my own for my freelance clients. So I would wholeheartedly agree with you when you say go for freelance from the start, if you have the means and the drive! But I would add, that during school, take on all the internships that you can at design firms…THAT is a great way to get that experience and test the waters! I definitely still entertain the idea of being a full-time freelancer one day, just cause I am a control freak and love having the creative direction and master vision for projects…and would be thrilled to cherry-pick the projects I’m taking on…but I feel like I am still learning so much from working at a design firm right now. Which is what I’ve been doing for the past three years – the learning really never stops when you’re a designer, does it? ;)

  12. Dee says:

    it’s crazy how much they DIDN’T teach us in design school. let’s just put it this way…i am going to be freelancing in the next few months and only now, after 8 years do i feel comfortable saying that. there was just way too much i didn’t know about the industry. but for some people it just makes sense. one thing i can say for certain, is that it really helps you decide if freelance is what you want. i could not imagine working for another agency after this year! ha

  13. Kercia says:

    Thanks for this post Breanna. I feel like I have that same sinking feeling when I think about life after graduation. I just don’t see myself working for a big name agency. As many times as my parents (and others) suggest just getting a design job anywhere for the experience, I feel like it would be like giving up on dreams. You blog is where I come to be uplifted and to be reassured that I CAN make my dreams a reality.

  14. Kate says:

    I love this post, Bre! I definitely feel like I also took the road less traveled, and it can be lonely sometimes. I studied architecture in college, and while we studied other kinds of design no one ever talked about any kind of work other than working for an architecture firm. When I graduated, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that was not something that I wanted to do. I never even considered freelance design (or even really web design) until after I’d graduated and started looking around at the things that I would really love to do. I wish I would have read a post like this back when I was in college!

  15. I freakin loved this post. While I finsih graphic design study by correspondence (while working full time in another industry) I cannot see myself working as a designer in any type of corporate office, after all I chose this path to be creative on my own terms (plus i’m expecting my first baby) so freelance (aka crazy night hours) suit me wayy better. Your post have given me the confidence that I am not diving off the deep end with unrealistic expectations. So a BIG virtual hug out to you lady! Xx

  16. Victoria says:

    You are so admirable, Breanna. Currently I am finishing Pharmacy school, which is far from anything artistic or creative, but graphic design has always been a passion of mine. As I’m getting closer to completing, I am drawn more and more to pursue design (a waste of 8 years?? i don’t know.) But to be happy, I KNOW I have to “go with my gut,” like you said, and follow my dream. You are awesome!

  17. Thanks for the wonderful post Bre! I’m now a year out of design school and have been working a full time corporate job because I was told by my lecturer that I needed more experience before freelancing. Working a full time job and trying to work on my personal business on the side has led me to a complete emotional and physical burnout. I’ve been unhappy with my situation for some time now and I’m only finding the courage to do something about it now. I’ve taken the steps to quit my full time job so that I can spend more time working on my business and building my brand. I think deep down you always know what’s right for you :)

  18. Megan says:

    Hello! Thanks for posting this! I am in my third year of design school, and I too have always wanted to be my own boss, and have my own business. But i’ve always thought that experience was a must, and until I experience different agencies, places of business, etc I couldn’t do it on my own! Why don’t they teach freelancing in school, and starting your own DESIGN business, rather then just entrepreneurship classes! Anyway, thanks so much for sharing!

    Megan Powell

  19. Kelli Murray says:

    So well written Bre. You are a rockstar.

  20. Camila says:

    Bree I am going through that exact cross road right now. I have had a few twists and turns career wise, I started majoring in architecture, than switched to marketing to later find out I am in love with graphic design. I started doing a bit of freelancing while still in college and let’s just say I had a few bad experiences because of my lack of experience. Right now I have almost a year working for ¨the man¨ and as I get close to completing the contract I constantly ask myself if I am ready for the leap or not. Thanks for your advise, it actually gave me a push!

  21. Nesha says:

    Great, inspiring post! I love reading through the comments and seeing how its effected people.

  22. sheryl says:

    Bre I really love how honest you are with everything and that you share your knowledge with others.

    I decided too very early on after graduating that I wanted to start my own business, I don’t think I followed it with as much conviction as you have – though but I’m working on that. This year I want to trust myself a bit more!

    Thanks for your uplifting post x

  23. Melissa says:

    Finally someone else who always knew they couldn’t work at a big design firm!
    I haven’t even graduated with my design degree yet and a have already started my own studio. I can’t say freelancing/owning your own business isn’t a huge a idea in school either. Heck, some people haven’t even thought about what they actually want to do when they graduate. My university has even taken businesses classes out of the program, therefore assuming that designers won’t be needing business ed.
    I have the continuing “problem” of just wanting to do my own thing. Everyone talks about designing for a big company…but that thought was never really appealing to me. I agree, if you have the determination then being your own boss is right for us. Thanks for the post!

  24. [...] A great post about freelancing right out of college. [...]

  25. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of these posts!! Extremely helpful!

  26. Jessica says:

    I share the same views when it comes to freelancing + following your dreams. This post was so refreshing! THANK YOU!

  27. Kait says:

    I was wondering if you ever had to file a trademark or a DBA before starting your freelance business. Do you have any advice on the differences or on what you would recommend? PS I love this column – it’s so helpful!

  28. Meshia says:

    Awesome post, Bre! It resonates deeply. If you don’t mind sharing, what fonts did you use?

  29. Excellent post for those who are finishing college and want to make their own path. Thank you for being so inspiring, Breanna!

  30. Fionna says:

    It’s nice reading posts like this because these are my exact feelings right now. Especially being in your early 20′s, you’re always wondering where you’re headed and if you’ll make it in life but I have always been the weird one straying off the normal path and doing things a bit differently. I would love to be my own boss and that’s something I have to put more time into thinking. Such tough decisions.