I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about how I get by. Many of those years I was an employee with a salary. Some years were 100% freelance/product focused, and that’s what this post is about. Let’s take typefaces, for example. It’s rare but possible to make a good one in less than a month and have it sell well for years (Lickety Split). But there are others that take a year of work with no guarantee of sales (Porter FT). So with that in mind I went through a selection of my work made over the past 10 years. Not all of these projects were for profit (open source stuff). And some were made for my employers at the time (AWP & Singlebrook). What’s important to me is to not only look at money made or lost (music) but whether I’m proud of the work/enjoyed making it.
This is a living document. Confused by how to read it? The further to the right a project is, the more I loved it. The higher up it is, the more I got paid for it. Now, the personal satisfaction on some of these might not move much on the X axis over time, but the digital goods (products in my shop, for instance) can only go up on the Y axis.
A significant amount of projects in life won’t amount to much financially, but they will fill creative and personal needs that are more valuable in the long run than money. Not immediate monetary value that pays your bills or puts food on the table, but value accumulated through experience that can be reinvested creatively. And of course that leads potential for future profit. And some individual projects have potential to be hits that make up for losses elsewhere. There’s a ratio here that is probably different for everybody, and constantly changing. I think that’s okay.
Making this was refreshing and humbling. It’s easy to see that as much as I love to make music, I shouldn’t exactly carve out time to do it if I need to be making money (not that I’ve ever made music with the intention of making money, I mean have you heard my music?).
Most creative folks have taken on work that they didn’t want for income that they needed. I have. I know lots of people who have. Who wouldn’t, to make ends meet? And maybe that’s a different chart. But I’ve found a balance of working for/with other people and for yourself can be a healthy strategy.
*Illustration by Lauren Baker. Apologies for mobile experience (all 9% of you). Lots of data, not a lot of space.