1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
Jen: I think we started doing it before we even realized what “it” was. We were drawing as soon as we beheld the majesty of a deluxe set of Crayola Crayons (that 64 color set was a game changerrrr). So we grew up always doodling and making drawings and cartoons for friends. That evolved into making band posters for friends in highschool, or making our own tshirts for our friends on the basketball team in highschool.
We loved all things art, and yet were always trying to find ways to make money off it (to little success, haha). We tried to sell homemade greeting cards and art prints at the local farmer’s market when we were teens. Later, in community college, I took a career aptitude test on the computer and it suggested I look into Graphic Design. I enrolled in a 101 class, Amy did too, and we never looked back!
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
Amy: My first graphic design job came about when I was working at a beach coffee shop in San Clemente called Kaylani’s. There was a regular named Jason, a gem of a human. One day he asked me “So what are you wanting to do with you life anyway?”. I told him “something with art” since I was at community college taking art classes. He said he was starting a local magazine with a friend at their print shop, and that he could use a graphic designer. He said he would teach me the programs and it would be like an apprenticeship. I thought I had won the jackpot! Skipping a step to a real job, I stopped going to community college and went straight into trial by fire. The magazine needed 2 designers, and I told him Jen could help too.
It was such a great first job. He had the patience of a saint. The magazine was more of a monthly coupon mailer with some local interest stories peppered throughout. There were eventually 3 edition throughout the county, so that meant we had to design the layout, and make ads for maybe 60 people each month. It was a lesson in quick turn around, organization, and efficiency. We learned so much about managing and communicating with clients to get approvals, and project managing something so big to make sure it all went to press on time.
Plus, we used it as a way to do things we were interested in. I convinced them to let me have a column where I interviewed local celebrities in Orange County. So I made a media kit that made our magazine look epic (might have puffed it up a little), and ended up interviewing Metta World Peace (Ron Artest of the LA Lakers), Buzz Aldrin (2nd man on the moon), Dick Dale (cue “Miserlou”). Jen interviewed Teemu Selanne in the Anaheim Ducks locker room after a game. We had a blast.
But the biggest hurdle was when that company folded, and we were out of jobs, we realized we had not been keeping up with our own portfolio. All we had to show for ourselves was coupon ads, which weren’t very compelling for agency or in-house jobs we wanted to work at next. We had no college degree. So it was really hard to even land an interview for a job. That’s when we started our own studio (Hoodzpah) to “Make ends meet” till we could get a “real job”. 10 years later here we are.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
Jen: To this day, the organic connections are what seem to make the best impact. Meeting people at conferences or events, or even just talking and meeting online through Twitter, or by referral from a friend that has vouched for us. That human connection you make with someone before you even talk about a work need is important.
It’s a longer biz development process, but a much more meaningful one that has returned huge dividends for us. Looking people up who work at brands I admire, and connecting with them on social as a human, has been a fun exercise in building relationships and trust and rapport.
Those could hopefully lead to work, and definitely have. As much as social media can bring in a lot of work requests that don’t suit us, it’s been incredibly valuable to us in landing dream projects as well. Individuals who worked at Red Bull, 20th Century Fox, and Nike all reached out via Instagram DMs to work together. They reached out from their personal profiles to inquire about work opportunities. We’ve also gotten some great work from Dribbble inquiries.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
Amy: Luckily, as brand identity designers, we often work with clients at the beginning of their business, or at an important transition (a rebrand). So once they love the brand work we’ve done for them, it’s very easy to continue to work with them on other things.
They default to wanting us to continue to handle those things. We try and keep in touch with past clients by social media and emails to check in and see how they are. Keeping up with their business wins and updates (example: “Congrats on the new restaurant location”!) is a great way to remind them you exist without overtly asking them for work constantly.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
Amy: We always ask for an initial down payment before any work starts. And then we send invoices throughout the project, to make sure we’re getting paid as we go. Final files aren’t delivered until the last payment is made. Since we’ve made this update we’ve hardly ever had to chase any money. This is a great way to weed out people who might be tough to work with down the line, too. We’ve only had to make a few exceptions to this rule with some huge dream clients we worked with.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
Jen: Even though we work for ourselves, for the most part, we still keep a structured work day. We start work at 8 or 9am, and then go till anywhere from 3pm to 6pm. Might do a second leg later in the night if there’s a lot to do. But we also take days off if we need a break. The glory of a remote office is we work whenever and however. As long as everyone meets the larger deadlines (proof is due, etc), we don’t mind how it gets done.
I like to do my most important creative work first thing in the morning before I check email or get distracted in any way. I am my freshest and most focused. Then, at 11am, I check my email and answer all the pressing ones. Save anything that can wait for later, add any new to-dos to my Trello board, then put my days tasks into a list in order of importance and try and charge through as many as I can. I also try and reserve meetings and calls to only Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays so I can be distraction-free creative on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Eliminating task switching as much as possible (especially when you run your own business and have a lot of different hats) is key to staying focused and efficient. I have to have good chunks of uninterrupted time to go into the creative zone.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
Amy: Always show gratitude to the people in your life who invest time in you. Your relationships are what will make the difference in work and otherwise. Don’t assume anyone owes you anything. And if they offer you something free, ask questions, haha.
Jen: Things aren’t as magical as they seem. And I mean that in a good way. Your dream project will happen in the most ordinary of ways, probably. One day you’ll be someone who hasn’t worked with Disney or Tesla or Nic Cage or whoever.
And then the next you will. And more than likely it will be the culmination of a lot of consistent good habits and improvements, more than the effect of one single act. Just keep going, learning and adapting to get better in the meantime.