Tomorrow will be the 10th anniversary of michaelwender.com. I started this business in my old bedroom at my parents house, and through the years it has grown into an enterprise servicing over seventy clients all across the United States and Canada. I never dreamed I’d spend my career working from my own home, but along the way I’ve discovered that freelancing is truly my “dream job”. Funny thing is, ten years ago my career as a freelancer was almost over before it started…
“Do I really want to do this?”
Ten years ago my career aspirations were suffering from a serious lack of motivation. In June of 2001, I was laid off from my job as a web designer/graphic artist for QuVIS1 Semiconductor (Quality Visual Image Systems) in Oak Ridge. During the previous year, I’d taken over their entire online branding. However, being primarily an engineering/technical company, their management under utilized my creative services. I got burned out because my skills and talents didn’t amount to much in the overall scheme of the company. I was an expansive, round peg trying to fit in a small square hole.
I was so disenchanted with web design and graphic arts that I considered a career change. I had an offer to be a youth minister at a church in Orlando, Florida, and I was also having a blast working with youth at a church in Knoxville. Working with people has always been something I enjoy and do well and perhaps the ministry was where I should be. However, as I was considering my options, I also made plans to start my own freelance consultancy.
Tennessee’s “Silicon Gulch” Provides a Steady Stream of Clients
California may have “Silicon Valley”; however, Oak Ridge National Labs along with many other tech startups, make East Tennessee another hotbed of high technology jobs and opportunities. My brother, an electrical engineer and VP of Marketing for a micro-chip company, calls our region the “Silicon Gulch”.
Working for a year in the Oak Ridge tech sector provided me with a wealth of contacts. Tech savvy firms are always in need of graphic designers and web developers who can translate their jargon and concepts into marketing materials. Graphic designers who excel in this environment must have a rare combination of an artist’s heart and an engineer’s mind. This fits me to a “t” as I love to create while paying close attention to details and specifications. The day I was laid off, I received two offers for freelance work from our office mates at ASIC International.
My First Gig – Should I take it?
That summer I dabbled with a couple of freelance projects, but it wasn’t until Monday, September 17, 2001 that I took my first real, paying gig. It was a small software firm who’d heard about me through my brother and my work in Oak Ridge. They needed help with their logo, website and overall branding.
Prior to our meeting I was having doubts as to whether or not I should go. I was afraid I’d take the job and then discover I lacked the motivation to finish. But, thanks to my mother speaking frankly with me (yes, I owe a lot to my mother…and father too for that matter), I decided to go and see what would happen. I could always do this one project and move on to something else if I didn’t enjoy the work.
As it turns out, that first meeting renewed my love for what I do. I was called in as the expert, and my client allowed me to advise, consult and direct using my expertise. No longer burdened by a QuVIS middle-management that didn’t know what to do with me, now I was free to manage the project and help my client achieve their goals.
Working from Home for Ten Years
My biggest fear as I began my freelance career was that my skill-set would stagnate since I wasn’t working in close contact with others in my field. However, I soon found out that wasn’t the case. In fact, given my field, freelancing has helped to broaden my skill-set as I often must find solutions on my own without relying on an office-mate who has the answer.
This has been just one of the many perks and surprises I’ve gleaned from working from the “home office” through the years. Others include:
- Clients from all over – My primary means of gaining new clients has been via word-of-mouth referrals. However, I’ve gotten quite a few via my online footprint. I’ve gained one client from New Mexico simply because he liked my personal website. Many other clients have found me through various tutorials and screencasts I’ve published through the years. I currently work with clients in Georgia, North Carolina, New York, New Mexico and California.
- Serving as an “expert witness” – A couple of years back I was hired to serve as an “expert witness”, testifying about the semi-permanence and residual effects of person’s online activities.
- Discovering my “dream job” – The saying goes, “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work another day for the rest of your life.” When I graduated from Full Sail University in 1999, my plan to was to get a “dream job” working in special effects or digital animation in Southern California. But, as I followed my passions, I ended up working as a freelancer. Now, ten years into it, I must say it is my “dream job”. I love being able to use my expertise to help others accomplish their goals online.
- Being my own boss – There are more perks to this than just setting my own schedule. For example, when I’m racing to finish a project for a client, I love the fact that I don’t have to get approval from management if I determine purchasing some new software will help me to get the job done quicker.
The other day I was commenting how I don’t believe I have many (if any) friends who have been working the same job for the past ten years. I’ve found that becoming your own boss solves this problem. However, much as I’ve been working the “same” job for ten years, the technology I use to build websites has changed tremendously during that time. I’ve supplemented my skill-set by learning new programming languages, softwares, techniques and operating systems. Through it all, the one thing that has stayed the same is how much I enjoy helping my clients succeed online. The satisfaction I gain from this is what keeps me doing what I do. So, to all my clients, friends and family who have helped make me what I am today: Thank you! Here’s to the next ten years and beyond!