This summer will mark the end of my second year as a freelance designer and I’m still here to tell the tale! After a short spell away from my regular blog entries and launch of my new portfolio website, I’m returning to my “Going Freelance” diary to discuss my year. Hopefully this will give you some helpful pointers and insights into the world of a freelance designer (and being self employed in general) as well as to help myself by going over what has changed throughout my second year as a freelancer, what I’ve learnt and what the future holds.

My freelance design studio in Dubai, The Design Hat, officially opened for business in June 2013, and I feel quite lucky to have acquired early clients that I can say I am still doing work for today. In fact, looking back, I really haven’t had a huge number of clients, but the ones I have had, I’ve formed great relationships with and they’ve continued to come back to me with new projects and referrals.

A year or so on from previous blog posts where I discussed my early experiences as a freelance designer and what it’s really like, there have been many changes in the way I go about freelancing and the day to day practices and methods that have helped keep a lean business running.

One of the biggest changes I’ve found in my second year was how much easier it is when you collaborate with others. I found that the biggest misconception of working as a freelancer is that it means working alone. It’s actually very much quite the opposite. The reality is the more people you work with, the more successful you are likely to be as a freelancer. Just like when working for an agency, freelance designers should make a point to collaborate with others on a consistent basis.

Here are a few ways I have learnt that collaboration is key and how it has helped myself (and my clients) produce great work, more regularly.

1. Organise Online meetings

Meetings will feel more collaborative if you can see and interact with people on the other side. If you can’t get in the room with clients or collaborators, organise online video meetings so that you can still see each other. Skype or any other video web conferencing tool will do the trick.

You can even go an extra step and record the meeting if you like. That way you will more actively participate in each meeting, rather than being focused on just taking notes.

There is a lot to be said for actually seeing people. You can read body language, see facial expressions and even sketch things out even when you can’t be in the same location. Online video meetings will make you feel like more of a part of the team and help connect the team back to you as well.

Saying that, not all clients (the Middle East region for one) will be entirely comfortable with sharing online meetings at first, so assess your clients carefully and be sensitive to their views on the matter.

2. Visit a Co-working space

It’s time to get out of the house if you want to collaborate. Co-working spaces are a great place to work and meet other creatives; sharing project ideas and inspiration along the way.

A change in scene can also help you feel more creative in itself. Look for a co-working location that caters to more creative types so that you are around other freelancers that have similar work methods, styles or that you would like to add to your professional network.

3. Network

Getting out and doing a little networking is fantastic for collaboration. Build a network of other professionals that you can call on for help, brainstorming or advice. Create a network that connects you to other designers, freelancers or working professionals who use many of the same tools as you.

Want to know which is the best printer shop to use for your clients collaterals? Or looking for a reliable web developer to hire for an urgent digital project? Creating a network you can trust will help you find the right people to help you with the right tasks.

More importantly, while networking, connect yourself to others who have skills that complement your own. Work together to create a pseudo-agency of sorts made entirely of freelancers and collaborators. Just imagine that if in your next pitch you can package all of the components surrounding a design project with it, such as design, development, search engine optimization, copywriting and social media, to name a few.

This collaboration network could potentially grow into a co-op or even its own agency over time.

4. Promote yourself

Get out there and market yourself and collaborators will want to work with you. Keep an updated portfolio, be professional on social media (and share plenty of work-related content) and you will be someone other freelancers want in their circles.

It’s ok to highlight a major accomplishment, award or project you are proud of. It’s also ok to show off work that you did on behalf of a client. Make yourself noticeable and easy to find.

Make sure to have an online portfolio, whether you build your own website or use a service and include contact information in a prominent way. Building your portfolio is probably the hardest job a freelance designer will ever do. Added to this, as a designer of your own product, you’ll probably never be quite happy with it either but having that exposure and platform helps an awful lot in how potential clients and collaborators absorb your work.

5. Volunteer

If you are still having a tough time making collaborative connections, try volunteering. Whether this is actual design work for free to help a local community service or something completely separate from anything design related, the connections you can make from meeting new people with a common bond can help expand your network and influence in many ways.

You never know if the event or service you volunteer for this year might hire you to do their posters or website the following year. Add this to the possibility of further paid work from networking connections amongst all that.

To conclude…

Collaboration comes in a lot of different shapes and forms and as a freelancer it is a vital part of how successful you are. Whether you collaborate virtually, by referral or in person, make a point to get out there, gather names and work well with others. You will find that it makes your work life a lot easier to manage.

Everyone needs someone to lean on every now and then.