9 successful creatives on when to take the plunge into freelance

Quit your day job.

We know firsthand it’s pretty hard to get your foot into the door of the fashion industry, so we love helping you out where we can. We’ve launched FJ Careers, a destination to score career advice, browse job and internship opportunities in the fashion industry and help grow your career.

For most of us, juggling a 9-5 and a social life is hard enough. But what if you throw a side business or serious hobby into the mix? As your profile grows, it becomes harder and harder to keep the plates spinning, and it can be super tempting to quit your day job entirely… but are you making the right decision? Some say you’ll never know until you take the leap, but that’s hardly convincing. Instead, we decided to ask nine successful creatives for the best time to ditch the day job.

Apparently if you haven’t got time to brush your teeth – and your creative outlet is making just enough money to pay for food – it’s time to take the leap!

LIZ SUNSHINE – Photographer, Street Smith
streetsmith.com.au @streetsmith

As one of Australia’s most recognised street style photographers, Liz Sunshine spends her days photographing beautiful people in beautiful clothes… But it didn’t happen overnight. 

Let’s cut to the chase: how do we know it’s the right time to go freelance?
When you’re making enough money to survive. Four days a week is a great starting point, as you can keep one day at work if need be. That said, I worked seven days straight for many years!

How important is having an online presence during this transition?
Street Smith is a great folio to showcase my work to potential clients, while being active on social media and engaging with brands will get you noticed. When I have a chance, I brainstorm brands I’d love to work with and approach them with links to my platforms.

#1 piece of advice?
You need a flexible job, so you can always prioritise your creative outlet. If you can’t commit to it 100 per cent, there’s no point – even if that means getting yourself a casual job in retail with minimal responsibilities.

JASMINE DOWLING – Letterer, Jasmine Dowling
jasminedowling.com @jasminedowling 

Letterer, blogger and creative extraordinaire Jasmine Dowling, realised she could buy the dress of her dreams if she turned her hobby into a business. She now runs her business full time, working with brands like Witchery, David Jones, Hallmark and Sportsgirl.

At what point did you realise it was possible to leave your day job completely?
While juggling a part-time job, finishing my degree and working on commissioned work, I soon realised I was having to turn down freelance requests because I just couldn’t fit everything in. Financially, I wanted to make sure I was going to be in the same position as I was with my job!

You have a big social media following – how do you use this to your advantage?
One hundred per cent, social media has been everything. I have always been extremely open and transparent, which I think really engages potential clients and customers. Social media will always be a great tool for connecting you to like-minded people, even if the platforms evolve. 

#1 piece of advice?
You have to do the work. I get so many emails about how I got high-end clients or how I got ‘success’ but all I did was the work. You have to focus on your craft, not on the potential success or what you will get in return for that craft.

GENEVIEVE DAY – Talent Manager, Day Management
daymanagement.com.au @daymanagement

Rethinking her PR career to navigate uncharted territory in talent management, Genevieve Day increased her portfolio from one influencer to 10 by working in her lunch breaks, texting her clients all day and having the occasional power nap – before going freelance full-time.

Were there any signs that told you it was the right time to quit your job in PR?
The initial juggle was the hardest, working around office hours and not always being available. There was a direct correlation between how much time I spent on the business and the amount of work we were getting, so as I decreased hours in my day job, Day Management grew. 

How do you structure your day to ensure you’re being as productive as possible and the projects keep rolling in?
Most days I’ll start by grabbing a ridiculously large coffee before tackling my inbox and handling all reactive requests, before pitching proactively to like-minded brands. I’ve set up enough ongoing collaborations that I don’t have to stress too much about the inconsistency. 

#1 piece of advice?
You can never underestimate the power of relationships. The majority of business I have is from clients on retainers and returning brands. Also be quick to reply to people – preferably within 24 hours.

REBECCA HOOTON – Freelance journalist and former Features Editor at Cosmopolitan Australia

With over eight years experience in magazines, Rebecca felt inspired by the successful businesswomen she’d interviewed over her career and left the job “a million girls would die for,” opting for a life of freelance, Nutella and wine. 

How has the world of bloggers, social and digital media affected your freelance journalism career?
If anything, I think freelance is only helped by it, weirdly. Magazines have stripped back their teams meaning there are less full-time staffers, but often way too much work for them to handle. Freelancing is the way of the future!

What’s the best way to become a freelance journalist?
When you feel ready (and have enough experience) put your feelers out and ask people if there’s work. Get an ABN, have a couple of months savings up your sleeve, then go for it. You don’t need a fancy headshot, business cards or a website!

#1 piece of advice?
Plan your week ahead on a Sunday night and do what I call “task clustering” where you have set days of the week to focus on one thing (maybe pitching on Mondays, finances on Fridays). 

onetwoagency.com @onetwoagency_

With over 10 years PR experience between them across high-end fashion clients, creative direction and large-scale agencies, Rachel Hayes and Tessa-Jay Slight realised they could combine their talents to start a new business. And so new kid on the block, onetwo agency, was born.

You both come from successful PR careers – why did you choose to go solo?
We wanted to take a risk and live out our dreams, and were constantly being approached to do freelance PR while working in our previous roles, which was just the motivation we needed. After numerous discussions we set a start date and stuck to it!

How did you know the timing was right, and what work did you put in to make it happen?
Confidence was key for us, knowing that we had interest out there from potential clients. We also love to multi-task! Coming from demanding previous PR roles, we had to be extremely organised and stick to scheduled meetings after hours.

#1 piece of advice?
Never second-guess what you do. It’s so important to believe in yourself and love what you do. If you have these qualities, the rest should fall into place.

CARLOS MANGUBAT – Freelance Stylist
carlosmangubat.com @carlosmangubat

Assisting fashion stylists before signing to an agency and breaking out on his own, Carlos Mangubat chooses to keep a casual retail job to network, practise his craft and earn extra cash when freelance jobs are sparse. 

You work in an industry that’s tough to break into, let alone make it in the freelance world – how did you do it?
In the beginning I worked hard to build a folio worthy to present to agencies. I also targeted a specific market to develop a competitive advantage – in my case it was menswear. Good work ethic and maintaining relationships is really important too!

What’s something you wish you knew about freelance life before?
Usually when it’s quiet, it’s quiet and when it rains, it pours! You have to have the mental capacity to deal with the stress of back-to-back jobs, which can be overwhelming if you’re used to working in a team. You become your own boss, which can be both liberating and annoying. 

#1 piece of advice?
Work hard and keep networking, because you never know where your next job can come from!

SARAH HANKINSON – Illustrator, Santiago Sunbird
santiagosunbird.com @santiagosunbird

Sarah Hankinson – one half of illustrating sister duo Santiago Sunbird – went from full-time to night shifts to temping, until she could support herself financially through her creative outlet. She realised it was time to take the leap when she couldn’t face one more soul-crushing day in an office.

Did becoming a freelancer help or hinder your opportunities as an illustrator?
The surprising thing is, as soon as I jumped into freelance life and started working from a co-working space, the work started to roll in. I believe you get out what you put in, and I must have been putting out big “give me work” energy! 

You have a baby at home – were you worried about the inconsistency of freelance?
It’s actually been easier being freelance! When I had my baby I could work at home while he napped, and even though I’m back at my studio now, I can leave to pick him up from childcare at a reasonable time or be on call if needed.

#1 piece of advice?
Have confidence in yourself; contact your dream clients; build your network via social media, co-working and collaborating. Get your name out there. Be persistent. So much work comes from word-of-mouth so connections are so important.

SAM SIDNEY – Digital Marketer, Milkbar Digital
milkbardigital.com.au @milkbardigital

Digital marketer, Sam, took advantage of the growing digital landscape. She built Milkbar Digital in her spare time,set herself some financial goals, and then closed her eyes and jumped in.

How do you know it’s the right time to leave your day job?
When you no longer feel you can deliver 100 per cent to your clients, unless you quit your day job. When you no longer feel there are enough hours in the day. Having a safety net of savings is helpful, but I figured I could always get a part-time job if everything went to shit!

Are freelance jobs plentiful in your field? How do you keep them rolling in?
I did a lot of networking at the beginning, which can be intimidating, but really worthwhile. New clients are finding me in lots of different ways, including Google (make sure your SEO is in order), social media, through referrals and mutual acquaintances. 

#1 piece of advice?
Just do it! It sounds clichéd, but if you never try, you’ll always wonder “what if?” Network lots – it’s not always the people in the room, but the people those people know. Set yourself financial goals to alleviate the pressure before leaving your job completely. And finally, pay for efficiency: apps, bookkeeping software and project management tools save you a lot of time and effort.

Lazy Loading