Hate being a graphic designer? Don’t. Your job is an escape route, not a trap.

Maybe you’ve been doing your design job so long that you can’t remember why you got into the profession in the first place.

Maybe you’re only working to pay the bills, your mortgage and feed your family.

Maybe you enjoy half of what you do, but the other half drives you crazy, or to sleep. (I’m not sure which of these is worse).

You’ve got that niggling feeling that life is passing you by, and you could be doing your own thing instead of someone else’s.

But quitting your job to start your own company seems like too much of a risk financially.

So now you feel trapped.

Stop. (And breathe…)

Let’s see if we can look at the facts from a different angle.

You’re good at your job, and you’ve stayed in it for years. If one company values you this highly, others will too. Graphic design is a skill that’s in demand, that pays well, and that you can always fall back on. Not everyone is so lucky.

As a designer, you have options. Lots of them.

Find a different job
It’s healthy to switch up your environment every three years or so. (I know, having stayed in my first job for five years. Things started to go stale at the end). Each design studio works slightly differently. You’ll learn new approaches and techniques, and meet new people. That’s not to mention the financial benefits of the increased salary you’ll get if you play your cards right. Negotiate hard if you’re taking a new job — this includes researching going rates and rehearsing what you’ll ask for beforehand.

Switch to a 4 day work week
If you’ve been working at the same company for a few years, you’re in a much stronger position than you realise. The world of work has become less rigid. More and more people are part-time, flexi-time, or job-sharing. I’ve had multiple offers of part-time graphic design jobs over the past three months so trust me, this isn’t a pie in the sky concept. It's easier than you think...

Ask your employer if you can work four days a week instead of five.

(At the same salary if possible, so that you’re also getting a pay rise).

The worst they can say is no. But they probably won’t, because you’re the best person in the world at doing your job right now, and training someone else to do it will take time and energy. They’ll be falling over themselves to hang onto you.

Go freelance
Being a freelance graphic designer can be great. You’ll get to choose when and where you work, and enjoy more flexible hours and higher pay.

Read my freelance graphic designer’s survival guide, which pulls together everything I learnt during my first year freelancing in London. Yes, there were a couple of times when I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay my rent, but I was never homeless, and I never went to sleep with an empty stomach.

It will feel like a roller-coaster to begin with, but once you’ve learnt how to enjoy the ride, you won’t ever want a full-time job again.

More recently, I’ve realised another benefit of freelancing: it’s great practice for being an entrepreneur. You can starting building your professional network (and your confidence). You can start taking responsibility for financial decisions. And you can do all of this without the risk of committing 100% to a startup that will most likely place huge strains on your finances... and mental health.

In short — you’ll learn things about yourself that you couldn’t whilst working for someone else.

Whatever you do, make time for side projects.

You’ve probably noticed that I didn’t include “Start your own company” in my list of options above.

Big is over-rated. Big is a huge leap from nothing. Big is a road-block that's holding you back.

I think it’s better to start small.

Use your freelance work — or your current job renegotiated on a 4-day-a-week basis— as a financial pillar, and  your new-found spare time to run experiments.

Start a blog (CycleLove has been an amazing networking tool for me). Test out business ideas. Build a tiny product. Organise a meetup group or hold a free event. Play around with some ideas and see what happens.

Not only will it be fun, you’ll be able to work without constraints. No-one will be watching you, so there’s no pressure to deliver anything. Your confidence and skill-set will grow exponentially.

Still want to launch your own business?

Don’t start by dreaming up names for your company.
Yes, you need an original, memorable and ownable name. Something that will be at the top of Google when people search for you.

But your company name isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things.

Don’t start with a product idea.
Lots of designers seem to think that selling t-shirts online is a good way to make money.

Whilst designing and then selling a few t-shirts is fun, scaling this up into a life-sustaining business is another matter entirely. Of course there are brands which have pulled it off — Howies and Ugmonk spring to mind as inspirational examples — but for every success story there are ten failed business that never made it off the runway. (Yup. Been there, done that. Didn’t make any money).

Designing a product... and then trying to work out who it's for... is doing things back to front.

Start by defining your why.
Whilst your products will change over time, your company’s core values won’t:

"People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it"
Simon Senek: Start with why

Ask yourself these two questions, which are really one and the same:

  • Why (other than making money) does your company exist?

  • Why (other than making money) do you get out of bed in the morning?

If you get stuck, think about companies that you admire. Read their mission statements. Figure out what makes their founders tick.

Whatever you do, don’t switch back to your product ideas just yet. Seriously.

You need to keep asking yourself questions. And your brand needs to have a personality, not just a name and a logo:

  • What are your principles? What do you believe in?

  • How will the world be a better place if you succeed?

  • What do you want to be remembered for? (And what don’t you want to be known for?)

  • How will you make your customer’s lives better?


Whether you want to change your job, or go freelance, or start your own company, remember this...

Your work is never a trap, unless you see it as one.

Nothing is really holding you back, and no job has to be forever.

Celebrate your new-found awareness of what you want from life, and begin making changes to get where you want to be.

How are you going to start?

 

Start now

If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.
— Debbie Millman

If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

What would I say to you if you were sitting opposite from me right now? (assuming I'm not having an 'introverted' moment).

It's hard to say in advance... but hopefully some words would come out of my mouth in a relatively understandable order, and you would fire some back at me.

You can't overthink a conversation without it grounding to a halt.

Which means that grammatical mistakes (after transcribing hours of interviews for CycleLove, I've realised that human speech is peppered with them) are let slide. The focus is on words getting out with a minimum of fuss. 

But when you sit down at a computer with the intention of writing, the brain seems to freeze up.

"Shit, shit, shit. What am I going to write? How should I write it? It feels like I'm back at school again. Help!"

So how do writers write?

Elmore Leonard (whose stories have inspired films like 3:10 to Yuma, Jackie Brown and Get Shorty) offered this advice to the New York Times:

10 rules for writers

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. 
  6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Whilst these are primarily tips for writing fiction, Elmore finishes with a single point that neatly encapsulates his approach, whatever you are writing...

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

I've found the best way to check this is by reading things out. Not just in your head, but audibly. 

The next time you are stuck writing something, imagine a friend is sitting in front of you, then read it out aloud to him.

Are you using unnecessary words or unnecessarily complicated language?

Does what you've written sound natural, or does it sound like writing?

(And are you using lazy exclamation marks because your words lack punch?)