Freelance UX DesignerElisabeth Mayr


When was the last time you invested in yourself?

I'm not talking about self-care, although that's part of it too. I'm talking about an investment that will create a massive return.

What can you do today that you couldn't do a year ago?

Photo by Miquel Parera on Unsplash

Why do I invest in myself?

Because I want to improve my skills and have more free time. I also like the little feeling of uncomfort when you know you're expanding your comfort zone. There are tons of people who can do so many things so much better than I ever will. Why shouldn't I learn from them or ask for their help? I realised that when I don't invest in myself, I will still grow and learn from mistakes, but it will take me much longer to get to where I want to be.

What stops you from investing in yourself?

There's many reasons we might not take the time or spend the money to invest in ourselves. This could be because we have self limiting beliefs, eg. not feeling we're worth the investment. It could also be that we simply don't have the money  -  but you can invest time too. Time to learn something new or to grow your confidence. You can invest time to go to a networking event or to go through all the "one day" tasks that would really benefit you once you achieve them.

Investing in yourself can feel selfish. It sounds stupid, but I've been there. But guess what? You only have one life! Okay, we can debate that. My Thai family is quite certain I'm the reincarnation of my grandma's sister. So who knows, maybe we have more than one life. Either way, let's make the most of the one we're living right now. So let's be selfish. Everyone else seems to be anyway.

How can you invest in yourself?

In my personal opinion, education is the best thing you can invest in. And in today's world, the possibilities are endless. There's so many free resources out there. Learning doesn't have to be as daunting as it was for some of us at school. Yes, you can take a course. But you can also watch a documentary, browse on YouTube or read a book. Whatever it is that you find the easiest.

The best things to invest in when it comes to your career

Remember: Nobody can take your knowledge from you. If you're not sure what you want to learn more of, there's 3 things that I personally found the most useful when it comes to your career:

1. Financial education

2. Upskilling on the services you offer and most importantly

3. Personal development

So let's break it down:

1. Financial education

This one is important for obvious reasons. There is so much you need to know, things like compound interest and how to make it work for yourself. If you're a freelancer, you have to know about money and taxes. Look into what an ISA is, get blown away when you learn about LISAs and regret that you didn't start one earlier.

One day I was just browsing in a book store and this book caught my eye, simply because it looked like the Monzo card. Money: A Users Guide by Laura Whateley.

The back of the book said something about a guaranty that when you read the book and take action, the book will pay for itself. And she was right. On top of that, it explains complicated money stuff in such a simple way, I actually enjoyed reading it. I remember the section about pensions, when Laura wrote about how to calculate your retirement income and then instructs you to sigh. Because that’s exactly what you’ll want to do.

But I'm not a financial advisor, there are people who know way more about this than me. For example Abby, who I met traveling. It's her mission to make financial knowledge available to everyone, starting at schools. I highly recommend to give her a follow if you're getting started on the basics.

Financial education doesn't just include how money works, but also what value your skills have. What does a person with your skillset earn in a specific role? What's the average salary/day rate? And also: How do you negotiate it?

2. Upskilling

You have to stay on top of the game if you want people to hire you for your services. There are certain jobs where it is more complex to stay up to date, for example tech jobs. But there's also so many free YouTube tutorials and courses. But sometimes this can be a job in itself.

But it doesn't just have to be the hard skills for the job. For me, a freelance UX Designer, I need to know about law changes that might affect me (looking at you IR35 🙄 ) but I also need to stay up to date on changes when for example Apple releases a new iPhone and what that means when I design a new app. Or when there's a new tool like Figma that quickly overtakes Sketch. Thankfully, I feel like those softwares become more and more intuitive and you barely need a course to learn how to use them.

3. Personal development

As a freelancer, it's very important to know yourself: How much stress can you deal with? What are your limitations? What are you good at? What pushes you to your limit? Where do you need to improve? What boundaries do you need to put in place? Where are you standing in your own way?

This is where I realised I had a lot to learn. I have imposter syndrome. I mean, who doesn't? I'm a self-taught designer who just accidentally got into UX. I'm writing blog posts in English which isn't my native language, so I'm doing a lot of things that I've never ‘properly' learned how to do. But I'm learning by doing, which is the most effective way for me. So it makes sense that I wonder when people will finally find out that I actually have no idea what I'm doing. But for those who struggle with imposter, I'm going to leave this tweet here for you:

Twitter post

Probably the best investment I ever made

Another thing that I never guessed would help me, but had a massive impact on myself and my career is acting. Yes, you read that right. No, I’m not an actress, I’ve never been on TV nor am I planning to. But I went to film school for filming and editing. I enjoy the whole process of making an idea come to live. Today, I’m doing that with my UX work. Back then, I did this with short stories.

But we had a Method Acting teacher visiting for a week. We were all encouraged to do that one week workshop with him. Because if we want to be a good director one day, it’ll be useful to know what it feels like to be in front of the camera and to be able to give the right cues.

Until today, this was probably the most useful thing I’ve ever invested in. I’m no longer going into interviews wondering if I’m going to say something stupid. I walk into a meeting room — or more likely— joined a zoom meeting and ‘acted’ in a way that will get me the job. Of course, I don’t know my lines; but the storyline is written. And in that story I will get the role. And ever since, my interview-to-job-offered-ratio has improved massively.

Actually, looking at it now, it’s just a fancy way of “fake it ’til you make it”. But it works!

Hire a coach

If you can afford it, I highly recommend investing in a coach. I don’t like letting people down. And if I were to come to the next coaching session with nothing to show, I’d feel like I did.

Also, I’m one of those people that want to get value for money. Don’t take me to an all you can eat place, I’ll starve myself all day, then eat literally all I can and end up feeling sick for the next two days. That’s how bad I am to try to get value for my money.

So investing in a coach works wonders for me. It gives me the accountability that I sometimes lack as a self employed digital nomad. And you know what? In the end, I realise I do things for me, not for my coach. And that also helps me build my confidence.

Got excited? Here’s what else you should invest in for yourself

Take a break

Invest in a holiday. None of us want to get old and realise we spent our best years in front of a device, scrolling ourselves into rabbit holes, not remembering what it was we checked our phones for in the first place.

Make sure you take the time to do the things you always wanted to do. I finally got to see the northern lights. It was on my bucket list since I found out about them and it took me 30+ years (giving away my age here ha!) to finally go see them.

But trips can be expensive and time consuming. So if you don’t have the time or finances at the moment, try to add little bits of holidays into your day to day. This works great for me. Of course, it’s easy, because I’m a digital nomad. And before or after work, I’ll do a little activity that makes me appreciate my lifestyle even more. I don’t feel stressed out that I wasted a whole day in front of my computer because I will do at least one thing that I enjoy. There’s more to life than work. And you know what? Because I enjoy myself a lot and have breaks, I end up being more productive at work.

Do something that will benefit you in the future

Some things take a lot of time, but there can be a massive benefit in the future. For me personally, it was learning a language. Improving my English has allowed me to move to the UK and work with British clients. The UX market is more advanced in the UK than in Austria. So for me, gaining my work knowledge here gives me a head start compared to if I would have stayed in Austria.

Upgrade your equipment

This is a little embarrassing as a UX designer, but I’ve had an iPhone 6 until one month ago. Yes, that’s almost stone age in phone years! Especially for someone who’s job it is to ensure being on top of technology.

The battery life was horrible, I always had to take a portable charger with me. I wouldn’t be able to download some apps because my storage was constantly full. Not to mention the photo quality.

But I finally upgraded it. I got a new fancy phone. And it made my life so much easier!

Outsource what others can do better than you

I keep repeating this, but if you can, let someone else do the things that would take you hours. If I imagine the amount of time I’d have to sit down to sort out my accounting… gosh, i would still be working on that 2019 tax return.

German comedian Sebastian Hotz tweeted something very relatable not too long ago. I couldn’t find the original tweet but it’s in German anyway, so here comes the translation. It was something along:

Have more compassion for the self-employed: They spend hours finding that one train ticket receipt that they actually used for a business trip and then worry about going to jail because of tax fraud.Sebastian Hotz

This one hit me, the amount of time I worried if I missed something in my tax return! Having someone else whose full time job is to stay up to date with taxes and having her sort out my finances is absolutely worth the investment.

On that note, if you’re looking for an accountant specialised in freelancers, give me a shout. I can refer you to mine.

Outsourcing is an indirect investment in yourself, because it gives you back your time. But also, you invest in others, so it’s a win win!

Have others invest in you

If you’re working at a company, your employer is hopefully investing proper money in you. And if it’s a good employer, they will invest into training for you on top of the pension contribution they have to pay by law.

Of course, seeing oneself as an asset to invest in feels a bit odd. But trust me, if I learnt something in the last 3 years of freelancing, it is that you have to invest to grow.

On that note: If you’re thinking of becoming a freelancer, let me help and invest in you. I have availability for 3 people who seriously want to freelance but don’t know where to start. Ideally, you’d be UK based, because that’s where I know the legal requirements to set up a company and what other options there are. If that’s you, send me an email.

Biggest return of investment

Investing in yourself will always be worth it. You’ll learn something and you’ll grow. Nobody will be able to take that away from you.

Of course, it’s not mandatory. You will still learn and grow in your career if you don’t do this. But investing in yourself will speed up the journey.