1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

Probably early teens. I was always very interested in art in general, drawing and doodling. I remember sketching magazine ads as a kid. Drawing out the text and everything. One of my high school teachers said to me once when I was about 13 years old, and I remember this vividly, “your title pages look like adverts, you should be a graphic designer”.

I hadn’t even clicked at that stage that there was a world of people actually paid to do that sort of thing as a job. I remember feeling really excited after that and wanting to find out more. That poor teacher was probably horribly disappointed in the rest of my textbook, to be fair.

2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?

Definitely confidence. Confidence was by far my biggest hurdle. I was a painfully shy teenager who never looked people in the eye and didn’t ask questions unless my life was in danger. Recently my husband found an old work experience reference sheet for some work placement I did when I was about 15. It was pretty bad. The employer at the agency basically thought I didn’t really have a future in design. I think he misunderstood my shyness for not caring or wanting to learn.

I started in the business when I was 17. I was in my last year at high school, had just applied and been accepted into a visual communications three-year course at tech. But a sits vacant ad came up in the newspaper for a junior to work in the advertising department of a large retail chain. I got the job, left school and started a few days later.

I remember walking into the interview and seeing six designers seated at their drawing tables (yes it was before digital) and they were busy putting together ads for TV’s and stereos etc. I thought, yes, I rather like the thought of being paid while learning. Working in that environment was a fantastic foundation. Very tight deadlines, dealing with headstrong managers, reacting fast to rival competitors deals. Four years later I took a job at a design studio. Slightly less manic and more detailed orientated than the world of retail advertising. Again I had great mentors along the way at the studios I worked at. Very grateful for all that I learned from my employers and colleagues.

3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?

Referrals are definitely key for me. But recently my website has also been good. Every designer should, in my mind, have their own website. Their own story. Away from portfolio sites or social media. By all means, have those portfolios as well, and social media definitely plays a large part with engagement and you need to be active there. But your number one promotional portfolio should be your own website IMO. That’s what you should promote or point potential clients to visit. That way they are in your world and less likely to be distracted or drawn away.

4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?

As far as the projects are concerned, I always aim to exceed their expectations and I’m always very upfront and open about costs. Keeping clients in the know about how the work is tracking time and budget wise.

But it’s not just about the work you do for them, if you look after them and actually care about their business, then that rubs off on them just as much as the actual work you do for them. Be excited for them, put yourself in their shoes and see things from their point of view. Build relationships and care. They’ll be back.

5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?

I’ve only had two cases where clients haven’t paid at all. One case was very early on when I started out on my own. Let’s just say he was a nasty guy, I learnt lessons, took it on the chin and grew from the experience.

A couple of clients are sometimes a little late in paying, I just send out a friendly email and it always comes in. Again, it’s about relationships, if you get on well with your clients you shouldn’t have too many issues. But they’ll always be a bad egg (or a weird one) that comes along occasionally.

My advice is to get a 50% upfront before you start work for any new clients you don’t know, they are less likely to bail on the job if they have already paid for half of it.

6. What does your typical work day look like?

After seeing the kids off to school, I make a nice coffee and head down to my office with the dog, check emails, then prioritise my day. I try and get some of the smaller tidy up jobs done first, then spend the afternoon on larger chunks of time on projects, so I get a bit of a flow going.

I have to make a list and try and stick to a bit of a plan. At least that’s the intention at the start of the day. Time management is both a blessing and a curse when you work for yourself. But it’s mostly a blessing.

7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?

Keep learning. Whenever you have a little downtime, keep learning. Not just from what’s happening now, but look to the past as well. Not only will it make you a better designer, but you’ll keep the passion for what you do alive. If you are feeling uninspired or a little flat, as we all do sometimes, take some time out for yourself, go to a gallery, go to an actual bookshop with real people in it and buy a design book. Look after yourself and your work will be better for it.


Deb Panckhurst is a New Zealand designer and brand consultant running Clockwise Design. Helping businesses with visual identity and tailored solutions for print and digital branding assets. You can connect with Deb on Facebook or Instagram.

Chris Green

Chris Green at This Design Life
Chris Green is a designer and marketer. He runs an agency called Calloway Green and is also the founder of This Design Life.

Latest posts by Chris Green (see all)