1. Freelance = Freedom

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Who is Dan Turner and why did he write these Workshops? A brief history…

I earned my first freelance nickel in 1963. I was attending William Smith Elementary School in Aurora, Colorado, and I had taught myself how to draw “Rat Fink,” a little cartoon character that I had copied from a comic book. One of my classmates offered to pay me a nickel if I would draw one for him, too. I did, and the orders started pouring in. I was a Rat Fink factory for two days at recess. I could get four drawings on a page, and I could do them fast because it was literally the same drawing over and over (Xerox??? Never heard of ‘em!!). I must have cleared two dollars that week. I was hooked.

Fast forward to 1977. I had freelanced steadily through high school and college, producing posters for dances and neighborhood shopping centers, and continued even after I had landed a job as an art director for a neon sign company. Neon was a trip! However, it was also a job — they seemed to want me there every single day, and on time! This was no surprise, of course, but I was living on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, where hiking and cycling are a siren song to a 23 year old. At the 22-month mark, my freelance earnings were regularly surpassing my paycheck at the sign company, so I managed to convince my employer to become a CLIENT. Ahhhh, sweet freedom. That was the last job I ever had.

I took up golf, vacationed in Mexico and freelanced my way into the boardrooms of corporate America. My little one-man operation grew into a 14-member graphics and advertising firm before I realized that management was not my greatest gift.

“FREEDOM!!” I cried, and moved to Southern California in 1987. I became a freelance marketing consultant for a small computer company. My graphic design output was limited because I was hooked on producing a certain type of work that required a team of production people, which I no longer had. I was wrestling with putting together another design firm when someone showed me the first version of a funky little program called CorelDraw. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Shortly thereafter, I procured the program and stayed up for two nights learning how to use it. I recognized immediately that this was going to change everything, at least for me.

I went out and picked up design business just for the sheer thrill of churning out work on the computer. Ahhh, once again, sweet freedom. And I could turn jobs around so fast BY MYSELF that it was hard to justify working more than 25-30 hours a week. I was in freelance heaven.

That changed when the World Wide Web came along. I spent every waking hour for months teaching myself what I needed to know in order to integrate it into my freelance design business. It was a lot of work, and at times it still is, but it is a winning combination of skills and technology.

Has there ever been a better time to be a freelance graphic designer? I don’t think so. The demand for our services continues to grow, the acceptance for what we do has never been higher, and the number of clients willing and able to pay our fees has never been greater.

Freedom is one of the best reasons to freelance. We’ll take a look at others as we go along, but right now, let’s examine one of the most important stones in your freelancing foundation…

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Rat Fink illustration courtesy dr. diggler. 50 Merc image courtesy bcmacsac1. Both used under a Creative Commons license.

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