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Home > general rambling > I’m five years old!

I’m five years old!

July 26th, 2009

Well… my business is, anyway! Five years ago this month, I took the big plunge and became a full-time freelance graphic designer/illustrator.

John shot the photo of me above, clicking my heels in the Bay of Fundy at low tide. I thought it was à-propos because I am happy as a clam with my career, but it can be a bit lonely at times.

The first thing that many people say when they find out that I work for myself goes something like: “Oh man, you’re so lucky — you must love the freedom!!!” Yes, I’m very definitely lucky. And yes, I do like to have the freedom to make many key decisions. But then… I’ve never worked harder in my life than I have in the last five years. I recently saw a sign in a store window that read “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” (coined by pro golfer Gary Player) — and I found myself nodding emphatically as I walked by.

Being self-employed is not for everyone. But if you do your homework, plan and organize intelligently (big picture and day-to-day), and can figure out a balance between work and life, being your own boss can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever try. I’ve never been happier in my life than I am right now, and my job has a lot to do with it.


A few things I’ve learned:

  • Don’t work in your PJs. It affects everything from how you feel to motivation. Early in my foray as my own boss, I forgot that I’d booked an appointment with my insurance guy; he showed up while I was in my flannel jammies; that was awkward. Since then, I always change before the workday begins.
  • Set boundaries. I never answer the phone before 9 a.m. I (am still learning to) say “No” when necessary. A year and a half of weekend overtime and all-nighters taught me that quality of life is much more important than anything else.
  • Mix things up. I have an overdeveloped tendency to talk to myself (yes, out loud), so I need to remember what it’s like to convene with other humans sometimes. To balance out working solo, I try to plan a lunch date or two with friends throughout my workweek; I also make sure to keep my evenings/weekends busy. Facebook and Twitter also help me make contact with the outer world.
  • Learn to talk about money. This was excruciating for me at first. Once I learned to bring up money forthrightly, things got a lot more comfortable and clear.


A few things I love about working for myself:

  • The reward. Because I work directly with my clients, I hear the positive feedback right from them. Each project is its own source of pride.
  • The challenge. Running a business is so much more than the task at hand — prioritizing, liaising with people, knocking off to-do list tasks… and then the projects themselves, of course. There is absolutely always something to be done and improved, so I’m never bored.
  • My clients. Sure, I’ve had difficult clients before, but here’s the thing: if I find them tough or frustrating to work with, then they probably think the same of me, and things end up petering out… and ultimately I’m left with the folks I DO jibe with. It feels like it’s been a very natural progression in this way.
  • Calling the shots, somewhat. While I always have to consider how my decisions will affect everything, I generally can decide when I want to go away or what projects I do or don’t want to take on.


A few cons about being self-employed:

  • Admin. Invoicing and taxes are killers for me. Bar none, bookkeeping is my most despised task.
  • Anybody there?? It can be tough not to have other peeps in the room, or anyone to get help or a second opinion from… especially for an extrovert.
  • The tug-of-war. Sometimes, it actually doesn’t feel like I’m my own boss at all, but rather, that I have multiple bosses all at once.
  • No benefits or security. I’m incredibly fortunate that my busy-ness has always been pretty constant, but I’ve heard many a designer describe freelancing as “feast or famine”. We’re on our own when it comes to insurance (disability, employment, etc), maternity leave, plus all the schmancy stuff that so many of my friends have like dental, massage therapy, physio, and so on.
  • Constancy. There’s really never a day that passes when I don’t think about something related to my business. It’s tough not to bring work home when the office is in the apartment! My mental task list never stops running in the background of my brain; there is always so much to do.


For anyone in the design or illustration field who’s considering going out on their own, click here to read a terrific article that might help with the decision-making.

Another incredibly helpful resource: click here to use fill out a handy questionnaire to figure out what your hourly rate should be. Someone once told me that if my estimates are never turned down, then my rate is probably too low… food for thought!


Questions for you:

  1. If you are or have ever been self-employed, do you have any wise words to share?
  2. If you’re thinking of taking the plunge into self-employment, do you have any questions?


Enough with all the serious talk now… I’m breakin’ out some cake!

general rambling , , , , , ,

  1. July 27th, 2009 at 00:12 | #1

    What a wonderful post! Big congrats to your 5 years and please do consider me as a co-worker even though we don’t share the same office! ;)
    Loved the line about ‘multiple bosses’ Haha, that’s scary! :)

  2. Samantha
    July 27th, 2009 at 01:05 | #2

    CONGRATS!! Thats awesome! So happy for you to be doing so damn well!

  3. July 27th, 2009 at 07:31 | #3

    Great post!! Congrats on 5 years =)

  4. July 27th, 2009 at 07:49 | #4

    this is SO awesome and inspiring since I’m working towards being self employed by January (*finers crossed!*). Very very good advice – thanks a bunch for sharing and congrats!

  5. Steve Moons
    July 27th, 2009 at 09:34 | #5

    5 years… Where did the time go? Congratulations to the most successful (in a myriad of ways) person I know. Wise words to share? As you mention, you MUST NOT undervalue your time. It’s the only thing you have. The market will let you know if you’re price competitive for what you offer. Best of luck for the future of your business!

  6. July 27th, 2009 at 18:01 | #6

    gorgeous photo! and big congrats on 5 years and being busy. v good advice and little bits of info about yourself too! isn’t it great to pop into twitter etc for a little company :)

  7. July 28th, 2009 at 09:38 | #7

    those are some wise words, young lady! :) maybe I’ll grow up to be like you some day. love that pic too! I have one of myself clicking heels. You can’t help but feel happy when you’re clicking your heels. Those leprachauns (no idea how to spell that) were onto something! :D

    ps. I super lurve your blog too (and added it to my blog links) ;)

  8. July 28th, 2009 at 10:12 | #8

    Great post Emily. Congrats on your 5 years of success. It’s very inspirational. :)

  9. July 28th, 2009 at 12:31 | #9

    The traditional five-year-anniversary gift is wood. Sadly, I am fresh out of logs, but I can still offer you a heart-felt congratulations. No one deserves this success more than you, Miss Chen.

    p.s. Thanks for the sage advice. And I agree– bookkeeping is the worst!

  10. dre
    July 29th, 2009 at 09:44 | #10

    Congrats on five years!
    I love that photo of you too!

  11. July 29th, 2009 at 15:04 | #11

    Congrats on the five years!

  12. July 29th, 2009 at 17:03 | #12

    You totally rock, congratulations on 5 years and thank you so much for helpful and insightful words!

  13. August 4th, 2009 at 05:51 | #13

    Hey Mee – you totally deserve all the success and good stuff that has come your way in all these five years – thanks for being such an inspiration and generous resource – you are da BEST! Congrats!!!! jee :)

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