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Designing in Harmony: Balancing Passion Projects and Client Work

Graphic designers are at heart, artists and creatives. No, they don’t spend all day painting or drawing, yes, they may work for an organisation or freelance to an array of business clients, but that doesn't detract from their artistry. A struggle that many graphic designers share, whether they are in-house, an agency or freelance, is juggling their passion projects with their client obligations.

A symbiotic relationship exists between these two demands, designers need financial security and the career opportunities that come with client work, but they have a burning desire to fulfil their artistic dreams. The question is how do you do it all, whilst maintaining a social life, time for family and of course, rest?

Effective time management is of course the most obvious answer, however as many of our community members know, this is easier said than done. We’ve compiled some strategies below to help you fit it all in, making it possible to do what you love, and what you need to.


We don’t want to tell you to suck eggs, but we can’t underestimate the importance of planning your week or month. It’s so easy to store tasks in our mental calendars or to continue to add to an ever-growing to-do list, but as many of us know, that doesn’t always work. It only takes 30 minutes at the start of each week to schedule tasks, and if you plan properly, so much more can be achieved. 

Prioritising your tasks by urgency is always important, but don’t relegate your passion project to the back of the pile. It may not be quite as urgent as a client deadline, but working on what you love is still a priority.

Don’t silo yourself

Teamwork makes the dream work, we all know that. Although you are a solopreneur, sometimes doing everything solo is just too much. We only have 24 hours in a day, and we are human after all. We strongly recommend finding other creatives that inspire you to collaborate on a passion project. You may find that when working in a team, things get done much quicker and you not only achieve what you set out to, but you might make some incredible working relationships along the way.

The creative industry is small here in Aotearoa, and people are generally willing to lend a hand on a project that piques their interest - don’t be scared to reach out to people, the worst they will say is no.

Set boundaries (and stick to them)

A common mistake many designers make when first branching out as a solopreneur is being a little too lenient with client boundaries. It’s so easy to slip into bad habits, working at all hours, taking calls when it suits your client, while neglecting yourself in the process. The reality is that when we work on a project-to-project basis, we want to do our best to satisfy client demands, in hopes they will book us again.

Yet, sacrificing your own time and well-being at the behest of a client will eventually lead to burnout and bitterness, so we advise avoiding this if you can. Communication is the salve in this situation - be incredibly transparent with your client about your availability and online hours, that way everyone is on the same page and they won’t develop unrealistic expectations. It also protects the time you need to work on your passion project.

Another handy tip our community members have found is setting up retainer agreements with some clients. If you are worried about securing repeat work, negotiating a retainer contract for x number of hours a month can provide you with some financial security and take the pressure off you to bend over backwards for your clients.

Make realistic goals (so you can smash them out)

Once again this point may seem self-explanatory, but it’s one of those things we often overlook. Having lofty dreams is fantastic, but there’s nothing worse than setting yourself a goal list for the year and falling short. Regularly checking in with ourselves and being honest about our capacity means that we can avoid over-committing and underachieving. 

When you sit down to plan your professional and personal goals for the year, it’s a good idea to be brutal. Factor in the downtime you need, the week or two you might need off work to look after sick kids or yourself and be realistic about how long things actually take. 

If you can get to the end of the year and know you smashed your client work and your passion project goals out, that’s pretty epic! Not to mention it instils confidence and drive to keep moving forward. 

Lastly, it pays to remember that it’s impossible to achieve balance all the time. Some months may require you to drop most things and lean into client work, and others may provide you with plenty of time to do what you love. As long as you plan, collaborate, set boundaries and be realistic with yourself, we know you will smash it!