Diving into Indie UX: The Wrong Way

March 27, 2012 — 26 Comments

We just wrapped up last day of the IA Summit 2012 in lovely New Orleans. I have enjoyed wonderful food, drinks, company and speakers including Stephen Anderson, Josh Clark, Chris Risdon, Greg Nudelman, Nadine Schaeffer and Dan Brown.

But one of the talks on Saturday, a panel called Taking the Plunge: Diving into Indie UX, left me gaping. The first section focused on design and design process and how it would be different if you are acting as an independent operator vs working within an agency or organization. I was shocked to hear the 4 panelists don’t collaborate with other designers or work with mentors because, as one said “I’m a good designer, I don’t need help“. Other comments about 16 hour days, spending 20-40% of time on non-billable tasks, deals taking 18 months to close, and not having repeat clients illustrated the wrong way to approach indie work, not a sure path to success.

I’ve been an ‘indie’ for about 7 years, but I’m no expert. I came to the session hoping to learn how other independent designers handle important issues like process, pricing, managing clients, finding the right clients. Instead I am alarmed that there may be a whole group of people out there posing as UX designers who don’t know their ass from a tea kettle and another set of professional, dedicated designers who could be very successful working independently now scared to try it.

Like I said, I am not an expert, but I have been successful, more so that I would have ever imagined. I have a group of 10 other ‘indies’ who work with me, many outstanding client relationships, a broad & deep portfolio in the space I’m interested in. If you measure success with dollar signs, I matched my salary from my previous Director of UX position in the first year and it has steadily increased each year. I like what I do and I hope to be in this field as it evolves over the next 7 years.

So I don’t know if this is the right way to dive into indie work, but I think it is a more balanced and professional approach than what I heard Saturday:

1. Clock your 10k

Malcolm Gladwell and other writers have noted the correlation between 10,000 hours of experience in a field and expert status. So you’ll need a bare minimum of 5 years designing before you have the skills, experience and exposure to go out on your own. But a normal desk job doesn’t get you 10k in 5 years. A full-time job + side projects might though- see #2. And making a web site in high school doesn’t mean at 20, you now have 5 years experience under your belt. I’m talking about design work in a professional environment, hopefully one where you work like a dog to learn everything you can about this field- see #3.

2. Ease into it

Keep your day job, and if you have the passion and time, pick up a side project for the evenings and weekend. This will help you learn important info about yourself that you’ll need to know before taking the full time indie plunge. How are you at:

  • estimating
  • managing timelines
  • setting client expectations
  • selecting and screening projects and clients
  • taking criticism
  • following through
  • scheduling meetings
  • saying ‘no’ (this was one of the good things Donna Spencer noted in the talk)
  • working from home
  • working remotely
  • dealing with all the bs that comes with working from home
  • negotiating your rate
  • handling the bookkeeping

.
It might become readily apparent that you will thrive in this role or that there are some areas where you’ll need more experience or support.

3. Do anything to work with the best

Anthony Bourdain, author of ‘Kitchen Confidential’, has a newer book, ‘Medium Raw’. In this book he has a chapter titled “So you wanna be a chef”. He bluntly explains that if you are old (in restaurants that means over 30), fat, or have any health problems, to stay away. After this chapter designed to open your eyes about the real physical demands of cooking, he says if you do decide to go to culinary school, and manage to graduate, do everything in your power to work for the best. Whore yourself out to the best restaurants in Europe, just for the experience. Even if they don’t pay you, even if you sleep on someone’s floor for a year, it is worth it just for the experience.

Same thing applies in our field, but I’ll spare you all the cussing Bourdain uses to make my point. Go work with the best UX designer or agency that will take you. Intern for free, or volunteer to work on side projects just to get the chance to collaborate with experienced and talented people.
I was super lucky in this regard. In my first year as a designer, I helped hire my future boss, mentor, friend and co-author, Bill Scott. I spent 4 years learning from one of the best UI designers and developers in the U.S.

4. Don’t degrade or disgrace this budding industry

UX is an emerging field. Many companies know they need UX help but don’t know exactly what that will entail. If you have clocked your 10k, worked with the best, and successfully delivered a number of side projects on time, on budget, and the designs you made were well received by the end users (in testing and production), you may be ready to help these companies.

If you haven’t clocked your 10k, haven’t successfully delivered multiple projects on time, on budget, and received positive user feedback (in testing and production), and haven’t worked with the best, you likely do NOT know what you are doing well enough to represent our industry on your own. Go back and get the experience you will need to help your clients be successful. Because, ultimately, this isn’t about you making fat stacks while working in your pajamas, it is about making your client’s projects successful.

5. Get your ducks in a row

Legal

You need some type of legal entity. I’m not lawyer or accountant, so I won’t advise you as to what type. I have a LLC, and so do most the designers I collaborate with (who are in the US).

You will need a standard MNDA, a consulting agreement, and a SOW template. And you’ll need a lawyer to review contracts before you sign them. I am serious, pay the extra money to make sure you are covered, you’ll sleep better at night.

Software and hardware

You need a time tracking system, invoicing system and file sharing system. You need a personal computer, and preferably a back up computer. I shouldn’t even have to mention this, but you need a secure backup of your work.

Financial security

You’ll need 3-12 months of living expenses in the bank. Trust me, you don’t want to be in the position where you have to take any job that comes along because you’re broke. Having some financial security gives you the freedom (and time) to screen prospective clients carefully and only accept projects that are closely aligned with your expertise and interest.

Public presence

You do not need a fancy office, amazing web site, logo, or business cards.

You do need a concise overview of your services and how you will work with your clients to provide value. I drafted a UX process years ago to help set client expectations about my role as a UX consultant, the deliverables, and what I expect from them during an engagement. Every client’s UX needs are different, so we don’t always follow this approach, but it is a good tool for the initial discussions. If you are going to freelance, you need a process or at least some case studies of projects you have been involved in.

You need a current portfolio. Be honest. Clearly call out what your role for each project was and who else you collaborated with. I would also recommend having a professional blog and authoring original content. Once you get used to writing, contribute to reputable UX blogs, like UX Booth, UX Magazine, UX Matters, etc..

References

Not all clients ask for them, but they should. Be able to provide references, preferably from pleased clients and colleagues. Again, if you clocked 10k, eased into this and worked with the best, this shouldn’t be hard to come up with. I had the luck of the lifetime when I left Sabre with a portfolio with dozens of desktop, web and mobile applications and their gold star recommendation.

6. Build a trusted team of collaborators

So I already mentioned that I was appalled that the panelists didn’t work with other designers, not even mentors. But as I thought about this more, I realized this is simple arrogance, not ignorance. UX encompasses a broad array of disciplines. A typical UX project we’re involved in includes:

  • market research
  • stakeholder interviews
  • business strategy sessions
  • user research
  • information architecture design
  • interaction design
  • content development
  • user validation/testing
  • prototyping
  • development collaboration
  • project management
  • visual design

And some projects require even more specialty work like video production.

I’m certainly not qualified to handle all of these roles myself, nor have I met any single UX person who is. Before I built my team of UX experts, I connected with fellow consultants who specialized in the areas I was weakest (ie. user research, testing, visual design, and prototyping). I knew which ones I could collaborate with who could be trusted to provide high quality work on time and on budget.

7. Provide a stellar Client Experience

Here’s an area I am still working on. After designing all these years, I forget that our clients don’t live and breath UX. They are new to the process, the terminology, the principles and the deliverables. They are looking to us for guidance to make their project successful.

One of the things we try to do, but should probably make a mandatory step in our process, is an on-site kick off meeting. We elaborate on our process, meet the stakeholders, then start looking at the business objectives for the project.

Once we’re up and running, we have standing design sessions, 1-2 days a week depending on the pace of the project. We also use Basecamp or myBalsamiq for file sharing and collaboration. Basecamp isn’t the perfect app for consulting, but the calendar does allow you to enter events and milestones. We’ve found that providing a really light weight project plan combined with standing weekly meetings, and the message board in Basecamp cuts down on random client emails at mid-night, or panicked calls asking when they can see the next version.

Don’t go crazy with the SaaS though, notes on Google docs, assets in DropBox, messages in Basecamp, project plans in Gantter, etc… just confuse clients. You’ll spend more time resetting passwords than getting design work done. Try to find one tool that is good enough, and stick with it, for their sake.

All in all, be professional

  • Leave a reasonable amount of time to complete your work, don’t knock it out at 3am, or in a 16 hour day
  • Respond to messages in a timely manner
  • Treat clients’ questions and feedback with respect, you are the design expert, but they are the subject matter experts
  • Educate them on UX methodology as appropriate during the project- note this is different than evangelizing UX

8. Get clients, not projects

This was the most troubling part of the talk, none of the panelists had significant repeat customers. They didn’t even talk about building client relationships. I have found the key to consulting is building client relationships, meaning, instead of taking 20 disparate projects a year, we have a half dozen clients that we work with on multiple projects.

The panelists spoke of 16 hour days (at the same time saying they bill by the hour which made me cringe) and how “you’ll burn out quick” like this. What I find to be most draining is ramping up on numerous small projects back to back. That is why client relationships are so valuable; it is easier to ramp up on projects within the same company, even if the work is for a different organizational unit. And we’re providing a great value to our repeat clients by reducing the number of hours need in the discovery cycle, since we already have some understanding of their industry and customers.

In summary

You can’t become an ‘indie’ UX designer until you have proven yourself as a ‘successful’ UX designer and have the portfolio and references to back you up.

I’d love to hear more tips from other successful independent designers; I’m sure there are many topics I’ve overlooked here, so chime in with your own experiences.

26 responses to Diving into Indie UX: The Wrong Way

  1. 

    Wow! What a helpful article! Filled with great advice! I hope the members of the panel respond.

    I was in that session as well and also at the indie UX lunch table afterward where Justin Davis and Donna answered questions. I also talked later to Erin Jo Richey about her experiences going indie.

    To be fair to the panel, there was a lot of ground to cover in 45 minutes. This topic could be it’s own conference!

    I think their goal was to show an overview with different people with different amounts of experience and different approaches to going indie. I also think they wanted to get more people interested in going indie. Unfortunately, the panel came off more similar than diverse in their approaches and experiences and perhaps made it look easier than it actually is.

    That said, I found the discussion at the lunch table much more valuable than the session because the questions discussed went deeper and it was a smaller group.

    At the lunch, Donna Spencer talked about her relationship with her long-term clients. Carolyn Snyder also was at the table and offered a lot of good advice based on her indie experiences. Her contributions were extremely thoughtful and helpful.

    I’m so glad you wrote this post and I’m glad that the indie panel sparked all this great conversation and advice.

  2. 

    Theresa,

    Thanks for the post, and response to the panel. I appreciate your points, and want to make sure to clarify for the sake of anyone else who may have also heard things in a way I (or we) didn’t intend.

    On collaboration:

    I don’t disagree with you, and should clarify what I mean when I say I don’t often get to collaborate with other UX designers. In my city – Tampa, FL – there are very few folks who practice UX, and far fewer (almost none) who do this work independently. The few I know work full-time, and their full-time schedules preclude collaboration opportunities on a regular basis.

    I will note this: I *don’t* do everything for clients. If my clients need visual design work done as part of a project, I call in a visual designer to do that. If they need content strategy, I call in an expert for that. My projects never involve development, so that’s always handled by another (collaborative) partner or internal team. Often, instead of project managing these folks, I introduce my client to them, and we work out a collaborative arrangement that makes sense for everyone.

    When I spoke about not being able to collaborate with other UX people, I should have been more specific. What I really mean is other folks working on the pieces I focus on: user research, strategy and interaction design. Outside of those disciplines, I defer to other experts.

    On repeat clients:

    Your point about repeat clients is right on, and I agree. I *do* have repeat clients, and have wonderful long-term relationships with them. With that said, it does only make up around 20% or so of my total project load at any given time, and that is increasing as time goes on.

    I was in-house for 4 years prior to working independently, and have only been independent for 2 years. Because of that, many of my clients simply haven’t gotten back to the point where they’re ready to engage again. They’re either working on the end of a production cycle, or in maintenance-mode until ready for another rev. Because I work in a city that is quite immature in terms of the market’s need for and knowledge of UX, my clients are usually smaller, with more limited budgets, which means our engagements are more periodic.

    You’re right – you *should* have repeat clients, and you *should* have long-term relationships with these clients. I do, and those relationships continue to blossom. The shorter nature of my tenure as an independent simply means those relationships are in their early growth period.

    On long work days:

    I know that I mentioned the 16-hour work days, because they are occasionally part of my work life. With that said, I also tried to mention the fact that sometimes, there are 4-day work weeks, due to the natural ebb and flow of project work. As I mentioned in the panel, my goal is not to work long days – in fact, I try to keep things to about 8 hours a day, and do about 80% of the time. Apologies if I didn’t communicate that clearly enough.

    (Also, as I mentioned, I don’t bill hourly, so that these occasional long days or extend work periods don’t penalize my clients – precisely the reason I bill this way)

    My goal was certainly not to scare people away from doing work as an independent designer. Quite the contrary. I love what I do, have excellent client relationships, and have been very successful doing it over the past two years. What I think our community misses, however, is a candid discussion about some of the difficult parts of working this way. Those difficulties *do* exist, and if I can help prevent someone from failing when making this jump by arming them with information about some of those challenges, I think it’s my duty to do so.

    I do apologize if the message was delivered in a way that was less than ideal, and if anything was communicated unclearly. In retrospect, a 45-minute panel was a challenging environment to cover these topics in any kind of sufficient depth or clarity. You’ve made some great points here, and I hope anyone interested in working independently takes it to heart.

    Thanks!

    Justin Davis
    @jwd2a

    • 

      Thanks for the reply Justin. There are no doubt many challenges to going independent, many of these can be alleviated with good planning. Hopefully this article sheds some light on to steps to take before making the move, and good practices to follow once your are working independently.

      To your point on collaboration, I don’t think it requires face to face interaction. My mentors and colleagues are located around the world, and one of them is usually available for a few minute chat or screen sharing session on Skype or Join.me.

      Thank you for presenting the session, at least there is a discussion going now.

  3. 
    Karolyn Bachelor March 27, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Great article Theresa. As a designer that has recently taken the leap to indie, there are some valuable points here that I hadn’t fully considered such as some of the legal due diligence that should be done.

    That being said, I’d like to add a comment regarding the relationship between your 10,000 hours point and having a good client network. As of right now, my clients and referrals have mainly come from business relationships I have built over a long career as a UX professional at multiple companies. The most fruitful referrals and engagements come from people who were peers or near peers when I worked with them so that there is a first hand understanding on their part of who I am, how I work, and whether I am the right person for the job. The second half to this equation is that they are also senior enough to have credibility when making a referral, or have a say in whom is hired in the case of direct engagement. You don’t usually get to connect in this way to folks at this seniority level when you’re just starting out. So, I guess what I’m saying is that not only do you need the time to become an expert practitioner, you need time to develop the relationships that will make your business viable once you strike out on your own.

  4. 

    Thank you for writing this! You had me at “clock your 10k”. I hope companies who hire designers get your message on UX being a broad array of disciplines, and hence the need to collaborate. During my short stint as an indie designer, I found it to be a challenge helping clients understand this. I consider myself quite strong in the area of user research, IA and IxD; if you asked me to come up with the graphics for a site, I might pull it off, but knowing well that someone else could’ve done a much better job.
    There seems to be so much thrust now on the idea that designers should possess skills in research, IA, interaction design, visual design, and UI development – not just to the level that’s required to collaborate with others, but, to actually apply them. I fear that the trend of just enough design to support lean product development is being interpreted as just enough skills to come up with the design.

    – Anu

    http://anuramaswamy.com

    • 

      Thanks for commenting. Do you think I should have a follow up post on Hiring a UX Consultant?

      • 

        Absolutely. I think it would be a good follow-up if you have thoughts to share. How designers are positioning themselves seems to be driven by how companies are hiring. I had written a post that addresses one aspect of this challenge (requiring designers to code – adding link to it below), but, addressing this as a broader challenge of knowing how to hire UX consultants will certainly help.

        http://www.anuramaswamy.com/?p=423

  5. 

    Hey Theresa

    Given it was me who said “I’m a good designer, I don’t need help” I’d like to both start and finish the sentence :-)

    The question was whether we ever show our design to other designers to get feedback (it wasn’t about mentors). I have never been in a situation where I felt I needed to show another designer my work and ask for their feedback. I was actually a bit surprised at the question as I’ve never considered it. However, if I’m working with other designers I do work with them. If not other designers, I’ll talk with my client, often with the users (in my long-term client I’m with the users all the time) or research & testing.

    I also know my ass from a tea-kettle thankfully :-)

    I think there are some other areas where our experiences differ (e.g. I don’t have a portfolio & have never been asked for one) but I’m on the road on a tiny keyboard…

    • 

      Thank you for clarifying. I was kinda shocked you said that too- it makes more sense now knowing how you interpreted the question and why you responded that way. I do think it is important for those of us working independently to not feel like we are alone (I think the slide we were looking at during that point it the talk was about ‘feeling lonely’). There are so many resources online, UX groups and fellow designers that we can turn to when we get stuck, or just as inspiration for a different way to tackle a problem.

  6. 

    Oh, BTW also – I mentioned one client I’ve been working with for 3 years, and one I didn’t mention that I’m not currently going anything for but spent a lot of the last 18 months with. Sometimes my repeat clients are 5 years apart.

    I have very good reasons for billing hourly, but am not going to elaborate here (but part is because I have *repeat clirnrs** who I do bits and pieces of work for as they come up)

    (and I hope my other comment came through)

  7. 

    Interesting take. As a working Indie, I also found the panel lacking in some areas – but how could it not with only 45-60 minutes? You could spend over an hour comparing and contrasting time-tracking tools alone.

    I also think it’s worthwhile to point out that the aim of the panel seemed to be toward people trying to weigh the pros and cons of making the switch, vs. providing pro tips to current Indies.

    That said, I felt like the biggest gap was failure to mention the need for a large cushion of living expenses. A layoff thrust me into Indie UX a little earlier than I had planned, and cash flow turned out to be a huge issue for me initially.

    Anu’s comment about clients’ apparent desire to hire only all-in-one practitioners is another troubling issue I would like to see discussed more. (Which brings me back to – how the heck can one possibly begin to discuss this in one panel session?)

    For what it’s worth, I’m planning to organize an informal lunch gathering of practicing Indies at UPA in Las Vegas in June (http://upa2012.org), hoping the discussion can focus on trading pro tips (favorite accounting software, favorite time-tracking tools, how to really track admin time, LLC vs. S-Corp, etc.) rather than comparing indie life to corporate life. Hopefully you will be able to join in!

    • 

      I know, 45 minutes is a short window. What really prompted me to post this article was not just to critique their talk, but share information that could help successful designers transition into successful independent designers.

      I would love to join your lunch, but I won’t be in Las Vegas. Maybe you can post an article afterwards?

      To note- I am interested in finding another designer to work with our group, so I spoke to one of the attendees right after this panel adjourned. She had been thinking about trying out independent work but was no longer interested after hearing the experiences the panelists shared.

  8. 

    I love your comment about indies not being along, Theresa…especially since I proposed to talk about that subject at #ias12. Leah Bukey and I had talked about this topic in early 2011–complementing her “UX Team of One” meme, I mentioned that we also are not alone, nor should we feel we are.

    From conferences like this one to the IxDA.or and its discussion forum to local meetups and UX book clubsm we have lots of places where we connect. While I might not share design ideas or sketches with other UXers who are not specifically working with me, I do reach out ti discuss and share ideas, approaches, and generic problems.

    We are a community, and we should further it. I thought the panel did a good job of sharing their experiences and being realistic. As you aptly indicate, being an independent UXer is both rewarding and taxing (pardon the pun!)–one has to search the soul to find out if they have the drive, discipline, and dedication to stick with it.

  9. 

    As the guy who asked the question (or at least a similar one: “if going independent means going solo, forgoing teamwork”) in that panel, I want to thank you for all the great information on this post, but especially for #6 about building a team of collaborators.

    Im my experience, the best feedback comes from users, but excellent ideas also come from other viewpoints and disciplines inside the company, even the person sitting in the cube next to you. It’s hard to ask for feedback sometimes, but I’ve always ended up with better solutions when getting honest feedback through collaboration with these types of people along the way.

    My main concern in going independent is losing this collaboration, or maybe phrased better, how do I replace or build this type of environment outside of a company?

    I think Justin said he uses his co-working space to get some of this, while Erin said she gets some collaboration on agency gigs, but I was left feeling that going independent is an isolating existence, and getting collaborative feedback is a lot more difficult.

    If you don’t mind, I would love to hear more about how you worked to create your team of experts, and how you collaborate with them through your projects!

    Thanks again for a great post. And thanks to the panelists as well, they did a fantastic job giving visibility into life as and independent UX Pro in a short 45 minutes.

    • 

      Thanks for your comment. When I first started out it was lonely. My mentor Bill Scott became the Ajax Evangalist at Yahoo! and moved to Ca. For the first year or so he was available for me to bounce ideas and designs off of, until he got really busy touring and speaking. Then I worked in a cave for a year and it was incredibly stressful, I felt like I had to always have all the answers before pitching designs to my clients. I heard a hint of this from some of the panelists.

      While I was working on a large project I met another designer I clicked with and she joined me as a sub contractor, then another and another. We don’t all collaboarte together- like a big show and tell session once a week, but frequently send emails or skype and say “look at this, what do you think, have any better ideas”, or “I’m stuck, have you seen anything like this, know any good examples of something similar”. Last year I was working on a high profile project and just felt drained- I called Brian Fling and said “The well is dry, I need your brain”. I hired him for a day to help me get the creative juices flowing again. Part of it is just knowing and admitting when you could use another perspective.

      So now I work with lots of designers and agencies in a collaborative manner. We’re doing better work in less time for our clients, and I have learned a lot along the way (not just design techniques but interpersonal skills and new ways to tackle problems).

      • 

        Thank you! That’s exactly what I was looking for.

        I don’t think I could last a year in a cave alone, so it’s great to get your ideas on how to build a network (sub-contracting with the right person makes a ton of sense).

        It’s very encouraging to read the different approaches you took!

  10. 

    So you have to spend five years polishing the boots of the higher ups in the UX club before you can even consider going freelance?

    Surely UX is about making sure your clients provide a good user experience?

    • 

      Yep, UX is about helping clients provide a good user experience to their end users. Getting hands-on experience and working with other professionals (UX and other roles) will help you do that- I recommend focusing on those two objectives instead of boot polishing.

  11. 

    Curious how you bill and why you’re so down on hourly. I do occasional fixed price engagements, but in a lot of cases, I’m working with startups with tight budgets and new products who we don’t have a 100% clear idea of the scope until some of the initial discovery phase has been completed. I *do* give fairly accurate estimates, but sometimes the scope changes and things get suddenly bigger or smaller. Hourly has worked for me, but I’m always open to new ideas…

    • 

      Thanks for commenting. I am actually not ‘down on hourly’. Most of our projects are hourly too, for the same reasons you mentioned. I just said I cringed when the panelist talked about 16 hour days and charging hourly in the same breath.

      When I talked about delivering a stellar customer experience, part of that is having enough time and energy to devote to the project. I can’t speak for everyone, but the quality of my designs probably aren’t as high after the 8 hour mark (or less sometimes). I wouldn’t feel comfortable charging our rates for work competed at the tail end of a 16 hour- 1 day design marathon.

      • 

        Ah! I had misunderstood the sentiment. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. 16 hour days are an occasional reality, but it’s no way to do business on a regular basis.

        Totally agree with your other points too, particularly on clocking the 10k. I’d also add that putting yourself out there is a good thing — making sure you’re constantly meeting new people, trying new things and learning new practices. It’s easy to get stale if you let yourself get into a freelancer bubble.

      • 

        I had been wondering what your issue was with the 16-hour days. I mean, an hour is an hour, whether it’s 16 hours over 2 days or over 1 day.

        I see your point now about the quality of work diminishing with the onset of serious fatigue, but it’s worth noting, too, that it’s often the client that is demanding things on a super-tight schedule.

        For a recent client, I promised – in our signed SOW – a report 5 business days after the conclusion of the usability study sessions. They called me 12 hours after the end of the last usability study session asking if the report was done. I managed to stifle a laugh when I said, “no,” but they made it clear that they didn’t want to wait the full 5 days. So yep, I squeezed 5 days of work into 2.5. And yes, they got billed for every hour I worked.

        It’s not always a bad thing, or an avoidable thing.

      • 

        Yep, I’ve been there. But this article is tips for being successful in terms of making your clients happy, creating good user experiences and not burning yourself out. Setting expectations and a project plan early on can (sometimes) prevent a scenario like you described.

  12. 

    Such an insightful article for anyone who wants to do anything freelance. Thanks for the advice and inspiration.

  13. 

    Very interesting all around. I’ve done the freelance thing at various times and with varying intensity for the past 8 or so years. Did NOT follow the pattern or suggestions given and have had successes and failures both in spite and because of that. Yep, YMMV.

    Most important skill: identifying bad clients. This is a close corollary to learning to say NO. Unfortunately you can’t learn this one any way except making mistakes. Well, maybe you could learn some tips and tricks for getting your spidey sense going sooner, but for those like me who can be overly optimistic, experience is sometimes the only teacher I respect.

    Two other exciting (not) things I would throw out are insurance and selling. Remember that you’ll be footing the bill for insurance(s) that will be deductible as expenses, but can really crimp your cashflow. Liability insurance and health insurance will be the two biggest you’ll pay for and depending on your domestic situation, health insurance can be a BIG chunk o’change.

    And of course if you don’t like selling yourself, your skills and your services, learn to grin and bear it or maybe partner with someone who does. You likely won’t be cold-calling and you can get asked to work on projects via referrals, recommendations and such but you’ll always have to do some kind of presenting, talking, negotiating and deal-making. It can be the most difficult part of the whole thing for many people in any kind of independent consulting work. I know some consultants who really hate it and some that really love it so all I’m saying is be aware that it is a really real part of what you’ll be doing.

    • 

      Great points- I completely agree! One of the designers on my team and I joked about doing Rorschach ink blot business cards so we could ask prospective clients what they see, and screen them that way. As for selling, that is another excellent point. I hate being on sell mode, it feels sleazy, but when you have your own business, you have to learn to promote yourself and build those connections.

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