Why I am done with the freelance game

I started my own freelance design firm in high school when my mom asked me across the dinner table: “If you put so much time into these projects, why don’t you get paid for them?” And so it was born.

Fast forward three years, terabytes of video footage, hundreds of logos, thousands of t-shirts, and millions of pixels later…

It’s time to close the books on JHil Media Design.

Things were going well. Really well. At one point, I was getting enough requests for work that I was forced to be selective, so I created a simple criteria for deciding which jobs to take.

  1. Attractive project. A job that is for a good cause, for a really cool product, or that may connect me with powerful people.
  2. Friends and family. It’s hard to turn down a favor.
  3. Big bucks. If the pay was high enough to make a dent in my education bills, then screw it, I’m in.

This system worked for a while, but an underlying problem began developing. It became clear when I started using ProjectFlow to track my progress on projects as they went through different stages: Backburner → Planning → Action → Feedback → Close → Money.

Every week, projects would wizz by—open and close, open and close—as I honed in on my lucrative freelance grind. But at one point, a new column called “Ventures” entered my ProjectFlow board. This is where I would store my side projects and crazy ideas that seemed to keep popping up as I learned more and more about the tech scene. Eventually, my Ventures column became overstuffed with project ideas that I never around got to, primarily because I had to put my clients first. After all, I was on a deadline.

This led me to the realization that I was a bit misguided. The things I was truly passionate about were getting the cold shoulder. I’m not talking about the projects that kept me up at night because of tomorrow’s deliverable, but the projects that kept me up at night because I was too busy dreaming to shut my eyes. You can only take so much brainstorming and inspiration before it’s time to take action on your ideas. So…

Build your own dreams. Not other people’s.

In freelance, you are approached with project specifications that limit your work to a client’s creative vision. But it’s liberating working to your own vision, fueled by your own internal motivation, and achieving your own goals (as I’ve learned with Startup Shell, Ampvita, Bitcamp, etc). These are projects that I believe in seeing through.

At this point in my life, I will be focusing my efforts on my own projects, startups, and initiatives. I’d also be excited to join a company where I share their high-level vision and value my role in making it happen. Freelance has been an adventure. Feels great looking forward.

It’s important to note that my time doing freelance was a great stepping stone. I’ve enjoyed the friendships made with great clients, the experience gained from the variety of gigs, and the satisfaction of clients seeing their project completed. And most notably, it was freelance itself that led me into nearly all of my current endeavors (you can use it as a “backdoor” into interesting places). Here are some of my observational notes, in retrospect.

Things I disliked about freelance:

  • Contracts. Not their purpose, but what they stand for. Work is transactional. I have an explicit and finite function. Intros, work, feedback, edits, rounds, export, invoice, close. Not inspiring.
  • Scope. Sometimes I would be asked to make a website for a company with a less-than-appetizing logo or a feature that could be majorly improved. It’s sometimes painful to chug through your tasks without being able to build on a big picture level with your client. Sure, every consultant takes a “collaborative”, “synergistic”, “customer-first” approach, but that’s just a bunch of marketing hoopla. At the end of the day, they need something and you’re there to give it to them. Fragments. It’s not the same as running a startup or even being part of a company, where larger goals are in place and your contributions are part of a central mission.
  • Amazon.com binges. I got in a bad habit of buying t̶o̶o̶l̶s̶ toys that I “needed for a project.” I would justify purchases with the fact that I “could pay it off in half a gig,” when really this just fueled my materialism-in-disguise. A full-time freelancer probably doesn’t get these distractions, but doing it on the side created a sense of financial looseness.

Things I loved about freelance:

  • Variety. I got a taste of the serial life bouncing from state to state, person to person, product to product. I even moved between services: video, design, code. This kept things interesting and allowed me to learn a lot about many of the creative fields.
  • People ❤. I thrive off of interaction and never had a bad relationship with a client. It’s always heartwarming to see someone make progress in their endeavors and appreciate the work you’ve done. My friends are working on amazing things, and I’m happy to support them. While I’m at the stage where freelance is no longer for me, it certainly has its role in the business world.

A bunch of my freelance work can be found at jhilmediadesign.com. My new site is jhil.co. Transitioning from a place for their stuff to “a place for my stuff.”