How a Freelance Gig Landed this Recent Grad Her Dream Job

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Julien Balbontin didn’t think she’d ever go into freelancing after finishing her undergrad. The idea of freelancing felt off for her, and she always assumed she’d get a full-time role and go from there. Now, five years later looking back, Julien realized a single freelance gig that she took on a whim blossomed into her dream job: an Art Director role at a creative agency in Toronto. The experience not only taught her the power of trying new things, but also the potential damage you can cause with your own limiting beliefs.

Networking on a whim

While completing her degree in Art & Art History, Julien took a job as an Illustrators Editor for a newspaper. She describes herself back then as someone who worked better with a fixed schedule. As a result, she assumed freelancing would never be a good fit for her.

She recalled doing freelance projects in the past and not really knowing how to price her services. From there, she also often received (what she later realized was) misleading feedback from her clients, which made projects feel random and ad hoc. The whole experience threw her off her usual routine and put a bad taste in her mouth. Already working a steady job, Julien decided it was best if she moved on from freelance and dedicated her efforts to the school paper.

She felt similarly about networking events — recounting how she felt reluctant that a networking event would provide her with many opportunities. But about two years into her degree, while working at the newspaper, she was invited to an alumni networking event. Despite being on the fence about the event, Julien figured she had little to lose and ultimately decided to attend. At the event, she had a great chat with the owner of a Toronto-based creative agency and an alumna of the school. The chat turned into an offer of a social media management freelance gig. Julien liked the conversation and felt decent about the project, so she took on the role despite her reservations about freelancing. In her mind, it would be a fun short-term thing where she could earn some cash.

From freelancer to full-timer

The ‘short term’ project went on for about a year. Then she got the offer to expand her freelance work beyond social media management and into the design. Despite having a full-time job on her plate, Julien really liked the agency she was freelancing for. As a result, she took the extra work. A few months into it, she found herself working from their offices for fun even though the project was remote.

“I made it a priority to be there in the office every other week,” said Julien. “When you’re there actually working on projects it makes a big difference.”

Julien’s work ethic and dedication to projects led to success in the freelance graphic design position, which she worked on for around a year and a half. Then the company offered her a full-time role, continuing the work she’d been doing as a freelancer. Excited at the idea, she quit her other job and took the offer.

In the three years since Julien joined the agency, she’s been promoted twice. Now, she’s the Art Director, playing a key role in branding and setting the tone for new clients. Her duties also include being on the lookout for new talent and laying down the company’s visual foundation. Regardless of her current role though, Julien continues to prioritize education and growth within her work.

“Titles have different tasks and roles,” said Julien. “You’re not bound to just your title, it only means so much. It’s really about learning and being open to growth.”

Taking a chance on growth

After five years of role changes with her client-turned-employer, Julien isn’t focused on the next promotion. Her experience taught her not to hold back on venturing out of your comfort zone, especially if it means more learning. But it doesn’t necessarily have to mean more titles. Further, she’s been able to get pay raises alongside responsibility increases even without a job title change.

Looking back, she laughs at the idea that she set an artificial barrier for herself that she would never freelance. It was based on her own opinions of freelancing, assuming that all gigs were like the couple of bad experiences she had. However, if she didn’t open herself up to giving it a go one more time, she would have never landed her current dream job.

Thinking about her lessons learned from this experience, she boils it down succinctly: don’t limit yourself based on self-imposed beliefs.

“If you have time, and a sliver of energy to do something but you’re unsure — go for it,” said Julien. “You have nothing to lose when you’re trying.”

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