JournalMar 2014

Thinking about giving up freelance freedom to work in a team?

Before I started to work at Hanno, I was a freelance designer who was pretty confident that working in a team wasn’t the best option for me — there’s nothing better than working for yourself and being your own boss — right?

But the problem was that while the quality of the work I produced was definitely improving, I found it difficult to grow as fast as I wanted to, and improve to the level I really wanted to reach in my career. It was also hard to find a sustainable balance between life and work, which, while it was acceptable in the short-term, would have been a problem in a few years. Now, after half a year of working on the Hanno team, my weaknesses from six months ago seem very obvious.

Now, I truly believe that there are certain things that are very difficult, if not impossible, to learn while freelancing. Even if you intend to go back to freelancing in the future, there are a lot of things you can learn from working as part of a great team, which will make you a much stronger person.

Self-discipline

Being a freelancer, you have the absolute freedom to work whenever you choose. But even a self-disciplined person can fall into the trap of procrastinating on certain tasks. Why is that? One likely reason is that the complete freedom to follow your own schedule means that it’s easy for you to procrastinate and allow seemingly important tasks from your daily life to take priority over the tricky work ones, which can kill your productivity.

When working in a team, it’s much more important to stick to a schedule in order to synchronise with your team, which in turn, synchronises with your clients. Forcing yourself to follow a disciplined schedule and not allowing those tempting tasks from daily life to interfere (usually!) will help you to become far more productive.

Being organised

It might seem like a minor thing, and that there’s no need to organise your working files, deliverables, communications and process if you’re working on your own. But honestly, it hurts you and your productivity in ways that it’s very hard to notice when you don’t have others to complain to you about it.

Teamwork helps to cut out the habit of disorganisation, because you’re forced to update your team regularly on your goals for the day, and your work has to be easily accessible and well organised.

Complete improvisation and lack of process is almost impossible in a team, because everyone depends on each other to be able to get their jobs done, and good organisation and team efficiency is a must. A few minutes here and there adds up to a lot of wasted time and inefficiency overall, which makes your job much harder.

Selling your work to others

When working as a freelancer, even if you agree what work is to be completed with the client, it’s quite common if you’re completing any sort of subjective work like design, to get your work rejected, which leads to you having to spend additional time working out how to fix the problem. I’ve found that in most cases, it’s not the work itself that is the reason for it being rejected, but a lack of context and presentation.

You might be awesome at what you do, but if you’re not communicating your rationale — why you’re doing it — it’s hardly surprising that clients won’t be able to judge your work in the right context, and understand why you’ve made certain decisions for the benefit of the project. I’ve found this is something that inexperienced freelancers often fail to do well.

When you work in a team, the first people who are going to see what you’ve done will be your teammates. You’ll have to explain and sell your work to your team before presenting it to the client. This can be very useful, because you’ll often find that your team members can be much more direct and honest than a client might be, especially if it’s not a client that you’ve built up a long-term understanding with. Over time, selling your work repeatedly to your team, and having to defend your decisions, will make you a lot better at selling, and explaining, your work to a client.

Not to mention, sharing your work with your team, and getting honest opinions from people who understand the client context (not just posting visuals to Dribbble), is a great way to help you improve and understand the many different ways your work might be interpreted.

Getting over a fear of collaborating

A fear of collaborating and having to work closely with others is probably the biggest mental barrier many people have against joining a team (especially for someone who considers themselves to be more introverted). On a great team, it can be a real hustle between you and everyone else on the team. Everyone has a voice and an opinion, and you’re forced to constantly defend your work and speak up for what you believe in — otherwise, you’ll never be able to get a design through your team’s internal review. It’s definitely a challenge to learn how to do this, and for many people, it can be a really intimidating one to take on.

On the other hand, there are always others willing to help out, provide suggestions, and help you to improve your work. That’s something that can often be really hard to find without a good team around you. Learning how to collaborate, and combine many ideas in order to produce better results, can be a really valuable skill, which applies not just to working with your team, but working with your clients too.

Where does all of this leave you?

It’s always possible to improve your skills and get better at what you do while working as a freelance designer. But with the great freedom available to you, it’s sometimes easy to fall into bad habits and not learn and grow as fast as you could with others around you to help. While you might be happy in your work at the moment as a freelancer, this can often lead to a situation in several years where your job becomes increasingly frustrating and stressful, and you realise you haven’t improved as fast as many others around you.

Working in a great team is not always easy — you’ll be challenged and pushed hard by those you work with, and you’ll find it much harder to get away with some of your flaws and weaknesses. You’ll definitely have to work hard to improve. But it can be something that’s worth giving up some of the freelance freedom you have, even just for a while — it can give you a valuable training and leave you in a much better position in the long term — able to produce even better work, and have more fun doing it!

Posted by
Arnas Goldberg

With the team since 2011, Arnas started out as an illustrator and identity designer and now leads all things creative, media and arts at Hanno.