The Guide to Indie-pendance: How to Be a Sane and Happy Freelancer

A couple of years ago, I left a coveted and creative position as a Visual Manager at a well-known retail store to work for myself. At the time, I was fairly uncertain of what that meant but I did have three years of bonuses stored away in my savings account and I was pretty sure that I was going to have a breakdown if I stayed at my job.
So I jumped.
My goal was to craft for a living, to make things and sell them on Etsy and at craft fairs. I learned very quickly that making things to sell was not going to earn me a living wage. Most of my crafts are one of a kind and I just can’t do assembly lines. But I found a lot of other work out there in the world of crafting. When people ask me what I do now, I say, “well, I do a lot of things” and that’s true. Sometimes I write for blogs, websites and even books, sometimes I work as a stylist on photo shoots, sometimes I even sell a few of those one of a kind, handmade crafts.

A photo of my "home office".

Working for oneself can be both extremely rewarding and excruciatingly frustrating. Though I am often watching the mail for checks to come in, I am also often in my PJs for days at a time. That’s pretty cool. And it’s incredible to be able to focus so much on your own career and business. But, freelancing is definitely not for everyone. Here’s a little guide to see if you have what it takes. I asked a couple of freelancers to share some of their tips and tricks for staying sane, paying the bills and managing time.

Money Matters

If you ask any freelancer what the hardest part of their job is, they will mostly likely say the money. Jobs fall through, checks take forever to process and some months you are left wondering how you are going to pay the rent. I recommend having a lot of money saved before you branch out on your own. Determine how much money you need to live on per month and save six months of that, three if you’re a risk taker!

Though it’s a little less stable, there are still ways to try to get a more secure paycheck when working for yourself. Lorelei was trying to balance her full time writing job with her burgeoning doula career and it was getting to be too much. She negotiated with her company to work part time and spends the rest of her week building up new clients. Though she is technically a freelancer, she continues to have a steady paycheck.

You also don’t have to commit to working for yourself in one fell swoop. MaryAnne works as a teacher, which allows her large breaks of time to focus solely on her jewelry business. “The breaks inherent to teaching allow me to produce enough to sell and keep the business afloat,” she says. “Wabisabi Brooklyn is only one year old, so maybe some day I will be able to support myself in the manner in which I've become accustomed (dental!); but even if that were the case, I imagine I would always keep teaching at least part time. Jewelry making and selling satisfy a certain side of me, but I get (non-financial) rewards from teaching that would keep me in it. In a perfect world, I'd just like to switch the ratio of the time time I devote to my two careers!”

If you’re totally strapped for cash, work a few days as a server or a bartender, have a stoop sale or sell a few things on Ebay.

It’s all about Timing
One of the hardest parts of working for yourself is learning how to budget time. Everyone has a different ways of keeping themselves on track but you absolutely have to plan what you’re doing every day, week and month. I keep a notebook with me at all times and write lots of lists. Crossing things off as I get them done always feels great!

Lark, an artist and web designer says, “Keep your freelance/ craft time separate and take your crafting time seriously and prioritizing it beyond social needs, if necessary. When I question what I should be doing at any given moment of "free time" I just head over to the studio and get cracking. I also prioritize my prior commitments with myself (i.e. creative work, meditation time, relaxation etc) over freelance work.”

Working for yourself also allows you the flexibility of working whenever you want. If you are most productive at night then you should set your schedule as such. I write best early in the morning when my mind is fresh, so despite being somewhat of a night owl, I set my alarm to 7 am when I have a big writing gig.

There are going to be times in your freelance career when you work day and night and you just want to hang out with your friends. I have worked many a weekend and late night but I always reward myself later with fun plans after a big job is done and, hey, sometimes I can stay out until 4 on a Monday. How many working stiffs get to do that?

Your Business, Yourself
Often as a freelancer, you will find that the lines between your work life and the rest of your life are blurred beyond distinction. This can be good and bad. On one hand, I love that my hobby (crafting) has become my work and thus my life, but sometimes I really need a break. It sounds silly but try to find hobbies or activities that have nothing to do with your job. Mine is karaoke but maybe yours can be tennis or fly fishing.

It is also really important to carve out a space to work in that is specifically for your work. While mine is in a spare room in our apartment, some people really need to get out of the house to get their work done. May, a ceramics artist and graphic designer says, “because of the nature of ceramic craft, I must have a studio. I found that separating work and home is very helpful for my sanity. I had a studio when I used to work in illustration as well and I found that I could be more creative in my work. journey to-ing and fro-ing to the studio gives me some creative thinking time and that is quite valuable too.”

Though the freelancing life is not always easy, I can imagine my life any other way. I hope to never have to work full-time for anyone again!
Thanks to May, Lark, Lorelei and MaryAnne for your wonderful insights!


NewNewInterview with Jena of Modish

Our indie blog fifth installment brings us Jena of Modish.

1. So tell us a little about your site and how you got started?
Modish is a celebration of all things handmade, from jewelry to art to home decor. At the time I began, I could not find any design blogs that focused exclusively on small, independent designers and handmade goods, so I started one! It took off really fast and now the the niche is filled with tons of blogs!

2. What do you look for when featuring an artist?
I look for someone who presents themselves professionally and makes good work- it's a shopping blog, so I only feature artists and designers that sell their goods online, whether it's on their own site or an etsy shop. I need to see unique handmade goods that are represented with clear, well balanced photos. I also have to be drawn to the products personally in some way so that what I feature stays in line with my own style/tastes.

3. Suggestions on how to generate buzz about your products?
Oh my gosh, I'm working on a new blog that's purely about this- marketing your art and craft business. There's too much to say here, but some quick tips would be to start your own business blog, contact design blogs you like, use online social networks, write a press release, advertise on blogs that serve your niche...

4. What not to do when contacting sites like Modish?
Hmm, I'd say don't contact us until you're really ready- if we head to your site and find yucky poorly lit images, only a few items, products lacking descriptions, etc, we're not going to feature you and we might not be back again even after you fix those things. Make sure your site is in tip-top shape before you start submitting it to blogs- use forums like the Switchboards to get feedback before you release it to the world.

5. What blogs do you follow to stay current?
I read all the major design blogs like design*sponge, decor8, oh joy and Poppytalk. I also like Heart Handmade, a new-ish blog that also focuses on all handmade goods, but has some fun, unique features, Creature Comforts, Design for Mankind and many others- my feed reader list is long!

6. What trends do you see developing? What products or styles are hot?
It's summer so everything's super saturated and colorful. Mustaches seem to be big right now, masks are popping up in lots of art and I've noticed more Native American imagery and styles in art, jewelry and accessories.

7. Do you see yourself embracing new media to reach your audience (podcasting, video)?

I've been thinking about how to incorporate video into modish... we'll see what pans out. I think podcasting and video will come more into play with the new marketing blog I'm working on, as that's more information based.

8. What do you think sets you apart from other design blogs?

The fact that I feature only handmade goods is the first thing. I try to incorporate new features all the time to see what works and what doesn't, and am ever striving to make Modish a unique experience. I also think everyone's individual voice and style are evident after spending just a few minutes on their blog, and are really what make people come back.

9. Is blogging more of a hobby or do you see this becoming a long term career choice?

For me, it's already a long term career choice. I've been blogging for over 2 years and have been self-employed for a year now (wow!) I also just closed my shop, so right now, blogging is my only source of income. It's a lot of hard work to transform a blog from a hobby into a career, but I've been successful so far, and that's why I'd like to start another, more informational blog so I can use one blog to write write write on and share my advice and experiences, and still have Modish to share all that fun handmade eye candy.

10. Any other thoughts you'd like to share?
If you're an artist, crafter or indie designer, stay tuned for my new blog all about marketing tip and tricks, just for you- it's gonna be great! I hope to have that up and running by mid-August! :)

Special thanks to Jena for taking the time for this interview. Be sure to check out Jena at Modish (

Collective Elements

NewNewInterview with Mallory of MissMalaprop

In the second interview of our indie blogger series, I bring you Mallory of

1. So tell us a little about your site and how you got started?
I write, a blog devoted to independent artists & designers, eco-friendly & recycled products, and charities & organizations that are working to make the world a better place. Whenever possible, I try to spotlight artists and issues related to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where I'm from. I launched the site in August 2006, a year after Hurricane Katrina forever changed the lives of practically everyone I know. I've always wanted to do my bit in changing the world for the better, and I've always been an environmentalist and a crafter. I just wanted a place to talk about the things I care about.

2. What do you look for when featuring an artist?
If it's handmade AND recycled AND cleverly useful, that's my favorite. I tend to write about things that appeal to me in some way personally. My tastes have always been a little off from center (I love strange, colorful, happy things), but they're pretty diverse as well. Sometimes I write about something I stumble across randomly on Etsy and sometimes I mention designers who have contacted me to let me know about their work. Even if I don't choose to write about someone's work right away, I always add their website information to a list I keep... when I'm uninspired for something to write about, I check that list until I find something that grabs my attention that day and I blog about it.

3. Suggestions on how to generate buzz about your products?
The main thing is to just create good stuff. If it's not well designed, or beautiful, or useful, you can promote the hell out of it and no one will care.

Also, be sure to have a clean, easy to navigate website if you plan on selling online and trying to create a buzz that way. If you can't do it yourself, hire someone who can; it will be worth it. I hate sites with too much Flash, or music and video that starts playing immediately, or navigation that is trying too hard to be clever but in reality is just impossibly tedious to use. If I have problems figuring out how to get to the information I need on your site, as someone who is pretty Internet savvy and grew up using computers, just imagine how someone who is new to shopping online will feel. You just can't retain customers that way.

Other than that, just try to learn as much as you can about the business and marketing side of things. I'm self taught with all I know about business and marketing. There is tons of information out there and plenty of it is free. You just have to do the legwork and be willing to learn.

4. What not to do when contacting sites like yours?
Do your homework before you contact a blogger. Take a look around their site, and see if you can find their real first name mentioned anywhere. When you email them, address them by name -- it shows you took the time to care. Also, make sure that you're contacting someone who will likely be interested in your work. I've had companies contact me about products that obviously have nothing to do with what I write about on my blog. I lose respect for that immediately, and honestly I usually don't even take the time to respond to them, because they clearly didn't take any time to learn about my site before contacting me. A simple, honest email usually works best. I pay MUCH more attention to an email that looks like a real person wrote it versus a press release that gets sent out to tons of people. Also, adding a blogger to your e-mail newsletter without their permission is a REALLY bad idea. When I suddenly start getting newsletters that I never subscribed to I immediately unsubscribe and in some cases I've reported it as spam. Because it is.

5. What blogs do you follow to stay current?
I keep myself so busy that unfortunately I only manage to keep up with a very few design blogs on a regular basis. Modish, Indie Fixx, Indie Shopping, and Bits & Bobbins are the mainstays on my feed reader.

6. What trends do you see developing? What products or styles are hot?
I've always been the kind of person who could really care less about trends. I like what I like, and if other people like it that's great, and if they don't, that's fine too. Sometimes it's kind of fun to see the things I've loved for a long time become trendy (like the recent octopus and seahorse trends), because it makes it easier to find these things.

I also find the steampunk trend really interesting... when I first started seeing it pop up as a "trend" on Etsy and style sites I thought it was interesting that A. there was a name for it in the first place and B. that it was becoming so popular among so many types of people. I've always loved Victorian styles (corsetry, tall lace up boots with fancy heels, bustle skirts) and I hang out with sort of a goth-alternative crowd, so it's really cool that these things are finding a broader audience.

7. Is blogging more of a hobby or do you see this becoming a long term career choice?
Blogging is definitely something that I find enjoyable, but I sort of see it more as a means to an end than as a definitive career path. The other day I told a co-worker that I have "entrepreneurial ADD". I think what I really love is just entrepreneurship in and of itself. I love being an entrepreneur and helping to promote like-minded entrepreneurs. I always have about 10 million ideas going off in my head, it's tough to stay focused sometimes. I have been very lucky to have managed to build a pretty successful blog from the ground up, and in turn it's opened up a lot of other opportunites for me, including a monthly column in a local alternative magazine, Antigravity, and a paid gig blogging for (and formerly for BloggingNewOrleans). I'll probably continue blogging for a long time in some form, but I think I would go crazy if I had to rely on blogging alone as my primary source of income (even if it was from multiple blogs).

8. Do you see yourself embracing new media to reach your audience (podcasting, video)?
I've thought about branching out, but honestly I just don't think I have the time to devote to any of it right now. Like I said, I have a bit of ADD when it comes to business, and I do manage to spread myself thin sometimes. I'm trying to be better about not letting myself overextend in how many projects and types of projects I try to maintain at any given time. That said, if I ever try to branch into video, I'll be set because my boyfriend is a freelance filmmaker and that's pretty much all he does for a living. (

9. What do you think sets you apart from other design blogs?
Some of the other indie design blogs out there focus a lot on things like seasonal gift guides or big giveaways. And while I think those things can be great for other bloggers (and the artists & readers), it's just not where my focus is. For me personally it's too time-consuming without enough reward. turns two years old in August and I feel like it's definitely been a huge learning process. Personally, I've been trying to take a step back from too much consumerism and over-indulging in my own life , because of concerns for both the toll on the envrioment and financial prudence. So I wouldn't feel right constantly telling my readers to "buy buy buy". On the other hand, just because I don't feel the need to buy every amazing handmade, recycled, fantastic thing out there, that doesn't mean I don't love it just the same and want to share it with other people. Lately I've been trying to take a more laid-back, personal approach with my blog and just write about the things that really appeal to me.

10. Any other thoughts you'd like to share?
I do a feature on called Indie Designer Interviews. It's an ongoing thing and I'll feature just about anyone who takes the time to do the interview. If I get a ton of responses at once, there may be a bit of a backlog and it won't get posted for a few weeks, but eventually I will post all of them. I've posted more info in a thread at The Switchboards forum (a fabulous resource for indie businesses, and if you're not already using it you should be).

A special thanks to Mallory for taking the time for this interview. Be sure to check out Mallory at MissMalaprop (

Collective Elements

Brooklyn Indie Market

The spirit of "indie"pendence is alive and well on Smith and Union Streets in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. During the week, the carnival-esque red and white tent and its accompanying kiosks are quiet, but every Saturday the tent walls come down and the kiosks fling open to reveal their ice cream colored interior, the setting for Brooklyn Indie Market (BIM): a rotating roster of independent emerging designers and the shoppers who love them.

Rather serendipitously, just as I was feeling ready to start selling my jewelry last year, I started seeing signs for Brooklyn Indie Market pop up all around my neighborhood. I booked some dates and was soon selling there regularly.

This year, I've become a bit more involved in helping to run the market, but the brains behind this operation is fellow designer Kathy Malone, whose handmade, limited edition and one of a kind clothing can be found at fofolle.

I decided to interrogate Kathy about the market for my amusement and edification.

above: Kathy in her element.

below: A shopper takes in Rebecca Shepherd's lovely baubles.

above: wonder threads is a regular presence in the corner kiosk.

below: The scene on Smith Street

How did the idea of BIM come to you, and when did you start it?

BIM began as some shop talk between myself and another designer. I was working in a Park Slope boutique that began to carry more and more indie designers, myself included. First we talked of a list-serve for info sharing and support system, then I began organizing events at various community centers and local parks, then the dream tent came along!

What do you look for when curating a day?

I look for selection balance in design categories, price points and vendor personality - the more personality the merrier! I see the market as a place of entertainment as well as a place to shop for unique, handmade items.

How does being a designer yourself inform the way you run BIM?

As a designer/market organizer, I think I understand my customers who are both the shopping public and the vendors who add their talent to the market. I have a deep respect for the makers and the supporters of indie designers/artisans. I work for them and am not merely a rent collector, I hope that comes through. BIM is different from all other designer and craft markets because we are owned and operated by designers for designers. We are the only market that exists to support one another and share our small business challenges. We don't just collect rent, we offer advice on display, legalities, business resources, other craft markets, website improvement etc.

Talk a bit about the current cooperative structure of BIM.

Going into our second year we gathered together some of our most committed vendors in terms of regularity, input and enthusiasm for what was developing. We really didn't have a road map and grew organically much the way indie businesses grow. The community had been well established by the end of last year and it was clear who would be invited to help develop the business this year. I had some trepidation about getting bogged down as a "committee" and losing flexibility but those fears were very soon put to rest. All 6 market managers fell beautifully and expeditiously into the roles which we were best suited for: marketing, vendor outreach, graphic design, ideation, general management, group morale, public and customer relations and much more. Being a multi talented lot, we also chip in and fill in whenever there is a need. We meet regularly and make decisions democratically with simple up and down voting and I believe in the wisdom of the group. The end result has been a streamlined and well-oiled operation!

How does selling at BIM compare with selling at other local venues?

BIM as a market place has a totally different vibe from some of the markets I have participated in and this has been echoed by many of our vendors. I think being a collection of no more than 20 vendors at any given time allows for more opportunities to connect with shoppers and each other. We trade and share information in a noncompetitive atmosphere. Not that I have anything against the excitement of larger craft shows, that's good too! But ours feels more intimate and has often been described as friendly and safe. I think of it as our down to earth club house. Since many of our vendors are just out of the gate I highly recommend it as a first time vending experience.

How has feedback from vendors affected BIM?

Listening to vendor and shopper feedback is invaluable. It's great to hear the good stuff, and we do, but the suggestions and honest appraisals and even dissatisfaction I am most grateful for. Who wants to get caught walking out of the restroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe? Not I!

Why should shoppers come to BIM?

I am so pleased with our market offerings and the community of indie designers, artisans and now select artists. I want every shopper and lover of all things handmade and gorgeous to pay us a visit. The value is amazing and you will walk away feeling good having met the maker of your purchase, learning more about the personality and the process behind that object you are going to wear, utilize, gaze at or gift. You can also feel good that your support will go directly to the craft artist and encourage this very human endeavor.

Why is the "indie" important to you and to BIM?

"Indie" means no one is breathing down your neck thinking only of the bottom line for someone else's benefit. Its a celebration of individuality AND the community that supports it!

What are your Future Goals for BIM?

I'd like to: Develop and sponsor career building workshops for emerging designer entrepreneurs; expand another arm of the business, Shoptails, cross promotional fundraising events with other non-profits; administer equipment grants for low income emerging designers in need of specific equipment to expand their business/production; administer subsidy grants for low income designers to participate in increasingly more costly craft festivals/fairs; provide health insurance for uninsured designers starting with market managers; develop other physical markets in other New York Metropolitan neighborhoods modeled on the green markets; expand to other cities.

I'm already developing a marketing 101 workshop with a marketing colleague aimed at emerging designers and am in the process of researching non-profits to collaborate on a Shoptail for the upcoming year.

BIM is flattered to have inspired another emerging market to be born, Buffalo Indie Market Buffalo Indie Market by a vendor of ours and have offered start up advice along the way. We would like to do the same for other future market organizers.

Brooklyn Indie Market is a collective of fashion and product designers. Design categories include accessories, clothing, handbags, housewares, jewelry, kids' wear and more. We provide a connection between emerging designers and consumers, retail buyers, stylists, personal shoppers and the press. BIM aims to connect emerging designers and the greater NYC public to our market, fashion events, trunk shows, workshops and more in and around the New York area. We also welcome non-New York area designers who are interested in our mission.

Marketing Made Easy

As a seller of handmade goods, we all like to include in our package to our buyers, a little hand-written thank you note as a way to show our appreciation for their purchase. As a seller who also purchase from Etsy on a regular basis, I notice that far too many sellers are not using this opportunity to plant themselves further on the minds of their buyers.

Far too often, I've received packages from sellers that write a note on a plain scrap of paper, or on a plain white note card that has no other information on it. I'm opening up your package, you have my undivided attention that this very moment so take advantage!

This is the perfect opportunity to tell your buyer a little bit more about yourself. Why not include a little bio about yourself along with your contact information? Tell me something I didn't know about you, that part of your proceeds go to charity, or that you do this to pay your own way through college, or that you learned your knitting from Grandma Judith back when you were living in Vermont. Whatever little tidbit you include, it'll give the buyer a little peek into your world that they can remember about you, making the virtual process a little more human.

Since I print my own thank you cards, I include a blurb on the back about me, that each card is hand-detailed and checked for quality. I also include my signature and contact information to make it more personable. When I have the time, I use a hole punch and secure the card to the package with ribbon. When I'm really busy, I just tuck the note inside. Either way, it's a good method of getting a few more seconds of spotlight in front of your customer.

Remember that you're not really just looking for customers to purchase from you once, you're hoping to build a relationship with them so that whenever they need [insert your category here], they'll think of you. This is in essence what marketing does.