Need some career advice

Alright, I know many designers are hired as freelancers by companies, and eventually (some) of those companies decide to hire them on as full-time employees. That’s pretty typical, right?

Has anyone ever done the opposite? I’m employed full-time right now, but I’m toying with the idea of asking my employer if they’d consider using me as a freelancer / on a contract basis, rather than as a full-timer.

Is this highly unlikely / unusual? Could it be career suicide?

I’ve had many friends and acquaintances that have tried this and in my experience, it seems to work 1 out of 10 times… not the best of odds. A lot of things can go wrong. Your relationship with your employer has to be pretty tight.

I agree. I’ve never seen it work. There was a thread on here not so long ago, where we all tried to talk someone out of trying this tactic. Well they did, anyway. It didn’t work.

A couple of years ago I was called in to freelance for a company where the entire design team went freelance one after another. They all assumed that they could simply get freelance work from the company they used to work for - insane! This company had been left in the lurch, the designs for that season were complete but they had 400 tech packs to prepare and sample deadlines to make. So we did half of them, another consultancy did the other half.

All four designers are no longer freelance, one full time, the others have given up, not in the trade afaik. - it isn’t as easy as it looks and work doesn’t drop off the trees.

In a nutshell, it winds employers up - suddenly it is costing them way, way, more to get the work done from the same person. They’re paying more but they’re getting less - they don’t have your 100% commitment to depend on anymore. It may not fit with their business plan (in the case of the business I mentioned above, they work on very tight margins and freelance fees would blow their budget).

So, no matter what your personal opinion is of how great you are at your job, how much the company values you, no matter what the company literature says about how it values it’s employees, just remember, you are not unique, you are replaceable. There is a reason it is called Human Resources. :wink:


Having said that: I have done work for a co. I used to work for: 10 years after I left. Can you wait that long? :laughing:

I would add, you would need to have unique and valuable (to your employer) skills so you’re not interchangeable.

I had the good fortune of experiencing this, but I recognize that chance was the biggest factor. It also took over a year after I left for it to happen.

It worked (for a while) because
-it was a small company, and while there I was able to evolve my role.
-my job became difficult to define.
-the geographic area (away from cities) had few available skilled people.
-available skilled people were attracted to a much larger (and lucrative) employer not far away.
-I became friends with the president.

It wasn’t the easiest arrangement for my employer, so the attempts to replace me continued, eventually with success. Some of my “freelancing” involved replacing myself. I helped my boss groom replacements into the position. Finally a really good fit came along.

Back when I was there, sure, freelancing it crossed my mind…
But I didn’t, and wouldn’t specifically plan for it.

I made the difficult decision to leave the company for different reasons entirely (moved away) and occasionally thought “wouldn’t it be nice…”

yeah, I tried this…and failed. It actually worked for a little while but eventually fell through.

Hi “ditbonit”,
If I were in a position like you, I would seriously ask myself what kind of goal am I after, by changing my status from a full-time employee, to a freelance one?

-Is it the “slightly” higher cash, one may earn as freelancer?
-Is it the flexible time you may have, to follow personal/professional growth, as entrepreneur for example?
-…other reasons …?

When you are able to answer honestly to the upper answers, then you will meet the right decision.
Well each of us has different stories to tell and they are difficult to compare with your situation.

Here comes my short experience. I am now in my 5+ year as freelance industrial designer, and work for 2-3 companies.
I become on a weekly basis projects from them. But there are days/weeks when there are not that many projects around. The payment is afterall satisfactory. It won´t make you rich, except you look around for more clients.

Pros as freelancer (in my eyes).
-self time management! Importand if you look into life quality (meals, sleep, work time)
-work from a comfortable location (you may relocate to a different country for example) (i have worked and work from different countries in the EU for the same clients).
-opportunity to follow your own professional path/projects/interests in the design field.

Cons
-no one will guarantee you projects
-able to balance private with professional life
-no paid vacation, or time being sick

There can be added more to the points, but I think this is the core.

As mentioned before, every one is replaceable. Be shure to have the right skills, which your current employer seeks. Be “irreplaceable” (not by price but by skills, human factors). A good relationship, as mentioned by “Yo” is vital!

These days a permanent position is very rare and therefore something to value high!
One should have a good professional network, to be comfortable, when changing from a permanent position to freelance.


After all we are all in the creative business, where nothing is granted. No one (nearly) stays at one place untill retirement.
Each of us should nurture his/her talents further, to be able to meet new opportunities …

Thanks for all the responses! I appreciate everyone’s input - this is why I asked in the first place.

Overall, it sounds like this isn’t the greatest option, and that I could be setting myself up for failure.

stv, to answer your questions, my goal would be having more flexibility with my time - the whole “9 to 5” concept never quite caught on with me. I find that when I’m at work, I’m working to get my hours in rather than get the job done, and I’m easily distracted and inefficient, . . . not exactly ideal when you’re billing clients hourly (I work in a consultancy). My brain tends to kick into “work mode” later in the day or at night. Also, the vacation package / sick time is a joke here, if I need to take time off for something, I’m usually taking it unpaid anyways.

Shoenista, would you mind pointing me to the other thread on this topic? And no, I definitely can’t wait 10 years for work :slight_smile:

thanks again everyone!

Flexible hours are becoming more and more common. There are several solutions that an open minded manager might be willing to embrace singularly or in combination. If this is the key issue, I would have a chat about it with you boss and bring some solutions that might work for you. Here are two I’ve heard working:

  1. core hours: the idea being that you’ll put in 8 hours a day, but that might happen early, or late, or at home, with an agreed upon presence in the office during core hours. Could be 10:30-3, or 1-5… whatever works best.

  2. work from home one or two days a week: a scheduled day to work from home, might be Wednesday, or Monday… extremely available via email, phone, v chat during that time.

I can understand the frustration as far as filling in time. My 1st job out of college was very frustrating at times because I often felt like I was spending more time doing BS work then actual design work. A good portion of my time outside of strict product design delved into Graphic Design and Exhibit Design which was fine, but I felt like I was also often hampered with menial tasks that I should have had no reason to be involved in and that prolonged my progress on the work I WANTED to be doing.

I became the defacto IT guy because I was the only person besides the company owner that had enough computer knowledge to fix something. I had to go back to the factory floor and fix the God Damn SKU label printers. I got stuck HAND CUTTING and folding labels for product samples. :imp: When we had a big outsourcing project I printed out and HAND ROLLED up the shipping labels for the cartons! :unamused:

The company owner from time to time paid a 2 person outside design studio to present more “blue sky ideas” and in some cases dive into some more concrete product development. It was VERY frustrating thinking that I could have matched their effort and productivity with my own projects if I wasn’t doing total BS tasks in the office that I shouldn’t have been involved in.

I also worked for a boss who I openly stated to “I feel like I’m wasting your time and money because we don’t communicate often enough for me to have a good understanding of what your expectations are.” His reply was I don’t have enough time to meet with you. I was damned if I do, damned if I don’t. I felt like I was constantly unable to read what he actually wanted from me. Sometimes I put a great deal of effort into something only to not get any feedback for weeks or to find out that the project was shelved. Sometimes I didn’t push something further because I was waiting for feedback or direction and got chastised for that too.

In the end I realized that a lot of the other “creative tasks” and BS office issues where what was keeping me on the pay roll in effect. If I was to expect that I would be necessary to the company solely for the work that I contributed in a true Product Design sense my employment couldn’t be justified. True “Product Design” just wasn’t being practiced often enough there. He could have been having me develop projects on a further out time table, but he never did.

I think like other’s have said this probably won’t end well for you if you approach them and ask to become a freelancer instead. You could find yourself standing on the outside looking in if the work flow slows down. Especially if you feel like you’re just “putting in your time” to fill out your days right now. I’d say just look for other work if the job situation isn’t satisfying. Careful what you wish for though. I was laid off by surprise due to downsizing this spring and I’d be happy for ANY WORK right now. Even if it was unfulfilling.