Becoming a full-time freelancer isn’t easy to say the least. Find out how Cheryl Chan dove in with her branding and graphic design studio.
Financial Impulse’s “Freelance to Full-Time” interview series explores a variety of freelance work and side hustles pursued for extra income, including the gigs that eventually become full-time.
Becoming your own boss—it’s a goal many aspire toward but even fewer people actually achieve.
Seasoned marketer Cheryl Chan is one of them. After moving overseas from Canada to the Netherlands, she decided to dive headfirst into full-time freelancing and focus on branding and graphic design services.
Though starting your own business isn’t easy, Cheryl has found some early success. Within a few months of launching her creative studio, called Made on Sundays, she’s already landed a few dream clients. In her interview below, Cheryl shares about her recent journey in self-employment and the thought process behind making this big decision.
What did you do before going full-time with branding and graphic design?
I was a brand manager in the healthcare industry for over six years before I started what I do today. It was honestly the dream job while I was studying marketing in university, and I felt very fortunate that it was part of my story right out of school.
What was working in corporate marketing like for you?
There were a lot of aspects that I loved about my job at that time. I worked with a lot of very intelligent people who I became very close to because six years is not a short amount of time!
I truly learned what the meaning of “Fake it till you make it” meant because there were days when I would be the product expert speaking to pharmacists, doctors, and corporate leaders formulating strategies and content with no science background at all. To this day, I don’t know how I did it—but it is a skill that eventually became very important as an entrepreneur.
Being in corporate, though, meant that I was bound to the cubicle life, and I’m sure you’ve all heard of all the complaints that come with the 9-to-5 lifestyle. All true.
However, for me, I mainly left my job because of the lack of freedom to truly express my creativity. As cheesy as it might sound, I knew I was meant for more and I wanted to prove it to myself and to my future children that it’s worth it to at least try to shoot for your dreams.
Did you do freelance work on the side during your corporate years?
I did not!
I did, however, try a few different creative explorations to see what I might enjoy doing as a side hustle. I tried blogging for a little while, which failed miserably.
Then, a couple years ago, I also started a small Etsy shop with my friend selling DIY kombucha brew kits. It’s still going, but at a very small scale.
What inspired you to start your branding and graphic design studio?
After my husband and I got married last year, we made a commitment together that we would work abroad (we are originally from Vancouver, Canada) for a couple of years so that we could learn new things and travel the world before we start a family.
For a month, I was looking at job openings in Europe in the marketing field and as much as there were exciting opportunities on this side of the world, my gut kept telling me that this was not what I want. At the back of my mind, I always knew I wanted to try entrepreneurship full-time and I guess what better time to start than now?
As I was doing research online, I found the Bucketlist Bombshells, who teach women how to start a service-based online business. It was like a light bulb turned on, and I realized I could do all the aspects that I loved from the corporate brand job that I was already doing, brush up on my design skills, and start a business with complete creative freedom. My life changed from that point on.
What made you and your husband decide to relocate to Amsterdam? Was the decision to move tied to your entrepreneurship, or did these two things happen independently?
I do believe that life is in perfect timing.
Our decision to move to Europe definitely helped push me to finally quit my job and kind of forced me in a sense to go cold turkey with entrepreneurship.
Why Amsterdam, though? We still wanted to find somewhere that was primarily English speaking, and it so happens that Amsterdam is full of North American expats and is the home of a ton of international companies. My husband luckily found a job at one of those companies, and they moved us over.
Can you discuss your financial preparation for starting your own studio?
I was always a huge planner, saver, and a fan of personal finance. I was not the risky type—at all—so you can probably guess how nervous I was going from my cushy corporate job to making nothing at all in a new country.
Luckily, because I was so risk-averse, I had padded myself with a fair amount of savings that could last me at least a good couple of months. I am blessed to also have a partner with a steady income that I can rely on at this time.
It’s still very uncomfortable, to say the least, but I need to keep reminding myself that I have planned for these beginning months and it’s important to trust the process.
So far, what’s been the most unexpected thing about pursuing freelance work full-time?
I thought doing the actual work would be the most challenging thing going into freelancing, but in actuality, the mindset has been the toughest thing.
Having a positive mindset about the decisions that you’ve made, staying grounded in the discomfort, stopping yourself from comparison, and trusting that everything is figure-outable are all thoughts that I battle with every day as a freelancer. It’s a beautiful thing, but definitely unexpected.
Do you have any advice for others who are thinking of freelancing full-time?
- Consistently work on your mindset. Be it meditating, journaling, tapping, working with a coach, whatever you choose to do to keep exercising your thoughts. Do it.
- Keep taking action. I learned the hard way that just planning does not get you anywhere. You may not seem ready and you may not feel like you understand what you’re doing at all, but just do it anyway. Every action, even failed ones, will move you closer to your goal. And to my corporate marketing girls out there, believe that you can also thrive as a creative.