1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
Like most kids, I grew up drawing. Unlike most kids, I stuck with it. I never considered going into art as a career until my senior year in high school. I saw The Little Mermaid in theaters and decided I wanted to enter the creative field – or at least pursue art in college. After studying animation for a short period of time, I realized how much I hated actually animating. I’m a big fan of the medium. But I am not an animator. So, I switched focus to illustration.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
Right out of college, I worked in the educational software field. I did that for years before eventually getting let go when the company was acquired. That forced me to find a position in what was currently a down turn in the U.S. economy. To make ends meet until I could find a new position, I started seeking out freelance clients. That’s pretty much where it all started.
While developing relationships with new clients and trying to establish myself as a freelancer, I took on many long-term contracts back in the Educational Software industry. The money was good and it provided a steady flow of income. Walking away from those contracts and going strictly freelance on a more project-to-project basis was terrifying. I clung to those terrible jobs for stability and financial reasons. Trying to find the right time to make the switch was tough, but I am so glad I did.
Once I focused exclusively on freelance work, everything got better. I enjoyed what I was doing and my work improved. I started to find my voice as an artist. It wasn’t easy. Money was tight for a while but I survived. Freelance isn’t for everyone. It can be extremely stressful at time. You have to love the work otherwise all the other elements of working for yourself can overwhelm you.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
Without a doubt, social media has been the most significant and effective way for me to obtain clients. Do the work you love and share it with the world. That’s what I did and that’s what got me and still gets me the most work. Put your work out there. Fine-tune your style.
Be open to suggestion and change. Listen. We are working in a commercial industry, which means you are catering your work to clients and customers. Don’t be stubborn or too proud. It is their approval you are seeking – not your own. I would suggest you go into the fine arts if you are unwilling to at least consider the opinions of others. Good work will get good clients. But you have to get your work out there. 90% of my work is from client’s finding my work online.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
Be professional and polite – even whey they aren’t. Always hit your deadlines. Ask a lot of questions. Educate the client on what you do and how you do it. Over-deliver when possible. Especially when you are just starting out, make sure you are bringing you’re A game every single time.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
I have had a handful of clients who paid late or didn’t pay at all. I don’t have any good tricks for dealing with that. I tend to keep the final files to myself until payment is made. For larger projects, it’s probably best to create a pay schedule up front so you are paid in increments leading up to the final payment and hand off of files.
You want to know right away if they are going to be difficult about payment. Don’t wait until the very end. In all honesty, there’s not much you can do. There’s a lot of trust involved – and that goes both ways. The more your work with clients the better you get at smelling out the bad ones early on. Sometime the first phone call can tell you everything you need to know. I’ve learned to trust that sense and have regretted each time I didn’t.
6. What does your typical workday look like?
I get up early and try to be at my desk by 7am. I usually start with emails and addressing anything pressing before I start on anything creative. I find it helps me get centered and back into work mode. Also, It helps me set up the day and anticipate what might be coming down the pipeline. If I don’t take care of the “paperwork” first, all day I have the feeling that I am forgetting something. I’m distracted. So, it’s like doing your chores and homework before setting out to play.
After that, it’s all work in Adobe Illustrator. Since I work from home, I can take breaks to do the things I need to do – go to the bank, post office, etc. The entire day is working punctuated by little breaks until bedtime. I’m usually in bed before midnight. It depends on what Netflix show I’m trying to binge at the time.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
I am often asked for advice and I don’t know how to answer that. I think a lot of people are less interested in advice and more interested in confirmation that what they’re already doing is right. I would say “work hard” but everyone thinks they are working hard already. I’ll say the same thing I always say – Dream Big and Dream specific.
Set your goals high and study that goal. Figure out every detail. Do you have to move for this job? How much money do you want to make? What companies offer this position? And so on. Truly understand your goals so you can take the proper steps. A vague goal will produce vague results.
Jerrod Maruyama is a freelance artist specialising in character concepts and design. He has been fortunate to have worked for some of the biggest names in entertainment, merchandise and social media including Disney and Dreamworks.