1. When did you realise you wanted to be a freelance designer?
I’m not sure that I ever made a conscious decision to be freelance, per se. I guess I had just always assumed that whatever I did with my art, I would be doing it on my own.
I had seen my father work a job that exhausted him, mentally and physically. I also watched him build his own lawn care operation, that eventually allowed him to quit the other job that drained him so much. His example made it clear to me that I also wanted to work on my own. So that was the way I had always viewed occupation. I knew that I never wanted to work for anyone. I wanted to make my own way, like my Dad was doing.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
Art was something I loved ever since I could hold a crayon, and graphic design in particular came out of necessity. At age 13, my friends and I started a band, and I quickly found myself designing band logos, fliers for our shows, tape jackets, and t-shirts. I guess I was doing graphic design before I really knew what graphic design was.
After we graduated, my band started touring the country, so I designed our merch, and most of the bands we played with ended up asking me to design their merch, as well. This snowballed into a steady income for me, and by the time I had my fill of touring with the band, I had a great freelance clientele built up. It was a very natural progression into doing freelance full time.
The biggest hurdle was after I had been freelancing full time for a year, and I was confident enough to finally marry my girlfriend, move to Columbus, and get our own place. I was trusting that the good year I had with freelance was going to continue into the following year, and give us a comfortable life together.
Everything came together quite easily, and I was humbled to realize that I was able to support myself and my wife on something that I was doing completely on my own. No handouts, just me, making a good living, doing what I loved.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
Getting new clients has often come by word-of-mouth. I’ve wanted to be someone that my clients can recommend to others, a someone who can be spoke highly of.
In the past few years, I’ve started putting a little more effort into my website www.brandonrike.com to allow people who may have never heard of me to see a lot of my work. The website has also been a great resource to bringing in new clients. But, word-of-mouth has definitely been my main method of new clients.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
I’d like to think that clients stick with me because my work ethic shows how much I value the relationship. I’ve always benefited from cultivating these relationships, and being extremely dependable for these people. I want these clients to know that I will work hard for them, and always deliver on time, and on target. I owe my whole career to these relationships, many of which have lasted over a decade.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
Over the past decade of my career, I’ve had maybe 4-5 issues with late-paying clients. The late-payers are usually one-time clients who I haven’t known for long. They have all eventually paid, after numerous invoice reminders.
The majority of my clients, however, are people I’ve come to know well. If a payment is late, I’m understanding about it – and know that it will eventually get paid. I try to be empathetic about this stuff, and rarely do I ever take the “Eff You, Pay Me” mentality.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
My typical day starts with my waking up at 5:30 am. Seriously. I go downstairs and cook my Slow Carb (4-Hour Body) breakfast. I eat breakfast, and go back upstairs to take a shower. I get fully dressed, shoes tied, as if I was going somewhere to work. I’ve learned to create a level of formality to my work-from-home setup, as it makes me a bit more focused. I make some coffee, walk into my office, and get to work.
The majority of my work is apparel graphics for bands. Each day consists of creating a group of graphics for a band, usually 4-15 t-shirt designs per band. I do that whole batch in one day. Ideally, I’d like to only work on one band per day — but, when things get busy, I find myself working on 3-5 band projects every day.
Every job I do is very quick turnaround. On average, I get asked to do a project around 3 or 4 days before it’s due. This may sound crazy to some, but it’s the way my industry works, and it’s quite natural to me. I never work on the same thing for two days in a row. One day, and it’s out. Spending more than one day on a project tends to drive me completely nuts.
I may stop work for lunch for a hour or so, but I’m usually itching to get back to my office and continue working. This is what I love, and I prefer spending the majority of my day doing it. I often work until 7-8:00 in the evening, have dinner, and watch tv. I try to get to bed early, so I can wake up and do whatever the next day brings.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
I think that many people getting started in freelance should humble themselves a bit. Designers often get obsessed with billing right away, so that they can supplement the job that they just quit to go freelance. Take it slow. Don’t ask for those high prices until your work is at that high level. Focus on being great at what you do before you focus on billing industry standards. I still believe that a freelance career is something that is earned with a lot of time, and a lot of hard work.
Also, know that your design talent alone isn’t going to be the attribute that will make you a successful freelancer. So you’re a good designer, so what? You must have business sense, communication skills, flawless grammar (for emails), and an insane work-ethic. If you want to be freelance because you want to be lazy all day, you will not succeed. You have to realize that you chosen a much tougher route, but one that can yield a much better reward.
Thirdly, do some free work every now and then. Free work allows you to have more creative freedom, and to create pieces that often become standouts in your portfolio. The times that I’ve done free work, the client is fully aware that extensive revisions are out of the question, and they’re willing to accept whatever I come up with. These have been some of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on.
Finally, create a brand for yourself. As a freelancer, you are selling yourself. Know your identity, and build your brand around it. Embrace the idea of your clients viewing you as a real person, and do whatever you can to connect with your public. Have great work on a great website. Be active on Twitter. Share work clips on Dribbble. Do whatever you can to show people who you are. Clients will like the personal connection that they can make with you, so make yourself available.
So, freelancers, have fun. You get to create art for a living, so live in a way that you’re fully aware of your privilege, and you’re happy to create this work. This positivity will wear off on people, people who will be happy to call on you for work – time and time again.
You can see more of Brandon’s work here: