Failing to Freelance in Dataviz

After freelancing in data visualization for a little over a year, I decided to call it quits. I reflect on what went wrong and what you could learn from my mistakes.

Hey, it’s been a while.

It’s starting to get cooler in Toronto as we transition into fall. I’ve started to wear thicker clothing while at home.

I'm trying to get out more and be more physically active. In early August, my mobility was restricted because of intense hip pain. I saw a massage therapist and was told that I was too inactive. My muscles were too tight from my sedentary lifestyle. I’ve started a routine to walk everyday for 30 minutes, along with some stretches to rehabilitate. I made a lot of changes to my lifestyle, such as sleeping with a pillow between my knees while on my side, and even changing how I walk. I’m a lot better now and can move without much pain. Physical pain is awful, it saps my energy and I lose motivation. I’ve been working hard to feel better so that I can keep doing what I want to do.

A lot has happened to me since my last newsletter issue. I’ve made a lot of progress since and I’ve written something new I want to share with you.

A new blog post on failure

I’ve been itching to write this blog post for some time now. I stopped freelancing in dataviz at the end of 2020, and really wanted to write about it in July 2021. I finally got down to it and wrote it all in September. It has over 6,500 words and I view it as my ‘exit’ piece. I’ve found so much closure from writing it and in the process, cried a couple of times too. Writing has been a good way for me to think about things.

Here’s an excerpt from the blog post:

If I had to identify the exact moment I knew I would give up data visualization, it was probably when I started to resent it. By then, I had freelanced for a little over a year. There are many factors as to why freelancing didn’t work out for me and it’s complex to pin down. I’ve reflected on what happened to me for a long time, and I think it’s finally time I write about it.

It’s painful for me to write this post. I don’t like talking about things that didn’t work out in my life. Despite this, I still want to talk about it. As you read my story, you’ll learn one of the reasons I felt like a failure was because I kept comparing myself to people who only talked about their successes. I want to change the narrative of success and add my story, just to slightly tip the scale. I know there are many others who have failed in their career journey but don’t talk about it. A lot of my posts in the past have brought a lot of people comfort in knowing that they aren’t the only ones who feel anxious about freelancing. I hope this post does the same.

This post is not public yet (i.e. you can’t find it without the link), so same rule applies. As a thank you for being a subscriber to my newsletter, you are reading this post first. Feel free to share amongst your network. I’ll share this post publicly in a week or so.

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What’s next for me

At the end of August, I started a new contract position with the Data Visualization Society as a Communications Manager. It’s part-time and short-term. I saw the job on LinkedIn, while I was applying for something to do while building my new business. I’ll be honest, it’s weird timing. When I was freelancing in dataviz, I made a vow to not look at job boards because I’d get distracted by it, and I would view it as a “way out”. Around July, I decided to start looking for work and was actively browsing job boards. I was looking at jobs with eCommerce elements to it so I could gain experience in this field. One day, the DVS job came up in my feed and I decided to reach out to the job poster and see if the role was a fit. It was posted by the Communications Director (Richard Silvester). To my surprise, we were already connected on LinkedIn, so it was easy to send him a quick message. We met and we were really relaxed chatting about my goals and the role. We set up a time to meet officially for the interview and that went well too. I went into these meetings with no expectation. I just thought I’d try it out and if it didn’t work, I’d keep looking for work. I got really lucky and was hired. I’ve been working for DVS since then. My main focus is to help the internal departments communicate events and programs through social media and the newsletter. Lately, I’ve been very active on building awareness for the DVS 2021 State of the Industry Survey through all of our channels (if you haven’t taken it yet, please do. The survey is open to anyone in dataviz, such as hobbyists, freelancers, employees, students, academics, etc. The survey closes Oct 1.)

While working at the DVS, I am still building my eCommerce business. My brand new website was launched early this month (thebettermelon.com). I built the entire brand from scratch.

The site was initially built with Webflow. There was a small learning curve with Webflow, but it was easy to find resources to learn. I built this in about 2 months. I had to consider branding (e.g. messaging, identity, value proposition, competitor analysis, audience research etc.), and website design (layout, typography, hierarchy, colours). Once the site was built, I paid WebFlow $24 USD to export the code. I moved everything to GitHub and deployed it on Netlify. At first, the directory was as-is. It’s all straightforward HTML, CSS, and JS. About 1 week ago, I ported everything into Hugo. I really like Hugo because it’s so good for CMS. The way it handles and organizes content for blogs is so easy, and I have so much control. The CMS in Webflow isn’t versatile and if you ever want to migrate off of it, it can be challenging. I still had to go through a learning curve to move things into Hugo because I only used themes (or templated sites) in the past. It was my first time building a new theme from scratch and setting up the infrastructure for it. So, what you see now on my website is officially set through the Hugo framework. Right now, I’m cleaning up the blog on the site and I’m making some final tweaks (you won’t find it on the site since it’s not linked yet). As I was building the blog, I was so impressed at how Hugo handles itself for blogs. I got deeper into the docs and learned so much.

I wrote a post a while back about my experience using Hugo. You can read it here. I suck at writing code, and don’t have a strong fundamental grasp of it. But, I managed to figure things out (although, it took a long time). I think it’s worthwhile to explore this way of building your website or portfolio if you have time to learn, especially if you want to avoid hefty hosting costs.

I never studied web design, so I am very proud of what I managed to pull together. I studied about 4-5 other websites, and if you look closely, you can find similarities between my site and the ones I studied. One of them was Bruce Mau Design. I majored in a design program that was founded by Bruce Mau, he’s a Canadian designer who is well known in the design space. I had a few teachers from that studio who taught me design at the time. The way they think about design is very holistic. I looked up to this studio so I studied their website as a precedent.

There is still so much work for me to do. I have a lot to learn and I have to keep learning about this new field. It’s been a good challenge, and I am going at it slowly.

Anyways, that’s a wrap. Take care!

- Jane.