How I went Full Time in my Design Business



Full time freelance

my story: part two

In my last blog post, I shared how I was able to start my business along side of my 9-5. (If you are new here, you can read that post here.) As promised, this week I am diving deep into what it looked like to quit my 9-5 and go full time with my design business.

Below I am going to share some of the things that worked for me and the things I wish I did differently during that time.

Things that worked for me:



I saved up some money.
This one may seem a bit obvious, but that’s because it is probably the most important! While I am a risk-taker by nature, I knew how important it was that I had the security of having money to pay my bills if things were slow at first. I highly recommend putting money aside each paycheck to have a savings to fall back on if needed. I had heard that a good amount of money to have saved up is enough to cover your cost of living for six months and that is about what I had. Knowing that I had money to fall back on released SO much weight off of my shoulders during the first few months.


I got involved.
Having your own business most likely means working by yourself, at least in the beginning. As I started getting serious about going full time, I became very involved in the creative community. I remember attending local Tuesdays Together meetings, chiming in on Facebook groups and being proactive about meeting new people, especially those that were in a similar industry. Getting involved helped me with a few different things:

I was able to learn from people who were already full time in their business.Going to creative meet ups was an amazing way to find clients. Many of my clients that first year came from those meetups.When I did finally become full-time, I was shocked at how lonely it could feel at times. Being involved helped me to feel not quite so isolated.


I got creative.
Shortly after I quit my 9-5, I decided to move to Washington, DC. That sounded great on paper, until I started my apartment search and quickly realized that DC has one of the highest costs of living in the United States. The thought of paying $2,000 a month for a studio apartment while I was still in the early stages of my business was terrifying. I was determined to make my business work so I was forced to get a little creative. I searched Facebook for a “DC moms” group, asked to be accepted and then asked if any of them needed part time child care in exchange for living. Before you know it, I had the basement apartment of a beautiful DC home for FREE, in exchange for afternoon childcare 4-6 hours a week. It was the perfect solution for the first few months of my business until I was sure that I could truly afford my own place. Looking back, this part of my story is so funny to me now, but I share it to say that if you want something bad enough, you will find ways to make it happen, right? Don’t be afraid to think out of the box and get a little bit creative.

if you want something bad enough, you will find ways to make it happen, right? Don’t be afraid to think out of the box and get a little bit creative.



I was brave.
I remember when I first started sharing my work and the idea of going full time soon entered my head. Of course there was the initial fear of “Will I be able to pay my bills?” But perhaps the greater fear was “What will other people think?” The fact of the matter is that when you do something that most people don't do, people will talk. I was lucky to have supportive people in my life, but there will still be people who don’t understand, or maybe even disagree with your decision. I specifically remember where I was when I made that conscious decision that I wasn’t going to let the fear of other peoples opinions hold me back and I am so glad that I did.

The truth is, leaving the security of a 9-5 is SCARY, but if you are looking for the perfect time, a sign, or for the stars to perfectly align, you will be waiting forever. It’s good to have a plan, but sometimes it’s also good to trust yourself enough to be brave enough to take the risk.

if you are looking for the perfect time, a sign, or for the stars to perfectly align, you will be waiting forever. It’s good to have a plan, but sometimes it’s also good to trust yourself enough to be brave enough to take the risk.


Things I wish I knew:



I wish I had a more detailed business plan.
So I technically did have a “business plan” but it was not as detailed as it should have been, especially when it came to financial planning. At the time, I was trying to match my current salary and so I charged and scheduled my projects accordingly. When you are analyzing your prices, be sure to account for things like taxes and health insurance and business expenses and make sure you are making enough money to have time for admin work and passion projects. The next few mistakes I made all fall under the umbrella of having a better business plan.


I wish I had charged more.
Looking back, I should have been charging WAY more for branding services. Like I mentioned above, I had the mind set of “matching” my 9-5 salary, but didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the costs of business expenses, health insurance and taxes. When you are figuring out your prices, make sure you account for all of the costs of doing business, as well as making sure you feel like you can take time to work on admin tasks and passion projects without losing money. This brings me to my next point...


I wish I had accounted for passion projects and admin time.
I truly think this may have been the biggest mistake that I made the first year of full time. Because I wasn’t charging enough for my projects, I felt like I constantly had to be cranking out projects just to keep afloat. Not allowing time for passion projects, admin time and rest, is a SURE road to burn out. When nailing down your prices and your schedule, make sure you are charging enough so that you have time to work on passion projects and the admin side of your business.


I wish I had been more organized.
When quitting my job, I was somewhat organized but I could have definitely been better! I had a client management system set up that handled invoicing, contracts, questionnaires and book keeping, but I didn’t completely take advantage of all of the workflow and automation features that I could have.  I would advise that you take the time to set up and automate EVERYTHING that you can before you quit your day job. This will free up so much time for you to work on your profitable tasks.

Things to get organized:

  • Your Client Management System. I use Dubsado and love it. There are so many workflow and automating features that you can set up to save you hours on admin time.

  • A separate business Banking Account

  • Bookkeeping (I use Quickbooks Self-Employed)

  • Your Inbox. I am just now taking advantage of email organization, labels and canned email templates and so wish I had done this from the start!



Other things to consider when making this decision:

Is having your own studio really for you?
Before you decide to quit your 9-5, I think that it is important that you dig deep and really make sure that owning a business is truly what you want. In the creative world, quitting your day job and going full time is a sure sign that you “made it” but I would whole-heartedly disagree! Yes, going full time with your business has a lot of benefits. Making your own schedule, infinite earning potential and being able to work from anywhere sounds awfully shiny, but it comes with A LOT of responsibility. Being full time means you no longer have the consistency, security or community that you would have at your 9-5. There is NO shame in a 9-5 and I truly think it is the best option for some people. Dig deep and decide what is truly best for you.

Consider retainer clients.
Retainer Clients are such a great way to ease some of the pressure of going full time. While I did not work with retainer clients at the start, I know that they have been so helpful to many of my friends. Are there any clients that you have that you can pitch a monthly retainer package to? What about your current employer? Depending on your job situation, you could pitch your current employer a monthly retainer package to continue to do design work for them. Chances are, keeping you on board in some capacity is probably easier that starting over with someone new AND you are creating a consistent income for yourself. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Make sure you are treating your clients well.
Go above and beyond serving your clients. Not only does the process go smoother that way, but when you treat your clients well, you get referrals. So many of my projects the first year (and still now!) come from past client referrals. Referral clients are great because they come into the project already trusting you. Figure our ways that you can overdeliver and truly serve your people well.


Next week I am going to be sharing a look at my first couple years of free-lancing. If you have any specific questions about that process, feel free to drop a comment below so that I can be sure to answer them.


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Morgan ParsonsComment