1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
Quite late in life I think! I actually studied computer science, maths and physics at college, but had to drop out after a year due to financial issues. My first proper job was as a games tester, then I did various other things like retail work and office work, until I decided to open a record store in the late 90s, where I did all of the design work myself due to not being able to afford to pay anyone.
I think it was probably at that point that I started to enjoy designing and illustrating, and then slowly slid into the creative industry!
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
Like I say above, I started out when I had to design everything for my record store – from the website, to flyers, POS material, the interior of the store etc.
I went on to start a big sneaker website when the store closed, and designed everything for that too, but when I left that place I found it really hard to get any work due to a lack of formal qualifications.
It was hard to get interviewed by a proper agency when I only had GCSEs, so after working in some other jobs and many many failed applications, I ended up going freelance.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
For me that’s definitely been through social media. I find it a lot easier to connect to people in a more casual way, just interacting every now and then, and end up getting a lot of enquiries from creative directors and art directors who follow me on Instagram or Twitter.
I think it helps people get to know you a little before they reach out, rather than receiving a cold email from you without having ‘met’ you before.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
Just the obvious stuff – I make sure I hit deadlines, and try to be accommodating when there are changes or something needs a little extra work doing.
I won’t generally charge a client more for a couple little bits on top of what we’ve already agreed, and I’ll always try to work with them where budgets are concerned! There’s a lot to be said for just being a nice person and being easy to work with.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
All the time. I’d say last year around 80% of my invoices were paid late. I just make sure I invoice quickly, I ask for payment on receipt of the invoice (rather than 30 days terms), and I politely chase it up.
It happens a lot more with larger companies, who definitely have ‘cash flow management’ implemented, so pay freelancers a bit slower than they would a big corporate partner, but I always get paid. Nowadays I just budget for being paid within 60 days rather than 30, and it works out in my head that way.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
I don’t really have a typical work day – it really bores me to have a routine, so the thing I like about being freelance is being able to manage my schedule in any way I see fit.
Sometimes I won’t work, sometimes I’ll do 16 hours of client work, sometimes I’ll do a couple of hours of client work then watch movies! The important thing for me is just to try to schedule client work into my week, and stick to that schedule. That way I can do whatever I like in-between, and hit all of my deadlines.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
Do lots of personal work! Most of my paid work has come from doing personal projects, putting those out into the world, and having people react to that work. I often get sent personal work as examples in briefs, and they help me experiment in ways that I wouldn’t be able to do with client work.
I like to think of my practice as just me doing a load of work, and sometimes I get paid for it. That keeps me going with the personal work because the lines for me are blurred. It’s good to be able to have some fun and not worry about (directly) earning any money from it.