Why I Chose the Life of a Freelancer…

Designer Jamie tells us why he chose to leave his permanent job to become a freelance video editor and photographer.
Since I can remember my dad has been sketching and painting. On family holidays my brother and I would be given a sketchpad and some pens and were left to our own devices (basically our parents trying to get some peace and quiet). I was always arty at school, along with a lot of my classmates, and as we got older we discovered graffiti and all became quite involved in the scene. This encouraged me to study Art & Design at College, which then in turn, led to studying Graphic Design & Animation at London College of Communications.
Graffiti on Leonard Lane, Bristol

Graffiti on Leonard Lane, Bristol – Photo by Marcus Loke on Unsplash

The graffiti world was something I was enthusiastic about and followed passionately. Every year I would help my parents set up their stand for the London Book Fair – my main reason in doing this was so I could get the first look at the new graffiti book releases. As a keen photographer throughout my adolescence, I had taken a lot of photos of the graffiti we had done and even made some videos. Another one of my close mates from school also had a lot of photos and for some reason that day at the book fair it all clicked. When I was looking through a published graffiti book, I thought… I can do this! And like a baby, nine months later, (and after a number of meetings) we had a book! With help from my dad, I designed the whole layout from front cover to back. It was this that secured me the job at the big Central London media company.


After taking the job, I spent six years working as an E-learning designer, creating interactive learning courses for the financial sector. The courses we developed were for financial professionals, to teach them about regulations in their industry. I learnt a huge amount there, but after the first few years I felt I needed a bit more of a challenge. A friend of mine got me into doing some freelance video editing, outside of my day-to-day job. After a while, we were starting to get regular work and I was finding myself working most nights till the early hours, and then going into work for a full day in the city!


After a year or two, I decided that it was time for a change. I had built up a body of work and a small client base and was lucky enough that my parents didn’t mind me moving back home (which gave me some flexibility with cash flow). So, the next step was to pursue a freelance career.


I would like to say that initially I made a choice on which area of design I specialised in, but I think really I fell into it. When I was made permanent at the media company, I realised I had unintentionally become a graphic designer/web designer/UX designer. The conscious decision to become a video editor came years later and the decision to go freelance was made the moment I knew that what I was doing on the side wasn’t just something I am good at, but also something I enjoy doing. It was refreshing to feel like this. Particularly as I felt at times, that at a big company your voice isn’t always heard and ultimately this can affect the quality of your work.


It may sound cliché, but I’m the happiest when I’ve been allowed to be creative and the client likes the direction I take the project in. This is the most rewarding. I find that this is happening most in my video editing, which is what I still do today.


The trickiest part of working freelance is not knowing when the next piece of work is coming in. When working on a salary basis, no matter how good or bad, or how long a piece of work takes you, you know you’re getting paid at the end of every month. Being freelance, what you get paid is entirely dependent on the work you get each month. You might have a week of no work, then the following week could be so busy that you’re up late at night sipping on coffee till the early hours. Obviously I prefer the latter!


When it come to clients’ feedback/criticism, you have to be able to distance yourself from your work, as you’re developing the project for the client. Even if you think your way is the best way, it’s not necessarily the best way for the client. So, as a designer, you often have to restrain your ego around your creative work. This can be really frustrating when a client doesn’t like your work, but can’t give you much more feedback than… ‘I’m not sure, could you try something else?’ … You will find this in every facet of design, but must learn to take it on the chin and keep creating.


It must be said that working for a large company does have its advantages. No matter what, at the end of the month you’re getting paid… but sometimes I didn’t feel rewarded for my work, particularly when I was the only designer on big projects (worth a lot to the company), working with very challenging clients.  Now as a freelancer, I may stress every now and then about when the next piece of work is coming, but I know when it does land I have a bigger say in how the piece is created and have the ability to show a client what the project could be with my creative input. I often get to help the client decide how their work could look because I’m involved in the process from the very beginning to the end – unlike in a big company where you’re handed a brief that has been discussed without you and you have to try to work out what the client wants – which often leads to conflict.


Freelance also gives the opportunity to dive into other (sometimes unexpected) aspects of design. For instance, the other week I was asked by a friend’s girlfriend to design a birthday cake for my friend’s party. This was a slightly unusual request, but made me pull on my ability to draw, which I haven’t had the opportunity to do for a while and was pretty fun! Things like this wouldn’t be possible working for a large company, where the projects handed over are far less likely to need varied skills.


An important aspect of design is to make sure you communicate a client’s message effectively. To do this, I make regular contact with the client and if I feel unsure about what they are expecting, I communicate with them until their expectations are clear. Most importantly, research your client. Make sure you ask the right questions. This helps no end when it comes to providing them with the result they are hoping for.


The best way of getting work as a creative is to put your work out there for people to see, by word of mouth or by creating an online portfolio/website.


My takeaway advice for anyone considering freelance design work would be:

  1. Be ready to take criticism and learn from it.
  2. Always look at what’s happening in the design world, especially in the areas that tickle your creative side.
  3. Have a portfolio of your work that can be easily accessed, personally I would suggest a website.
  4. Be malleable. I wouldn’t say you should choose a speciality as a creative – your direction is sure to change,
  5. Always be creating and question what you’re doing. If I have a lull in work, I am constantly sketching, editing or actively looking at what’s happening in the creative world.



Jamie West

Videographer | Designer | Photographer

To see Jamie’s work visit … jamiewest.design

Or contact him at jamiedwest87@gmail.com