Just over six months ago I left my job at Apple Inc. to pursue bigger things. I said goodbye to a steady paycheck, amazing benefits, and great potential for future opportunities. What am I doing now? Working full-time freelance on amazing projects all over the world, from Los Angeles to London. I am happier, healthier, making ends meet and having plenty of time and resources to play.
Now don't get me wrong, freelance design work is not just something I decided simply to do. I've been working, learning, growing and struggling [at running my own business] for the better part of ten years, that's what lead me to Apple, but that story is for another day.
So how did I do it? It started with a list, in order to be successful at this I knew I was going to need to follow these five steps. I've elaborated on them below because I think they are important no matter what kind of work you are in.
1. Be Available I don't know how many times I've heard from people I've worked with, "I reached out to him about the project, but I haven't heard back yet" or maybe you do hear back from someone, but they don't seem eager to respond, yet alone interested in the project you're so passionately looking to get started. I'm sick of designers and artists playing hard-to-get, it's not cool and it will lead to business lost.
2. Be Engaging This goes hand in hand with being availability. People are coming to you with their dreams, their products, and passions and how dare you to be the one to stifle that by giving them a half-assed response or half of your attention. If it's not a project you're interested in, be honest and politely decline. There's plenty other creatives out there, someone will be interested. When you are interested, don't be afraid to say it. Tell your client how excited you are to be working with them on their project. Everyone loves a fan.
3. Respond Last week I shared my thoughts on what it means to respond to email in a timely fashion. That post stems from this rule, to respond. If you're looking for work and you send your idea to three people, one responds immediately and the other two weeks later. Who are you more likely to want to work with? Be available, be engaging, be responsive. No one wants to work with someone they can't get in touch with. Offer your phone number, offer to meet them, hell get on a plane if it's necessary to clear the air. Respond to your clients needs.
4. Follow-Up In a world of never-ending meetings and one after another conference calls, it's tricky to keep track of everything that's going on—I get it. It is in these busy times that reflection comes most important. Meeting new clients and prospects is sort of like dating. They're coming to you with a new idea, a goal, a vision and how you respond to that is important. Don't keep them guessing, send a brief follow-up note after your call or your meeting to reassure them you're either on board or that it is not something you're able to take on at this time. Do it in a timely manner. If you have a call with someone, send them an email later that day. A day of meetings, send a note later that evening or the next day. Be prompt and be honest.
5. Share Knowledge Freely There's no better way to make yourself more valuable in other's eyes than to help them look better, work more efficiently, or accomplish something they never thought they could. I've experienced this time and time again. It such a breath of fresh air in the creative industry which has been operating in an EXTREMELY ego-centric way for so long, I'm tired of it. There's no room for you to have trade secrets anymore. Clarity and transparency is the best way to separate yourself from the masses.
During my time at Apple I always found it comical that people ask "what's the secret to Apple's success"...it's funny to me, because as secure as Apple is, they tell the world exactly what they do and why they do it with every public offering. Watch any video on Apple.com, any product launch—it's clear. They make new products not because they can, but because they truthfully believe it will be better than something that already exists. I've seen it firsthand and wholeheartedly believe it.
Clarity is the best way to separate yourself from the masses. Share your knowledge, after all you gained it from somewhere or someone else. Why not pass it along?
Since August of last year I've been given the opportunity to work with some AMAZING people and the work just keeps coming. I don't attribute it to being a breakout talent in the creative industry, I've still got A LOT to learn. I attribute it to these steps, to working hard and staying true to myself. I'm only six months in, but I'm not thinking about now—I'm planning for the next few years ahead.
Each of these five items I carry with me everywhere I go. It's my reminder to work hard every day, to be available to the people that need me, to engage those I am interested in, be responsive to all who inquire, following-up when necessary, and most importantly sharing my successes along the way.
Work hard, stay humble, and keep making great art.
If you have questions or comments or want to know more about my time at Apple, my years of struggle, or anything else e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you!