It’s a familiar pattern. Boston-based interactive designer Michael Suen hadn’t planned to be a freelancer, but after leaving his full-time job at Learning Games Network, he took a series of one-off gigs to pay the bills while he searched for the next big thing. After all, 25-year-old Michael knew he was too young, too inexperienced and not nearly connected enough to survive in the precarious world of freelancing.
Or was he? (cue dramatic music).
Michael read founder Paul Jarvis’ tweets about the Creative Class in November 2014 and signed up as a beta tester. “I was struggling to get my freelance work off the ground,” says Michael. “It seemed like a good opportunity to get in there early, and the price was affordable.”
Michael quickly got down to business. His virtual highlighter got a heavy workout on the Process and Audience modules. He created contract templates and refined his pipeline to create a smooth flow from initial project inquiries through to payment. “Learning how to build those systems for myself helped me to really focus on my work – and to get more work.”
As he streamlined his business systems, cutting hours of administrative work in the process, Michael realized that there was a deeper problem: he didn’t know what kind of designer he wanted to become. “Who was my customer? Everyone and anyone,” says Michael, “which meant no one. What was my price? Forget it. I dreaded the question, to the point where I’d consistently low-ball it. Looking back, it’s clear that I had been living with one foot out the door.”
Through the Creative Class, Michael learned how to invest in himself and take his freelance business seriously. He worked diligently to make changes and answer philosophical questions like,“What am I good at?” and “What do I want to do?” at a concrete, operational level. He repositioned his business and continues to shift when necessary. The results have been staggering.
In eight months, Michael has increased his income by 250%.
He’s booked months in advance. He spends about a third of every year traveling. And most importantly, he’s creating playful and engaging user experiences for speech scientists, composers, video game creators, international educators, serial entrepreneurs and TED speakers. The work is satisfying and sustainable.
Michael also credits the Creative Class Community with providing the sense of connection he missed after leaving his 9-to-5. Whether it’s a question about sub-contracting or how to price a proposal, Michael says the community always has smart answers. Even if you’re alone in your home (sound familiar?), “being able to speak to other people about the work you do is such a relief, and it’s so helpful,” says Michael, who calls the private Slack channel a “treasure trove of tools, advice and support.”
Michael already had the talent and the drive. The Creative Class has taught him how to build a structured and intentional freelance practice – which ultimately frees him to do more creative work. His network his growing. His portfolio is filling fast. And he recently had another big ah-ha moment: “It’s only now that I realize I should have started freelancing sooner, not later.”
To summarize, Michael has seen: