Interview with Femke van Schoonhoven

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

It took me a while to realise that design could be a career. I knew I wanted to do something creative, but didn’t know exactly what.

I ended up studying marketing thinking that I’d learn about creative advertising and design. It wasn’t until my final year that it clicked to me that design was an entire field in itself.

While finishing my degree I began to teach myself design in my spare time. I started to follow interesting designers online and became inspired by their work. I enrolled in a few online courses, in which I learned how to use design tools while creating terrible art!

All of this helped me uncover my interests within design, which were mostly in digital. It helped that I also had a few friends who working in the industry as designers, so that opened up my eyes to what design would be like as a career.

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

Confidence was and still is a huge battle for me. Being self-taught for the first couple of years meant I was constantly self-doubting and comparing myself to “real designers”. I was envious of those that had spent years studying at prestigious art schools. This ultimately led to me to take a course in Visual Communication Design. I felt like in order to be considered a real designer, I had to study it (I don’t believe this is true anymore).

Through my self-taught phase the best thing I did was practice and work on self-initiated projects. I did a lot of hand lettering and would post my work to Instagram and Tumblr, which ultimately landed me my first client.

When I look back on it now the work I put online then was bad. It wasn’t polished or refined, and was more of way for me to document my journey into design. I feel there’s too much pressure now on designers to only share polished work. We’re constantly in a state of paralysis due to this expectation of ‘performing your best’ all the time. This is what led me to write this piece which has since resonated with a lot of people – if I hadn’t been open to sharing my bad work, I never would’ve landed that first project.

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

I don’t freelance often but when I do it’s usually people that have found me through word-of-mouth, or maybe we’ve been following each other online for a while. So my best piece of advice would be to be active online – join communities, be active on Twitter, get a portfolio website or network on Instagram. You want to put yourself in a position where when someone thinks “I need a freelancer for this job”, they think of you!

Rather than investing your time in freelancing sites, invest it in yourself. Make sure your website positions you as a freelancer and you stay active and involved with what’s going on in your industry. Add a blog or newsletter to your site, or start a side project related to your field. Passion and dedication don’t go unnoticed.

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

It goes without saying, but make sure you do a good job! You want to build trust and empathy with your clients, so make sure you’re always listening and communicating well. Often when I get a repeat client it’s because we click well and establish a good relationship. It’s also worth keeping your eyes open for new opportunities to work together as your work on a project.

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

No – I’m very clear with my clients what my payment schedule is. In fact sometimes my clients will pay up front. If not, I’ll hold off sending over final assets until the final payment has been received.

If a client is late in paying you I recommend sending them a polite and professional email reminder. Perhaps they forgot or had a family emergency. I don’t believe it’s not fair to get defensive or angry in a first reminder.

If your clients are continuing to pay late then something needs to change on your end. It’s your responsibility to make sure you have a clear and easy payment schedule – and it’s also your responsibility to make sure that you communicate this clearly to the client and have this stated in your contract.

6. What does your typical work day look like?

I typically wake up at 6am. This allows me to spend two hours working on my side projects like Design Life Podcast and my weekly newsletter. Getting up early and having two hours of focused time on my side projects before work has completely changed my output. These early morning hours are quiet, allowing me to work in a distraction-free zone and with fresh energy. That way I can start my day job without the distraction of side project tasks.

In the last 6 months I’d spend most of my days at Plant22, a co working space here in Amsterdam, while I worked remotely for Atomic. Working remotely meant my days were quite flexible and never the same.

Now however I hop on my bike and instead head to my new job at Uber. It’s too early to say what my typical work day there is like, but my morning routine remains the same.

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

You got this! I know that you’re probably feeling a lot of imposter syndrome right now – the design industry can be competitive and it’s easy to get caught up comparing yourself. Instead, try and focus on fulfilling your own potential, overcoming your own fears and taking risks.

Femke is a designer, originally from New Zealand but now living in Amsterdam. She loves making time to obsess over pixels, record a podcast or speak at events. Today she splits her time between working at Uber, side projects, client work, writing and speaking.

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Femke van Schoonhoven

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Interview published on: Jul 22, 2017

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