1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
I have a background in illustration and really wanted to work for Disney or Pixar. When other kids were at the movies, I was in life drawing classes, at the zoo drawing animals or buried in my sketchbook practicing drawing my hands or any objects I could find. When I realized the power composition played in creating aesthetic illustrations and when I had to take design basic courses for my art school, it opened my eyes to the vast subject of design and how illustration is actually one aspect of it.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
I got started in design really in art school at Art Center. I had gone to CalArts for character animation for a year and realized I wanted to explore production design and illustration rather than animating. I was in touch with Dominique Louis (art director Finding Nemo) and Lou Romano (art director The Incredibles) from Pixar about what was really needed to be a production artist there and was on the brink of an internship when I started taking design courses.
I realized that while I loved illustrating and creating art, being the designer over not just the images, but the type was so interesting to me. The biggest hurdle I overcame was figuring out which path to go down and focusing more in graphic design than illustration was a very hard decision to make.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
When I first left my corporate job, I thought that I had to offer all services to everyone everywhere. This is what I had to do in my corporate job. If they needed websites, I had to figure it out, if they needed a catalog, I was the girl for the job, a logo, I had to do it too, so I had this jack of all trades mindset when I left corporate to start a family and at the start of my own design business. I thought that if I built the website, the clients would come.
But boy was I wrong. It wasn’t until 6 months into my business after I had tried going the Etsy shop route too that I stumbled upon a community of like-minded entrepreneurs that started recommending my services to one another. And this made me realize the power of becoming specialized in one type of client and one type of design. This led me to go on to appear in guest blogs, being featured in their masterminds and the most fruitful was appearing on podcasts from successful coaches in this niche.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
Overdelivering is the key to success in this. When you make them feel happy, you deliver more than they expected and you treat them with respect, they will without question come back. Also really understanding what their business goals and always being focused on helping them achieve their goals makes them build a lot of trust in you and they will not want to start over with some other designer who doesn’t understand them well.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
This definitely came up a lot in my early freelance days. But I implemented very strict policies to always receive a 50% down payment before I will begin the project and I keep the project files “hostage” (lol) until they pay the balance. Sometimes I will have them pay the whole amount upfront if it makes sense.
That way I know they are truly vested in the project. I used to have to chase up clients for 3 months and would be owed tens of thousands of dollars. It is the little administrative things that make the world of difference.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
The night before I always have my to-do list very solidly laid out with the productive action steps to achieve my goals. I also will schedule e-mails to clients to go out in the morning so that first thing, I am not hitting the e-mails but spending a good 2 hours working on the most important task. I find this is the way to get the most done rather than wasting an hour on answering communications.
I will then check in with my coaching students and work on my 4 The Creatives educational business. After lunch, I answer e-mails for 30 minutes. I don’t let myself go past this point. And I will work for another 2 hours on the next most important design project task.
At this point, it is usually 3:30 or 4 and that is when I spend time with my kids and take them to the park or just spend quality time with them. I am a huge advocate of work/life balance and because I don’t have to do a lot of outreach in my design business anymore aside from content maintenance, I have created a great schedule that doesn’t lead to burnout. At night after the kids are asleep, I study business books, do work on my educational business 4 The Creatives, creating content, updating my course program to keep it fresh with all the info I am always learning, as well as set my goals for the next day.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
The most important thing ever at the beginning is being willing to get out of your comfort zone. Too often we think that we will have overnight success. But while I do believe that you can start getting clients sooner than most, to build a long-term sustainable business takes patience, persistence, and the correct know-how to get there.
Choosing one core audience with one core service will help you stand out from all the generalists and allow you to reach success much more quickly. I know this from my own experience and that of my students who have gone from charging $500 to $5000 for projects all because they were positioned correctly in the eyes of clients.
And key, key, key is: Don’t listen to anyone who says this industry is too saturated. There are millions of businesses in the US alone. Just find your corner and become the best you can there.