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Advice for Early-Career Data Visualization Freelancers: Ann’s Interview with Jane Zhang

Updated on: Mar 24th, 2020
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Ann K. Emery shares advice for early-career dataviz freelancers.

When Jane Zhang wanted to interview me for her article for the Data Visualization Society, I agreed!

We decided to record our conversation so that even more people could benefit from learning about the business behind my business.

This conversation might be especially helpful for early-career data visualization freelancers—or those contemplating the switch from a salaried job into a freelancing job. If that’s you, welcome to the dataviz community! And enjoy this video interview.

What’s Inside

  • How I got started six years ago
  • Whether I’d planned to work for myself from the beginning
  • The critical turning points in my decision-making process
  • What type of advice I received from mentors early on
  • How the work I’ve done has shifted over the past six years
  • All of the correct ways to make a living with data visualization
  • How my previous workplaces were so supportive of data visualization
  • Whether I think anyone can teach
  • What High Schooler Ann thought she’d be when she grew up—and how my career path isn’t that different from what I originally planned
  • How I found my earliest clients
  • How blogging for several years before going solo unintentionally became a solid portfolio
  • How professional volunteering on boards built my network and helped/helps me find projects that are a good fit for me
  • Why I always recommend that early-career dataviz enthusiasts start blogging
  • Where my income comes from (the percentage from in-person training, online training, consulting, keynotes, and other sources)
  • Why I’m trying to do even more online training
  • How I manage traveling in the U.S. and internationally with my family
  • How I’ve moved mountains for the right work-life balance
  • Why you need to niche-down for your own sanity
  • How you actually decide what to specialize in
  • What my staffing structure has looked like in the past, and what it looks like now
  • Why I’ll never, ever hire full-time employees
  • How I learned how to run a business
  • Why so many people hesitate to run their own business
  • How little I understand about my own visibility and presence
  • What I’m really aiming for during my training—which is often much different than the workshop objectives written out on paper
  • Why it’s critical to give yourself a Dabbling Year(s) when you’re first starting out
  • What Jane’s currently working on

Listen to Our Convo

Resources Mentioned

Jane’s article on quitting her salaried job to pursue freelancing.

This book about running a lean, minimalist business.

This book about setting your rates as an independent consultant.

This scheduling tool that keeps me sane.

This Data Vizard t-shirt.

Connect with Jane Zhang

Connect with Jane:

Your Turn

Did anything surprise you about our conversation?

What additional questions do you have for me?

What additional tips do you have for early-career dataviz freelancers?

Comment and let us know!

Bonus: Read the Full Article

Jane’s full article just got published! Read about her interviews with RJ Andrews, Alli Torban, Matt Baker and I: https://medium.com/nightingale/how-self-employed-data-visualization-designers-make-a-living-23dc00ea5264

More about Courtney Sims
Courtney Sims is a Senior Evaluation & Communication Associate at Sharp Insight, LLC with an eye for detail and a depth of communication, reporting, and capacity building experience. As a public health professional, her work has been influenced by a strong commitment to social justice and reducing health disparities. Courtney has worked in the non-profit and research sectors and appreciates the ability to combine these experiences into meaningful communication and evaluation materials. Her Sharp Insight portfolio includes a wide range of client work including evaluation capacity building for nonprofit leaders, multi-year program monitoring and evaluation, and data visualization and effective reporting. In addition to technical writing and data visualization, she plays a leading role in strategic communication efforts. She also teaches complex evaluation concepts as a facilitator for Sharp Insight’s training workshops. Courtney is fluent in Spanish and continues to be deeply impacted by her experience living and working in Honduras. Courtney holds a Master of Public Health and Bachelor of Science in Global Community Health from George Mason University, where she served as an adjunct faculty member teaching courses in health behavior theory and career readiness for entry-level public health professionals.

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