From feedback I understand that many of of the readers of this blog are in fact independent (presentation) designers as well. Some have already made the jump and started their own business, some are still pondering whether to do it. Here are some reflections on the process that I went through, and some of the things I learned.
Becoming an independent business is not easy. It takes time until you have figured out what the setup is that works best for you. What type of projects, what type of clients. Through a process of trial and error you get to where you want to be, slowly. Allow time for this process to happen, and realize that you will be constantly moving direction (I still am).
Small businesses tend to under-invest. Old software (or maybe even pirated software!), slow computers, small screens. All this is a tax deductible business expense/investment, leverage it to do better work and compete with larger firms.
Optimize your workflow. Use gmail with clever filters to make stay on top of email. Use dropbox to access your files anywhere from any device. Use freshbooks to track time and do your billing. Enjoy your freedom from the IT purchasing department and pick the right productivity tools.
Minimise businessn meetings. Social meetings with friends are fun and energizing. Business meetings are most of the time a big time sink. Drive to meeting, park, small talk, discuss business, small talk, drive. That was an entire morning wasted, and now that the day is partly gone, you probably won't start that big creative piece of work that you still have to do.
Cut yourself free from a specific location. Laptop. Files synced to dropbox. This is a major stress releaver.
Pick your niche and aim high. As a one-person business, you cannot be great at everything. But you can dominate a niche. Digital content can now travel anywhere, so the entire world is a potential customer base. If the market is that broad, you can afford to focus, focus, and focus.
Invest in a web presence and show your portfolio. By the time someone is contacting you, 70% of the sales work is done through researching you online.
Fixed prices. As long as you are charging your time out by the hour, you are still an employee. Without a boss that is, but still, a resource that has an hourly price tag on it. The moment you let go of this principle, you become a business. Certain projects will give you large profit, for others you will lose money as you did not estimate the time it would take you correctly. Fixed prices attach a value to your service. The market will dictate whether you are worth the price or not. If potential clients are not accepting your proposals, your value is simply not (yet) there. If you are flat out all the time, you are probably not charging enough.
Always do great work. Even if you are approaching your project budget, or your client somehow managed to get a really low project quote: deliver the great work and invest the hours at a lost if you have to. Clients do not understand budgets, they see the quality of the work, and they tell other potential clients about it. If you make a project time estimate, you take the responsibility. Do great work, or do not do the work at all if you cannot agree a price with your client.
Not all clients suit you. When you feel that it is just not clicking with a potential client, let it go and focus on getting those that have instant chemistry. Also, there is nothing wrong with firing a client even after you have worked with them for many years. Maybe the relationship got tired and you can no longer get yourself to do inspiring work, maybe the client fit when you just started out the business, but not anymore, maybe the client cannot afford your new prices. Part as friends, it is better for both of you.
Set your work hours. Do work when you are most productive. Turn work away if it forces you to work at times you do not want to (evenings, weekends, holidays). A fresh and rested mind designs the best presentations.
Here you go, my experience. Interpret it as such: what worked for me, might not fit completely with your situation.