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Why you should invest in your business savvy knowledge as a freelance designer

As a solopreneur one of the best things you can do for your career is to upskill and stay relevant. It’s easy to put training to the side when you are juggling client demands and deadlines, the stresses of running a business and of course having a personal life, but it really should be a priority.

Sarah Marshall is the Director of Ahoy Studio and one of our Website Design Partners and Academy Tutors at Rocketspark. When reflecting on her career at a recent Rocketspark community event in Auckland, Sarah talked about why the biggest investment one should make in their career is education.

When Sarah left full-time employment and ventured into solopreneurship and she knew she needed to upskill. What springs to mind when you consider a designer upskilling is design-based skills, from Adobe knowledge to User Experience (UX) Design principles, and even social media training. But, what Sarah found was that whilst continuing to upskill in design and website knowledge, one area she was lacking was about being business savvy, from marketing herself to managing projects effectively and fostering good client relationships.

Business was her main area of focus, from pricing and service base structures to the nitty gritty money things. “I was struggling with understanding how to deliver services that met client expectations with clear deliverables and pricing ,” she explains. “Having no kind framework around my services meant that I ended up doing a whole lot of stuff that I wasn't getting paid for.”

So she decided the next step was to invest in her business knowledge. “I spent five grand approximately in 2023 across a few different courses and thought to myself, this investment is forcing me forward. There wasn’t any turning back, that was a commitment I made to myself,” she reflects.

One of her key takeaways has been the need for clarity with clients, early on. In the situation of creating a website for a client, there are many grey areas. As Sarah puts it “If you don’t work through exactly what you will deliver to a client as part of a website package it leaves the door open for some really niggly situations.”

Learning to break down, price and structure her services has put Sarah in much better stead going forward. Not only are her client expectations clearly explained and met, it means working relationships improve and repeat clients are more likely.

For Rocketspark community members in the same boat that Sarah was in, there are countless business literacy courses available across Aotearoa and online. From Polytechs to online courses such as The Freelance Masterclass: For Creatives, Aventive Academy’s The Profitable Designer Program and Pricing Your Design Services, and Coursera’s Plan a Successful Freelancing Business.  Remember these courses could be tax deductible too!

In the meantime, draw on Sarah’s learnings that:

  1.  Clarity is king: define services early to avoid misunderstandings and breaking down, pricing, and structuring services for client satisfaction will significantly improve your working relationships and business outcomes. 

  2. Investing in knowledge and courses will give you the tools to make progress,  but there are no silver bullets - you still have to do the work (lots of it), learn and test things.

  3. No course is a quick fix or a magic wand - the work still needs to be done; but by investing in your knowledge you will be in a better position to understand where to start.

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