I have been a freelancer for eight years now. Over that time I have come to realise certain things that are key for freelancers to know.
Being a freelancer and running your own company is all about self-motivation. No one is going to tell you what you need to learn, you need to find out for yourself. Personally, I find online tools are enough, I don’t think you need to spend loads of money on courses. I actually went on an Adobe certified course a few years ago, the instructor literally read from the £10 text book word for word, and didn’t know anything beyond that. For a quick online tutorial on a new programme or skill I use Lynda.com, they are a recommended Adobe provider, and their courses are really thorough. I have also recently started learning a bit of PHP (always useful to know) with Codecademy, I already know HTML and CSS, and so far the PHP is all making sense. I would definitely recommend them.
Good working relationships are very important. I am at the point now where even some of my agency clients ask for me by name. It is a great feeling. But always remember, they are ‘work’ relationships. It is always tempting when you get to know clients better to start relaxing, maybe go for a few beers with them after work, but you need to keep it professional, so basically don’t get drunk and act like a wally.
Get the right core skills
I’m sure no one will be shocked that Adobe Creative Suite is the main thing you need to know. But not necessarily all of it! For anyone who has signed up to Creative Cloud, you will realise that there are a lot of programs. Learn the programs that are relevant to you. For example, I specialise in magazine design and artworking, so I need to know Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and Acrobat. The odd extra program wouldn’t hurt, like Distiller, but learning those usually comes with time. I find that if I need to learn a program for whatever reason, a quick tutorial online is all I need (it really helps that all Adobe programs have the same basic functionality, so if you know one, learning another is pretty easy).
Also: learn Microsoft Office! I know you may think that it is only for admin work and couldn’t possibly be for design, but then you would be wrong. I design just as many PowerPoint presentations as anything else, for huge UK brands. And lately I have done an HTML newsletter in Microsoft Word (yes that’s right, Word!!). Seriously, learn it, it is important.
Be prepared to travel
Wouldn’t it be great if all of the biggest agencies in the world were right next to your house? Well, they’re not. I would say an average travel time for me is an hour and a half, I won’t usually do more than that. Yes, to have a short commute to work every day is great, but if you want that then get a full time job somewhere close to you. Like I have said before, there is plenty of work out there, but you have to be willing to go the distance to get it.