Year one: from 'freelancer' to 'studio'
It sounds cliché but I can’t believe it’s already been a year since going out on my own!
Working for myself had always been a goal of mine. When reflecting over the past ten years, it’s clear that the decisions I made have ultimately helped me to navigate this daunting venture. My experiences have helped me figure out what kind of work I want to focus on, what I am passionate about, and how I’d like to run my own studio. I had worked in small design firms—sometimes as the sole employee—to get a closer look at what it takes to operate a creative business. I took design positions at larger firms to see how they managed teams and handled large accounts while executing on multiple project deliverables. I even gave in-house corporate positions a shot to better understand how big business works. After all this, was I ready and confident enough to start my own studio? No.
So, after a lot of panicking, thoughtful discussion, and a little bourbon, I decided it was time to go out on my own.
Starting Pendulum at that particular phase of my life was not my intent. The start-up that I was working as Lead Designer for at the time had lost a large amount of funding. In order to salvage what they could from the venture, the executive team made the tough decision to let the U.S. team go in order to shift their focus overseas. My now fiancé, then girlfriend, and I had decided to move to Tahoe a year prior—a dream of both of ours since childhood—and, with my exciting corporate job we were feeling more financially stable than ever. Needless to say, when I got the call we were devastated. How were we going to continue living here? How will we make rent on a single salary? What about our goal of home ownership? There was always Reno—but we didn’t move here only to continue commuting an hour each way to work every day—and there aren’t a whole lot of other options in a small town. So, after a lot of panicking, thoughtful discussion, and a little bourbon, I decided it was time to go out on my own. It was much earlier than I had planned, and not quite under the circumstances I was hoping for, but the door was open and I had a steady amount of work to keep us afloat for a few months.
So, here we are, one year later. The learning curve has been steep and I continue to absorb as much information as I can about how to run a studio, make a profit, and find a steady stream of work. The single biggest realization that I’ve had over the last 6 months has been to continue shifting my mindset and approach from “I’m a freelance designer” to “I am a small business owner and creative director.” Just crossing over that line provides a vastly different perspective and point of view. It’s ironic that one of the services I provide and am most passionate about is ‘Positioning’ and yet I hadn’t focused on how I wanted to position myself in the beginning. In the panic to find whatever work I could, my messaging became vague and I was taking on work that I never intended to. After refocusing and rewriting goals for Pendulum, I’m able to speak about what it is, as a studio, that I do, and am more confident talking to prospective clients about what exactly my deliverables are and how I can help their business grow.
That shift from “freelancer” to “business owner” was all I needed to change the dialogue.
All small business owners and freelancers will tell you that there is something uniquely satisfying about working for yourself. The checks may not come in on time, and there are months that we have to live really lean, but the adrenaline is something that has grown on me and I find myself more energized and inspired to work hard.
If you’re reading this as a friend, loved one, or a client—thank you for your support over this last year! Pendulum would not be operating if it wasn’t for you. I have some clear goals outlined for Y2, and am learning more and more everyday about how to make this all work.