Freelancer for Life: 5 Reasons Why This Works

“Being small is nothing to be insecure or ashamed about. Small is great. Small is independence. Small is opportunity. Celebrate it…It’s truly to your advantage.”
Jason Fried

I was recently invited to talk to a group of international business students about my company. The idea was to bring in companies of different sizes and have them describe what they have to offer. While it was only a 10 minute talk meant to enlighten students, it actually gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I have learned over the past 6 years as a consultant.

1. I am passionate about being a one-man company.

I want to make it very clear that I have no intention of ever changing that. For the past six years, it’s been just my dog and I doing great work for clients without the distraction of the overhead of running a larger business. When I started consulting, there was the plan that when the client load grew, I would need to hire others. I believed that the only way to get bigger clients was to get bigger (e.g. more employees). The reality that I found was that working with amazing freelancers, I had the opportunity to continue growing and support other one-man companies like myself.

2. It’s not an in-between jobs thing.

I have been working professionally in this industry for the past 18 years. Working for small bureaus and network agencies like BBDO and Bates was great, but the longest I ever held a full-time position was two years. People are surprised when I say it, but the last six years of running my own company has been the best work experience of my life (and I have the best boss!). It is the most stable, revenue secure, and challenging job that I have ever had. The rewards are endless and I love what I do. I think Paul Jarvis says it best when he describes his own freelancing experience:

“I believe freelancing is the ultimate way to take control of my life, my finances and my daily happiness. I don’t freelance as an interim step until I build a wildly successful product or a huge company. This is a long-term, long-lasting career that’s now more stable than any corporate job. I freelance because I love being a freelancer. It gives me the ability to chart my own path in life, not to mention working in my underwear (with my clients being none-the-wiser). I choose who I work with, when I work, and most importantly, when I don’t need to work.”
Paul Jarvis

3. No full-time job would change my mind.

I’ve been approached by some of the largest companies out there as well as most top digital agencies. When Apple came calling, I had to decline. Don’t get me wrong, I love Apple. They are pioneers in design and they offer some of the best user experiences. I believe that designing concepts for iOS10 or doing design for upcoming streaming services sounds like an amazing opportunity, but there’s also someone designing templates for Keynote or iAD frameworks. Freelancing frees me to have control of the projects I take, the location I am at, and the flow of my work. Working in Sweden has amazing benefits like healthcare that make it the ideal place in the world for me to work.

4. I’m not tied to geographic borders.

Simply put, I help clients define a problem, outline a solution, and execute it. If none of these things are bound by geographic boundaries, why should I be? Working with international clients can be exceptionally difficult for larger companies and the costs rise accordingly. I have learned to be understanding of the cultures of each client and that allows me to grow strong business relationships. Knowing how to effectively communicate, when to push through or step down, or even understanding how they view work is important to each project. The only disadvantage I’ve run into is that having clients from around the world means it is always business time for someone. Setting the right expectations can ease that burden, but it can be difficult.

5. It’s not as lonely as you think.

One of the key questions I often get is if I get lonely. The short answer is absolutely not. I work very closely with all of my clients and am dedicated to their success. I am always talking to someone and forming good relationships with them. These personal relationships with my clients put me in the position to help them make wise business decisions. A larger agency would struggle with being able to establish this personal relationship with each client.

Thinking all of this through has convinced me to change my primary domain from antonsten.com (company) to antonsten.com (me). I’m just me, there is no one else, and I’m happy to say that I have no intention to change that.

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Books

User Experiences that Matter (2016)
Mastering Freelance (2017)

If You're Getting Started in UX

What's a 'User Experience' Anyways?
How Do You Learn UX?
Working as a UX Designer

Next Steps in UX

Working as a UX Lead
Defining a UX Strategy
Writing as Part of the UX Process

Thought-pieces

AI Ethics - A New Skill for UX-Designers
Designer Ethics & The Moral Implications of our Apps
The Future of the UX-Designer
Voice Input’s Effect on Social Norms

The Work We Do

Chasing Growth
New Tools Don’t Always Equal Productivity
Why Designers Need to Write
The Tools I Use to Run My Business

Featured Writing & Interviews Elsewhere

Q&A With Anton Sten, Author of User Experiences that Matter - Adobe
What the F*#!ck is a UX Designer anyway - Working not Working
It’s Time for a Code of Ethics for Designers - Medium Modus
The Art of Going Freelance - .Net Magazine
It Takes Time - Being Freelance episode 100

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