Freelance Matters | Who Are You Working For?


Yesterday was the first day since working for myself that I kind of didn’t want to work. Like… at all. I spent my morning doing yoga, came home inspired to write this post about my hair, and then reluctantly went over to my sister’s house to work. I was so relieved we were on the same page when she greeted me with a “let’s not work today.” So instead we hung out on her bed all day talking about our business goals and finances while I snacked on wasabi peas, pistachios and dried apples (the BEST combination of snacky food ever). After a few hours of fuzzy math and financial brainstorming we had a good, long Skype meeting with a dream client in New York. From there I got an email from a client regarding a misprinted business card and had to call Kristin on her vacation to SXSW to clarify whether or not it was our fault (it wasn’t – but still… print jobs gone wrong suck no matter who is to “blame”.)

So I guess, in actuality, we worked. The great thing about blending my work and life is that sometimes “work” means that I get to hang out with my sister all day, and even if we’re not plugged into our laptops we’re still doing business. Or that a blog post, seemingly about my hair, can inspire other creatives trying to be brave – and for me, that means a job well done for the day. But even more than the work / life overlap, the day of not wanting to work really got me thinking about the ebb & flow of client projects vs. the work we do for ourselves – like blogging or launching new products of our own. So that’s what I want to chat a little more about here today – the emotional and financial ups and downs of being your own number one dream customer vs. client work.

Let’s start with some definitions.

Client work includes services or goods you provide in exchange for money. Your services might include graphic design, consulting, life coaching, photography, and styling. You probably get paid hourly or with a pre-determined flat fee. If you do retail the exchange is even more tangible – goods sold for money might include prints, art, clothing, or jewelry.

I believe you should be your own number one client. But it’s a little tricky because while the time spent doing this can have a long term return on investment it’s hard to see how it’s going to keep the electricity on tomorrow. It can feel self-indulgent and your parents or spouse probably won’t understand the point of it all. When you’re working for yourself you’re doing stuff like:
• Working on your own brand identity and positioning
• Capturing, shaping, and sharing original content like blog and Facebook posts
• Networking with peers and potential dream clients
• Continuing your education and craft by reading new books, taking classes, workshops and ECourses, and attending conferences
• Developing systems and processes that will help you work smarter
• Creating artistic collaborations
• Designing, writing and developing your own books, ECourses and Workshops
• Speaking and teaching
• Sharing case studies and testimonials of completed work


I’ve found after a couple of years of working for myself that this blend of work I do for myself and work I do for clients ebbs & flows in a cyclical motion based on where my attention is needed. And this cycle of work flow is almost formulaic. More recently, I’ve noticed that the work I do for dream customers only keeps me on cloud nine for so long. But the work I do for myself – it makes my soul sing. So if I’m paying attention to The Universe I think that means I should be doing more of that soul-singing kind of creative.

It takes some serious gut-checking to know if you love what you’re doing (for yourself and others). Here’s a tip for figuring out if you’re living the dream. When you wake up tomorrow morning and begin your work day by ditching the to-do list. Spend just 90 minutes doing what you want. Is it a blog post? Is it a client project? Is it even work at all? And how did that 90 minutes leave you feeling? Report back and let me know how it went.

When you first start working for yourself or begin freelancing you may need to invest lots of time and maybe even a little money in growing and launching your business. That means you’ll be your own number one client for a while. From there you can expect to drum up some business and transition into getting hired by real clients who pay. Your parents may still not understand what you do for a living but they’ll understand that first dollar.

You may find that as client work demands your attention you have less time to work for yourself. Requests for estimates start slowing down and when you wrap up a couple of jobs you might start worrying that you’ll never get another client ever again. That’s when you pick right back up where you left off and start working for yourself. Share the work you completed, or what you learned along the way, and tell your audience how to hire you. Write some original content that will help your dream customer solve a problem. This positions you as the expert you are and requests for work will start trickling in to your inbox. Or maybe you even share a passion project you’ve been drumming up on the side that will lead to new opportunities or exposure.

Rinse and repeat.


Now this cycle of client work / “you” work is nice. After a while you find your rhythm and develop a sort of faith that if you build it they will come. It almost feels like a mathmatical formula that doesn’t fail if I follow the appropriate steps. This is where I’ve been for the past two years and it’s been comfortable. I recommend any new creative entrepreneur hang out here for a little bit. And if you’re at that phase you can stop reading this post here with the key takeaway being this: you have to work for yourself in order to attract the dream customers and projects that pay the bills.

But me? I’m ready to take it to the next level.

First off, I believe in doing The Work. I’m 30 years old and have put in time, around 10,000 hours to be exact, developing my craft (graphic design and brand identity). I’m grateful for the decade of education and daily grind I’ve put into getting where I am now – but I’m equally grateful for the time I’ve got on my side to grow my business in a new way that lets me design the life and dream job I really want. Over the past two years I’ve learned that my core genius and true passion isn’t necessarily graphic design. It’s radical non-conformity. It’s living what you love. It’s seeing the vision come to life. Graphic design is just a great tool to help me share what it is I really want to say.

So with that, Tara (who has put in more like 17,000 hours) and I are evolving Braid in a way that we become our own number one client. We’re super grateful for the dream customers we’ve helped one-on-one. The work we’ve done for them has kept our lights on and allowed us to build our team and our expertise. But the problem with relying on one-on-one client work – especially if you’re charging hourly – is that it limits your potential for reach, impact, and earning. Plus, there are only so many hours in the day – when you spend all of them solving someone else’s problem you run the risk of forgetting to nourish yourself.

When I quit my job in advertising I remember trying to journal through my feelings (it was as dramatic as it sounds) and wrote in all caps “WHO AM I WORKING FOR?” I continue to ask myself this question every day. Yesterday, during my almost-playing-hookie-afternoon-brainstorm it was clear that our goal is to be working for ourselves but with the higher purpose of serving MORE of our dream customer – the brave creative entrepreneur who wants to build their own dream job.

Instead of just helping a few people live what they love by helping them one-on-one, we want to help LOTS of creatives vision their dream job, develop a business plan, and make it a reality. But there’s only so much of us to go around. So what does this mean, exactly? It means a bigger piece of the pie is dedicated to creating our own super rich content that will help more people find their own creative business clarity and “aha” moments without us necessarily being right there with them – but then to package it up in a way that can be purchased. We’ve already started sticking our toe in the water by offering Braid ECourses and we just launched our first 1-Day Braid Workshop. But we’re also looking at other ways we could be more intentional and efficient with our message – translating our one-on-one services into products that are easier and more accessible to click “buy”.

Tara and I work and consult with lots of creatives with amazing skills. But talent these days is just what’s expected. We’re far more interested in who they’re working for (or who they want to be working for), the creative process, and how these brilliant creatives are leveraging the work they do for themselves.

When You Work For Someone Else 
Now, the cool thing about working for someone else is that you can develop and hone your aesthetic, skills and process on someone else’s dime. It’s easy to feel like we have no control when working for someone else but the truth is you do. There are little things you can do to bring more of who you are into your job. Experiment within boundaries – try something like implementing a creative process using new technologies that your old school bosses might not know about. Or play around with how you structure your to-do lists. Or maybe execute something by hand rather than on the computer. And when you leave your job you can take those experiences, skills, and expertise with you.

When You’re Already Working For Yourself 
Tara and I just did a consultation with a organic / non-toxic beauty expert. She ghost writes posts on her expertise for other people. But she’s considering writing some eBooks. We encouraged her to not only write eBooks but to stop ghost writing and bring her personal brand, and expertise, to the forefront when writing for other people. Sometimes working for yourself can be as simple as giving yourself more credit.

So who are you working for? What are some ways you can work for yourself? Any questions? Leave a comment or let’s chat about it over on the Braid Facebook page. 

P.S. If you want to learn more about this kind of stuff check out our Braid ECourse on Dream Customer Catching in session later this month. We’ve also launched a 1-Day Braid Workshop scheduled for May 4th – learn more here

  1. Kristin

    I’m working in an in-house department but still earn for “freelance freedom.” It scares me that I won’t have a steady paycheck but the more I work with other people 40+ hours a week, the more I realize I don’t like it. It’s kind of a sad realization, to be honest.

  2. Vanessa

    As a non-creative type, I had HUGE take away from this. I’m currently struggling with a decision to leave a job I love (it’s of an immensely satisfying research nature) to go to grad school.

  3. Kathleen, you put a lot of great information into this post! Love is our ideas!!

  4. Kathleen, you put a lot of great info into this post. Love it and your ideas! Liz

  5. Yes! I really needed this one today. I work for myself and take on commissions from time to time. Thank you for giving me a new way to look at my commissions (especially the ones where I feel like I’m not working for myself anymore).

    How do you separate when you’re truly working for yourself and when you’re doing work you think others would like (people pleasing)? Being brave is hard. =P

  6. ” Sometimes working for yourself can be as simple as giving yourself more credit.”

    Amazing advice, precisely what I needed to hear today as I work on a new project – one that my name WILL be on 😉

  7. “Sometimes working for yourself can be as simple as giving yourself more credit.”

    Such good advice, exactly what I needed today, too as I begin working on a new project – one that my name WILL be on 😉

  8. Liz P.

    Great content here!! I have been ‘working for myself’ for 20+ years. I have weathered many changes in my business over the years and sometimes it has felt like walking on quicksand.
    Just recently I ditched one retail store that I supplied with my product because even though I made good money most of the time, I felt shortchanged creatively. It was a weight off my shoulders that I was able to translate into more ‘personal’ creative time.
    Yes – the money is a little ‘thinner’ right now – but I am so much happier – and to that end – more creative!
    Keep up your awesome work and good luck!!


  9. rayna


    I found this via Nubby Twiglet, although I have been doing graphic design for years, I am super new to this blog game and just yesterday I was researching reasons as a graphic designer to even blog in the first place. I really enjoyed this post, I helped me to see that am not crazy by doing the necessary introspection I need to in order to get where I want to be. I look forward to reading more of your blog. Thank you.


  10. Hi..This is my first visit to your blog and I love this post. Great content. The idea of working for myself is great but monetizing it to get decent income is the toughest challenge. What can you do if your skills are not suitable for freelancing? what if you are not a designer/photographer/artist to attract high-paying clients?

  11. Janika – sorry for the delayed response. I’m curious about you. What would you do if you worked for yourself? What are your skills? What do you love to do? Do you have a vision of a dream job in mind (no matter how ridiculous)?

  12. Mickie

    Hi Kathleen!

    I absolutely love your archives on personal branding and have been devouring them. I am fairly new to the world of blogging and small business, but I am enjoying it so much and I LOVE the advice and beautiful words of encouragement that you share here. I aspire to write as well as you. Thanks so much, you are awesome!

    Mickie 🙂

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