Web developer and creative strategist Catherine Huang on taking risks

“I tried so many things – some worked, some didn’t. Life is full of risks, but a life with risks is much richer than a life without.

Impressive job titles are one thing, but what about people who have created their own niche and created a job just for them? Rather than landing that coveted LinkedIn signature, working for yourself presents a whole new way to choose your own adventure. That said, it’s not always about exploring the road less traveled – sometimes that can mean charting your own entirely uncharted path.

We round up the best career advice every week. Stay up to date with our vertical life.

It’s hard work, but if being your own boss is your personal dream, How do I do is the column for you. We’ll talk to established freelancers and friends of FJ who have been in this business long enough to have the perspective, and they may be able to help you understand exactly how they “do” what they do.

Money, agents, deadlines and tight deadlines – this is how to hack the creative bustle. This week we hear from creative strategist, content creator and web designer, Catherine Huang. Here’s how she does it.

Tell me about, say, the last five years of your life. What happened to you?

Five years ago, I was juggling a wild assortment of jobs — basically saying yes to anything and everything that came my way. I guess nothing has really changed. I’ve worked in retail, at festivals, as a doorwoman, stylist and DJ – you name it, I’ve done it. I studied marketing part-time and did a marketing internship with Pageant, which helped me land a job at the Melbourne Fashion Festival (MFF).

Above all, I just wanted to have fun – and I did. I loved trying so many different things. After MFF I moved to Berlin and lived there for 18 months. I was a marketing manager at a tech start-up; a good job of nine to five. It didn’t really suit me. Eventually a broken heart brought me back to Australia and the pandemic kept me here.

Since then, most of what I’ve done has been web and digital work as a Peer Processor, which – if you can believe it – dates back to my internship with Pageant. I had redesigned their website and it caught the attention of my friend Steven (@magicsteven), which led to more work with friends (like Shifting Worlds and Bee A Friend), and from there, it kind of took off. My new clients are usually by word of mouth, so it’s very flattering.

I don’t like to label what I do too strictly, mainly because it’s constant ebbs and flows anyway and even Peer Process – which oscillates between side-to-side and all-out bustle – isn’t everything I do. Right now, I’m also the Marketing and Publicity Coordinator at the Emerging Writers Festival, doing a few things behind the scenes at Verner, and about to start working with production studio Rdystdy. So yes, nothing has changed (lol).

How do you explain to members of your extended family exactly what you “do” for work?

I tell them I do a lot of stuff online – most of the time I make websites. It’s hard trying to explain to my parents what I do, especially because I don’t usually have a traditional job with a normal title.

I know that their idea of ​​work is something more traditional, coherent, stable. But I think over the years they’ve learned to be happy for me because I’m always doing something and I’m never too stressed or unhappy. I proved to them that this is how I like to work and they understand that, that’s all I can ask for.

How do you explain to them how you pay the bills?

Well, I think my parents and I have come to the natural conclusion that we better not have this conversation anymore! When you’re not in paid employment, you don’t always know when your next salary will be, and you don’t necessarily know how much you’ll earn in a year. It’s a gamble, that’s for sure. But at this point, my parents are a bit used to it.

They saw me being terribly unhappy in my “stable” job with regular pay and how much happier I was when I was working for myself so we all agree it’s best not to ask of questions. Plus, unless I have to put my bank account in their face, they know I’m in charge and saving a little safety net just in case.

What would you like people to know about what you do and why you do it?

I guess I mentioned this earlier, but I find it so much fun; I love the freedom that comes with my way of working. I choose my hours, I choose the people I work with and I choose the projects I work on. I am so lucky when these opportunities come to my doorstep. I can support the creative activities of others and that also means a lot to me; help fulfill the passions of others. I never really know where life will take me next, but that’s what I love the most.

Take me back to 18, when you left school. Did you have an idea of ​​what you wanted to do, and if so, what steps did you take first?

No, I really had no idea. I was 16 when I submitted my college course preferences and was really getting into the dark. I liked my optometrist at the time, so I applied for a few courses that were on that path. When I entered university, it was very clear to me that I did not have the same drive or passion for health sciences as my peers. But I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.

It can be difficult to be around people whose lives are “set” at such a young age, but they are almost always the exception to the rule. I know so many people who have found themselves on different paths from where they started. I really wish I’d heard that when I was younger – that it’s more than okay to step away from where you started.

Take me back to your early twenties, when you were just finding your feet. Did you have any idea where you were going and, if so, how did you get there?

I think things were starting to line up a bit more. I was thinking more about the types of people I wanted to work with and the types of projects I wanted to be involved in.

For a while I thought I wanted to work strictly in the fashion industry. I was definitely on that trajectory and a big part of it was building new relationships, offering myself to work, and being in the right place at the right time.

I’m glad I wasn’t totally immersed in it anymore, but back then I was throwing myself 110% into every job I could get in the industry, which just created more opportunities. I’m sure that this trip allowed me to be where I am now. Nothing I’ve done is entirely linear, but everything is connected in some way.

What is a common misconception about freelancers?

I’m not entirely sure. I think social media and influencers have made the whole freelance thing very aesthetically pleasing, spending a lot of time in cafes drinking oatmeal lattes. Truth be told, most of the time I’m in my bedroom, working on two monitors, losing my little mind, trying to get a line of code right. Working on the web is hardly sexy.

How did you learn to set your own rates? Do you have any resources to share/tips regarding the financial side of things?

I keep learning! It is difficult to set your own rates and I have had to increase them several times since I started freelancing to better value my work and my results. I also had to factor in things like taxes and super, rent if you need a studio, etc. I tend to charge per project rather than by the hour, which is fine with me as it allows me to learn and work at a pace I’m comfortable with.

Honestly, my best advice is to keep track of everything. I’m old school and do it manually with a spreadsheet, but you can always rely on an app or software if you’re not so good with tables and numbers. And a good accountant. My accountant works magic.

What advice would you give to someone considering leaving school and going freelance for a while in their chosen creative field?

You literally just won’t know if you don’t try. I tried so many things – some worked, some didn’t. Life is full of risk, but a life with risk is much richer than one without.

More concretely, think about the people you surround yourself with! You want people who will support and uplift you – meaningful relationships. The people I’ve met along the way have been crucial in getting me this far with my own hustle.

Honestly, you have to really embrace it, want it and enjoy it. Life is too short to do things you don’t like. The second I stop enjoying it, I’m leaving! Let’s move on to the next adventure… whatever it is.

See more of Catherine and her work here.