In this current economic climate that we’re in—a looming recession, inflation, and the war in Ukraine—an all too familiar pattern has swept the creative landscape. Companies across the United States and other countries are laying off employees in large quantities.
I was even one who was let go from their job recently.
For many younger designers, this may be the first time you’ve gotten the axe and are now out “alone” in the world. Other designers may have experienced this multiple times. Regardless, I wanted to share this with all of you in hopes that it helps out even one designer find their way through this time of uncertainty.
Don’t React. Take Your Time & Breathe.
This is a bad call. The worst thing that you can do is react. We all have that impulse to grab our phones and post to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and share that we’ve been laid off.
Take your time. Let it out and cry, scream, let out your frustrations but in a healthy way—and don’t be ashamed to do so. I’ve cried all three times that I’ve lost my job or been out of work.
If you’re let go on a Friday—the most common time to let someone go—don’t post anything until the following Monday. This gives you a weekend to straighten things out and plan your next move.
I’m not saying you don’t reach out to friends and family for support. You need to support yourself through this initial stage of grief. They will get you through this grieving process. Be careful about what they say or suggest. Never do anything out of spite or anger, or else you could lose your severance—if you’ve got that.
You must collect yourself and your feelings because what’s coming will be a whirlwind of emotions and hard work.
Plan Your Next Move.
For the most part, there are three roads you can go down—in reality, only two, but I’ll include the third to cover the bases.
- Look for another job.
- Go full-time freelance.
- Take a sabbatical.
Now, the third option is one that only some people can take. Some out there may have enough runway in their savings to pull this off. I like to call these people lucky—I am not one of them.
So let’s focus on the other two roads since most of you will fall onto one of these two paths. Both of them have positive merits and negative ones as well.
Looking for another job has one primary merit: security. You’ll receive guaranteed paychecks each month. In reality—as we’re seeing now—there isn’t always security in having full-time jobs.
The other part of the equation to consider is that with all of the layoffs, tens of thousands of other designers and creatives across the tech industry are being laid off. Each one of them will be looking for a job as well. This will flood the job market and lessen your chances of finding a new full-time position.
At the time of writing this article, we’re close to the end of the year—the holiday season—and though many companies are hiring, they probably won’t be filling those roles until the following year, if at all. This means that you may have to wait months before you land a job.
Now with all of those negatives, let’s focus on some positives. Earlier today, I talked to a friend, and he shared that his most significant pain point as a freelancer is finding affordable health insurance. With full-time employment, you have health insurance and other benefits—things you won’t find with freelance and contract work.
If you’re choosing to go freelance, it’s essential to sit down and plan what you will do and how you will do it. Freelancing is not easy—especially if you’re not used to it or you don’t have any leads right out of the gate.
The most significant negative of freelancing is the ebb and flow of work. You have to learn what to do in these lean times. Once you figure that out for yourself—through trial and error—you’ll be able to make it through anything. The important thing is not to give up if you need help.
The most valuable resource that you have for this step is your network. Your network will make or break your decision to work for yourself. They will be your best bet in finding project leads and contracting opportunities. So utilize them but don’t abuse them. I’ll go into more detail on this later in the article.
You’ll want to take an afternoon or even a whole day and create a game plan and quickly of all the line items you’ll need to set up your freelancing business. If you need help figuring out how to set up your freelancing business, I’d suggest Freelance and Business, and Stuff by Amy & Jen Hood. The course will have everything you need to get started and be successful.
It can be a scary leap, but I’ve found that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my career.
Update Your Portfolio & Resume.
Whether you’re looking for a full-time job or want to find freelancing opportunities, you must have an updated portfolio and a solid resume.
If you don’t already have a website, it’s time to get your hands dirty and start putting one together, and if you don’t have a resume, all you have is that old one you made in college… it’s time to update it!
First, make an easy win for yourself and update your resume. This is one of the easiest things you can put together and write. Please also make sure to update your LinkedIn profile as well.
If you’d like an example of whatI mean, look at my LinkedIn profile. Describe what you accomplished at your job and for the company. Don’t just include the companies you’ve worked for and your job title. If you created a sales deck that helped the company get its series-B funding, share it—that’s a pretty impressive accolade that will help impress interviewers and potential clients.
We’re lucky in this day and age where all portfolios are digital, and you don’t have to physically make a book and send copies out for every job application or to every design agency.
Today, we have our websites and living portfolios—like Behance, Dribbble, and Instagram. Don’t get me wrong, it’s OK to supplement a bit with a living portfolio site, but it should never be your primary portfolio or link you share.
Most interviewers and potential clients expect to see a website showcasing your work and thought process. This means you need to create your website—if you don’t have one—and fill it with case studies, accolades, methods, and the type of work you are looking for.
If you don’t have a website, simply go to Squarespace and build one using their templates. Unless you’re a web designer or Webflow dev, you don’t have to create your site from scratch—especially the first variation on your website.
Include the final product in your case studies, sketches, and the meat. Go into detail about why you did X or chose Y over Z. This will give people viewing your site a glimpse into your thought process—which is sometimes way more important than the work itself.
Share the News with Your Network.
Once your plan is in place and your resume and portfolio are ready, it’s time to share the news with everyone.
I find it’s good to create some graphics or share some images of your work in the post so that any leads who see your post can get a quick 10,000ft glimpse at your capabilities. If not, just using your words will work all the same.
Make sure to share your post across all your social platforms. Start in the morning around 10 am EST—that way, those on the east coast are already looking through social media as they drink their coffee while pretending to be productive.
If you’ve been surfing Twitter lately, you’ve probably already heard some horror stories of people getting letters from lawyers or having their severance stripped of them, and you don’t want that. Whatever you do, don’t include details about the layoff or any negative thoughts and feelings towards your previous company. Just say that you’re now without a job.
Don’t be afraid, however, of being honest in your post. I told everyone frankly that I was terrified, which was and still kind of is the truth. If you’re scared, then tell them you are.
When you finish the post, try and end it on a high note. Share that you’re excited for your next big adventure, whatever that may be. This helps people see you as being positive and trying to make the best of a bad situation.
Once you’ve shared, plan to respond to each comment made throughout the day—and the following days. I would even encourage you to reach out over DMs to people who comment and thank them directly. The goal is to start a conversation with them that could lead to something extraordinary—you never know!
It's important to feel free from being spammy or needy to those you reach out to and talk to. Don’t ask every contact, “Do you know anyone hiring?” or “Do you know anyone who needs a freelancer?” If they do, they’ll tell you organically, don’t worry.
Instead, you can just strike up conversations with your contacts. Check-in on them, significantly, if they, too, have fallen on the chopping block.
The following day, repost or retweet your original post and thank everyone who commented or reached out to you. This will give you the second day of exposure and more chances of the right people seeing you’re now a free agent ready to be scooped up by an all-star team.
No Matter What, Freelance.
This is something that I wish I have always practiced, but there have been times when I stopped freelancing while fully employed, and it never ended well.
Always freelance even if you decide to work for someone else and find a full-time job. When you do, you give yourself some job security and additional money n your pocket to save or use to pay down your debt.
Make sure that you open yourself up to freelancing opportunities by sharing work on social media and accepting small jobs that come your way and the bigger ones.
If, for some reason, you can’t take on any freelancing projects, make sure to reference the work to someone else who can help the client. You never want to leave a client in the lurch—trust me, I have, and I’ve regretted it. Clients have long memories. Even if you don’t do the work with them, they’ll remember if you sent them a rockstar to help, and they’ll be more likely to reach out the next time they need help.
This also allows you to become a referral partner to other freelancer friends, enabling you to do two things.
- You can ask for a % of what they make on the project to refer the client to them.
- The client knows who to call when they need something—even if it’s something you don’t typically work on—they know you can deliver the right person for the job to them.
Engage & Share with Your Network.
The first post you share announcing that you’ve been laid off is not the only time you should be engaging with your network. It’s just the beginning.
As I mentioned above, don’t spam people with messages—you’ll quickly get a reputation for that, and no one will respond.
Instead, you can engage with your audience through less radical means. You can respond to their posts on social media, for starters. Don’t just say, “Great post!” or “I agree!” No, what you want to do is respond to the post your thoughts or opinion (in a positive light). Show them that you’re interested in what they have to say. Be a human being and not a lead-generation robot.
Make sure that you’re doing outreach regularly. Message people in your network and simply ask how they’re doing.If they want to respond, they will, and you can strike up a conversation with them. Ask how things are going at their company, or mention the post you just commented on. Tell them how you enjoyed it and share what you learned from what they said.
If you see other designers being laid off and posting about it, feel free to reach out to them. What you are feeling or feeling is precisely what they are feeling. If you want, you can create a support group for those around you going through this.
No Relevant Work to Share? Share Your Expertise Instead.
This was part of a conversation I had with Charles Patterson on Twitter Spaces—what do you do if you don’t have work samples relevant to the job you’re applying for or the lead you’re going after?
You find a way of sharing your expertise and proving you can solve whatever problem they want. It’s not necessarily accessible to d if you haven’t had to pitch your skillset before to someone, but it’s completely doable.
If you spent every day working on web design at your last job, but all of your work is hidden behind NDAs, then you can’t showcase all of that work. You can either spend sleepless nights working to create work samples that pertain to every project or job that comes your way—please don’t do that—or you can do something more straightforward and more accessible.
Using that same web design example, let’s say that a freelance client has come to you looking for you to update their website, but you don’t have any samples to show similar to their current website. You could open up their existing site and record a Loom video detailing and discussing what you would do to improve upon their website or how you would build them a new one.
It’s ok to give away your process here so they can see how you think and how you would help solve their problems without seeing other samples beyond your website.
In many situations, a potential employer or lead doesn’t have to know the work but instead needs to hear how you would solve the problem to decide if they want to work with you.
“A problem well-articulated is a problem half solved” — Charles Kettering.
Start Self-Initiated Projects to Fill Holes in Your Portfolio
The best way to fill those holes you’re missing in your portfolio is through self-initiated projects. Think of these as hypothetical projects that you can create from scratch and create simply to represent how you would tackle specific problems.
I tackle these types of projects by creating a prompt for the type of work I want to do more of—whether it’s freelance, a full-time job, or both. I’ll sit down and write a creative brief, give myself a scope of work, add details, and use my imagination. Most of all, I set myself a deadline and made sure to follow it. If you don’t, the project will never be finished, leaving you with nothing to work with.
It’s also important to note that you don’t have to tell anyone that the work you produced here wasn’t for a client or job. The purpose of this work is to showcase what you can do.
The best part is that these projects are more likely to bring in leads or to a full-time job than actual client work. Why? My theory is that it comes down to the fact that no matter what, you’re never fully passionate about client work—it’s work. However, with a project you created and started yourself, it’s something you’re passionate about and wants to do.
One of my most successful self-initiated projects was the branding I did for Bird Rock Brewing Co. Since completing the project in 2019, the work has brought in over $80,000 in paid freelance work and another $100,000 in leads. It led to a full-time job, bringing in even more money over time.
You should start a self-initiated project when you have downtime as a freelancer. What do you have to lose?
“I have no time!” It isn’t an Excuse Any More.
This is perhaps one of the most common excuses I have ever heard when it comes to starting something or doing some sort of work that benefits you more than anyone.
It’s time, to be honest. You don’t have a job.
All that time you spent working at your previous job is now completely freed up for you to tackle the world. The only person standing in your way is yourself.
I’ve been out of work for two weeks when writing this article. Each day I work about 10-12 hours, preparing for the coming new year, sourcing leads, creating content, updating my website, and so much more. In that time, I’ve generated six leads—two of which are about to close in the coming week.
You have no excuse anymore.
If you’re sitting there and saying that you don’t have the time while playing your PS5 or custom-built PC, then this whole post was a waste of time for you to read… if you even got this far, I’d be genuinely amazed.
Everyone else who isn’t saying they don’t have time, great job! You are already setting yourself up for success and winning!
Reach out to Your Network if You Need Support
The most important thing to remember during this period in your career and life is to find a support network for those dark moments.
Whether it’s your immediate family, friends, or fellow creatives and freelancers, you need people you can talk to and be honest with. It’s important to share your feelings and check on them too.
Stress is a killer.
Being without a job will cause so many thoughts to go through your head—most of them dark and bleak. You have people who care about you and care about your mental health. It would be best that we’re all here for you.
Don’t be afraid to share how you feel.
I can tell you right now I’m terrified. I had a lot going on before I was laid off. Now I have that to top it all off. But am I going to let that stop me? No. When I start to feel that doubt creep up in the back of my mind, I instantly talk to my wife or text one of my friends. We tend to think that we’re alone and that no one else could feel the way we do, but the truth is that you’re not alone.
Don’t let yourself go through it alone.
if you remembered
I want to thank everyone who took the time to read this long article, and I hope you glean some wisdom from it. Whether you just lost your job, you’re afraid that you might soon, or you’re already freelancing—I hope you learn something here.
Stay strong out there, everyone, and remember you’re not alone.